Dr. Shinya Yamanaka

14
Nov 2016
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McMaster’s research centre marks decade with new site/logo

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After a decade of innovation, McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute (SCC-RI) has launched a new website to draw attention to research advances and share links to resources for patients, care givers and future scientists. …

After a decade of innovation, McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute (SCC-RI) has launched a new website to draw attention to research advances and share links to resources for patients, care givers and future scientists.  The SCC-RI’s new logo, a stylized hand, represents the numerous people involved in translating research into new therapeutic options for patients.

The SCC-RI was established in 2006 — the same year Dr. Shinya Yamanaka established his game-changing protocol to turn adult skin stem cells back to an embryonic stem cell-like state of pluripotency — to drive new therapies to the clinic. Since the beginning, SCC-RI has focused its research on improving bone marrow and cord blood transplants, finding cell-based solutions to cancer and identifying and targeting the cells responsible for neural disorders such as autism.

“Our commitment to working with human cells and our established drug discovery capabilities make this the best place for moving forward to patient-specific drug discovery,” said Dr. Karun Singh, Principal Investigator at SCC-RI in a recent blog post.

Dr. Singh recently led a team that discovered a gene mutation that causes autism spectrum disorders (ASD).  Having identified the genetic glitch, researchers can now focus their efforts on finding a way to improve the brain connections that are causing symptoms of ASD.

The SCC-RI team has developed a robotic system to test a library of currently available drugs on a variety of diseased cells before starting human trials. In a landmark study, Dr. Mick Bhatia, SCC-RI Director and Senior Scientist, found the antipsychotic drug, thioridazine, kills cancer stem cells responsible for initiating leukemia without harming normal stem cells. A  Phase I clinical trial is now underway.

 

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25
Aug 2016
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Dr. Shinya Yamanaka

Are we there yet?

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(This post is one of several addressing a single subject today in a blog carnival to mark the 10th anniversary of the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells.

(This post is one of several addressing a single subject today in a blog carnival to mark the 10th anniversary of the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells. Please click here to read what other bloggers have to say.)

As summer holidays wind down, most parents are now too familiar with the following question: Are we there yet?

Any family trip to a campground, cottage or Nana’s house in Northport starts off with excitement for all concerned, what with getting up early, packing the car and hitting the road. For kids, though, it’s magical. Then, after about an hour of travelling, regardless what onboard entertainment you’ve arranged, boredom sets in. Two hours into the trip, they’re sure you’re never going to get them there.

Waiting for stem cell discoveries to turn into actual treatments is a lot like that, except that instead of hours, it’s decades. Instead of frustration, the feeling is desperation.

Consider the remarkable discovery, by Japan’s Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, that adult cells extracted from skin can be reprogrammed to an embryonic stem-cell-like state to reproduce any cell required for transplant or to repair organs and tissue. We first heard about these induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) on August 25, 2006. A decade later, we’re still waiting for the Nobel Prize-winning work to turn into treatments.

People, especially those suffering from life-threatening diseases, want to know why we’re still waiting. Unlike bored children, they have far more riding on the answer to the Are we there yet? question. For them, it’s life and death.

At the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t contact us seeking a stem cell treatment for themselves or a loved one. Today, it was a 48-year-old Toronto man whose doctor had told him his ALS will kill him. At least we could point him in the direction of Dr. Eva Feldman at the University of Michigan, who is trying to get a Phase 2 clinical trial going on a stem cell treatment for ALS.

In all areas of medical research, the wheel turns slowly. It can take decades of lab work and clinical trials and hundreds of millions of dollars to bring new treatments to patients. Consider cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women. In 1972, Germany’s Dr. Harald zur Hausen started working on the notion that the disease is caused by a virus. It took about 35 years — most of his career — for HPV vaccines to make it to market.

It’s even more complicated for stem cells, a relative newcomer to the scene. While their existence was proven in Canada by Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch in the early 1960s, the focus afterwards was on bone marrow stem cells for treating leukemia. Embryonic stem cells have only been in play since 1998. Realistically, iPS cells are still the new cells on the block.

Cell-based therapies represent a whole new way of thinking about treating diseases, and regenerative medicine is a disruptive technology. Unlike a vaccine or a drug, the actual therapy isn’t an easy thing to grasp for industry, whose commitment is crucial in moving things from the lab bench to the hospital bed.

What’s needed, then, is an innovative approach. We need to think bigger. That’s why our Foundation is championing the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy, a private/public partnership to deliver up to 10 new curative therapies to the clinic within 10 years. Crafted in consultation with 150 scientists, doctors, leaders from health charities, industry experts and philanthropists, it is backed by an in-depth KPMG study and endorsed by an international panel of experts.

The private sector is already at the table, pledging more than $350 million toward R&D — almost one-quarter of the $1.5-billion Strategy. Other industry partners, health charities and leading Canadian philanthropists are prepared to make major contributions upon demonstration of a federal commitment to the plan. We’re asking the Government of Canada, as part of its Innovation Agenda, to provide one-third, about $50 million annually over 10 years.

Are we there yet? Clearly not. But a coordinated national road map can get us there.

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29
Jun 2016
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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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29
Nov 2013
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A small clinical trial says big things about Japan

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Japan is moving forward with its plans to fast-track the use of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to treat diseases — and revitalize its economy.…

Japan is moving forward with its plans to fast-track the use of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to treat diseases — and revitalize its economy.

According to the Japan Times, the country last week officially passed a law “to promote safe and swift treatment using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and other stem cells.” The legislation had previously received lower-house parliamentary approval.

As touched upon in an earlier post, Japanese scientists are now conducting world’s first human tests using iPS cells to treat age-related macular degeneration – the leading cause of vision loss in people over 50.

It’s no surprise they are first. Japan’s Dr. Shinya Yamanaka demonstrated how to create human iPs cells six years ago, inducing  adult skin cells to become pluripotent (capable of differentiating into any cell the body needs). These cells function much like human embryonic stem cells but come without any controversy over destroying embryos to create them. The downside to iPS cells is a safety concern that the reprogrammed cells could potentially cause tumours to form. Researchers in Canada and around the world have been working on solutions to that.

Dr. Yamanaka  won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his efforts. Throwing their support behind his work, Japan’s government recently announced it would invest more than $1 billion over the next 10 years in researching and developing iPS cells.

There is much more than national pride at stake, however.  According to Bloomberg News, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sees cellular regeneration as a key element of economic regeneration. His government, the report says, “estimates that stem cells’ potential to rejuvenate worn-out body parts or reverse degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s may yield $380 billion in sales by 2050.”

The macular degeneration trial involves just six patients using iPS cells generated from their own skin. It is a  tiny study by any measure. But it represents a big step in the country’s efforts to develop a stake in that potential mega-billion-dollar market.

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