Posted November 2nd, 2015 by Stacey Johnson

Regenerative medicine conference puts spotlight on U of T engineers

  • Engineering professor Peter Zandstra and University Professor Emeritus James Till

    Engineering professor Peter Zandstra and University Professor Emeritus James Till were among the world-leading researchers who gathered in Toronto for the Till & McCulloch Meetings. (Photo: James Poremba)

If you or someone you know has benefited from a bone marrow transplant, then you may be more knowledgeable about stem cells and regenerative medicine (RM) than you think.

Bone marrow transplants, a procedure used in treating cancer that has been around for the last 40 years, is just one of the applications of stem cell science. RM includes stem cells, biomaterials and molecules and it is used to repair, regenerate or replace diseased cells, tissues and organs.

“Regenerative medicine is exciting because it offers opportunities to learn about the fundamentals of tissue and organ development, form and (normal and diseased) function, as well as provide new strategies to treat and perhaps one day cure devastating degenerative diseases,” explains Peter Zandstra, an engineering professor at U of T’s Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) and a leading member of the University of Toronto’s Medicine By Design initiative.

The Canadian RM community met in Toronto this week for its annual scientific conference: the Till & McCulloch Meetings, named for the University of Toronto researchers James Till and Ernest McCulloch who discovered transplantable stem cells in 1961.

The conference was a who’s who of world-renowned researchers affiliated with U of T, including engineering professors Molly Shoichet (ChemE, IBBME) and Milica Radisic (ChemE, IBBME), as well as Janet Rossant (Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine and SickKids), Gordon Keller (McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine), Andras Nagy (Mount Sinai Hospital) and Armand Keating (University Health Network). A quarter of the attendees at the conference had a direct affiliation with the university.

“It was really gratifying to host the Till and McCulloch Meetings in Toronto and have Jim Till preside over the lectureship and meeting. U of T researchers were represented very well at the conference,” says Zandstra, who also heads up the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine . “Molly and Milica showcased exciting work combining stem cell derived cells into biomaterials for transplantation and organ modeling, while Sid Goyal (Physics) presented new work on clonal dynamics during blood stem cell transplantation.”

With its tremendous concentration of stem cell scientists and bioengineers, Toronto boasts one of the largest combined biomedical and biotechnology clusters in North America. More than 11,000 principal investigators and technicians operate from nine teaching hospitals and 37 research institutions.

Toronto’s prominence in this field is expected to grow even stronger when the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, a translation centre working closely with U of T, brings together Medicine by Design, OIRM and cell manufacturing capabilities under one roof at MaRS Discovery District. The “RM village” being envisioned for downtown Toronto will solidify the city’s reputation as a RM leader and place to watch.

This year’s Till & McCulloch Award Lecture was presented by Timothy Kieffer from the University of British Columbia. He was being recognized for his work in diabetes, including breakthrough research published in Nature Biotechnology last year.

Zandstra, the chief scientific officer for CCRM, and a member of the award selection committee, called the paper “a fantastic example of Canadian leadership in an important and competitive area of regenerative medicine.”