Despite the unexpected cold summer weather (20°C/68°F), morning began early here in the city of Yokohama with a familiar breakfast at McDonald’s. The second day of the conference began with the third plenary entitled, “Lost in translation: the difficult path for stem cells to the clinic.” Although recent advances in stem cell research reduced a gap between bench and bed and brought a great deal of hope from patients seeking curative treatments, challenges we the investigators face remained still and it was both necessary and obligatory for the members of ISSCR to recognize them.
From an industrial point of view, Ann Tsukamoto (StemCells Inc, USA) introduced highly purified expandable and bankable human neural stem cells (HuCNS-SC) and HuCNS-SC derived functional myelin producing oligodendrocytes which showed enhanced conduction velocity and up to 20 wraps of myelin sheaths in vivo. While Tsukamoto focused on the shiny path of clinical applications of stem cells closing her talk with promising pre-clinical trial data consisted of four Pelizaeus-Merzbacher Disease (PMD) patients, Masayo Takahshi (Riken CDB, Japan) emphasized reproducibility and safety of “donor cells” and the importance of “environmental conditions” of host where the cells would be transplanted into. In order to achieve reproducibility, Takahashi established a culture method which allowed to differentiate hES/iPS cells into mature retinal cells such as retinal pigment epithelial cells (RPE) and adapted autologous iPS cells to prevent host rejections. With her “reproducible and safe” iPS cell-derived RPE, Takahashi targeted a disease called, wet-type age-related macular degeneration (AMD) for which the cure remains unavailable and observed structural recoveries from RPE sheet transplanted monkeys. Furthermore, to define the environmental conditions, Takahashi transplanted various cell lines into the subretinal space and observed rare incidents of tumorigenesis characterizing that the macular region was a “tumor suppressive environment”.
Near the end of the third plenary, the final talk was given by Jan Helge Solbakk, ethics and public policy committee chair of ISSCR. Dr. Solbakk spoke for the “tragedy of translation”; he reminded us the investigators that millions of people have been watching a play called stem cell research: not in a sense of horseplay but in a sense of tragedy. Solbakk pointed out that some have been played the tragedy of “moral superiority” and practiced “inferior science.” Moral errors should be avoided, he said, but should play a tragedy of robustness, commitment, and fidelity, he added. As we the investigators develop a “sociality” within the watching public including the patients, Solbakk asked us to share not only the successes of research but the failures as well.
Dongjin R. Lee