Podcast: Sneak-peek of the 2024 ISSCR annual meeting

It's almost time for the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR). Here's a sneak-peek with the ISSCR leadership.
Podcast: Sneak-peek of the 2024 ISSCR annual meeting
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Soon, you may be headed to the 2024 annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR). Perhaps you will be there in person, perhaps you will be tuning in virtually. 

Here is a sneak-peek of some of what the meeting will present.

This is a conversation with Dr. Amander Clark from the University of California at Los Angeles, she is also the current president of the ISSCR; Dr. Malin Parmar from Lund University and Dr. Agnete Kirkeby from the University of Copenhagen. They are program chairs of the ISSCR meeting.

My co-host is manuscript editor Dr. Stylios Lefkoupolos from Nature Cell Biology.

You can listen to the podcast on streaming platforms such as Apple podcasts, Spotify and wherever else you get your podcasts. Or you can listen to it right here. 

A transcript is pasted below:

And here are some excerpts: In this one, Dr Clark, Dr. Parmar and Dr. Kirkeby talk about some of what's in store at the annual meeting:

In this excerpt, Dr. Malin Parmar and Dr. Amander Clark talk about promising stem cell therapies. And the risks of trusting in unproven ones.

In this excerpt, Dr. Agnete Kirkeby describes some of the clinical and translational talks at the upcoming annual meeting of the ISSCR:

Here is an excerpt of the word game we play in these sneak-peeks:

Here is an excerpt in which Dr. Clark talks about embryo models and research with gametes. 

In this excerpt, Dr Clark talks about ISSCR standards and guidelines. 

Note: These podcasts are produced to be heard. If you can, please tune in. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and there’s a human editor. But a transcript may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.

Transcript of the podcast Sneak-peek: the 2024 ISSCR annual meeting

Note: These podcasts are produced to be heard. If you can, please tune in. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and there’s a human editor. But a transcript may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.

 Amander Clark

Well, I'm very excited about the meeting, it's going to be held at the Congress Center Hamburg in Germany, this will be the first time the ISSCR meeting is held in Germany. So we're very excited about this. And the amount of European participation in this year is going to be, I also think,  at record breaking levels, perhaps we'll find out that after the meeting, it's a four day meeting, it runs from Wednesday, all the way through to 5pm on Saturday, so it's jam packed full of some of the best stem cell science in the world.

Vivien

That was Dr. Amander Clark from the University of California at Los Angeles, she is the current president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, ISSCR. And she is talking about the upcoming annual meeting of the ISSCR.

Today's podcast is a sneak peek of that meeting and about some trends in stem cell science, too. So that's for example basic research in human development, exploring how to harness stem cells for regenerative medicine in diseases such as Parkinson's disease, we will talk about modeling the human embryo and about ethics.

Hi and welcome to Conversations with scientists, I'm science journalist Vivien Marx. You will hear more from Dr. Clark shortly and two other guests Dr Malin Parmar from Lund University and Dr Agnete Kirkeby from the University of Copenhagen. They are program chairs of the ISSCR meeting.

Conferences. They're useful and fun to attend. Not everyone can travel to them, of course. But sometimes there is an option to tune in virtually, which is the case with the annual meeting of the ISSCR.

 And there's more that is hopefully useful and practical for you in today's podcast episode. We would like to give you an idea of some of what to expect at the meeting and to hear about some general themes in stem cell science. My co-host today is manuscript editor Dr. Stylios Lefkoupolos from Nature Cell Biology.

 Stelios Lefkopoulos [2:05]

Hello everyone. I 'm from Nature Cell Biology handling stem cells and development papers. I'm really excited about this today and we're very very happy that you agreed to do this, thank you.

 Vivien

Editors at Springer Nature were on the call, too. And we had a moment for a little word game.

As we recorded this, we had people in several time-zones and different locations. Also on the call is Kym Kilbourne who is director of Media and Strategic Communications at ISSCR.

So here we go, let me share what we heard with you. First here you hear me, then Dr. Parmar from Lund University and then Kym Kilbourne.

I think everyone is there. Let me just make sure that Dr. Clark can hear us. I know it's early. I apologize, Dr. Clark.

Amander Clark

I can hear you. It is seven o'clock in the morning here in California. But I am delighted to be here. Thank you so much for the invitation.

 Vivien

So first, a question about the meeting. How many people approximately are you expecting? I know that it varies and but these days people are so hot on meetings, I think.

Malin Parmar

I think Kim needs to help us out here because about a month ago when abstract submission deadline close to her we had a record breaking number of abstracts being submitted since the pandemic. But I don't know what number we're up to or how many registrations we have. So Kim, help us out here.

 Kym Kilbourne [3:30]

So right now we have a little bit more than 3000 registrants for the meeting. And we're expected to get a little bit closer to 3500, maybe even 4000. So. And as Malin said, we had a extremely strong response to our abstract submissions. So we have a little bit more than 1400 posters.

 Vivien

1400 posters that's a lot of viewing for those of us coming. Oh, boy. Okay. And will there be anything that is recorded is this hybrid, I know that that's not always easy to organize, but just to tell people if they can tune in to things if they can't make it.

Kym Kilbourne

Yeah, I'm happy to take that as well. So we are live streaming all of the plenary sessions at the meeting. So they will be live streamed and also later available on demand. All of our concurrent sessions will also be recorded but not live- streamed. So we hope to make those available to registrants within about a week to 10 days after the meeting concludes. So we'll get to those very swiftly. So registrants can catch up on sessions that they might have had to miss I know it's hard to make choices during the meeting. But we'll have all that available concurrents and and plenaries on demand.

 Vivien

Fabulous, so I don't have a drum roll ready. So I'll just do the the, the the hands. What is are you most excited about about the in the meeting what I know that you've probably put together many sessions and then a lot of other sessions came together, maybe last minute or maybe have been organized for a long time. So take us away. What are you most excited about and what is happening at this meeting. 3500 people are going to sit around and have tea and talk stem cells.

 Amander Clark [5:10] 

Well, I'm very excited about the meeting, it's going to be held at the Congress Center Hamburg in Germany, this will be the first time the ISSCR meeting is held in Germany. So we're very excited about this. And the amount of European participation in this year is going to be, I also think, at record breaking levels, perhaps we'll find out that after the meeting.

 It's a four day meeting, it runs from Wednesday, all the way through to 5pm on Saturday, so it's jam packed full of some of the best stem cell science in the world. And it's going to kick off with the presidential plenary session, which is a session that I organize as the current president of ISSCR.

And I decided to highlight Women in Science for this plenary session. There is so much fantastic science stems of science in the world today. And I wanted to give a platform to some of the best women who are doing some outstanding stem cell science from around the world. So for me, I'm very excited about the plenary session that I organized. But Malin and Agnete organized an absolutely fabulous program. So I'm going to let them take over next and let us know what they're particularly excited about.

 Malin Parmar

Yeah, so we handled the contents of the main program. And it's going to be an excellent meeting. I think ISSCR  meetings is a very good every year, we have a good program committee that helped us put together the program. And maybe what's particularly interesting this year, is that we really see how stem cells are going into clinical trials. So the field is really maturing through all this hard work that has been done for so many years is materializing into hope and benefit for patients.

So the meeting has the most kind of clinical application-focused talks. But at the same time, there's all the experimental science leading into this. So we don't just see hope in the near future, we can see all the developments that over the years will propel stem cell science forward and into patients' lives faster. So it's a really exciting time in the field. And it's really mirrored in the program of the annual meeting.

 Vivien

But we'll ask you, I guess a little bit more about the clinical aspects and the translational aspects, I'm not sure what the most fashionable word is for that these days. I'm curious just because women in science, are there too many manels in stem cell science? Are there, you know, because you've made it a point. So that means there's like, a need for it, which is in 2024. A little bit of a bummer. But, Dr. Clark?

Amander Clark [7:50]

Well, I think Nature has done a really amazing job of highlighting the need to continue lifting up those in science that are underrepresented and, and women still are underrepresented in a lot of spaces in our scientific community. I'm actually quite proud about ISSCR.

We tend to have approximately equal number of women and men who are members of our society and who are participating in the program. We think very carefully about equity, diversity, inclusion and then belonging as part of our stem cell community. But it's still really nice to hear from fantastic women from around the world who are doing cutting edge incredible stem cell science. So we have Magdalena Gertz in the plenary plenary session, who's who is a neural stem cell biologist. I'm excited to hear about her work. She is our representation also from Germany, given that we're in Hamburg for our annual meeting.

 We have Tina Mukherjee, who works in the basic sciences and the ISSCR was built on fundamental, outstanding basic science and it continues to drive a lot of the society today. She works on Drosophila and hematopoietic stem cells, and she's from India. We have Katherin Plath from the US who's going to talk about X inactivation and her work in that area where she has been, you know, the leader in the field for so many years. And Sarah Teichmann from the UK who is the head of the Wellcome Sanger Institute genomics program. And does outstanding work in genetics and genomics. So I'm really excited about my plenary session.

 Vivien

how do you foster this idea of interaction between people who are not in the same sub fields? I know, you know, for example, there are people who just want to talk to people about dopaminergic neuron development or brain or neuro development in general. And then there are other people who are really interested in engineering platforms, how do you kind of get people to talk to one another? Or is maybe that's not the point at all have a meeting?

 Malin Parmar [10:40]

Well, that is a large part of the meeting. And I think that there's necessarily a good opportunity to speak across fields, both when it comes to the basic science and when it comes to the translation of the basic science. So what ISSCR did quite a number of years ago now is to give up on the more common meaning organization, we have the blood track and the brain track, etc. and instead focus on the different types of stem cells, and how we use them.

So it could be stem cells in the early embryo, or it could be stem cells and disease modeling. And then it's any diseases and systems themselves and development. And this really mix up the different subfields in terms of what organ we work in, and broadened. The scope of the meeting, for me personally is a thorough is the best meeting of the year to really get an update and a highlight of what happens in the fields that I'm not updated with in my day to day work. So to see what goes on in cancer immunotherapies, or to see what goes on in early embryo development. It's a fantastic meeting for that both the plenary sessions with a concurrent but not least, the poster sessions, we have more than 1500 posters, I think, and it's such a great event to walk around the poster hall and see all the excellent work going on. And there is also a mix of any stem cell in a tissue and organs. So so it's an excellent meeting for that type of interaction across sub fields.

 Vivien

And kind of new. I mean, COVID is not ages ago, it's recent. So for some people, these are still early days for people who are PhD students, they might not have been to an in-person meeting in some ways, right? Or it's very, very new. Stelios, did you want to because I keep firing questions if you want to ask anything. And then we're going to do the drumroll for the word game. And then we're going to open up the mic to any questions that people want. And our list of 99 will take a backseat to what anyone else wants to ask what Stelios, I know you're burning?

 Stelios [11:50]

I think we can like a very unique event, every year you get to interact with people from many different sub disciplines in the stem cell field. And I think we can all agree that we can expect great science to be presented. So my question was, except for the great signs that we can all expect that the one thing we were taking about this meeting is that includes discussions that arise scientific community and, and the interface between science and the rest of the society. Reproductive Health, for example, ethics issues, and so forth. So is there anything in particular any such topic that the meeting is going to be focusing on this year? What do we can we expect in this regard?

Malin Parmar

Amander, I think this is a good one for you.

 Amander Clark [13:20]

So what I really appreciate about the meeting is not only Stelios, as you said, do we have amazing, basic science and how this science gets translated, from bench to bedside. We also have a number of other discussions that occur around the meeting that our attendees can also participate in. So we're going to be having a session on equity, diversity and inclusion in the dish.

And this is going to be a conversation about how it's incredibly important as scientists that we're thinking about the research tools that we're working with, and that we the tools we're working with representing more than just one segment of the human population.

 So this is particularly human tools. I really like this, these discussions, I think they're extremely important for us to have so that's one I'm looking forward to. We have the use of standards for stem cells and non-clinical research.

https://www.isscr.org/standards

 So this is a discussion about the standards initiative that we published last year as a way of stem cell scientists being cognizant about the stem cells that they're using, and how do you verify and validate that the stem cells you're working with what you think they are? And I'm really proud of this standards initiative. And so we're going to be having a discussion about how that's rolling out any questions that people have about the rollout. So these are two examples of ones that occur around the edges that I think is so important for our stem cell community.

 Stelios

And any plans on discussing also about ethics in terms of embryo research and stem cell embryo models as well. I mean, it's it's obviously a very, you know, a thriving field and a lot of discussions around the topic. So any such plans for this year?

 Amander Clark [15:55]

So the ISSCR published the 2021 guidelines, which had a significant update in the use of embryo models in research. And so, the issr has also recognized that as the years have moved on, and those recommendations have been put in practice that they need to be reevaluated. There's some areas that are working and some areas that could be improved. And so issr created a task force, which has been co-chaired by Janet Roussant and myself in order to reevaluate that area of the guidelines. And at the ISSCR meeting, we are aiming to discuss what the updated recommendations will be to those guidelines. And so we're very excited to hear what the feedback from the community will be.

 Vivien

I see Elisa has raised your hand you can just open your mic if you like. And I will just add here the question comes from Dr. Elisa Floridiaa from Nature Neuroscience.

Elisa Floridiaa [15:30]

I am Elisa Floridiaa, senior editor, Nature Neuroscience. And, you know, for obvious reasons, I have an interest in brain organoids and other types of modeling or stem cells, or stem cell applications to neurological diseases and disorders. So I have two questions.

So question one, in the neuro field, and you know, stem cells, applications brain organoids, and, you know, the vast field? What are the scientific advances you are most excited about? And question two, from an ethics perspective, what, as editors we should be mindful of, and if there are any updates on this conversation on whether or not brain organoids are salient and to which extent.

 Malin Parmar

So when it comes to the brain organoids, that's a major development in the neuroscience field to understand brain development, to understand disease and develop new treatments. We have Sergiu Paşca from Stanford who received the 2024 ISSCR Momentum Award, and he's speaking in plenary seven. So there we'll hear about his really fantastic research that takes the modeling using organoids way beyond organoids and connect them up to different systems. There is of course, an ethics aspect of the brain organoids as well on how far can you culture the cells and what I mean, but it's not going to be one of the major focus sessions of this ISSCR  meeting, but will probably be discussed, for example, in the poster sessions.

Vivien

Dr. Agnete Kirkeby from the University of Copenhagen is next here. She and Dr. Parmar are the program chairs of the ISSCR annual meeting.

 Agnete Kirkeby [17:20]

For me, one of the things I'm most excited about about the ISSCR meeting this year is that for many years, we've been talking about technologies, right? How to make different types of brain cells, different types of brain organoids, and, like gastruloids and so on, that will also be part of this year's ISSCR meeting.

But now we're also focusing more on how can we actually apply these new technologies to learn new things about diseases or to even treat diseases or develop new drugs against diseases, and there's going to be more of that this year and I'm hopefully that will, that's a part of the meeting that will gradually increase in the in the years that are coming, because now we really can apply these new technologies.

I'm very excited about the sessions we have on the Saturday, that's the last day of the meeting. We're going to hear an update from the Blue Rock clinical trial, transplanting dopamine neurons into Parkinson's disease patients. And later that day, we'll also hear an update from Neurona Therapeutics that have an ongoing trial transplanting interneurons into epilepsy patients. And the data so far looks extremely exciting. So I think these on the clinical side are going to be some very interesting talks to follow from the CNS perspective.

Vivien [18:35]  

We'll get back to more on these latest trends and clinical trials in a moment. Here is a short excursion with our guests to a scientific word game.

The word game is in the tradition of questionnaires and a teeny homage to French journalist, Bernard Pivot. And his talk show Apostrophes, which ran on French television from 1975 to 1990. And later, he had a show called Bouillon de Culture. That show ran from 1990 to 2001. He asked questions like: What is your favorite word? And what is your least favorite word? James Lipton in Inside the Actor's Studio used a questionnaire, too, with his interviewees, and that builds on the one Bernard Pivot had.

Others do these kinds of questionnaires, too. Pivot has said that his questionnaire builds on a questionnaire by the French author Marcel Proust. The questionnaire we do is not the same as the one Pivot developed. But it's an homage to him and to Marcel Proust.

[Drum roll]

 Vivien:

Stelios, are you ready. So this is a word game that we do within the sneak peeks, which is a word pair, and you please pick one word, and then we move on to the next person. And I don't care who starts and you can always say pass. But it's just a way to get a lot of things done in a short amount of time. And then we can pick up on some things and then continue the conversation and to maybe questions also from people who are participating. So for example, we will say cats or dogs, and you pick one.

 So we can start if you want with cats or dogs, and then we'll move on to something that's more related to stem cells. So: cats or dogs.

Agnete Kirkeby

Do I elaborate on the choice?

 Vivien

No elaboration, just one. And Malin or Amander if you want to add any you're welcome to if not, that's okay too.

Amander Clark

Can you say both?

Vivien

It's fine. There are no really set rules. It's totally fine. It's not like the ISSCR standards, right? It's sort of more fluid like that.

 Malin Parmar

Dogs, maybe

 Vivien

Stelios? Do you have any?

 Stelios

I got plenty. So big conferences or small conferences?

 Malin Parmar

Oh, there I'd like to say both. They're completely different. But if I have to have to pick big conferences, love the poster sessions that have big meeting. Nothing beats there's many good things about small meetings, but a poster session at a big meeting is unbeatable.

 Agnete Kirkeby

I actually prefer small meetings. But yes, ISSCR is the one meeting  where I make an exception and go to a large meeting.

 Amander Clark

Well, I think with the track session, the ISSCR is like a bunch of small meetings within a big meeting. So that way, there's something for everybody. But if I had to be pushed, I would say I love a small meeting because you get such great opportunity to interact with trainees.

 Vivien

Well, that leads to the next one: poster or talk?

 Malin Parmar

Poster

 Agnete Kirby

Talk

 Amander Clark

Poster.

 Vivien

Oh, interesting. All right. Stelios, you're next.

 Stelios

Stem cells or organoids

Amander Clark

Stem cells

Malin Parmar

Stem cells

 Agnete Kirkeby

Stem cells. But these are not two different things.

Vivien

This game is a little bit wonky, I suppose. And we'll just do a one or two more if you can tolerate and then we'll return to more serious questions. PhD: four years, or as long as it takes.

Agnete Kirkeby

Four years

Malin Parmar

Four years maybe with some flexibility, but not unlimited time.

 Amander Clark

Yes, I agree. I think four years. But unlimited? That's painful, that's painful.

 Vivien

Understood. All right. Thank you so much. So we'll return to some of the questions that came up and then also some of the themes. Stelios, did you have anything? Or does anyone in the audience have anything? If not, we'll keep going with things that came up earlier?

Stelios

Well, one thing I think it would be worth discussing is I mean, again, every year we can expect the ISSCR to present excellent science but also every year there are you know, different aspects and perspectives and topics that are more highlighted or more represented. So as I understand this here, this is going to be clinical research, is that correct? And I wanted to ask what has led to that? I mean, obviously, this is a thriving field. And you would like to comment on the most on the major discoveries within the past year or the past few years, which you're particularly excited about in, you know, listening to during the meeting.

 Vivien

Dr. Agnete Kirby is next here, she and Dr. Parmar are the program chairs of the ISSCR annual meeting.

 Agnete Kirkeby [23:50]

Yeah,I can highlight, again, the Saturday where I think we're getting some really exciting talks, but not just in the neural field. I mentioned that we're getting getting an update on the inter neuron trial for epilepsy in the Blue Rock trial for Parkinson's disease.

But we're also on the Saturday hearing for the first time, or at least for me, the first time an update on an organoid trial, which is with the salivary gland organoids, transplanted into patients that have been exposed to radiotherapy. So I think this is really something very novel in the field. But hopefully something that will also is kickstarting a new wave of clinical trials that will be transplanting not just single cells, but actually organoids in those cases where it makes sense.

And we're also hearing an update from a company called Asgard Therapeutics that are not yet in clinical trial, but that are trying to develop this also very new therapeutic modality of doing in vivo reprogramming, and reprogramming cancer cells into immune-presenting cells. And we're hearing also an update on a cardiomyocyte trial driven by a company called Heartworks. So I think it's very diverse set of diseases we're hearing updates from and now are exciting times because we're starting to hear not just safety data coming out of these very early clinical trials, but we're actually starting to see efficacy data coming out also. And I find that absolutely thrilling.

And I can also mention that we have an patient advocate this year, that actually has actually received a cell therapy and this is also somewhat new because we have an ISSCR for many years had to borrow from the gene therapy field because we were still a young field and there wasn't a lot of patients that had actually received a cell therapy, but now we're there where we can actually hear the patient experience and the patient thoughts about entering into a cell therapy trial.

Vivien [25:40]

Particularly, Parkinson's and epilepsy, but many other disorders are just so difficult to treat. So for patients who are listening, and for people who know, people with these disorders, I guess the question is also, how hopeful can they be in terms of what it takes to make neurons that are then transmitted? Happy, I've heard a lot about how to make neurons happy. In addition, it's apparently very difficult, particularly induced pluripotent stem cells. I've heard they make many scientists cry. But what happens? What makes them happy inside of a body be that human or mouse but of course, being human, I guess I'm kind of partial.

Agnete Kirkeby [26:25]

I think exactly. That's the question. We're, we're waiting for data to see right, we can transplant them into animals, which are heavily genetically manipulated, so we can get them to survive without immune rejection. But in the end, the only way we really know how well these neurons survive and how well they function will be to see the data that comes out of the patient. Right. So this is really the data I think we've been waiting for for so many years. And what I think we're also very curious to see is what happens when immunosuppressants are withdrawn from the patient's right. Can you still maintain a graft after that? And for how long? And will it continue to be functional?

And I know, for instance, that some of the patients in the Neurona Therapeutics trial are already some months into their Phase without immunosuppressants. And I think this is these findings are important for the whole field, right? Because we need to know that we can put grafts into patients and that they can actually be sustained and functional for many years after transplantation.

 Vivien

I know this isn't a kind question. But I know that this troubles scientists, sometimes. There are clinics not reputable clinics that offer therapies for people and who make all kinds of undertake all kinds of efforts to get people to come to their clinic, and what they do is not sanctioned, and it would give you all hives and allergies. But what do you say to people who are feeling that this is, this feels hopeful to them? What is the difference between something that is more supervised and something that is, you know, a website and an address.

 Malin Parmar [28:00]

I fully understand that patients are impatient, they live with this diseases that are devastating for their life quality, may lead to death, you don't want to wait for treatment, I have full sympathy, I lost my own mom to ALS and had to face the fact that there is nothing to do. You just have to you just have to understand that therapies. If they don't work, there's no point giving them. So when you develop stem cell based therapies, we have a saying in Sweden, you need to rush slowly.

That means they need to move as fast as you possibly can. But you can't move too fast. Because if you move too fast, you cut corners, you lose safety, lose efficacy, and you lose effective therapies. So when these unserious clinics go out and sell proven therapies to patients, what they do is they're predators that they use the fact that these people are desperate. They will not be helped by these therapies, no one else will be helped by this therapies, it will cost money for them. So while it's frustrating to wait for proven therapies, that's the only chance you have. You're not going to be cured by a therapy that doesn't work. And this is what it is.

It's very difficult to take in but that's the way it is is The stem cell field is moving as fast as we possibly can, as Agnete says we learning from each other. So just within the field of Parkinson's disease, we have formed this global alliance called GforcePD, where we work together with the Japanese teams and the American teams developing the same type of therapies. There are our worst competitors, but they're also our best collaborators. And we move together to make sure the cells are as good as possible, as safe as possible and get into patients as quick as possible. And the field is really moving at a speed that is as fast as they can go. And there's nothing else to do than wait and be patient.

Amander Clark [30:00]

I think that the unproven stem cell therapy is a significant problem. And as Malin said, these individuals and their families who have been living with this disease for many years are at the end of their rope. And so they're looking for something to alleviate their suffering. And ISSCR has worked very hard to try and combat unproven stem cell therapy. So I really would urge anybody who's considering a stem cell therapy that is not approved, and is not in a clinical trial to take a look at the ISSCR Website, we've created the ISSCR Guide to stem cell treatments

https://www.isscr.org/treatment-guide

in order to help patients and their families make decisions about stem cell therapies. And so this is a this is a big problem.

Vivien

It's really great. And obviously, you're not the police force who can enforce this. But you probably are seeing people and know people who kind of feel drawn to these ads.

Amander Clark

Absolutely. We're not the police force, but we are trying to provide the best information we can for patients and their families to make an informed decision based upon science, not based upon anecdotes.

Vivien

Yeah, sure.The aspect that Malin brought up about competition, every field is competitive. My sense, and Stelios was telling me to kind of understand things a little bit. It does seem like the stem cell field is very competitive. And I think that's a good thing. But it might also be for arbiters like yourselves, how do you handle this? I mean, we're not saying, you know, sit in a circle and hold hands and be nice, right? This isn't kindergarten. But obviously, what is what is the, I guess the atmosphere like about competition? Has it changed at all in recent years?

Malin Parmar [32:55]

Well, I think that may, it may be a very competitive field. But that leads to it being a very collaborative field. So you only go forward if you work together, so everyone wants to move forward. And the way to do that is to collaborate. So to me, the stem cell field is a very collaborative field. You need a lot of expertise, you need a lot of input from different people with different skills. So the way to get there is to collaborate. And that's what I actually, I love this field. Because it's so collaborative.

 Agnete Kirkeby

Yeah, I feel the same thing. I think maybe what you're referring to here, I think was something that we saw more in the very early phases of stem cell research, where everyone was trying to get first and you know, get first to the clinic and be first with their papers and so on. And that maybe wasn't the best way of advancing the field.

But now I think, as Malin also mentioned, for instance, in the Parkinson's disease field, we are talking to our competitors, because they're our collaborators at the same time. Because we all know that if one of us does something very stupid, this can destroy the field for everyone, right? So we're all in the same boat that we want the field to advance, right? We want the field to do the best for patients in the best possible way. Because this is in the interest of all of us.

Malin Parmar

And one of my favorites is like an African proverb, and it says, If you want to go fast, you go alone, if you want to go far, you go together. And I mean, I think this is just what the stem cell field, we need to go far. And we need to go together. And I think this is really reflected in the field. So it may be competitive, but it's not cut-throat, it's a it's a good field. It's a collaborative field, where we try to work together to do the best possible quality of work that we can do.

Vivien

In addition to the diseases and disorders we've talked about, there is a field called reproductive medicine. And I was wondering, it seems like there's going to be some events about in vitro gametogenesis. And the intricacies of that I was wondering how excited you are about this field and what you would like people to take away if they're going there, or if they want to tune in to some of the recordings.

Amander Clark [34:10]

So we have a wonderful track on pluripotency and development where there will be a number of talks on the new embryo models that are emerging, as well as talks about generating gametes in a dish. I'm very excited about this technology, I feel it's important to have research that embraces different aspects of stem cell science and translation. And so these areas of embryo modeling and in vitro gametogenesis really put women's Health at the center of these conversations because a lot of these technologies are about overcoming a diagnosis of infertility or developing new techniques that can further improve assisted reproductive technologies, which have been stuck at a certain level of success for many years. So it's I'm excited to hear where the field is at with with regard to this research.

 Vivien

And, again, I guess a question about happiness in a dish. How do you see people gauging whether or not they have the real thing that they intended to have? Somebody explained to me a stem cell scientists that stem cells are like bars of soap that you try to hold on to, and they're wet. And it's just they do what they want. I'm wondering how how the efforts are progressing to kind of chasten some of some of that.

Agnete Kirkeby [35:40]

I think technology like single cell RNA sequencing is really a technology that has completely revolutionized the field of stem cell biology, because this has been one of the main hurdles, right? You take a stem cell, you try to differentiate it into something and then you do for instance, stainings with antibodies for the markers that you know, and the cells that you know, and you find what you want, right.

But the problem has been, we never found what we didn't want, right? We didn't, we never actually knew what was in the dish other than what we were looking for. And this is the reason single cell RNA sequencing today is really been embraced by I think every single stem cell scientist, it's kind of a must have in almost every single paper. Because if you don't have that you actually don't know what you have in your dish. And it's also opened amazing new doors, right? Because it can show us what is the cellular diversity? How many subtypes do we have? What are the progenitors look like? How do we get to the end stage that we're looking for? What are we missing? Do we have some contaminants? All of these questions we weren't really able to answer before. So I think this has really been a game changer in the field of stem cell biology.

 Malin Parmar

Yeah, there, we can pick up on our previous questions about ethics and stem cell biology. So the custom stem cell biology about is a new field is really driving that pushing the boundaries forward. We work a lot with ethics and regulatory agencies, because this is new also to them. It poses new questions, but at the same time the field is propelled and driven by technological advancements and developments. One of them being single cell sequencing, but there's others. So it is kind of a continuum of fields that need to intermix in order to be at this frontline of scientific development.

Vivien

I know this is not going to be a fun question. But integrated models and non integrated models. I have had people explain this to me. And it's hard to understand. And I know standards are not the most scintillating topic, but I guess it is kind of important to understand the difference. So if you would, perhaps explain what the different models are. And that that would be I think, very helpful. A human embryo models apologies. .

Amander Clark

Yes, so in the 2021 guidelines, the embryo models were separated into two categories. So and these categories are based upon their level of review. So a non-integrated embryo model would be, for example, a gastruloid model, a neuroloid, a somatoid. These are models that represent some aspects of embryo development. But not all aspects of embryo development.

So a non-integrated embryo model has no organismal potential, so it has no potential to develop any further than a couple of days. And then usually it falls apart. So that type of embryo model requires to be, we recommend at ISSCR in the guidelines, to be reported to a regulatory body, whatever that is in the jurisdiction that the science is being performed in. But that would be a basically it.

The integrated embryo model is the one that represents integrated embryo development. So the way we described it in the ISSCR guidelines in 2021, is a model that has, for example, the trophoblast, the pluripotent preimplantation epiblast and the hypoblast, because at that time, blast toys were the example of the integrated embryo model. And so now we have a lot more different examples of integrated embryo models, which I think are really exciting and teaching us something about post implantation embryo development. And so these are the models that require scientific, ethical and regulatory oversight, and that they should only be maintained in culture for a minimum time necessary to achieve the scientific objective.

And so we recognize that with this current plethora of models that are being developed right now that there are some models that currently are in the non-integrated category, but they represent complex development, and that the these should be evaluated under more rigorous ethical scientific review. So stay tuned for the taskforce update on on revisiting some of these models and how they should be reviewed within their jurisdictions.

 Vivien

I see that's the work that you're working on with Dr. Rossant.

 Amander Clark

And our committee, which is another committee which represents scientists from around the world.

Vivien

Oh very cool.

Stelios

How about the the 14 day culture rule for human embryos, like any any plans on revisiting that and further discussing it.

Amander Clark

So our task force was not tasked with having another conversation around the 14-day rule, the 14 day rule update in the 2021 guidelines was to move. The current recommendation was that you should not culture embryos for longer than 14 days, that was the what was recommended in the 2016 update.

In the 2021 update, we moved that rule to scientists should be able to culture embryos up to 14 days or formation of the primitive streak, whichever comes first. And then that if there is sufficient if there is sufficient public engagement within a jurisdiction, that means culturally, embryos longer than 14 days is acceptable by stakeholders, including the general public, then scientists would be able to apply for the capacity to culture embryos longer than 14 days or through formation of the primitive streak. And when I'm talking about embryos, here, I'm talking about embryos that are generated by in vitro fertilization, not embryo models.

Vivien

And with jurisdiction, just to be clear, so you mentioned it can be a region, it can be a country, it can be sort of a region within a country that has different rules, as is true in some countries.

And with jurisdiction, just to be clear, so you mentioned it can be a region, it can be a country, it can be sort of a region within a country that has different rules, as is true in some countries.

Amander Clark

That's exactly right. The ISSCR guidelines are not aimed to replace current regulations and rules within a jurisdiction, which could be a country, it could be a state, it could be within an institution itself, where the ISSCR guidelines is extremely as important as in places where there are no guidelines or regulations. And so ISSCR guidelines can be used in those particular jurisdictions.

Vivien

How many emails and calls do you get at 2am? Well, whenever but probably at night, from people from scientists, for example, who are saying, Help me understand if I can keep this particular thing, and they might share some details of it. Do people have practical challenges with figuring out what they have in their dish? And I suppose this might not just be them, it might be their postdocs, or in their lab, do people reach out?

Amander Clark

Actually, I've never had anyone reached out to me to ask me about the what do they have in their dish? I think that's a really interesting question. The certainly we recognize at ISSCR that there is some confusion about the current 2o21 guidelines. And so that is what we are hoping that our new task force will be able to do and that is to clarify what seems to be confusing in the current 2021 guidelines for embryo models. So, so we hope that to give some clarity.

Vivien

Fabulous. Any other questions, Ipromise I will keep the other 80 questions that I have to myself, but I'll bug you at the meeting. I'll come by your posters and your talks and things. Well, thank you, then, Dr. Clark, Dr. Parmar, Dr.Kirkeby thank you very much for taking the time for this. Kym. Thank you, as always for letting us have a little backstage pass. Thank you all the attendees for being part of this, really appreciate it. And I hope it's breakfast for you now, Dr. Clark, sorry for the early hour.

Annette Kirkeby

Thank you so much, it was fun participating.

Malin Parmar

Thank you.

Amander Clark

Thank you.

Vivien

And that was conversations with scientists: today's guests were Dr. Amander Clark from the University of California at Los Angeles, she is also the current president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, ISSCR. 

The other guests were Dr Malin Parmar from Lund University and Dr Agnete Kirkeby from the University of Copenhagen. They are program chairs of this year's ISSCR annual meeting. Thank you to them and to Kym Kilbourne who also took part and set up this podcast. She is director of media and strategic communications at ISSCR.

And I had a co-host today Dr. Stelios Lefkopoulos from Nature Cell Biology

The music in this podcast is Episode 6 by Walz and we had some sound effects by Laidback Lunch, both licensed from artlist.io

And I just wanted to say because there’s confusion about these things sometimes. Nobody paid to be in this podcast and the International Society for Stem Cell Research  didn't pay for this podcast. This is independent journalism that I produce in my living-room. I’m Vivien Marx, thanks for listening.

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