September 21, 2009

Stem cell experts to convene

Leading voices from the global stem cell community—including researchers, policy-makers, legal experts, patient advocates and others—will convene in Baltimore this week for a three-day conference to share information in the emerging field and to chart the future of regenerative medicine.

The 2009 World Stem Cell Summit, co-organized by The Johns Hopkins University, will bring together more than 1,200 people representing the worlds of academia, biotechnology, pharmacology, government, law, ethics, finance and more.

The event, which begins today, Sept. 21, at the Baltimore Convention Center, features 125 speakers, including some of Johns Hopkins’ leading scientists in stem cell research.

The university helped to organize the panel sessions and identify key speakers from inside and outside the university.

This will be the third annual summit co-organized by the Genetics Policy Institute, a leading promoter of stem cell research. The 2007 summit took place in Boston and featured actor/advocate Michael J. Fox. Last year’s two-day event, held in Madison, Wis., was co-hosted by the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the WiCell Research Institute.

The 2009 panel discussions will focus on the science, business, policy, law and ethics of all stem cell types, including human embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells. To maximize the potential of stem cell research, this year’s program is designed to cover the field’s most pressing topics, including progressive research strategies, translational and preclinical findings, cross-disciplinary initiatives, drug discovery, funding opportunities, commercialization plans, technology transfer, venture capital insight, market trends, and ethical and societal implications.

It will feature an advanced-science track featuring some of the world’s most prominent scientists addressing the latest discoveries in basic research and an in-depth look at the pharmaceutical industry’s short-term and long-term visions for stem cells.

In addition, all recipients of Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund grants will report their findings at the event.

The summit, which includes career and grant-writing workshops, will premier BioBusiness.TV’s Stem Cell Review, a 10-part series on the scientific, medical and business aspects of stem cells.

Gov. Martin O’Malley will serve as keynote speaker for day one. Other keynote speakers are U.S. Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.), who will discuss the legislative agenda, and Alan Lewis, president and chief executive officer of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International.

Chi Dang, vice dean for research at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and co-chair of the event, said that O’Malley, an outspoken advocate for stem cell research, was instrumental in bringing the summit to Maryland.

Dang said that the summit will bring greater visibility to the wealth of cutting-edge stem cell science taking place in the state, and will instigate collaborations among its participants.

“My hope is that by attending these meetings and sessions we will strike new relationships with people from other institutions, states and countries,” said Dang, noting that there will be participants from Israel, England, China and elsewhere. “A lot of companies from around the world are coming here to Baltimore. We hope the event sends a message that great science is being conducted here and that this is a place to come do your business in the life sciences.”

Stem cell research has a long and deep history at Johns Hopkins. The Johns Hopkins Hospital was one of the earliest centers to use adult stem cells in humans, saving thousands of lives through bone marrow transplantation. Today, embryonic and pluripotent stem cells have the potential to replenish cells in other organs, including tissue from the brain, the pancreas and other organs. Scientists feel that the use of these cells can generate treatments and cures for a wide range of devastating diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and heart failure.

In January 2001, the university created the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering, or ICE, with a generous gift from an anonymous donor. ICE supports and houses scientists working to understand how cells’ fates are determined and to harness that information to select, modify and reprogram human cells. The center’s scientists have made numerous major breakthroughs, such as the establishment of the first embryonic germ cell line.

The stem cell program at Johns Hopkins was founded by John Gearhart, a leader in the field of genetic research, who played a vital role in the successful isolation and cultivation of human stem cells, the undifferentiated components from which all human tissues and organs develop. Gearhart, who is now with the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine, will be among the panelists at the event.

Speakers from Johns Hopkins include Valina Dawson, director of ICE’s Neuroregeneration Program; Jeremy Sugarman, the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Professor of Bioethics and Medicine at the School of Medicine; Jeffrey Rothstein, director of the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research; and a dozen others.

“We continue to be very strong in this area of research,” Dang said. “In just the past year we have made significant steps forward, such as designing a tool to alter genes in stem cells to reprogram them. I encourage people here to attend an event that will have a big menu of topics to choose from, with stem cell research as the backdrop.”

For a complete list of the sessions and hosts, go to www.worldstemcellsummit .com.