Inventing the Future of Stem Cell Science

Discoveries that are driving stem-cell science from the lab toward the clinic were featured at Cell Symposia 2018, which drew more than 200 investigators, clinicians and pharmaceutical leaders from around the world to Harvey Morse Auditorium at Cedars-Sinai.

Ruchi Shah, PhD, postdoctoral scientist at Cedars-Sinai, discusses a research poster at Cell Symposia 2018.

"Stem cells have long been praised for their promise in clinical applications, and their potential is starting to show real signs of progress," said Clive Svendsen, PhD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute and professor of Biomedical Sciences. The institute, along with biomedical journal publisher Cell Press, sponsored the three-day annual conference on Dec. 2–4.

Stem cells, of which there are many types, occur naturally in the body and can develop into specific types of tissue cells. Besides performing their normal function of repairing injured tissues, stem cells can be used in medicine to research disease processes and, potentially, to test drugs and replace or repair diseased cells as part of therapies.

In her opening keynote speech to the conference, Sally Temple, PhD, co-founder and scientific director of the Neural Stem Cell Institute in Rensselaer, New York, discussed the therapeutic potential of neural stem cells, which generate neurons and support cells for the central nervous system.

Clive Svendsen, PhD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, with Sally Temple, PhD, the opening keynote speaker at Cell Symposia 2018. Temple is co-founder and scientific director of the Neural Stem Cell Institute in Rensselaer, New York.

Certain neural stem cells may be "untapped reservoirs" that could be used to repair damaged cells in disorders as diverse as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and spinal cord injuries, Temple said. She also described her extensive work developing stem cells to treat age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss for Americans ages 60 and older.

The closing keynote speaker, Hongkui Deng, PhD, professor of Cell Biology at Peking University, described a new type of stem cell, known as an extended pluripotent stem cell, that scientists have engineered using chemical means. Besides generating any adult body cell, this cell can develop into tissues that support the embryo itself, such as the placenta. Deng, along with colleagues in China and scientists at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, has been a leader in developing these cells.

Extended pluripotent stem cells can enable scientists to produce live mice from a single cell, Deng said. They represent a new paradigm for understanding how cells and diseases develop, with potential clinical applications in the future. "The better future is the EPS-derived cell," Deng said.

The conference featured more than 30 oral presentations and workshops. Poster sessions displayed nearly 100 research studies involving dozens of institutions, including Cedars-Sinai, located in the U.S., Japan, China, Russia, Britain, Israel and other nations. Cedars-Sinai speakers included Svendsen and Nur Yucer, PhD, a postdoctoral scientist in Svendsen's laboratory.

Svendsen discussed his work in developing combined stem cell and gene therapies for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neurodegenerative diseases. Yucer discussed research that uses induced pluripotent stem cells to model cancer. Scientists generate these special cells, which can make any adult tissue, by genetically altering adult skin or blood cells.

Other topics covered by the symposia speakers and posters included using stem cells to screen drugs or to study and develop treatments for cardiovascular disease, HIV infection, diabetes, osteoarthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, muscle injuries, stroke, congenital blindness and numerous types of cancer.