Bridging the gap between stem cell science and cell therapy

17 December 2014
Enjoying the networking at Lorne! (Courtesy Sue Mei)

Scientists involved in basic stem cell research rarely get the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with colleagues involved in the development and delivery of cellular therapies. For the first time in the Australian stem cell field, the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research (ASSCR), the Australian New Zealand region of the International Society for Cellular Therapy (ISCT) and Stem Cells Australia held a joint conference, bringing together scientists from basic and clinical research, engineering and industry.

The theme of the 2014 conference - Narrowing the gap between stem cell science and cell therapy - was clearly realized in the conference program, which featured dedicated sessions on tissue engineering; taking stem cell therapies to the clinic; pluripotency; reprogramming and developmental biology. Scientists from all fields were exposed to the latest breakthroughs in regenerative biology, the success stories of clinical translation, and the latest technologies for mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) propagation.

The conference proceedings were kick-started with a prudent talk by the acclaimed Prof. Alan Trounson, who discussed the need for innovative and scalable processes for cell therapy manufacturing and the need for change in Australia’s federal research policy to support it. Prof. Massimo Dominici, President of ISCT then spoke about his exciting research using MSCs as targeted tumour killers and tools to explore the process of stem cell aging.

Other highlights included Dr. Miguel Esteban from Chinese Academy of Sciences who gave an amusing and insightful review to the SCA retreat members about the long and intricate road that pluripotent stem cells and reprogramming has taken over the last decade. Prof. Ernst Wolvetang from The University of Queensland, detailed how to take basic research findings from the lab and turn them into clinical therapies for neurological diseases within a matter of months. Prof. Peter Gray discussed the latest breakthrough in stem cell culture using nano-particle technology, which may one day soon revolutionize the way we culture our cells.

The conference also included an Early Career Researcher’s Workshop which gave students and junior investigators the opportunity to ask prominent scientists and clinicians from every career stage difficult questions about a career in science in Australia, the feasibility of starting a lab in the current funding climate, tips on how to stand out in a crowd and, to much amusement, what their biggest professional blunder was! The panel was made up of international and local scientists, scientists with industry experience, clinicians, researchers and clinician/researchers. Pizza and drinks were provided afterwards to stimulate lively interactions between the ECRs and panel members, who were more than happy to engage.

Set at the Mantra resort in Lorne on the Great Ocean Road, the conference provided ample opportunity for scientists of all backgrounds and years, to mingle in a relaxing environment and network with other scientists either inside or outside their field. The joint ASSCR-ISCT alfresco dinner facilitated networking, bridging the divide between clinical and basic researchers over superb food and endless wine. Many people took advantage of this unique opportunity by sharing a walk on the beach with their peers, or by discussing potential collaborations with those previously unknown to them.

Australia is fortunate to have vibrant stem cell science and cellular based therapy sectors. With continued interdisciplinary conferences, we can use the expertise from both sectors to develop new cell based therapies and products to improve people’s health and lives.

We would like to thank the conference sponsors including Cell Therapies, Life Technologies, Novartis, GE Healthcare Life Sciences, Invetech, Bluechip, Biomerieux and especially the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia for their generous support of our future innovators – students and early career researchers.

Thanks to Jarmon Lees for this conference report. Jarmon is a PhD student at The University of Melbourne and a recipient of a National Stem Cell Foundation Travel Award.