I cornered Harvard’s George Daley shortly after this afternoon’s opening symposium at the International Society for Stem Cell Research meeting in Philadelphia, and asked him for some stats and trends at the meeting. He’s the current president of ISSCR. There are
24,000 2,400 pre-registered attendees, he told me. That’s only 24 2.4 times the size of the last meeting I attended. As for trends: “There’s certainly a bit of Shinya-mania,” Daley said. He was referring to the focus on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), adult human cells reprogrammed to a stem cell-like state thanks to a couple of transcription factors by a Japanese group led by Shinya Yamanaka.
**Note updated numbers. It was a big meeting, but not that big! 24,000 would be getting into society for neuroscience range!
Daley wasn’t kidding. Cruising the poster session this evening, I was intrigued by the dense clump of bodies congregating around a handful of posters in one corner of the exhibit hall. All of them had to do with using variations on the so-called “Yamanaka factors.” Yamanaka used four, but there was a poster talking about using just two (Oct4 and Klf4) on adult neural stem cells with high efficiency. The work, presented by Vania Broccoli of San Raffaele Scientific Institute was drawing a crowd. Next to him Mali Prashant of Johns Hopkins was presenting data on reprogramming using non-integrating lentiviral vectors. John Dimos from Harvard was presenting work on developing models of the neurodegenerative diseases spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) respectively in embryonic stem cells (retrieved from discarded embryos that had been diagnosed as carrying SMA associated mutations), and – you guessed it – induced pluripotent stem cells derived from the cells of adults with ALS. According to the poster, the SMA cells have a distinct phenotype with low numbers of motor neurons compared to other ES cell cultures that can be rescued genetically. The ALS cells are still being worked on. Dimos’ PI, Kevin Eggan, has been trying to do the same work modeling ALS through stem cell cloning, essentially dropping a nucleus into an egg and deriving embryonic stem cells from the resulting embryo. But eggs have been scarce.