Ian Chambers kicked things off with an excellent talk describing the surprising recent finding by his laboratory that reduced levels of Oct4 actually improves self-renewal of mouse ES cells and reduces heterogeneity. Elena Cattaneo presented some beautiful stainings of early neural development in human fetuses, work that will surely interest many in the field, while Oliver Brustle gave a good overview of his laboratories work in modelling neural disease using neural stem cells derived from pluripotent stem cells. Benoit Bruneau described his labs impressive efforts to characterise the epigenome of cells at various stages during in vitro cardiac differentiation while Mitinori Saitou provided fascinating insights into the transcription factor control of primoridal germ cell specification. The morning talks were noteworthy not only for their high quality but also the diversity of experimental approaches used; including an assortment of pluripotent stem cell manipulations, reprogramming strategies, in vitro differentiation, -omics, and human in vivo studies.
The afternoon session talks were equally strong. Ken Zaret introduced characteristically meticulous work looking at pioneer transcription factors and the manipulation of chromatin states during both cellular differentiation and reprogramming. Kristin Baldwin presented her recent attempts to characterise the somatic mutational spectra using the formidable combination of somatic cell nuclear transfer (using terminally differentiated neurons) followed by ES cell derivation and whole genome sequencing! The theme of nuclear transfer then continued as one of the most eagerly awaited speakers - Shoukhrat Mitalipov – took to the stage. The recent publication of his derivation of cloned human ES cells created a major stir in the build up to the conference and many were eager to hear the full story of this major feat. They weren’t disappointed and were also treated to his thoughts on the applicability of this technique in the treatment of mitochondrial diseases. Next, Shinya Yamanka returned to the platform to present Marius Wernig with the ISSCR Outstanding Young Investigator Award. Wernig was then given the opportunity to present the work that merited this accolade, namely his groundbreaking studies on trans-differentiation. As well as giving the background to these landmark findings he presented more recent data in which he has taken an –omics approach to try and better characterise the process - including slavishly mapping the binding pattern of the ‘reprogramming’ factors in different cellular contexts. His talk provided an indication that not all his chosen transcription factors function in the same way during the transdifferentiation process, and he presented evidence of pioneer factor activity - an interesting link to Ken Zaret’s talk. Next, the topic shifted to regenerative medicine and included fascinating talks from Hans Snoeck, Graziella Pellegrini and Timothy Bertram. The later two presentations featured data generated following cell transplantation into patients – a goal of many in the field and an exciting way to finish the conference. However, there was just enough time for Eric Lander to provide an intriguing insight into his adventures unlocking the secrets of the human genome – admitting in the process that everything he taught his undergraduate students about the human genome in 2001 has now been proven wrong! I wonder what he taught this year that will suffer the same fate…?!
With a goodbye from Shinya Yamanaka, in his own inimitable style, the 2013 ISSCR came to an end. Although one final surprise came in the lobby where we were met by not only a free bar, but a free bar with some decent beers behind it too! Next year rolls on to Vancouver – although this blogger may well be hanging up his keyboard well before then!