Friday at the ISSCR began with a session on the epigenetics of stem cells chaired by a familiar face; Sir Ian Wilmut, of Dolly the sheep fame. These talks focused on how our understanding of epigenetics has developed and also looked in depth at some of the underlying mechanisms that are potentially responsible for their establishment and maintenance. We were also treated to a talk from this years Outstanding Young Investigator Award winner, Belgian Cedric Blanpain. His postdoctoral work in Elaine Fuchs’ lab led to greater understanding of skin homeostasis, and he explained how he has now progressed to investigating how this information may be applied to understanding cancer stem cells.
Following on from the morning’s discussions, Epigenetics of Stem Cells was my concurrent session of choice for the afternoon. Here the talks focused on how researchers used different model organisms and cell lines to investigate the molecular mechanism of this histone modification-mediated form of gene expression control. Fly germline, mouse embryonic and female human iPS cells were examined in these different studies-a sharp reminder that evolutionarily we’re only a few mutations away from pot plants! However for me, the standout talks of this session were those by Sheng Zhong and Naoki Hattori both of whom described novel technological approaches to this field of research, describing comparative epigenomics (a bioinformatics based technique) and Proximity Ligation Assay (using fluorescent probes for methylation detection) respectively.
Finally, the undisputed highlight of the day, and the whole conference, was the appearance of his Imperial Majesty the Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan at the closing ceremony of the conference. Neither spoke during the speeches of those on stage, but it was a great honour to have them attend. The speeches in question came from both ISSCR committee members and Japanese politicians. It was revealed that after last years devastating earthquake in Japan, there had been calls to reconsider the location for this 10th anniversary meeting, but the ISSCR board had never waivered in their decision to visit Yokohama. This faith in Japan was warmly acknowledged by both the Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture and the Mayor of Yokohama who both outlined their attempts to establish this part of the country as a “Life Innovation Zone” focusing on regenerative medicine.
The world will almost certainly be looking towards Japan for future innovation in the area of stem cell research and regenerative medicine. And with the incoming ISSCR president being Shinya Yamanaka, I’m sure we’ll be back in this beautiful country sooner than we think!