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Stem cell symposium to highlight clinical trials, safety and regulation

April 17, 2018 By Kelly April Tyrrell
Photo: Gloved hands of researcher holding stem cell cultures

A researcher prepares stem-cell cultures in a UW–Madison laboratory in 2013. Photo: Jeff Miller

Twenty years ago this fall, a team of scientists led by James Thomson at the University of Wisconsin–Madison published the first paper describing successful derivation of human embryonic stem cells.

The discovery of these master human stem cells empowered a new and promising direction in biomedical research, and for the last 13 years, the annual Wisconsin Stem Cell Symposium, hosted by the UW–Madison Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center and the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute, has highlighted progress in the field.

Speakers at this year’s daylong meeting on April 18 will discuss clinical trials involving stem cells, safety considerations and the regulatory environment under which ongoing stem cell work takes place. It will also celebrate two decades of stem cell achievements by UW–Madison researchers and scientists around the world.

“The original discovery of human embryonic stem cells dazzled both researchers and the public with the promise of new therapies, but it has only been by 20 years of persistent and innovative efforts that the revolutionary new clinical applications are now emerging,” says Timothy Kamp, professor of medicine and co-director of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center. “We are fortunate to be joined by the leaders in this field who are pioneering these first clinical trials of stem cell-related therapies, treating a wide range of degenerative diseases.”

The first cells successfully divided in a dish in a laboratory at University Hospital in 1998, and in 2007 Thomson and his team created induced human pluripotent stem cells derived from adult skin cells. This unlocked even more potential for the field, promising patient-specific cells that could be used in an array of applications.

For example, Jane Lebkowski, president of research and development and chief scientific officer of Asterias Biotherapeutics in Fremont, California, will give a talk at the symposium on the use of pluripotent stem cells (stem cells with the potential to become many different types) in the treatment of degenerative neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease.

David Russell, professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, will talk about universal donor stem cells. Dennis Clegg, a professor from the University of California, Santa Barbara, will discuss stem cell therapies for ocular disease. Philippe Menasche, professor and heart surgeon at the University Paris Descartes and the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris, will describe the use of stem cells to treat heart failure.

Other speakers will highlight stem cells as therapies for diseases like diabetes and spinal cord injury, the biomanufacturing of cellular-based products for clinical use, the immunological barriers associated with stem cell therapies, and efforts to create safe and effective human pluripotent stem cell products for the clinic.

The symposium attracts UW–Madison researchers and trainees as well as investigators from other institutions and industry. Scientists from UW–Madison and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health will moderate the sessions, including Marina Emborg, David Gamm, Kamp, William Murphy, Jon Odorico and Thomson. Students and postdoctoral researchers will compete to present the best poster at the symposium.

The event will also kick off a host of activities to take place throughout the year that celebrate and highlight 20 years of human embryonic stem cells.

“These are exciting times as human pluripotent stem cell-based approaches start to be tested in clinical applications for a broad array of diseases; however, the challenges remain formidable. By working together, sharing strategies and partnering between academic researchers and industry, remarkable new therapies will emerge,” says Kamp. “We anticipate this year’s symposium will foster those discussions that will move us down the road to overcoming some of the most debilitating diseases.”

The meeting is open to the public with registration at the BTC Institute website, and will be held from 8:15 a.m. until 6 p.m. at the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center, 5445 E. Cheryl Parkway, Fitchburg, Wisconsin 53711.