Stem cells under the microscope

Stem cells under the microscope

 
There has never been a better time to be a stem cell biologist. The first reports of using stem cell-derived tissues to treat degenerative diseases, such as macular degeneration, are starting to come through with cautious excitement. The fast pace of research is delivering a bewildering array of new stem cell types and forcing us to re-evaluate our current understanding of how one cell turns into another. And careful study of human embryos is yielding a rich molecular detail that provides the blueprint for the development of our own species. These highlights and more were discussed and shared at the recent ISSCR (International Society for Stem Cell Research) conference – the annual gathering of stem cell scientists from around the world. http://www.isscr.org/meetings-events​
 
I was grateful to receive Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation (KEC) funding that allowed me to attend the 2017 ISSCR meeting, held this year in Boston. The conference attracted several thousand attendees from over 50 countries, comprising a mixture of basic and clinical scientists from public and private settings, ethicists, legal scholars and representatives from government and funding agencies. This meeting provided me with a terrific platform to hear about the latest stem cell research – and an opportunity to think how these advances fit within our own work and to reflect on our future directions. I was able to bring news of the latest research back to Babraham and I hope this will be useful for my colleagues.
 
Given the large number of participants, this event was an ideal forum to meet scientists with common interests and to share our work and receive feedback, and also to catch up with collaborators from other countries to discuss the next steps in a joint project. Part of the fun of this gathering is that you can’t predict the chance meeting or conversation that can often lead to important and enjoyable new lines of research.  
 
There were plenty of opportunities to promote our work to a wide audience and identify potential pathways for translating research. One direct outcome of this is that we have now hosted researchers from another lab to learn about how we work with a particular type of stem cell called a ‘naïve’ cell. At the conference, I also made new connections with several companies that were interested in our technologies and ‘know-how’ and I have had follow up meetings with them back in the UK. Our hope is that some of our recent discoveries (such as Collier et al., 2017) can be turned into useful products that can help to move the field forwards.