Exploring reprogramming frontiers at the river's edge

07 June 2013
Scientists gather in Brisbane for Frontiers in Cell Reprogramming conference

For the first time more than 60 Australian researchers working in the area of cell reprogramming and induced pluripotent stem cells gathered to share the latest advances in their field in Brisbane. Meeting participants came from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth and took place at the picturesque Toowong Rowing Club on the bank of the Brisbane river.  Both the venue and the nature of the program provided an excellent setting for the informal exchange of scientific ideas and we anticipate many new and successful collaborative ventures based on initial conversations held at this meeting.

The meeting organized by Cell Reprogramming Australia (CRA), a not-for profit collaborative network that aims to advance cell reprogramming research in the region, included presentations by Professor Juan-Carlos Izpisua Belmonte from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies (USA). Professor Belmonte uses a powerful combination of model systems ranging from zebrafish, mice to human cells to elucidate and test cell reprogramming approaches for regenerative medicine applications. He showed that transport and signalling events at the nuclear lamina may not only play a role in accelerated ageing diseases such as Progeria but also in Parkinsons syndrome, using LRRK2 Parkinsons iPSC to exemplify this point. He further showed that TALEN based gene-editing can be used to correct sickle cell anaemia in human iPSC. He stressed the importance of having isogenic controls when using iPSC for elucidating disease mechanisms. His laboratory further uses direct reprogramming strategies for cardiac repair and, using cell lineage tracing approaches, showed that in the mouse endogenous cardiomyocytes can be induced to de-differentiate and effect cardiac repair.

This theme of direct cell reprogramming was next continued by Dr Sebastian Carrotta from the WEHI in Melbourne who uses the haematopoietic stem cell system in mice to explore cell de-differentiation. He showed that it is possible to reprogram B-cells to serially engraftable haematopoietic stem cells. A/Prof Sharon Ricardo from Monash University Victoria subsequently described the differentiation of human iPSC into kidney podocytes and how such an approach can be used to investigate kidney disease such as Alport syndrome. Prof Melissa Little from the IMB at the University of Queensland elegantly showed that understanding embryonic kidney development is critical for both establishing efficient differentiation protocols from pluripotent stem cells into kidney progenitors as well as the development of direct reprogramming approaches of the kidney. 

Prof Ryan Lister (UWA) opened the second day’s proceedings with a presentation of his work on the persistence of cell of origin methylome  in iPSC and the widespread non-CG methylation patterns observed in pluripotent stem cells.  Next A/Prof Andrew Laslett from CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering Melbourne described soon to be published work on the development and exemplification of a novel assay to assess the safety of human iPSC. This theme was next picked up by Prof Paul Verma from the South Australian Research Institute (SARDI) who reported on the generation of a number of animal iPSC lines that will be valuable tools for long term safety studies as well as live stock applications. A/Prof Ernst Wolvetang from the AIBN QLD next showed that iPSC from individuals with neurological disease can be used to discover novel disease mechanisms and provide insight into the underlying gene regulatory pathways. Dr Phillippa Timberlay from the Garvan Institute (Sydney) subsequently described how transcription factor induced cell state transitions related to nucleosome positioning and histone modifications, also demonstrating that Oct4 is able to impose bivalent domains.

The meeting was concluded with a panel discussion on current hurdles inhibiting clinical translation of stem cell and reprogramming technologies and the ethical issues and societal implications of genome editing technology in iPSC and germ cells. In general the meeting was characterised by lively open discussions following (and sometimes during) each of the presentations and also involved poster presentations  and short oral presentations by several junior researchers. 

The CRA is grateful to the corporate sponsors of the meeting (Lonza, Millenium science, Merck Millipore) and the support of Stem Cells Australia in sponsoring attendance to the meeting. Based on the feedback received form this year’s attendees we are looking forward to welcoming even more scientists at next year’s meeting.

This report was prepared by President of CRA Ernst Wolvetang with assistance from Andrew Laslett.

Ernst Wolvetang and Andrew Laslett are both members of Stem Cells Australia's Pluripotency and Reprogramming Program.