Making translational research a two-way street

The process of translating basic science into new therapies is often envisioned as proceeding down a unidirectional path, from bench to bedside. However, one of the most productive ways in which to conduct translational research is to allow data gathered in a clinical setting to also inform the direction of basic research.

This academic year, HSCI hosted two salons addressing how “two-way translational research” can be conducted when using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Evolved from HSCI’s inter-lab meetings, the salons provide an informal setting where members of the HSCI community can share and discuss the latest scientific insights and challenges in stem cell research. More than 100 researchers typically attend these popular events.

At the January salon, HSCI Executive Committee member and faculty host George Daley, MD, PhD, led a discussion of the advantages and limitations of iPS cells for medical applications in the near and long term. HSCI Principal Faculty members Konrad Hochedlinger, PhD, and Alexander Meissner, PhD, described some of the molecular differences between iPS and embryonic stem cells and Ole Isacson, MD, and Kevin

Eggan, PhD, shared strategies for how iPS cell based therapies could be developed for Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Unlike iPS cells, MSCs have already been used in clinical trials with some success. However, the molecular basis for their clinical utility is still unknown. At the March salon, hosted by HSCI Co-Director David Scadden, MD, the discussion focused on how to better link clinical trials and basic scientific research so that each area can inform the other.

B. Taylor Thompson, MD, Director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, shared his plans for and experience with beginning a clinical trial involving MSCs to treat acute lung injury. HSCI Principal Faculty member Jayaraj Rajagopal, MD, and Executive Committee member Joseph Bonventre, MD, PhD, discussed the current state of clinical and pre-clinical research involving MSCs in lung and chronic kidney disease respectively. Additional scientific and clinical commentary was provided by an expert panel consisting of Robert Sackstein, MD, PhD, Jeffrey Karp, PhD, and Jerome Ritz, MD, prior to a general discussion.