ISSCR 2011 Program Highlights

Co-sponsored by the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine


We would like to thank the 2011 Annual Meeting Program Committee, chaired by Dr. Haifan Lin, for their exceptional effort in developing this year's strong scientific program. In addition to recruiting an excellent panel of speakers from around the world, the Committee was able to draw on the considerable scientific depth of Toronto and Canada to capitalize on the excellent Canadian scientists, including Dr. John Dick, who gave the inaugural Ernest McCulloch Memorial Lecture.

This year, attendees were offered eight plenary sessions, 15 concurrent scientific tracks and a range of other educational and networking opportunities. More than 1,400 posters were presented over the course of the meeting, covering a wide range of topics. We thank all who participated, and extend our congratulations to the winners of the 2011 Junior Investigator Poster Awards.

In 2006, the 4th ISSCR Annual Meeting was also held in Toronto. It was at that meeting that Dr. Shinya Yamanaka first presented the discovery of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. Five years later, the impact of that discovery on the field of stem cells was evident in the wide range of talks and posters at this year’s annual meeting. One plenary session was set aside to discuss developments in the field of reprogramming and the study of fate conversion, while multiple concurrent talks and posters were devoted to the use of iPS cell technology. Finally, Drs. Kazutoshi Takahashi and Shinya Yamanaka, the two authors of that paper initially describing iPS cells, received the inaugural McEwen Centre Award for Innovation in honor of that paradigm-shifting work.

Public Symposium

Along with the annual meeting, we were pleased to offer a Public Symposium in association with the Stem Cell Network of Canada. This year’s event, entitled “The Stem Cell Promise: Moving to the Clinic,” brought together clinicians and patients with first-hand experience in clinical trials involving stem cell treatments. This session proved very popular with the audience of more than 200, including numerous patients and patient advocates. This mix stimulated the post-presentation discussion with many thought-provoking questions. Our special thanks to Lisa Willemse of the Stem Cell Network of Canada and the ISSCR Public Education Committee for their key role in making this a successful event.

Pre-meeting Sessions

The Industry Wednesday Symposium was again offered immediately prior to the opening of the meeting. Now in its fourth year, this symposium presented topical issues in stem cell science framed by industry leaders. Complementing these were the four new, member-organized Focus Sessions offering programs in support of science, society and education. Among these was a special symposium in honor of Dr. Ernest McCulloch. In total, eight well-attended parallel sessions were held.

Plenary and Concurrent Program

The 2011 meeting opened with a talk from Dr. Janet Rossant, who gave an excellent overview of the history and future of stem cell research, from the seminal work of Drs. Till and McCulloch to the discovery of iPS cells and stem cell applications in regenerative medicine. This theme was continued in the keynote address from Dr. Robert Langer. Dr. Langer, who has made many contributions to the field of regenerative medicine, delivered a cross-disciplinary talk that covered multiple instances where biomaterials and tissue engineering could be applied to stem cells treatments for a variety of injuries and disease.

In addition to the McEwen Centre Award for Innovation, we were pleased to present two additional awards. The 2011 ISSCR Outstanding Young Investigator Award was given to Robert Blelloch for his study of the roles of microRNAs in the control of stem cell behavior. In addition, the inaugural ISSCR Public Service Award was presented to Robert Klein, outgoing chairman of the Governing Board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), for his outstanding contribution of public service to the fields of stem cell research and regenerative medicine.

One of the highlights of the meeting for many attendees was an address on Saturday morning by research and patient advocate Charles Sabine. A former correspondent for NBC News, Mr. Sabine has become an advocate for the freedom of scientific research, particularly in the areas of neurodegenerative disease. In his moving speech, Mr. Sabine detailed his experiences as a war correspondent and contrasted these with his family history and his own diagnosis with Huntington’s disease.

The meeting closed with the fourth annual Anne McLaren Memorial Lecture given by Dr. Nicole Le Douarin. In her talk, Dr. Le Douarin reinforced the importance of our understanding of early development and particularly focused on the contributions of neural crest derivatives to adult tissues and how they may inform, and confound, current work investigating adult stem cells.

This recap only touches on a fraction of what was presented at the meeting this year in Toronto. Please look for an in-depth scientific meeting report appearing in the ISSCR pages of Cell Stem Cell in October 2011.