2010 HSCI retreat has translational focus

For the fifth consecutive year, hundreds of members of the HSCI research community, from graduate students to senior faculty, took time from their busy schedules to attend the daylong HSCI Retreat.

Held each June since 2006, the annual gathering gives attendees the opportunity to hear from HSCI leadership about the institute’s recent accomplishments and future initiatives, share their research and learn about their peers’ projects, connect with potential collaborators, and socialize with fellow stem cell researchers.

This year’s retreat, held for the first time in the Northwest Building on the Harvard campus, focused on HSCI’s renewed translational focus, which is aimed at accelerating the transition of HSCI’s groundbreaking discoveries in stem cell biology to the clinical setting. As HSCI Executive Director Brock Reeve pointed out in his welcoming remarks, the highest priority of the institute going forward is to find treatments or cures for a host of challenging diseases as rapidly as possible.

One of the ways HSCI expects to achieve this is through its collaborations with the pharmaceutical industry, including its unique alliance with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), whose experience in drug development is the ideal complement to HSCI’s expertise in stem cell science. Opening keynote speaker Patrick Vallance, GSK’s senior vice-president, Medicines Discovery and Development, discussed the changing landscape of drug development and how GSK’s “crucial alliance with HSCI” is a model of how academia and industry can work together to bring basic scientific discoveries more quickly and cost-effectively to patients.

Following talks by five new HSCI principal investigators, the recipients of HSCI 2008 seed grants, and a member of the Stem Cell Regulation Program, HSCI Executive Committee chair Leonard Zon, MD, shared his “Bench to Bedside” experience of taking a discovery from the laboratory to a clinical trial, which is currently underway. He pointed out that the complex process, which took only 36 months, was expedited by the resources available to all HSCI scientists, most notably the “absolutely critical” role of the Center for Human Cell Therapy.

As in years past, leaders of each of HSCI’s disease programs gave updates on their projects and progress, providing attendees an overview of stem cell research underway in blood diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and nervous system diseases.

In keeping with the day’s theme, Robert Langer, ScD, David H. Koch Institute Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gave his closing keynote address on “Biomaterials and controlled-release systems and their application in regenerative medicine.” His dynamic presentation covered exciting advances in new materials and delivery systems that may ultimately benefit people suffering from a host of conditions, such as liver disease, spinal cord injury, schizophrenia, and tissue loss due to disease or trauma, to cite just a few.

Following the closing remarks by retreat faculty co-chairs Trista North, PhD, and Qiao (Joe) Zhou, PhD, was one of the most popular features of the retreat—the scientific poster session, which this year showcased the research of 47 investigators from across the HSCI community.