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3 posts from November 2009

November 27, 2009

New findings may help premature infants breathe easier

For infants born prematurely, lung and brain illnesses can have severe and long-term health effects. According to the US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, about one in three infants born with birth weights below two pounds will be diagnosed with bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a lung disease characterized by poor lung development.

A study now published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine demonstrates that bone marrow–derived, multipotent mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) may have therapeutic benefits in treating lung diseases such as BPD and pulmonary hypertension. The study was conducted at the University of Alberta, with collaborators from McGill University as well as labs in France and the US. Led by Dr. Bernard Thébaud, the study used both in vitro and in vivo experimental models to test the potential benefits of delivering stem cells to the damaged lungs.

Thebaud_sm “We found in the in vitro tests that the MSCs were attracted toward oxygen damaged lung tissue over that of normal lung tissue,” said Dr. Thébaud. “This was extremely encouraging and predictive of our in vivo tests, where we found that the delivery of stem cells to the lungs of diseased rats improved lung structure and function and attenuated pulmonary hypertension, so that the rats had an increased rate of survival and greater exercise tolerance.”

“More exciting though was the finding that MSCs did not as initially thought, replace the damaged lung cells. Rather, the MSCs seem to protect resident lung cells from being destroyed. Our conclusion is that the stem cells contributed to the prevention of lung injury, in part by producing protective factors for resident lung cells.”

In general, BPD follows ventilator and oxygen therapy for acute respiratory failure in premature infants. Health costs for BPD have steadily increased in recent decades as more and more extremely low birth weight babies survive.  In addition, recent evidence suggests that BPD results in long-term respiratory morbidity, including early onset emphysema.

Current treatment for BPD and related illness is palliative, however this current research suggests that treatment options may one day be available to help prevent the development of serious lung disease in prematurely-born infants.

This study was funded in part by the Stem Cell Network and Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. View SCN project summary. View AHFMR media release.

November 20, 2009

Winners of 2009 Cells I See art contest

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Please read this article on its new home, Signals BlogWinners of 2009 Cells I See art contest


November 12, 2009

Annual Meeting Deconstructed

As an insider it is often difficult to have an objective viewpoint on the success of a meeting. You work hard to pull together a solid agenda – one that balances good scientific presentations, information on best practices in knowledge translation and non-scientific perspectives with networking opportunities. But when you get it right, you know.

Listening to the buzz in the corridors and in the lunch lineups, it was easy to identify the highlights of SCN’s 2009 annual meeting held in Montreal last week – the panel on patient perspectives of stem cell therapies stimulated a lot of discussion, as did Matthew Nisbet’s keynote address on framing within science communications, Guy Sauvageau’s acceptance of the Till & McCulloch Award and his lecture on expanding hematopoietic stem cells and Freda Miller’s scientific presentation on her research on stem cells to treat spinal cord injury.

But one sentiment that was expressed many times, by many attendees was just how the SCN annual conference is different from most stem cell research events. It’s not that the science, the panel discussions, the venue or even the food is better. If it can be summarized in a single word, that word is “community”. This is a community that supports the development of new talent by providing opportunities for researchers in training to present alongside internationally-recognized leaders and to get feedback at the peer level. It fosters collaboration by allowing time for people to mix and mingle in an informal way – pub night is consistently the best attended AGM event by industry reps, trainees and principal investigators – more than one sale, job and lab connection has been made over the rim of a beer glass.

Most importantly perhaps, AGM attendees say that the size of the meeting is critically important. At just under 400 people, it’s large enough that you can meet someone new, but small enough to have plenty of familiar names and faces. It’s comfortable and it is this comfort that creates a great community and contributes to great research. It’s one of the reasons Canadians continue to lead the field.

--Lisa Willemse, Stem Cell Network

Posterssm Roundtables_Sauvageausm Top photo: Poster presentations on day 1
Bottom photo: Round table discussions on day 3