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Celebrating 20 Years of Innovation: 2021-2022: A Year in Review

  • 9 June, 2022
Melissa Little

As the ISSCR turns 20 this year, it is humbling to reflect on the exceptional stem cell achievements during that time and the many contribution of our Society. We can celebrate the curiosity, ingenuity, and persistence of our members that has yielded significant advances in stem cell research and regenerative medicine since those early days.

From our improved understanding of key stem cell niches, the Nobel prize-winning development of induced pluripotent stem cells to the first in human treatments for diseases including epidermolysis bullosa and Type 1 diabetes, the potential of stem cells becomes more and more evident with each year.

The ISSCR hosted its first annual meeting in Washington D.C. in 2003, launched the first version of what is now called the ISSCR Guidelines for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine in 2006 (most recently revised in 2021), published the first issue of Stem Cell Reports in 2013, established a policy and advocacy program in 2015, and hosted our first international symposium in 2016. All these initiatives placed our members needs front and center. Adapting to our rapidly growing field and leading the international research community has been an enduring hallmark of the Society since we were founded.

Driving Change Amid Uncertainty
I was privileged to preside over the Society this last year as we continued to innovate while entering year two of a global pandemic. Creating member value and facilitating connections when so many of us could not travel remained paramount and we designed opportunities to connect globally through our investment in digital programming.

Capitalizing on what we learned last year, the ISSCR has designed more topic-specific digital scientific programs and leveraged our virtual meeting platform to enhance discoverability of content and build new connections. The result is our immersive year-round experience in – think Netflix for stem cell science.

In another first during my tenue, we are hosting the inaugural hybrid Annual Meeting in San Francisco, officially beginning tomorrow. It’s been three years since our community met in person, and we are thrilled to be re-connecting face-to-face. While we look forward to seeing friends and colleagues in San Francisco, the hybrid nature of the meeting reflects the ISSCR’s commitment to ensuring access to groundbreaking scientific content and networking for our membership.

Expanding ISSCR’s Influence on Standards
While I am energized with the breadth of our expanding scientific programming, I am equally proud of the ISSCR’s leadership within the global stem cell science community. This was clear earlier this year with the launch of the ISSCR Stem Cell Standards Initiative. We have assembled an international group of scientists to create standards for basic and preclinical research, building on previous recommendations that will improve the rigor and reproducibility of research. The draft recommendations will be presented in a stakeholder meeting just after the 2022 ISSCR Annual Meeting, and the Society plans to expand this program in the coming years to encompass clinical standards. This initiative is a major step forward for the field and no small undertaking by the ISSCR and our task force members.

Publishing Excellence
Offering opportunities for scientific exchange, as we do at our Annual Meeting, webinar series, and international symposia, remains essential to our mission. We continue to embrace our role in facilitating scientific exchange by publishing compelling research and provocative commentary in our Society journal, Stem Cell Reports. The journal’s impact factor rose to higher than 7.7 this year, and the addition of The Stem Cell Report podcast, hosted by Editor-in-Chief Martin Pera, is driving awareness for ISSCR and the journal. Already, we’ve produced 13 podcast episodes that have been downloaded more than 6,000 times. If you’ve not tuned in, I urge you to listen and learn “the stories behind the science” and what inspires researchers in our community.  Also exciting this year is the establishment of the Stem Cell Reports Early Career Editorial Board. This fantastic new opportunity offers mentoring and engagement for early career investigators and access to senior scientists and ISSCR leaders.

Expanding Advocacy Across the Globe
The ISSCR expanded its public policy focus this year to engage strategically in regulatory advocacy in addition to its focus on ongoing legislative priorities. To meet this growing demand, the Board of Directors approved an additional staff member to help us drive new initiatives as more research enters the clinic. Ensuring access to research materials remains to be paramount. The Society continues to advocate in support of federal support for fetal tissue research, which had been largely halted in the U.S. by Trump Administration policies. With the ISSCR’s steady work in this area, and a new U.S. president in office, the community has seen the de facto ban reversed, protecting the ability for scientists to use fetal tissue in their research projects. This year, the ISSCR also was heavily engaged in advocating for Maeve’s Law in Australia, which passed in April, making Mitochondrial Replacement Therapy legal – only the second country to do so.

Training the Next Generation
Well over a year ago, the society launch the Core Concepts in Stem Cell Biology: Syllabus and Learning Guide. The Education Committee led this project to develop an adaptable teaching resource for undergraduate and graduate educators. It has been downloaded more than 1,500 times, and likely shared with an audience twice that size. More on the reach and impact of the syllabus will be featured in an upcoming issue of Stem Cell Reports, but perhaps one of the most compelling developments, is the opportunity to use it as the basis for a new stem cell course in Brazil that will culminate in an international symposium. The course and symposium will be the Society’s first programs in South America and are a unique opportunity to strengthen relationships in the region.

Building a Dynamic Society
Across this past year, not only have we prioritized member value and access to scientific educational programming, but we also have engaged in a strategic planning process as we look to the future. This effort has been informed by input gathered from conversations with the ISSCR committee chairs and a comprehensive survey of members and the field. Six small groups, comprising early career and senior scientists, have met to discuss scientific excellence, policy, equity, diversity, and inclusion, communications and public education, finance, and clinical translation and commercialization. These spirited discussions led to recommendations that will be evaluated by the Board of Directors and ultimately will position the Society’s priorities for the next three years.

Our membership is strong, and we are growing. ISSCR membership is higher than it has been in well over a decade, affirming that the Society is adapting to the needs of the field. As we advance into ever more innovative applications of stem cell research, your society is advancing with you. We are your support, and we are listening.

I cannot wait to see what the next 20 years of achievements will be in our field. Join ISSCR on this journey where knowledge leads to discovery and discoveries lead to groundbreaking stem cell treatments. The future of stem cell science is here.