Dr. Janet Rossant

18
May 2016
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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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01
Feb 2016
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CBC report highlights need for ‘big investment’ in stem cells

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A CBC News report highlights the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy and encourages the Government of Canada to make the next big investment in stem cells and regenerative medicine.…

A CBC News report highlights the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy and encourages the Government of Canada to make the next big investment in stem cells and regenerative medicine.

The article, published online yesterday, can be found here.

Headlined “Canada’s stem cell research needs ‘big investment’ to move forward” it quotes Dr. Janet Rossant, President & Director of the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, as saying Canada does “extremely well on relatively small investments,” but we are not investing the same percentage in stem cell research and development as some of our competitor countries.

Reporter Joseph Quigley cites figures from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research that show the Government of Canada has invested about $705 million in stem cell research since 2001, including $64.5 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year.  In comparison, he notes, California — with a population similar to that of Canada — committed $3 billion in funding in 2004, to be rolled out over about 10 years.

“We’ve been at the forefront, we need to make that next big investment to move the field forward,” says James Price, President  & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation.

The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy, he points out, is focused on delivering 10 new curative therapies to the clinic in 10 years while producing 12,000 jobs for Canadians.

 

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01
Apr 2015
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Our Gairdner Group of Four

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The news last week that Dr. Janet Rossant had won the 2015 Gairdner Wightman Award should have come as no big surprise.…

The news last week that Dr. Janet Rossant had won the 2015 Gairdner Wightman Award should have come as no big surprise. The head of research at SickKids Hospital in Toronto, Dr. Rossant perfectly fits the profile of the Wightman winner:  a scientist who has demonstrated outstanding national leadership in medicine and medical science.

However, the announcement did give us another reason to celebrate:  it brought the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Gairdner Award connections to four — so far.

Janet Rossant (CSCF)Dr. Rossant (1) who chairs our Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, has led the way in crafting Canada’s public policy regarding stem cell research and is the immediate Past President of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. She also is an articulate advocate for the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action that sets out how Canada can lead the way to deliver five to 10 new stem cell therapies to the clinic within 10 years.  (See the Globe & Mail piece she co-authored here).

With the announcement, Dr. Rossant joins Dr. Alan Bernstein (2), Chair of our Board of Directors, as a fellow Gairdner Wightman winner.  Dr. Bernstein, now President & CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, won the Wightman in 2008 for his “outstanding contribution to Canadian health research as a scientist, research institute director and as the inaugural President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.”

Bernstein CroppedDr. Bernstein’s stem cell connection goes all the way back to his PhD studies with Dr. Jim Till, co-discoverer of stem cells (with Dr. Ernest McCulloch) in the late 1960s/early 1970s at the Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI). Dr. Till mentored Dr. Bernstein in much the same way that Dr. Bernstein encouraged Dr. Rossant when she came to work at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute (now the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute) at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 1985.

Jim TillDr. Till (3) is a Gairdner International Award winner, having picked up the prize with Dr. McCulloch back in 1969. His connection to the Foundation? He was original member of the Board of Directors when the Foundation began life in 2006 and has been a trusted advisor ever since.  In fact, his “Spleen Team” jersey, from when he led the OCI squad that unveiled the mysteries of hematopoietic stem cells, hangs in a place of honour in the Foundation’s office in Ottawa.

sam weissThen there is Dr. Samuel Weiss (4), who won his Canada Gairdner International Award in 2008 in large part for his 1992 discovery of neural stem cells in the brains of adult mammals, which sparked new approaches for brain cell replacement and repair. Dr. Weiss, who leads the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary, preceded Dr. Rossant as Chair of our Science Leadership Council and was also a member of the Foundation’s Board.

Quite honestly, we’re proud to be associated with these outstanding scientists. That they have chosen to help us as we advocate for the advancement of stem cell research and development to deliver safe, new and effective treatments for an array of diseases is truly inspiring. And we look forward to finding out who will be (5).

 

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25
Mar 2015
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Dr. Janet Rossant

Dr. Janet Rossant

Congratulations to Janet Rossant — Gairdner Wightman winner

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Today we are delighted to congratulate Dr. Janet Rossant on the announcement of her winning the 2015 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award for outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science in Canada.

Today we are delighted to congratulate Dr. Janet Rossant on the announcement of her winning the 2015 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award for outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science in Canada.

“Janet Rossant is not only an internationally acclaimed stem cell scientist, she has been a powerful force in moving the field forward and a leader in developing the roadmap for the future of our sector: the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy and Action Plan,” said James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation. “She has played a key role in ensuring that Canada stands among the top nations in the world in one of the most exciting and promising areas of medical research — stem cells.”

Dr. Rossant, who chairs the CSCF’s Science Leadership Council, was a member of the Foundation-led Joint Strategy Working Group that developed the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan. Based on a private/public partnership, it sets out how Canada can lead the way to deliver five to 10 new stem cell therapies to the clinic within 10 years.

“Her efforts have been invaluable,” said Mr. Price, who co-authored a Globe & Mail opinion piece with Dr. Rossant in February that illustrated how the Strategy could position Canada as an international centre for conducting safe, high-quality clinical trials for new stem cell treatments. “No one knows the field — and the remarkable things it can do — better than Janet. We are deeply proud of her accomplishments, and are thrilled for her success and the recognition she has received today.”

In a Foundation-produced video, Dr. Rossant declares that, “Research can’t stand still. Scientific research is always moving forward. We are at an incredibly exciting time in science when we can understand the underpinnings of disease and begin to translate that into new diagnoses and therapies.”

Quick Facts

  • The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan calls for a $1.5-billion public-private investment over 10 years, including a $50-million scaled annual average commitment by the Government of Canada.
  • The Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine estimates the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan could generate more than 12,000 jobs for Canadians via the growth of existing companies and the development of new enterprises that reach global markets.
  • In 2013, more than $200 billion was spent on health care in Canada. Two thirds of that money was used to treat incurable diseases. Stem cell research, cell therapy and regenerative medicine are working towards treatment options for these diseases.
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23
Feb 2015
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‘Let’s get this done’

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The Globe and Mail  today features an editorial pages article about the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan.

James Price, Foundation’s President and CEO, and Dr.

The Globe and Mail  today features an editorial pages article about the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan.

James Price, Foundation’s President and CEO, and Dr. Janet Rossant, Interim Director of the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine and immediate past president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, co-authored the article, headlined ‘Make Canada a magnet for stem cell trials’. Exploring the impact of experimental stem cell treatments abroad, the piece makes the case for Canada to build on its expertise in stem cell research and development to become the location of choice for high quality clinical trials.

“The real impact of many of the experimental stem cell treatments offered abroad is a question mark.” said the authors. “A better solution is made-in-Canada treatments. Give Canadians access to safe, cutting-edge and rigorously reviewed stem cell clinical trials here in Canada. Once fully proven, these treatments would be available across the country.” they added.

canada stem cells

Although several stem cell-related clinical trials are already under way in Canada (you can read about the recent announcement of a new stem cell trial for MS on our blog), there is the potential to do more.The Strategy & Action Plan will see Canada lead the way to bringing five to 10 new safe and proven therapies to the clinic within 10 years.

“Canadians should not need to travel abroad where experimental treatments are unproven and could carry serious health risks. We all want our loved ones to have access to the best care available when they need it. So let’s get this done.”

You can read the full version of the Globe and Mail article here.

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20
Feb 2015
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What’s Janet Rossant excited about?

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Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine.

Recently, we asked several of Canada’s leading stem cell scientists to tell us about what they think will be the next big thing in regenerative medicine. Where do they see things going? What are they excited about? For today’s premier instalment, we interviewed Dr. Janet Rossant, Chief of Research and a Senior Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and immediate past president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. She provided the following highlights.

When I look broadly, I’m seeing a lot of excitement about being able to use stem cells to model human disease. Here in Toronto, we’ve made induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from patients with cystic fibrosis, cardiac diseases and autism. We’re beginning to use those cells to differentiate them into different cell types to study the diseases in a Petri dish.  All of that is moving forward. We’re going to see more and more of that.

I think, though, that the area to watch is a little bit more than just taking iPS cells and growing them in a Petri dish in a flat culture but instead growing cells and making little organs or “organoids.” We’ve seen over the last year people making little organoids in a dish: gut organoids, stomach organoids. I’m expecting to see papers on lung organoids.  This means we will be able to study diseases in new ways and use these organoids for doing drug screening.

We’re also seeing the first trials (by Viacyte, a California-based cell-therapy company) going forward with pancreatic progenitor cells for treating type 1 diabetes. We probably won’t get full results, because these are all Phase 1 trials, but we’re going to get some idea of the survival and effectiveness in a relatively short period of time.  Canada will be one of the sites for that trial; Dr. James Shapiro (University of Alberta) is involved.

There have been good Canadian contributions to that. The Viacyte trial is done with pancreatic progenitors that will mature and make the right insulin producing cells. Other people feel you’d be better off starting with the insulin-producing cells and using those directly.  A recent paper from Dr. Tim Kieffer (University of British Columbia) shows really good advances in generating functional beta cells. It gives you a lot of hope that this kind of trial, which is an early one, will be rapidly replaced by better trials and better cells. Dr. Cristina Nostro (University of Toronto) is also moving very fast at getting better and better pancreatic islet cells.

The technology that everybody is jumping on is genome editing.  Now you can think not only about fixing people with stem cells, but you can think about fixing the genetic defects in people’s stem cells before you put them back. Certainly here at SickKids there are a number of people thinking in the very short-term mode about how they might translate that into gene therapy approaches to genetic diseases.

The expanded use of cell-based therapies — whether they are stem cells or other cells — is also having an impact. If we think about immunotherapy for cancer, we’re using either molecules or modified T-cells.  We’re seeing cell-based therapies of all sorts coming forward.

We’re seeing expanded use of bone marrow transplantation for a wider range of autoimmune diseases.The trials that Dr. Harry Atkins (University of Ottawa) and others are doing on MS — those kinds of approaches are going to get more and more refined as we go forward.

Cardiac care is another area where we’re seeing clinical trials with many kinds of cells and molecules to treat heart disease. I think we’re going to see small incremental advances. A big advance has to come if we can actually fix the heart muscle.  I know Dr. Gordon Keller (University of Toronto) and his colleagues are pushing very hard in that direction to try to move from cells in culture to bioengineered matrices of cells that you could think about using to replace damaged parts of the heart.  Also, Dr. Michael Fehlings (University of Toronto) is very active in looking at a number of sources of cells that might be able to remyelenate axons in spinal cord repair.

These are all areas to watch in the future — the whole field is moving rapidly forward.

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27
Nov 2014
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Two sure signs of the increasing importance of investing in stem cells

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Heart surgery survivor Charlotte Desbiens with her parents

“I don’t want any other person’s parents going through what my parents went through,” says Charlotte Desbiens, a remarkable little girl who underwent three heart surgeries before age three.…

Heart surgery survivor Charlotte Desbiens with her parents

Heart surgery survivor Charlotte Desbiens with her parents

“I don’t want any other person’s parents going through what my parents went through,” says Charlotte Desbiens, a remarkable little girl who underwent three heart surgeries before age three.

Charlotte, with a sense of compassion well beyond her years, tells her story in a powerful video announcing a $130-million gift to create the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Disease.  The unprecedented donation will allow researchers to explore “the mechanism of what goes wrong in heart function,” says Dr. Janet Rossant, Chief of Research at the Hospital for Sick Children. Hers is one of the three Toronto-based organizations partnering to create the Centre.

Stem cell research and development is a major component of the work the Centre will undertake. While SickKids will focus on harnessing the genomics to decode the genetic foundations of cardiac disease and the University Health Network (UHN) will target the translation of research discoveries into the delivery of care for patients, the University of Toronto (U of T) will combine stem cell technology with new approaches in cellular and tissue engineering to find ways to regenerate heart muscle, coronary vessels, and heart valves.

The Centre is named after Edward Samuel “Ted” Rogers, Jr., the telecommunications pioneer and President and CEO of Rogers Communications Inc. until his death in 2008. According to the UHN press release, the Rogers family’s donation is the largest monetary gift ever made to a Canadian health care initiative. It will be matched with $139 million funds from SickKids, UHN, and U of T for a total investment of $269 million.

The Nov. 20th Rogers Centre announcement was one of two significant endorsements of stem cell R&D in recent days. On Tuesday, the Government of Ontario awarded $3.1 million to the Ontario Stem Cell Initiative (OSCI) and the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) to establish the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine (OIRM).

OIRM will focus on translating stem cell research into new cures and treatments for degenerative diseases.  Specific “disease challenge” teams have been identified:  Dr. Valerie Wallace at the U of T leads a team tackling age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the developed world; Dr. Gordon Keller, also at the U of T, is focusing efforts on treatments for ventricular fibrillation, the leading cause of cardiac arrest; and Dr. Mick Bhatia at McMaster University will advance the use stem cells to get the immune system to destroy tumours.  The announcement was covered in the Globe and Mail.

The key takeaway from both these announcements is that it will take a concerted effort from many different players to tackle diseases that have baffled medical science for too long. And it will take time. As noted in the Globe piece, OIRM’s $3.1 million only covers the awarded projects for a single year. “In comparison, California has invested $3 billion in regenerative medicine in the past decade and has several promising treatments now in clinical trials.”

As the newspaper reports, the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, representing a coalition of scientists, medical professionals, health charities, industry experts and philanthropists, “called on the federal government in October to commit half a billion dollars over a decade to boost stem cell research and development in Canada.”

The Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan is a 10-year plan to accelerate the safe translation of research discoveries into new cell-based therapies, products and technologies. Just as the Rogers Centre for Heart Disease has set specific goals — to reduce hospitalization for heart failure by 50% in the next 10 years — the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy keeps an eye on the prize: it’s an aggressive Action Plan for Canada to lead the way in bringing up to 10 breakthrough therapies to the clinic by 2025. It will mean Canadians will have access to effective new treatments and will reduce the burden of disease on caregivers. It will also create jobs, enhance productivity and strengthen our economy.

Find out more about the Strategy here.

Because, ultimately, it is all about finding ways to cure diseases so that wonderful little girls like Charlotte live long and happy lives. And so that parents don’t have to worry.

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12
May 2014
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Putting patients first in Strategy

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Making sure that Canadian patients have safe, early access to the kind of innovative treatments that will emerge from stem cell research was the focus of the Second Health Charities Forum.…

Making sure that Canadian patients have safe, early access to the kind of innovative treatments that will emerge from stem cell research was the focus of the Second Health Charities Forum.

“There clearly is strong support for moving stem cell research forward safely and effectively,” says James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, which organized the Forum in partnership with the Health Charities Coalition of Canada.  “The health charities, which represent millions of patients, realize they have an absolutely vital role to play in making sure that patients benefit from the emergence of new stem cell based treatments and cures.”

Held April 29th in Toronto, the second Forum — a first was held in November — was part of an ongoing national dialogue to craft a strategy for advancing stem cell research and development.  Discussion centred on ensuring patients can safely access innovative therapies as they make the transition from clinical trials stage to clinical practice.

The health charities leaders agreed that their organizations are ready to play an important role in patient/public engagement for the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan and its ultimate implementation.

Along with input from the health charities, the final draft of the Strategy,  slated to be ready this fall,  will reflect more than nine months of expert stakeholder consultations with  stem cell researchers, business and community leaders, industry and other leaders.

Second Health Charities Forum Participants

• Bill Barrable (The Rick Hansen Institute)
• Alan Bernstein (Canadian Stem Cell Foundation)
• Sîan Bevan (Canadian Cancer Society)
• Sue DeLisle (Canadian Stem Cell Foundation)
• Sam Donaldson (Ontario Stem Cell Initiative)
• Debbie Fung (KPMG)
• Janet Hux (Canadian Diabetes Association)
• Lori Lyons (The Foundation Fighting Blindness- Canada)
• Robin Markowitz (Lymphoma Canada);
• Michael May (Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine)
• Rob Oliphant (The Asthma Society)
• Biljana (Billie) Potkonjak (Canadian Liver Foundation)
• James Price (Canadian Stem Cell Foundation)
• Carolyn Pullen (Heart and Stroke Foundation)
• Johnathan Riley (The Arthritis Society)
• Janet Rossant (Ontario Stem Cell Initiative)
• Lisa Salapatek (Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada)
• Marla Spiegel (Muscular Dystrophy Canada)
• Phil Welford (Stem Cell Network)

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04
Apr 2014
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After the fury, will STAP stem cells stand up?

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The news this week that a Japanese researcher who claimed to have discovered a much simpler way to create stem cells has been found guilty of misconduct has sent a shock wave through the international stem cell community.…

The news this week that a Japanese researcher who claimed to have discovered a much simpler way to create stem cells has been found guilty of misconduct has sent a shock wave through the international stem cell community.

More importantly, it has everyone wondering:  does this revolutionary new method of making stem cells work?

In January, NewsDesk reported on the excitement generated by reports that researchers at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, working with a team in the Boston, had transformed blood cells from newborn mice into pluripotent cells called STAP cells.

The STAP (stimulus-triggered activation of pluripotency) process stresses the cells by exposing them to trauma, low oxygen levels or mildly acidic solutions so that they revert to an embryonic-stem-cell-like state. Lead author Dr. Haruko Obokata (pictured at right) of the RIKEN Center said work was already underway to replicate the technique with human cells.

Until now there have only been two basic ways of making stem cells: harvesting them from embryos (embryonic stem cells), or genetically reprogramming adult cells to function like embryonic stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells). To put the impact of Dr. Obokata’s discovery in context, the 2006 discovery of induced pluripotent cells earned her countryman  Dr. Shinya Yamanaka the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012.

However, on Tuesday, a RIKEN-led committee investigating six problems with the STAP findings, which were published in the high-prestige journal Nature, ruled that in two instances Dr. Obokata had intentionally manipulated data. Both dealt with images of the cells used to support the findings.

CTV carried an Associated Press report in which RIKEN Institute President Dr.  Ryoji Noyori said that, after allowing for an appeal, “disciplinary action would be taken, including calling for retraction of the suspect paper.”  Nature, meanwhile is conducting its own investigation.

For her part, Dr. Obokata has vigorously denied doing anything wrong and is appealing the decision, calling it “a misunderstanding.”

The fracas follows concerns over the use of several duplicated images in the findings as well as reports that scientists working in other labs have been unable to reproduce the same results by using the STAP process. The latter is not entirely surprising: it can take time to get a new process exactly right — especially one that is a revolutionary as what Dr. Obokata’s team came up with.

In fact, the RIKEN investigators haven’t said if STAP is scientifically valid.  Nature News reported that the committee “repeatedly fended off questions about whether the technology works and, thus, whether STAP cells actually exist,” quoting one investigator as saying, “That is beyond the scope of our investigation.”

 

Dr. Janet Rossant, Chief of Research and Senior Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto urges caution before passing judgment.

“The team in RIKEN is still continuing to believe in the basic finding and will surely be working to revalidate the findings,” Dr. Rossant wrote to NewsDesk in an email. “We await new reports from the lab in Japan and, critically, reports from other labs worldwide as to whether this finding can be readily and robustly replicated.”

So, while the storm around the misrepresented data rages, the scientific world waits to see if STAP stands up to the test of time.

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24
Jan 2014
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‘An amazing time’

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“It is an amazing time to be a stem cell scientist,” says Dr. Janet Rossant, Chief of Research and Senior Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and one of the members of the Foundation’s Science Leadership Council.…

“It is an amazing time to be a stem cell scientist,” says Dr. Janet Rossant, Chief of Research and Senior Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and one of the members of the Foundation’s Science Leadership Council.

Dr. Rossant is an internationally recognized expert in developmental biology and the President of International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR). In her recent video, she addressed the international stem cell community to underline the importance of global partnerships.

With many questions to be answered in the future, stem cell scientists worldwide “are on the course of taking stem cells and turning them into new therapies to treat some of the major chronic diseases, such as Parkinson’s or diabetes,” she says.

In order to achieve this, stem cell scientists, bio engineers, clinicians and regulators should all work together. “Come join us and make a difference,” says Dr. Rossant.

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