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Stem Cells in the Hunter Valley

20 November 2015
Discussing science in the Hunter Valley

In early November, distinguished scientists, clinician researchers and industry professionals from all over Australia gathered in the Hunter Valley to exchange scientific ideas and foster collaboration. 

This gathering was the 8th Annual Meeting of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research (ASSCR) - the second joint meeting with Stem Cells Australia and first joint meeting with the New South Wales Stem Cell Network - was successfully held among the wineries in Hunter Valley, NSW. Like a fine blended Rose, the conference brought together distinguished scientists, clinician researchers and industry professionals from all over Australia to exchange scientific ideas and foster collaboration.

Thanks to hard work from the organizers and event sponsors, the joint meeting went down like a treat. In addition, the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia kindly provided travel awards to make the conference easier to savour for many of the students and junior investigators.

The SCA retreat meeting consist of four themes; Pluripotency and Reprogramming, Cardiac Regeneration and Repair, Neural Regeneration and Repair; Haematopoiesis while the ASSCR conference had six major themes, namely; Basic Biology of Stem Cell Maintenance, Epigenetics, Disease Modelling, Stem Cells and Cancer, Bioengineering Tissues, Stem Cells and Clinical Translation, and How Stem Cell Companies operate. What was refreshing about this year’s conference was that each of the themes had a good mix of spicy, full bodied principle investigators and fruity, bubbly early career researchers.  

On the first day of the conference, Prof Mahendra Rao painstaking took the audience through his journey of transiting iPSC technologies from the laboratory to therapy in a clinical setting. There was also a very inspiring talk from Mr Adam Johnston, a patient advocate, on the importance of community engagement and lack of engagement from the scientific community. Conference attendees were able to feast their eyes on the latest work from internationally renowned researchers like Prof Michael Rudinicki and Prof Patrick Tam on the second day of the conference. Prof Tam enticed the audience by using latest RNA sequencing technologies to characterize the development of mouse embryos while Prof Rudinicki gave a delightful insight into the regulation of stem cell division. The second day of the conference also included luscious fruity notes that came in form of Dr James Hudson and Ms Jean Tan. Dr Hudson showed how he blended the wonders of engineering and biology to create an in-vitro model of the human heart. Ms Jean Tan also indulged the conference attendees by demonstrating that amnion cells can modulate inflammatory response in an injured lung. On the final day there were numerous talks from stem cell companies that added a much required complexity to the conference. It provided a rare opportunity for academic researchers to interact with representative from these companies and have a new appreciation of how their research can be translated. The conference was brought to a luscious finish by Prof Christine Mummery. She demonstrated how derivatives of stem cells could be used in understanding genetic cardiovascular disease.  

The inclusion of the Ethics and Legal session certainly made this year’s conference a memorable one. Ethical and legal issues are often dry and not very smooth with researchers however, Dr James Chong, the chair of the session, together with the three wonderful speakers, made the session very palatable. The facilitated discussion also left a delightful crisp aftertaste and attendees would have left with more issues to discuss.

Overall the conference proved to be successful marriage of basic science, translational and clinical application, and commercial outcome. Many of the attendees would be delighted to savour the fruit of the organization committee’s effort and would look forward to next year’s conference.  

This conference report was provided by Dr Kevin Lau from The University of Melbourne with Ms Katherine Lim contributing the photos.