One of the consistent themes of the Till and McCulloch Meetings (#TMM2014) is its commitment to having students and postdocs on stage presenting their work. These sessions have been regularly cited by my colleagues as the most interesting and engaging sessions with the most new data. The last few meetings they have called these sessions “Under the Microscope” – a playful title that hides the fact that this series of 15-minute talks from the best abstracts are the neatest new stuff in Canadian stem cell science.
These sessions have been regularly cited by my colleagues as the most interesting and engaging sessions with the most new data.
Several talks later, Daniel Coutu (former SCN trainee now in Zurich with Timm Schroeder) showcased a pretty cool technology aimed at finding skeletal stem cell populations. Coutu argued that more than 400 clinical trials existed that purported to use mesenchymal or skeletal stem cells without any markers or assays to detect them… he contended that this was a major reason why there was so much uncertainty about whether or not such trials were showing success – and I must say I totally agree.
Coutu outlined his quest to find skeletal stem cells – numerous markers have been tried in isolation, but Coutu set out to find out how well they overlapped and how well they correlated with each other. Using the individual fluorescence data from cells isolated from both the trabecular bone and the long bone portion of the femur, he performed cluster analysis to identify 20 distinct cell populations that could be isolated from amongst the several million possible combinations of marker positive and/or marker negative populations. He then performed bone sectioning studies on material to get a sense of where these populations are located in vivo by performing 10-colour immunostaining – an incredible number of markers for a confocal microscopy study. The process is arduous and takes a full month to do all the stains and analysis for this many parameters, but the pictures that can be constructed are pretty impressive.
Unfortunately, this represents the very preliminary stages of the work and as Fabio Rossi questioned Coutu on the functional output of these novel populations, it became clear that more work needed to be done. However, this is a major technological step forward since the number of parameters that can typically be studied in these assays is quite limiting. The technology therefore opens up many opportunities to understand the niche of the bone marrow, which has been traditionally quite difficult due to its lack of rigid architecture.
It’s this kind of exciting new advance that is not quite complete that often emerges in these types of sessions and they really represent a great place for discussion and also for exposure to the newest and most exciting technologies and/or experimental setups. I wish more meetings were so dedicated to pushing students and postdocs to the stage — conferences would benefit enormously from letting trainees shine.
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