Canadian Stem Cell Foundation

Dec 2017

Passing the torch in celebration

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A message from James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

More than a dozen years ago, when the Federal Government was holding hearings to draft what would become the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which regulates the use of stem cells in research, I was part of the management team at the Stem Cell Network.…

A message from James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

More than a dozen years ago, when the Federal Government was holding hearings to draft what would become the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which regulates the use of stem cells in research, I was part of the management team at the Stem Cell Network.

I remember lively conversations with the late and wonderful Drew Lyall, the Network’s Executive Director, in which we agreed something was missing.  Beyond the scientists, we realized, there was no strong, national voice speaking on behalf of Canadians about the importance of these wondrous cells.

Back then, stem cells were much-misunderstood, with research still in very preliminary stages. Along with seeing that the lawmakers got things right, it was imperative to make sure the tremendous therapeutic potential of stem cell research and development be realized through proper funding and widespread public support.

What was needed was an independent organization to carry the banner, especially given that the Network’s funding was due to end within a few years.  And to be honest, Canadian pride also played a big role in establishing the Foundation.  Although stem cells were discovered here, and Canada had done much of the groundbreaking work in the field, few knew about it.

We got good advice from David Hughes, who’d run Habitat for Humanity Canada and was an expert on setting up non-profit organizations that work effectively.  And I consulted with Mark Sarner at Manifest Communications Inc.  Mark is a pioneer in social marketing and believes that it’s more important to further a cause than to add another layer of administration, which fit with our thinking: we didn’t want to create a top-heavy organization; we wanted to start a movement.  We wanted to get all the boats paddling in the same direction — and get more boats on the water.

We created the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation (incorporated as a non-profit charitable organization in 2008 and officially launched two years later) to make stem cell R&D a national priority with the public, private industry and government.  You can see that “start a-movement” thinking reflected in our branding.  We opted not to use an image that looked like it was pulled from a science textbook.  We wanted something aspirational.  We went with several strands of different coloured ribbons, crisscrossing but flowing together.

Our next step was to declare what we stood for.  We wanted to set out our principles – and the principles underpinning stem cell R&D – in a single document.  We reached out to Prof. Bartha Maria Knoppers at McGill University, one of Canada’s leading ethicists, who, with her colleague Prof. Rosario Isasi, helped draft the Stem Cell Charter setting out the core ethical values to be integrated into stem cell R&D.  Uptake was immediate: the International Society for Stem Cell Research signed on.  So did the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Canadian Blood Services and Stem Cells Australia, among others.  Realizing this could be big, we organized our first public awareness campaign.  People from 90 countries signed the Charter –  giving us a reach far beyond what we expected.

The campaign was so successful that our website, developed with Manifest, was nominated in the advocacy category of the 2010 Webby Awards, the Oscars of the Internet, in New York.  We made it to the finalists, where we were up against much-better-funded, bigger-staffed organizations like Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation, which was building new sustainable, flood-proof houses in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference of 2009.  Guess what?  We won.

A big part of that campaign was the powerful We’re Not Rock Stars  video that we produced with Andy Keen, the Gemini and Juno award-winning filmmaker who directed The Tragically Hip documentary Bobcageyon.  He brought his passion for the subject to the project and, to this day, it remains a powerful statement on the importance of stem cell science.  The real trick, though, was getting so many of Canada’s top scientists – some of the busiest and most overbooked people around – in the same room at the same time.  The video has since been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

As the saying goes, you’re known by the company you keep.  From the earliest days, our Foundation succeeded in attracting some of Canada’s most highly regarded influencers and leaders.  Dr. Alan Bernstein, the inaugural head of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, agreed to chair a board that included former Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, STEMCELL Technologies powerhouse founder Dr. Allen Eaves, and former university presidents Drs. Martha Piper and Peter MacKinnon.  Business titans such as Stephen Snyder, who had run GE Canada and TransAlta Corp. and, more recently, Dr. Jim Spatz, one of Atlantic Canada’s leading real estate developers, and Miranda Hubbs, former managing director of one of Canada’s largest institutional asset managers, also came on board.

Beyond the directors, our Till & McCulloch Leadership Circle included almost 40 of Canada’s best and brightest company presidents and CEOs and philanthropists who not only provided financial support but priceless advice.  You can see the complete list here All our operations, by the way, were funded through the grace and favour of these private donors.  The Foundation never asked for nor accepted a dime of taxpayer money to do its work.

I mentioned earlier that Canadian pride was a driving force in creating the Foundation.  In 2005, when Drs. James Till & Ernest McCulloch won the Lasker Award – the most prestigious medical research award except for the Nobel – it started many of us thinking: why don’t more Canadians know about these two brilliant men who discovered stem cells?   Why isn’t there a book about them?  In the spring of 2010, I called in Joe Sornberger, a journalist who’d written extensively about stem cells, and, 18 months later, Dreams & Due Diligence: Till and McCulloch’s Stem Cell Discovery and Legacy was published by the University of Toronto Press The book, which has sold 3,000 copies so far, has been praised by reviewers for telling Till and McCulloch’s “amazing story …  wonderfully well.”

Speaking of Canadian pride, Canada’s scientists are a modest bunch.  They don’t bang the drum very loudly about themselves, or about each other for that matter.  We wanted to change that.  We wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Till and McCulloch’s stem cell discovery and, in the process, promote stem cell research.  We decided to hold a gala, the marketing for which was straightforward: “It’s not about being able to tell your grandchildren you were there; it’s about your grandchildren.”  In the spring of 2012, we cleared the cars out of the Mercedes Benz Midtown Toronto showroom and had 50 tables of 10 people, each with a top-notch scientist and a celebrity – people like Canadian Football Hall of Fame quarterback Damon Allen, the Tenors, three of the five Dragons’ Den dragonsChantal Kreviazuk and Dan Hill.  It was hosted by CBC’s Heather Hiscox.  Former multiple sclerosis patient Jennifer Molson told the assembled how stem cells gave her a second chance at life.  Jim Till got a standing ovation.  That the night was such a huge success was largely due to Hala Bissada, of Hala Inc., owner of one of the most highly awarded event firms in North America.

Given the amount of misunderstanding – and hype – swirling around stem cells, we wanted to help Canadians understand what these cells could, and couldn’t, do for them.  Working with the Network and science writer Maya Chaddah, we developed Toward Treatments, reader-friendly summaries of how stems cells are being applied in the treatment of 19 incurable diseases or conditions.  These have proven to be such a great resource that our partners at CellCAN have not only translated them into French, but added a graphic app called Reggie.  You can find it here.

While we have always been a small organization, no one ever accused us of thinking that way.  We believe that to fully capitalize on research gains, Canada needs to make a major commitment to stem cells and regenerative medicine.  We set to work and crafted the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy, a truly transformative plan created over two years through consultation with 150 scientists, medical doctors, leaders from the major health charities, investors, industry experts and philanthropists.  It calls for the delivery of 10 new curative therapies to the clinic within 10 years and a $1.5-billion investment, with two-thirds to come from private sources and one-third from the Government of Canada.

Which brings us to today.  As I said at the outset, when we established the Foundation, the goal was to make stem cells a national priority with the public, private industry and government.  Back then, we expected accomplishing that goal would take five to 10 years.

We were right.  Looking at the field today, the public’s appreciation of stem cell science has blossomed, with widespread recognition of the lives that are being saved and a growing understanding of Canada’s leading role – with statues of Till and McCulloch installed in prominent locations in Toronto and Vancouver.

Industry involvement has never been stronger: businesses are currently investing more than $300 million to take stem cell solutions from research labs to patients in hospital beds.  Major commitments by companies such as Versant, Bayer and GE Healthcare are breaking down the barriers to successful development of new therapies.  Meanwhile, Vancouver’s STEMCELL Technologies has grown into Canada’s largest independent biotech, preparing to expand its staff of 1,000 by 4,000 within 10 years.

Through the direct efforts of the Foundation, and in collaboration with our partners, the Government of Canada has come to understand that regenerative medicine can create thousands of knowledge-economy jobs, save lives and help ease the strain on our over-stressed health care system.  So far, the Government has committed more than $200 million in new funding to programs like the Medicine by Design program led by the University of Toronto in partnership with the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine.  It decided to renew support for the Stem Cell Network and played a key role in getting a cell-manufacturing centre up and running in partnership with the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine in Toronto.  It has enabled Québec-based CellCAN to move forward with cell therapy clinical trials.

Much of the Federal Government’s increased awareness arises from the Foundation-led advocacy campaign for the Strategy, which has been critical in defining priorities for action.  Recognizing the stem cell/regenerative medicine sector as one of four key sectors in which Canada can excel, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan recently created the Canada Research Co-ordinating Committee to find ways to reinvigorate federal science funding.  As part of that initiative, the Foundation is preparing a set of recommendations on how to better co-ordinate investment to build a world-class stem cell/regenerative medicine sector in Canada.

Making our submission to this effort will be a crowning achievement for the Foundation and is, in many ways, indicative of how it is now time for us to pass the torch.  The field is on solid footing and the future looks bright, with substantial investments in place and renewed advocacy efforts underway across the country.  It is not our wish to duplicate these efforts.

So, as we prepare to sunset the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation on December 31st of this year, we celebrate our achievements: making stem cells a national priority; helping scientists secure more funding for their work; advancing the development of new treatments for devastating diseases; and raising the profile of stem cell research and development.

Thank you all for your support over these past several years.  It has been invaluable.  We look forward to seeing what the future holds.

James Price is President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.



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Dec 2017

Our goal has been accomplished

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A message from Dr. Alan Bernstein, OC, FRSC, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. He is President and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

A message from Dr. Alan Bernstein, OC, FRSC, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. He is President and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

When I returned to Canada from New York after leading the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, it was relatively easy to decide to become involved with the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

One of the most exciting fields of scientific research and promising areas of clinical and translational medicine, stem cells hold huge promise for treating a diverse variety of human diseases, from cancer to neurological disorders to diabetes and more.   And Canada punches well above its weight, starting with the 1960s discovery of stem cells by Dr. James Till, who I trained with in the 1970s, and his partner Dr. Ernest ‘Bun’ McCulloch.   Many other Canadian scientists have subsequently contributed – with the discovery of cancer stem cells, neural stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells, to name just a few – to make Canada a world leader in the field.

I also agreed to chair the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Board of Directors because I had enormous respect for the people who were already involved, such as former university presidents Drs. Martha Piper and Peter MacKinnon of the Universities of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, respectively. The board also included the Hon. Anne McLellan, who I had worked closely with when I was head of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and she was Minister of Health.

The list of highly respected people didn’t end with the board. Largely because of the efforts of President and CEO James Price, the Foundation had enlisted prominent Canadians from across the country to join the Till & McCulloch Leadership Circle and show their support for stem cell science and its application to improving health. That was a significant achievement that not only gave the Foundation the credibility it needed but also signaled to the broader Canadian stem cell community that prominent Canadians were active supporters of their goals.

That’s a big reason why Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan, in her mandate letter to the new Canada Research Coordinating Committee last month, named stem cells and regenerative medicine as one of the four key areas for coordination amongst the four federal agencies involved in funding research in this country.  This is no accident: it represents the culmination of the efforts of the Foundation and the people associated with it.

In fact, the Foundation has had an important impact on the Federal Government’s appreciation of Canada’s strength in stem cell science and its increased awareness of the important work underway in labs across the country.  The now two-year extension of funding to the Stem Cell Network and funding of the $114-million Medicine by Design project at the University of Toronto, much of which is focused on stem cells and regenerative medicine, are indicators of the recognition by government that this is a central component of Canadian research and innovation.

There has been a significant impact on industry, as well.  People closely associated with the Foundation, like board member Dr. Allen Eaves, whose Vancouver-based STEMCELL Technologies does business around the globe, have shown you can build successful enterprises and generate the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars into the Canadian economy through stem cell research and development.  Similarly, the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars, largely by offshore investors, into BlueRock Therapeutics, a company dedicated to stem cell therapy for cardiac disease, is further evidence of both the strength of Canadian stem cell science and its promise for the treatment of serious human diseases.

Thanks to the efforts of many organizations and many people, the Canadian stem cell effort is in excellent shape.  There is positive energy around the country and there are outstanding young people entering the field, which, at the end of the day, is what really matters.  They see a great future in stem cells and regenerative medicine.

Because of all this, the Foundation’s board, after an extensive six months of deliberation, decided that our work is now done.  The Foundation has accomplished what it was created to do: raise awareness about the importance of stem cell research and the strengths of stem cell science across the country.  We were able to make key individuals aware of the value of stem cell research and development – both in terms of improving the health of Canadians and bolstering the Canadian economy.

While it is always easier to start new organizations than end existing ones, the Board of Directors unanimously made the difficult but wise decision to sunset the Foundation and to declare victory.  At the same time, the Board also expressed its sincerest thanks to James and to his Executive Assistant, Eileen Emmonds, and Susan DeLisle, Director of Development, for their utmost commitment to the Foundation and its goals and their outstanding efforts on behalf of the Foundation and stem cell science in Canada.

Dr. Alan Bernstein, OC, FRSC, has served as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. He is President and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.



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Dec 2017

What people are saying about the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation

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“When I first heard about the plan to launch the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, I had some private doubts.



“When I first heard about the plan to launch the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, I had some private doubts. A champion for stem cell research that wouldn’t fund any such research directly? However, people that I respected were involved in the plans, so I kept my doubts to myself. I’m glad that I did. At the time, support for stem cell research was inadequate relative to the potential of the research. Not quite a decade later, the situation has improved dramatically. Thanks to skillful advocacy of the kind championed by the Foundation, research on stem cells and regenerative medicine has a much higher profile and has increasing levels of support. The main need now is for talented people to get the job done.”

— Dr. James Till, University of Toronto Professor Emeritus and co-discoverer of stem cells

“Quite honestly, the Foundation was a big part of saving my life.  It was a great source of information for me as a patient and it led to meeting Dr. Harry Atkins at the Ottawa General Hospital and receiving a stem cell transplant to treat my scleroderma.  And since I’ve had the treatment, I know of six other scleroderma patients who have had the transplant in Ottawa, largely because of the work the Foundation did in helping raising awareness through its newsletter and as a result of a feature broadcast on CTV National News.”

— Dan Muscat, scleroderma patient and stem cell transplant recipient from St. Thomas, Ontario

“The Foundation certainly deserves a big round of congratulations for an amazing effort that has galvanized many sectors into supporting one of Canada’s strongest  but not widely appreciated  areas of science.” 

 Dr. Connie Eaves, Professor of Medical Genetics, University of British Columbia; Distinguished Scientist, the Terry Fox Laboratory

“The field of stem cell and regenerative medicine research has witnessed remarkable advances over the past decade. Made-in-Canada cell therapy clinical trials for a range of illnesses, such as septic shock, heart and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and osteoarthritis are a reality, with more research on the cusp of reaching clinical testing. Our future is incredibly bright and we are thankful for the role the Foundation played in moving it forward.”

 Dr. Duncan Stewart, CEO & Scientific Director, Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine; CEO & Scientific Director, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

“When the Foundation was launched, it created an international affirmation of the importance of stem cell science to humanity.  It is striking how the principles of the Stem Cell Charter remain as important and relevant today as they were in 2009. Realizing the promise of stem cell science is now possible: gene editing technologies are poised to both accelerate research and therapeutic, clinical applications by 2020. The Charter is based on the World Health Organization’s constitutional declaration that ‘enjoyment of the highest attainable state of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.’ It’s time for a renewed call to action for stem cell science  as originally set out in the Charter.”

— Prof. Bartha M. Knoppers, Director of the Centre of Genomics and Policy, McGill University

“The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation has played a key role in promoting Canadian leadership in stem cell science and regenerative medicine to the public and to policy-makers.  Building on the legacy of Till and McCulloch, Canadian scientists are now poised to translate discoveries into new treatments for serious diseases using stem cell-derived products. The Foundation has helped bring the whole community together across the country to tell that story.”

— Dr. Janet Rossant, Senior Scientist, The Hospital for Sick Children and President of the Gairdner Foundation

“The Foundation has successfully raised awareness for stem cell research with the public and decision-makers. Today, there is not only increased support for stem cell research but a strong public interest to better understand stem cells and access regenerative medicine therapies.  We thank the Foundation for their efforts over the past seven years and believe that with stable and predictable funding for stem cell research, Canada will continue to be a global leader.”

 Dr. Michael Rudnicki, CEO & Scientific Director, Stem Cell Network

“The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation has helped to build the awareness, understanding and momentum in the stem cell community.  Their efforts have shown how stem cells have incredible potential to improve a number of diseases, and their approach fostered collaboration amongst many charities and organizations to advance science.”

— David Prowten, President & CEO, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Canada

“The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation has been the voice for the implementation of innovative cellular therapies that are revolutionizing the practice of medicine in Canada.  Their efforts have shone a spot-light on new life-saving treatments as front-line therapies that were not available to patients only a few years ago. Without their focused, national approach to prioritizing regenerative medicine in Canada, the sector would not have developed into the strong ecosystem that it is today. The Foundation was instrumental in the alignment of broad federal support and engagement towards major funding initiatives in regenerative medicine clinical trials.  CellCAN will work tirelessly to ensure the legacy of the Foundation lives on.”

— Dr. Denis Claude Roy, CEO, CellCAN Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network

“The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation launched in 2010 with a gala fundraiser and lots of fanfare and it has continued to raise awareness for the stem cell field in Canada ever since.  With a mandate to educate the public and influence government, the Foundation has paved the way for stem cell organizations in Canada to flourish.” 

— Dr. Michael May, President & CEO, Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine


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Dec 2017

Did you know

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 that when the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation won its Webby Award in 2010, the nominees were selected by a panel that included Martha Stewart, the late David BowieHuffington Post creator Arianna HuffingtonSimpsons creator Matt Groening and Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson?

 that when the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation won its Webby Award in 2010, the nominees were selected by a panel that included Martha Stewart, the late David BowieHuffington Post creator Arianna HuffingtonSimpsons creator Matt Groening and Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson?

 that the Foundation’s Till & McCulloch Leadership Circle of benefactors includes eight Officers of the Order of Canada, two Members of the Order of Canada and two Companions of the Order of Canada?  The membership includes many of the titans of Canadian business, finance, and academia.

… that the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation was always a lean and nimble operation? At the time of its 2012 Renew The World Gala, which brought together 500 of Canada’s most influential business leaders, philanthropists, politicians and icons from science, the arts, sports, entertainment and media, the Foundation had one full-time and one part-time staff. The organization grew to a complement of five.

… that when the Foundation-funded book Dreams & Due Diligence: Till and McCulloch’s stem cell discovery and legacy was officially launched in the fall of 2011, MP Kirsty Duncan moderated a panel discussion at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto?  Dr. Duncan, who is now the Federal Government’s Science Minister, also hosted a “Till on the Hill” breakfast to make her fellow MPs and Senators aware of Canada’s role in the discovery of stem cells and the development of the science.

… that a Foundation-hosted gathering in Toronto was voted the Best Education Event by the World Presidents’ Organization (Ontario) in 2014? The WPO’s membership includes 8,000 present or former chief executive officers of major business enterprises from across the globe.


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Nov 2017

Dr. Janet Rossant

Janet Rossant wins L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Award

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Dr. Janet Rossant, a long-time friend of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, has been chosen by UNESCO and the L’Oréal Foundation as one of five outstanding female scientists from around the world.…

Dr. Janet Rossant, a long-time friend of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, has been chosen by UNESCO and the L’Oréal Foundation as one of five outstanding female scientists from around the world.

Dr. Rossant is being recognized for contributing to the understanding of how tissues and organs are formed in the developing embryo, according to a news release from the University of Toronto. Her research is helping combat birth defects and other serious medical conditions.

“I am extremely honoured to receive this award in the company of the other amazing laureates from around the world,” says Dr. Rossant. “I hope to use this opportunity to encourage more girls globally to take up careers in science, math, engineering and medicine. The future is theirs to grasp.”

Along with her duties as a U of T professor, Dr. Rossant is a senior scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children and is president of the Gairdner Foundation. Originally from the United Kingdom, she trained at Oxford and Cambridge universities before coming to Canada in 1977.

“Janet has been a world leader in advancing the therapeutic potential of stem cells,” says James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, where Dr. Rossant chairs the Science Leadership Council. “Having done so much for science, she is completely deserving of this honour.”

The Women in Science Awards ceremony takes place in Paris in March. The other recipients are:

  • Heather Zar, Professor, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and Director, Medical Research Council Unit, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Meemann Chang, Professor, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology and Member of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
  • Caroline Dean, Professor, John Innes Centre, Norwich, United Kingdom
  • Amy T. Austin, Professor, Agricultural Plant Physiology and Ecology Research Institute, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Dr. Rossant is the second Canadian woman to be honoured with the award in recent years. Dr. Molly Shoichet, a University of Toronto biomedical engineering professor, was named a laureate in 2015.


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May 2017

Dr. Duncan Stewart: "Be wary of any stem cell therapy that is fee-based and has not been validated through a complete clinical trial process."

More doctors treating aching joints with stem cells, even though treatment is costly, unproven and relief is only temporary

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It’s expensive, only temporary and lacks gold-standard proof that it actually works, but stem cell therapy for bad knees, hips and shoulders is taking hold in Canada.…

It’s expensive, only temporary and lacks gold-standard proof that it actually works, but stem cell therapy for bad knees, hips and shoulders is taking hold in Canada.

“The future is obviously injections of biologics,” says Dr. Tim Dwyer, an orthopedic surgeon at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto who has treated 20 patients’ faulty joints with stem cell injections at his private clinic. “One day we will look back and think joint replacement was a fabulous solution 30 years ago that now is quite a barbaric approach.”

We have written about these autologous (using a patient’s own stem cells) transplants in this space before. The first type, bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC) therapy, involves extracting stem cells from a patient’s pelvis and spinning them in a centrifuge before re-injecting the refined cells in the damaged joint. The second type, formally known as stromal vascular fractioning, involves removing adipose (fat) cells via liposuction, running them through a centrifuge to collect the stem cells and re-injecting them in the patient’s ailing joint. Both are usually done on a same-day outpatient basis.

Neither treatment has been proven effective in large scale, randomized controlled clinical trials in which one group of patients gets the treatment and another gets a placebo — with neither group (nor the researchers conducting the trial, for that matter)  knowing who got what until the data is collected and analyzed.

“That is correct, not at this stage,” says Dr. Dwyer. “We’re basing (the use of the treatment) on cohort studies looking at BMAC in the knee especially.”

Dr. Jas Chahal, a colleague of Dr. Dwyer’s at Women’s College Hospital, believes there is “good basic science,” to support the use of stem cell treatments for knees, hips and joints afflicted by osteoarthritis or damaged by injury. “BMAC has various factors in it that probably help inflammation and pain control. There is emerging clinical evidence in the form of case studies, groups of 10 or 20, who have had it and after 12-month follow-up had good results.”

However, Dr. Duncan Stewart, the President and Scientific Director of the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, says patients “should be extremely wary of any stem cell therapy that is fee-based and has not been validated through a complete clinical trial process.

“Clinical trials exist to establish not just whether a treatment will work, but to ensure it is safe for the patient,” says Dr. Stewart, CEO of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and a leading authority on stem cells who has led or collaborated on more investigator-initiated cell therapy trials than anyone else in Ontario. “There are many promising stem cell therapies out there that are currently in clinical trials, but not all will approved for clinical use – and the only way we can know for sure is by collecting the proper data through a clinical trial that has regulatory and ethical approvals.”

For Dr. Dwyer, who sees the BMAC treatment as more effective but will provide the adipose-derived stem cell treatment for patients for whom BMAC isn’t appropriate, stem cell injections offer an option where none existed before.

“For 10 years of my career I’ve had to say ‘You’re too young to have a knee replacement and a knee scope won’t make you better, so there’s nothing we can do.’ That’s not a fun conversation to have three or four times a day.”

He charges between $3,000 and $3,500 per injection, none of which is covered by the provincial health insurance plan or by private insurance.

Some researchers and clinicians have taken things a significant step further by taking the BMAC cells and, instead of just running them through a centrifuge, culturing them in a lab to vastly increase the number of stem cells they can re-inject into the patient at a later date. But these treatments are significantly more expensive. Dr. Chahal is part of a team conducting a clinical trial extracting the mesenchymal bone marrow stem cells from patients and doing this kind of ex-vivo expansion and then re-injecting them at concentrations of 1 million, 10 million and 50 million cells. Researchers are currently collecting the data.

Of the 20 patients Dr. Dwyer has treated with the same-day therapy, “a couple” saw no improvement in their conditions. Most report feeling better. “Just yesterday I saw three people — two shoulders and a knee — and they were actually ecstatic. Now that’s just a cohort. But it certainly helped those people and they’re at the six-month mark.”

He points out that joint replacements are also not a sure thing.

“It’s not guaranteed that a knee replacement will help. Some 20% of people still have pain afterwards. And there’s always the chance that you get an infection, which can be a disaster. A lot of people, including myself, think that joint replacement is a last resort. So, obviously, having an injection that might take the pain away for a year is a very attractive option.”

Pain relief, if achieved, likely will be only temporary, says Dr. Dwyer. “We’re looking at a year,” says Dr. Dwyer. “For some people it will be more, for some it will be less. It will be something that you will need to have repeated. But if you ignore the financial cost of it, which is a significant factor obviously, and just look at whether you would like to have an injection once a year and not have a knee or a hip replacement, the answer is easy.”

BMAC and adipose stem cell treatments for arthritic and damaged joints have been around for about a decade and are widely available across the United States, with many Canadians travelling there to undergo them, sometimes paying exorbitant fees.

Here at the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, we get more patient enquiries and blog comments about stem cell treatments for failing joints — be it from either osteoarthritis or injury or overuse — than any other single condition. People are both intrigued and suspicious and are looking for guidance.

What is Health Canada’s position on the use of bone marrow aspirate concentrate injections/transplants to treat knees and hips?

The Office of Policy and International Collaboration at Health Canada’s  Biologics and Genetic Therapies Directorate  responded by email to say that “in some cases, autologous cell therapy products that are processed for a particular patient by a regulated health professional pursuant to the scope of their practice may not require federal pre-market regulatory authorization under the Food and Drug Regulations. They added that, based on the information we provided, “we do not have enough information to make a determination regarding the regulatory pathway that would apply to BMAC.”

Prof. Leigh Turner, a Canadian who is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota’s Centre for Bioethics, has followed the proliferation of clinics offering BMAC and adipose treatments in the United States. He says it’s “premature” for Canadian orthopedic surgeons and other physicians to charge for “so-called stem cell treatments” administered to patients with joint problems.

“Safety and efficacy of such interventions still needs to be evaluated in carefully designed and properly conducted randomized controlled trials,” says Prof. Turner. “Such studies will have to address whether stem cells obtained from BMAC, adipose tissue, or other sources are optimal when treating patients with osteoarthritis. Carefully designed clinical trials should also provide meaningful information about dosing strategies, optimal mode of administering cells, and the frequency with which injections will need to be provided.” And all that, says Prof. Turner, is conditional on stem cell interventions beating placebo during the randomized controlled trial process.

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Jan 2017

Canadian Press photo

Globe series highlights Till & McCulloch’s remarkable stem cell discovery

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Sometimes popular recognition takes time.  After more than 50 years, Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch are finally getting their moment in the spotlight of public appreciation.…

Sometimes popular recognition takes time.  After more than 50 years, Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch are finally getting their moment in the spotlight of public appreciation.

The Globe & Mail’s ongoing Great Canadian Inventions series, which highlights people, products and discoveries that have changed the world, today features the two great men who proved the existence of stem cells back in the early 1960s. The series runs throughout 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

The Globe’s public health reporter André Picard reports that the discovery “is considered among the most seminal medical findings of the past century, on par with the discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick.”

Stem cells have revolutionized cancer treatment and set the stage for the emergence of new therapies for a wide range of currently incurable diseases. New treatments are already succeeding in overcoming autoimmune diseases like MS.

Stem cells are also good for the economy.  The article cites STEMCELL Technologies, the Vancouver-based biotech company founded by former Till & McCulloch postgraduate student Dr. Allen Eaves, as a key player in a burgeoning field that is expected to produce a $49-billion global market within four years.

James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, notes in the Globe piece that the Till & McCulloch discovery initially didn’t get the attention it deserved. “But they set the stage for all the current stem cell research and helped make Canada a magnet for talent and investment in biotech.”

The article comes after last fall’s unveiling of the Till & McCulloch statue outside doors of BC’s Telus Science World in Vancouver. A duplicate statue is to be installed in downtown Toronto this spring.  It marks a considerable turnaround in recognition. In 2004, CBC Television ran a series called The Greatest Canadian, compiling a list of the 100 greatest Canadians ever. They followed it with a 2007 series on 50 of the Greatest Canadian Inventions.  While Don Cherry was featured in the former and the Wonder Bra in the latter, Till & McCulloch and stem cells were left out of both.

The Globe series, however,  got right to it in recognizing Till & McCulloch: they are the second Canadians to be featured this year after a Jan. 9th article celebrated how Jacques Plante changed the game of hockey by popularizing the goalie mask.

Dr. Till, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, remains busy as a leading advocate for opening access to scientific journals. Dr. McCulloch died in 2011. The remarkable story of Till & McCulloch’s stem cell discovery and their amazing legacy is told in Dreams & Due Diligence, published by University of Toronto Press and available through their website or via Amazon books.





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Jun 2016

Japan's Dr. Shinya Yamanaka

Predicting $120-billion market, Japan targets stem cells to recharge economy

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Japan believes regenerative medicine will grow from a $950-million domestic industry in 2020 to a $10 billion one by 2030, according to a report by Bloomberg News.…

Japan believes regenerative medicine will grow from a $950-million domestic industry in 2020 to a $10 billion one by 2030, according to a report by Bloomberg News.

And the Japanese expect to tap into a $120-billion global market over the same time span if regenerative medicine fulfills its potential to set off “a medical and industrial revolution.”

The Bloomberg report illustrates how Japan is building on Nobel Prize winner Dr. Shinya Yamanaka’s discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) to help recharge its economy.  The government has allocated $1 billion in funding and streamlined regulations to expedite the movement of research to the clinic. Meanwhile industrial heavyweights like Fujifilm and Hitachi Ltd. are moving away from fading product lines and diminishing markets to invest in new technology and products using Dr. Yamanaka’s discovery.

“Japan has taken a bold step,” Dr. Hardy TS Kagimoto, who heads the Healios KK biotech firm, told Bloomberg. “It’s been a while since our country has had innovative companies in a global industry that can help us maintain economic power, and we think regenerative medicine can be the one.’’

The powerful iPS cells are made by reprogramming adult skin cells back to an embryonic-like state, a process that circumvents ethical concerns over the use of embryonic stem cells.  Beyond transplant purposes, the cells can be used to screen drugs, which Dr Yamanaka believes could “facilitate drug development tremendously.”

Drug regulators in Japan, Europe and U.S. are expected to release coordinated draft drug guidelines for the use of iPS cells in pre-clinical trials by the end of 2017, according to the article, which “could upend the entire market.”

Canada, where stem cells were discovered in the 1960s, is a leader in stem cell research and development but is at risk of losing ground. James Price, President and CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation (CSCF) recently authored an iPolitics article calling for a comprehensive national approach:

“In order to maintain our position as a global leader in the field that we discovered and pioneered, to help thousands of Canadians and their loved ones who are struggling with life-threatening conditions, and to transform the stem cell sector into a thriving industry built on of high-quality jobs that support families across the country, we need a truly national stem cell effort.”

The CSCF advocates for the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy, an innovative private-public partnership that is the product of consultations with 150 scientists, medical professionals, leaders from major health charities, industry experts and philanthropists.  The goal of the Strategy is to deliver up to 10 new therapies in 10 years while helping to grow the Canadian economy and create 12,000 new jobs.


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Jun 2016

Allen Eaves receives Order of BC

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Dr. Allen Eaves, a member of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Board of Directors and a founding Till & McCulloch Leadership Circle member, is being appointed to the Order of British Columbia — the province’s highest form of recognition.…

Dr. Allen Eaves, a member of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Board of Directors and a founding Till & McCulloch Leadership Circle member, is being appointed to the Order of British Columbia — the province’s highest form of recognition.

An internationally respected leukemia researcher and clinician, Dr. Eaves is the founder and owner of Vancouver’s STEMCELL Technologies Inc., Canada’s largest biotech company. He co-founded the Terry Fox Laboratory and served as its director for 25 years as well as heading the BC Cancer Agency for 18 years, developing one of the first bone marrow transplant programs in the world.

Called the “cell-made man” by BC media, Dr.  Eaves  began STEMCELL in 1993 with a staff of eight.  He now employs more than 800 people. STEMCELL develops specialty cell culture media, cell separation products and ancillary reagents for life science research and delivers them to scientists around the world. In 2015 STEMCELL was named Life Sciences Company of the Year by LifeSciences BC.

Dr. Eaves has a strong incentive to continue his efforts, telling BCBusiness in 2013 that “I want t to cure cancer. That’s the motivation,” he said. “It’s all about curing some of these diseases, wiping them off the face of the earth.”

The investiture will take place July 26 in Victoria. To read more about Dr. Eaves, click here.


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May 2016

Janet Rossant invested as Order of Canada Companion

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Congratulations to Dr. Janet Rossant on her investiture as a Companion in the Order of Canada (CC) in a ceremony presided over by Governor General David Johnston.…

Janet Rossant CC

Congratulations to Dr. Janet Rossant on her investiture as a Companion in the Order of Canada (CC) in a ceremony presided over by Governor General David Johnston.

Dr. Rossant, who chairs the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, was one of only two Canadians to be honoured as a Companion along with Nobel Prize winning scientist Dr. Arthur McDonald.  The three tiers of the order are: Companion, Officer, and Member. Friday’s ceremony also included four Officers and 42 Members.

A Rideau Hall news release noted that Dr. Rossant established entirely new concepts in developmental biology: “As a professor at the University of Toronto, she has characterized genes that are critical to the earliest stages of embryonic development and discovered control systems that enable cell differentiation. Her globally renowned research is foundational to the development of new treatments for a range of conditions including cancer and degenerative diseases.”

Dr. Rossant is a Senior Scientist & Chief of Research Emeritus at SickKids Research Institute. She was the inaugural President  & Director of the Ontario Institute of Regenerative Medicine and recently became the Gairdner Foundation’s President and Scientific Director.

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