With rain, rain and more rain in the forecast, I was more than happy to escape wet and dreary Vancouver and attend the 18th International Society for Cellular Therapy (ISCT) annual meeting, which took place in Seattle, Washington last month. The weather was (slightly) drier and there was plenty of stem cell eye candy to keep me entertained.
During this week-long conference, the second floor of the beautiful Sheraton Seattle was transformed into a cell therapy showcase. Informative technical sessions gave exhibitors a chance to discuss techniques for cell imaging, preservation and expansion. One interesting technical presentation came from Anthony Ting, Senior Director of Regenerative Medicine at Athersys, who presented an abstract on the development of angiogenic potency assays for clinical stem cell production. Angiogenic potency is an important measure in clinical stem cell production because it reflects how effective those cells will be during treatment and is a quality control requirement during the manufacturing process. Scientists at Athersys were able to use the endothelial tube formation assay, an inexpensive and rapid technique, to define the angiogenic activity of their cell line, bringing them one step closer to creating a safe and cost-effective therapy for human patients.
While I didn’t have the chance to attend as many sessions as I would have liked, I did make a point of dropping in on several of the plenary sessions. One highlight for me was the session on “Stem Cells for Gene Therapy”. The discussion featured three speakers, Christoph Klein from Hannover Medical School in Germany, Nathalie Cartier from INSERM in France, and Andrew Scharenberg of the University of Washington. Dr. Klein presented the results of treating patients with Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome using hematopoietic stem cells. He found that the treatment was effective, resulting in improved platelet counts and reconstitution of the immune system, but also came with an increased risk of insertional leukemogenesis (cancer) due to the use of a retroviral vector to deliver the therapeutic cells. In an interesting detour, Dr. Scharenberg approached the session from a technical perspective. He introduced the audience to the use of site-specific nucleases to engineer cells for therapy. Several approaches exist for making targeted cuts in DNA and their mechanisms are unique. As a follow-up to their 2011 paper in Nature Methods, Dr. Scharenberg discussed the use of a novel reporter system to rapidly analyze the performance of the enzymes using flow cytometry. Being able to analyze nucleases quickly would allow further advances in the use of genome engineering technologies in research and therapy.
ISCT 2012 also featured daily themed abstract sessions, with a focus on both hematopoietic and non-hematopoietic stem cells on the final day, and corporate workshops on regenerative medicine and commercialization. Although the business side and the research side of science don’t always go hand in hand, I felt like the combination of research and commercialization presented at ISCT was beneficial to almost anyone who works with stem cells. The technical sessions really opened my eyes to the possibilities available for imaging, refining and testing cells while the clinical topics helped to ground the basic research with the wider issue of human health.