ISSCR 2021: Bringing Together Scientific Soul Mates

  • 20 July, 2021

The global stem cell community gathered for a week of standout science, discovery, and networking at the ISSCR 2021 Annual Meeting. Nearly 3,000 attendees from more than 50 countries came together to enjoy 76 presentations and 591 posters. The meeting highlighted the great strides made in stem cell science in the face of the pandemic, showcasing advances in both basic science and clinical applications. Reflecting on the meeting, James Hudson said “This has been one of the best meetings I’ve been to since COVID, and it’s been a real pleasure. It enabled me to stay up to 4 AM every night.”

Whether you watched the presentations live at 4 AM, at a more convenient time via our rebroadcast, or on demand (available until 31 July), there was great science to be seen at any hour. The annual meeting is known for its exceptional science and this year did not disappoint. From the opening Presidential Symposium, which highlighted basic and applied advances across the germ layers, to Shinya Yamanaka’s closing Keynote Address, the meeting explored the breadth of stem cell research and its applications.

Like the field, the ISSCR annual meeting continues to evolve. This year, presentations were organized into five themes – New Technologies, Tissue Stem Cells and Regeneration, Cellular Identity, Clinical Applications, and Modeling Development and Disease  – designed to help attendees find their “scientific soul mates” and foster smaller communities within a diverse meeting. New Plenary Roundtable discussions explored topical ethical and scientific issues, including modeling early human development and the scientific, economic, and regulatory challenges of bringing new therapies to patients. Poster presentations were re-imagined in our new Poster Theater, which offered presenters the opportunity to share mini presentations and take attendees through their discoveries face-to-face in their own dedicated Poster Session video chat room. The Poster Theater is also available through 31 July.

The meeting was also an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of our community, including members who were recognized with ISSCR awards or selected to give a named lecture:

  • Madeline Lancaster – ISSCR Dr. Susan Lim Award for Outstanding Young Investigator
  • Janet Rossant – ISSCR Achievement Award
  • Stuart Orkin – ISSCR Tobias Award Lecture
  • Valentina Greco – ISSCR Momentum Award
  • Robin Lovell-Badge – ISSCR Public Service Award
  • Vivian Tabar -John McNeish Memorial Lecture
  • Susana Chuva de Sousa Lopes – Anne McLaren Lecture
  • Sean Morrison – Ernest McCulloch Lecture

This wrap up would not be complete without mentioning the Workshop on Clinical Translation. Held in advance of the annual meeting, the Workshop focused on key steps in the process of translating iPS cell-based therapies to the clinic and included sessions on planning pre-clinical and clinical trials, cell manufacturing, commercialization considerations, and reimbursement.

The annual meeting also includes many Special Sessions focused on current issues in stem cell science, community building, and professional development. The meeting kicked off with a new session that discussed updates to the ISSCR Guidelines and the rationale for these changes. The community came together in a new session, Promoting Equity in Stem Cell Science, to examine systemic barriers and the institutional and individual changes needed to improve equity and access across all stages of stem cell science.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had wide reaching impacts, especially on recent PIs and those at transition points in their careers. During two dynamic professional development panels, early career group leaders, postdocs, and graduate students discussed how to regain momentum and evaluate career goals post-COVID. Attendees explored that next career move in our new Career Lab.

The annual meeting also provided many opportunities for attendees to learn about the latest tools and how they can be applied to further discovery. Meeting attendees had the opportunity to meet with 56 exhibitors attend seven Focus Sessions and 27 Innovation Showcases where they learned about new technologies to advance their research.

In recognition of all the people who made this meeting possible, Ben Maoz said, “I would like to thank the organizing committee …[and] all of you, the audience, who came with all of these strange time zones from Australia to San Francisco and all over the world, so thank you very much for coming and attending. And to all the speakers, which I know that for some of you its morning, evening, and you were very excited and did terrific work, so thank you, all of you.”

We would like to echo Ben’s comments and send a special thank you to the meeting organizers, led by Christine Mummery and Sally Temple, and including Theme Chairs Hans Clevers, Elaine Fuchs, Edith Heard, Meritxell Huch, Martin Kampmann, Timm Schroeder, Austin Smith, Lorenz Studer, Elly Tanaka, and Shinya Yamanaka. The Workshop on Clinical Translation was led by Kapil Bharti, along with Timo Faltus, Marinna Madrid, Christelle Monville, and Willem Fibbe.

We look forward to seeing you next year in San Francisco, USA where we will celebrate the ISSCR’s 20th anniversary and learn about your latest scientific advances during ISSCR 2022.