Stem Cell Research

07
Oct 2014
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Dr. Alan Bernstein

Foundation’s leader named to Medical Hall of Fame

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Dr. Alan Bernstein, Chair of the Board of Directors for the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, has received perhaps the highest national honour in medicine: membership in the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.…

Dr. Alan Bernstein, Chair of the Board of Directors for the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, has received perhaps the highest national honour in medicine: membership in the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

Dr. Bernstein, whose career encompasses success in both conducting outstanding research and creating the right conditions for outstanding research to be done, is one of six leading researchers and medical practitioners who will be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame April 23 in Winnipeg.

“The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame is proud to welcome these six medical heroes as honoured members,” Dr. Jean Gray, the Hall’s Chair. Gray, said in a press release. “Their contributions to health in Canada and the world are well documented and their induction to The Canadian Medical Hall of Fame is richly deserved.”

An internationally respected scientist, Dr. Bernstein made important discoveries in stem cell and cancer research, publishing more than 225 papers and advancing the understanding of the Friend virus in leukemia.  His stem cell roots run deep: he did his PhD studies at the University of Toronto with Dr. James Till who, with research partner Dr. Ernest McCulloch, had discovered stem cells in the early 1960s.

As director of the Mount Sinai’s Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute (now the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute) he built the institute into one of the leading research facilities in the world.  A Gairdner Wightman Award winner and Order of Canada member, he led the transformation of health research in Canada as the founding president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and oversaw a close to three-fold increase in Canada’s budget for health research.

After serving as CIHR’s leader for seven years, during which time he refocused and energized the Canadian health research community, Dr. Bernstein went on to head the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise.  He now serves as President and CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, which brings together almost  400 of Canada’s and the world’s best researchers to address questions of importance to the world.

“Alan is one of the giants of Canadian health research,” said Foundation President and CEO James Price. “With his lifetime of achievements, he truly deserves this outstanding honour. We’re delighted to congratulate him and feel extremely fortunate to have him guiding our Foundation as Board Chair.”

The other inductees include:

  • Dr. Judith G. Hall, a pediatrician and geneticist who has been at the international forefront of here field for more than four decades;
  • Dr. Bernard Langer, a global pioneer of hepatobiliary/pancreatic (HPB) surgery who developed a world-leading academic HPB and liver transplant service at Toronto General Hospital;
  • the late Dr. John McCrae, the co-author of the influential Text-Book of Pathology for Students of Medicine  and author of  In Flanders Fields;
  • Dr. Julio Montaner,  who led an international consortium of investigators to test the viability of a novel drug combination called ‘highly active antiretroviral therapy’ (HAART) to suppress HIV replication; and
  • Dr. Duncan G. Sinclair, an internationally recognized leader in health care reform.
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12
May 2014
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cellCAN official

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CellCAN aims to make regenerative medicine a reality

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CellCAN, a new national Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network officially began operations today in Montreal.

Based at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, the new Network will support clinical development of regenerative medicine.…

CellCAN, a new national Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy Network officially began operations today in Montreal.

Based at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, the new Network will support clinical development of regenerative medicine.

“Regenerative cell therapies offer almost unlimited possibilities that will transform the very nature of medicine and will have a significant impact on our health systems,” said Dr. Denis Claude Roy, a member of the Joint Strategy Working Group for the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy and Director of CellCAN, in a press release.

With Canada ranking among the top countries in the world in stem cell research, the goal of CellCAN is “to provide the essential bridge between research and clinical and commercial applications, helping regenerative medicine and cell therapy to successfully meet expectations.”

CellCAN will bring together the main stem cell therapy centres and different stakeholders involved in stem cell research — scientists, governments, researchers, clinicians, funders, industry, charities, patient representatives and the public.

“Specifically, CellCAN will promote exchanges, cooperation, partnership, development and innovation in regenerative medicine and cell therapy,” said Dr. Roy.

Over the next four years, CellCAN will receive $1.6 million through the Networks of Centres of Excellence Program, which provides national funding on behalf of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, along with Industry Canada and Health Canada.

The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation will closely support and partner with CellCAN in its efforts to facilitate and increase access to stem cell therapies for heart diseases, diabetes, cancer and other diseases that affect Canadians.

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28
Apr 2014
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George Daley Screen Capture

International Panel envisions leading role for Canada in cell therapy boom

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Canada can play a lead role in the coming boom in regenerative medicine and cell therapy technologies, according to an International Expert Advisory Panel.

Canada can play a lead role in the coming boom in regenerative medicine and cell therapy technologies, according to an International Expert Advisory Panel.

Led by Chair Dr. George Q. Daley of Harvard Medical School, pictured at left, the panelists agreed that stem cell research and development is at a major inflection point, and that the next decade will see the arrival of novel disease treatments that will transform patients’ lives and build a new multibillion dollar cell therapy industry.

The Panel, with experts from stem cell research, ethics, and commercialization and the biomedical industry, met in Toronto earlier this spring to review a draft of the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action Plan.

Panelists agreed that Canada is in a strong position thanks to a remarkable record of research excellence, from the discovery of stem cells more than 50 years ago by Drs. Jim Till and Ernest McCulloch to Dr. John Dick’s identification of the cellular origins of leukemia earlier this year.

The Panel also cited Canada’s collaborative, well-trained and well-equipped R&D community and the country’s universal health care system, which can facilitate large-scale clinical trials, as other key factors in driving new therapies to the clinic.

They saw a clear need for developing and implementing a Canadian strategy to capitalize on those strengths and capture the health and economic benefits that to be realized over the next 10 years.

The International Expert Advisory Panel will meet again in Vancouver in June. The Panel’s comments and suggestions — along with those from workshops with health charities organizations, clinicians, researchers, industry leaders and philanthropists — will help shape the final version of the Strategy.

International Expert Advisory Panel Members

George Q. Daley (Chair)

Samuel E. Lux IV Professor of Hematology/Oncology, Harvard Medical School

Director, Stem Cell Transplantation Program, Children’s Hospital Boston

Boston, MA, USA

Alan Bernstein

President & Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

Founding President, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Toronto, ON

Gregory Bonfiglio

Founder & Managing Partner, Proteus Venture Partners

Portola Valley, CA, USA

Julia Levy

Co-Founder and former President & CEO and Chief Scientific Officer, QLT Inc.

Vancouver, BC

Geoff MacKay

President and Chief Executive Officer, Organogenesis Inc.

Canton, MA, USA

Chris Mason

Professor of Regenerative Medicine Bioprocessing

Advanced Centre for Biochemical Engineering, University College of London

London, UK

Debra Mathews

Assistant Director for Science Programs, Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, MD, USA

Stephen Minger

Global Head, Research & Development for Cell Technologies, GE Healthcare Life Sciences

London, UK

Martin Pera

Professor Stem Cell Sciences, University of Melbourne

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and The Florey Neurosciences Institute

Program Leader of Stem Cells Australia

Melbourne, VIC, Australia

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07
Apr 2014
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Jeff Biernaskie Screen Captuer

Jeff Biernaskie

The bald truth

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The Daily Mail, one of the feistier UK tabloid papers, recently blasted this headline across its health pages:

Have scientists discovered a cure for BALDNESS? 

The Daily Mail, one of the feistier UK tabloid papers, recently blasted this headline across its health pages:

Have scientists discovered a cure for BALDNESS? 

Would that it were true.  According to the Huffington Post, 80 million Americans “suffer from hair loss.” For Canada, then, about 8 million people are hiding hairless heads under their hockey toques. (Full disclosure: I am one of them.)

The article is based on research conducted at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and published in Nature.  In a nutshell, Dr. Xiaowei “George” Xu, converted human skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells to produce large quantities of epithelial stem cells, which are normally found in hair follicles. When transferred to mice, the cells created “recognizable” shafts of hair.

How recognizable is debatable.  But still, this represents an advance.

However, Dr. Xu urged caution: “We have solved one major problem, the epithelial component of the hair follicle. We need to figure out a way to also make new dermal papillae cells, and no one has figured that part out yet.”

Dr. Jeff Biernaskie (pictured at right) of the University of Calgary agrees. Any cure for baldness, he says, would have to incorporate re-invigorating dermal cell function.

“The problem is the dysfunction of these inductive dermal cells. Essentially, they either start providing wrong signals or they die off or atrophy. So the therapy that needs to be championed is actually restoring the function of dermal papillae cells. You need to revitalize those cells to restore hair growth.”

Dr. Biernaskie is not focused on finding new ways for follicles to grow on the heads of bald people. His lab is trying to decode how stem cells work to rebuild skin tissue for burn survivors, or people with chronic non-healing ulcers.

The reality, however, is that any stem cell researcher who could come up with a cure for hair loss would have the cosmetics industry pounding down their door. There would be billions of dollars to be made from such discovery — enough to set a researcher up for life, allowing him or her focus on tackling problems that can’t be solved with a wig or expensive hair transplants. “To be honest, I don’t know what could happen,” says Dr. Biernaskie, “but probably you would be financially set.”

Meanwhile, he and researchers around the world are trying to figure out the dermis puzzle.

“The reason we are working on dermis is that, while it’s a key target for restoring hair growth for conditions like androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness), it’s also critical for maintaining proper epidermal cell function and overall skin health. So if you can understand how to regenerate the epidermis and the dermis without forming scars and potentially generating new appendages (like follicles and glands) within that skin, that’s sort of a Holy Grail.”

Until then, the search continues. As does being bald.

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02
Dec 2013
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Keep calm and carry on searching for cures

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A remarkable new Canadian report provides a snapshot of the state of “novel” stem cell clinical trials — those not about bone marrow transplantation for blood-based cancers — around the world.…

A remarkable new Canadian report provides a snapshot of the state of “novel” stem cell clinical trials — those not about bone marrow transplantation for blood-based cancers — around the world.

Published in Regenerative Medicine, The global landscape of stem cell clinical trials goes a long way to separate the hype from the hope around stem cell research and development.

The basic message of what the authors call “the most comprehensive account of the global stem cell clinical trial landscape to date” might be condensed to that recently refreshed British maxim from the Second World War: Keep calm and carry on.

“People have done it in a less systematic way,” says co-author Prof. Tania Bubela of other attempts to capture the global stem cell landscape.  “But they didn’t work out what’s new.”

Prof. Bubela, a lawyer and Associate Professor at University of Alberta School of Public Health, wrote the report with lead author Dr. Matthew D. Li of the Stanford University School of Medicine, and Dr. Harry Atkins, a clinician/researcher at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute who specializes in stem cell transplantation for the treatment of autoimmune diseases.

They looked at every stem cell trial listed in worldwide registries up to Dec. 31, 2012. Of the 4,749 studies, almost 80% involve improving bone marrow transplantation using hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells to treat leukemia and other blood-based cancers — or treating transplant-related conditions.

That work has been going on for five decades, with more than 1 million transplants performed so far. It’s no surprise, then, that so many trials are being carried out in countries with established infrastructure for bone marrow transplantation. It shows that developing clinical capacity and technical infrastructure to process and deliver cell therapies will be crucial to the ongoing development of regenerative medicine.

Setting those trials aside leaves 22% — or 1,058 clinical trials — testing novel therapies for a variety of maladies ranging from kidney conditions (eight clinical trials) to cardiovascular disease (278). It’s on these non-traditional trials that the report focuses.

And the findings are enlightening:

  • In spite of enormous media attention, embryonic stem cells are being used in just a handful of clinical trials worldwide.
  • The use of allogeneic (donated) stem cells “has increased rapidly since 2009” but autologous procedures (using a patient’s own stem cells) still prevail.
  • Asian countries — especially China, but also South Korea, India and Japan — have surpassed the United States and Europe in volume of novel clinical trials.  Trials are also increasing in Australia, Brazil, Iran and Israel.
  • Industry partners are involved at least 25% the time, up significantly since 2004.  This is particularly true in American states such as California, where 50% of all trials involve industry sponsorship or collaboration.
  • Big pharma, however, is still on the fence: worldwide, most of the companies involved in novel trials are small to medium sized.
  • Despite gaps in knowledge about the duration of their survival and impact on surrounding tissues, mesenchymal stem cells (found in bone marrow, umbilical cord blood ,muscle and fat tissue) are being used Phase 2 trials for diabetes, pulmonary hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease because of their “regenerative and reparative” potential.

Prof. Bubela makes the point that not all clinical trials are created equal. Regarding the proliferation of trials in Asia, she cautions that “just because they are listed in a registry doesn’t mean they have proper oversight or regulatory approval.”  Some, she says, may be run by stem cell tourism operations — clinics that entice North Americans and Europeans to travel to their centres for unproven treatments that cost many thousands of dollars.

“You could speculate that they could be using it (the clinical trial) as a recruitment tool or for some form or legitimacy for the work they are doing.“

The report stresses that despite pressure from “patient groups desperate for therapies and cures for currently untreatable conditions” and “industry and policy makers eager to see a return on substantial investments,” moving treatments from clinical trials to clinical practice is going to take some time.

“If you look at the trajectory of any complex biologic (treatment), from R&D through regulatory processes, that just gives you market approval — it doesn’t give you a market,” says Prof. Bubela. “You still need to get clear reimbursement thresholds established.  To get the complicated stuff through, you can be looking at 20-30-year development pipelines.”

The report concludes that “the field is progressing at a steady pace, but the therapeutic rhetoric must be tempered to reflect current clinical and research realities.”

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