View from the floor: ISSCR final day

Author: Ben Paylor, 06/21/11

The final day of the 9th annual ISSCR meeting was truly a memorable one, with several excellent talks and touching moments. An incredibly moving presentation by Charles Sabine in the morning stands out, and I fear my description will not do it justice. For many, I expect his talk was the highlight of the entire symposium, as his eloquence and gripping human story brought tears to the eyes of many of the audience members. An Emmy winning news-anchor who broadcasted with NBC for 26 years, Charles has reported from the front lines of some of the most chilling humanitarian crises around the world. But his presence at the ISSCR was due to a condition more terrifying than the plethora of horrible events he has witnessed. A sufferer and patient advocate for Huntington’s disease, Charles described how the disease had taken the life of the his father, crippled his brother, and will one day leave his body a mere shadow of what it is today, a fact he learned six years ago after being tested for the disorder. His story was terrifying indeed, but his talk focused on a principle human emotion: hope. His overall message was one of promise and gratitude, thanking the members of the ISSCR for working on a field of medical research that will one day provide answers for the debilitating disease he suffers from. The talk was truly a unique experience, and one that will stay with many of the conference attendees as they travel back to their respective homes.

His story was not the only touching personal moment on the last day. Shinya Yamanaka and his student Kazutoshi Takahashi received the McEwen Centre Award for Innovation, providing numerous humorous anecdotes in their reception speeches, such as Dr. Takahashi noting that numerous factors had “fully reprogrammed his life”. It was again an emotional experience with the pair expressing heartfelt gratitude as they offered a brief glimpse into their incredibly fascinating and successful story. The day held numerous interesting talks as well, such as Christine Mummery’s description of the applications of iPS-derived cardiomyocytes for cardiac safety pharmacology, Li Qian’s report on in vivo reprogramming of cardiac fibroblasts into cardiomyocytes and Peter Coffey presenting his work on regenerative therapies for use in treating macular degeneration (a talk quite similar to the one he gave at the 2010 SCN Scientific Meeting last fall). The conference was closed with the 4th Annual Anne McLaren Memorial lecture given by Nicole Le Douarin. Her talk focused on a somewhat historical evaluation of the multipotent nature of stem cells from the neural crest and their highly invasive behavior during development.

The ISSCR is an incredible event to attend — both the quantity and the quality of the scientific data presented at the conference are extremely high. The focus is principally on basic science, with limited clinical work being presented, but the names on all the biggest papers you’ve been reading each day at work are there to see and speak with. Contrasting it with the SCN Scientific Meeting, ISSCR is certainly less personal and open, a fact that makes one appreciate the incredible stem cell community that we have here in Canada. With the 2012 ISSCR being held in Yokohama, Japan next summer I can only hope to have the opportunity to participate in such a thought provoking and educational experience.

 

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Ben Paylor

Ben Paylor

Ben Paylor completed a Bachelor of Medical Science at the University of Western Ontario, which included a 1-year research exchange to Umea in Northern Sweden. Following his Bachelors, he completed a 2-year Masters of Philosophy in Cardiovascular Biology and Medicine at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Experimental Medicine program under the supervision of Dr. Fabio Rossi at the University of British Columbia. His research focuses on understanding the role of tissue-resident mesenchymal progenitors in repair processes of the heart. Outside of science, Ben is an avid pianist and tennis player, as well as being very interested in the field of science communication and policy.  The writer and director of several award-winning science films, Ben is also the co-founder and director of InfoShots (www.infoshots.com), a science-based animation studio that is currently producing the Stem Cell Network's StemCellShorts series. Ben is the Chair of the Trainee Communications Committee at the Stem Cell Network, sits on the National Advisory Committee of the high school outreach program StemCellTalks and is a 2012/13 Action Canada fellow.
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