8 posts categorized "Profiles"

May 16, 2012

We've got a new niche!

SignalsThe SCN Blog has a new name and a new home: http://www.signalsblog.ca

After nearly four years and 207 blog posts, we finally outgrew our dish, so to speak. Late last year, we began planning with the newly-formed Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, who indicated an interest to begin blogging in the sphere. (Perhaps you'll recall our name contest?) Why have two blogs competing when one can do the job? The result is Signals Blog (the new name came from an SCN staff member who sadly was not eligible for a prize), which will continue to bring the same level of insight, commentary and research news you've found on the SCN Blog, but will add new perspectives and news on biomaterials, regenerative medicine and commercialization.

We think it's a great partnership that will provide a more comprehensive view of the world of stem cells and regenerative medicine. 

To ease the transition for readers, all archived posts from the SCN Blog have been moved to their new home and RSS feeds will be updated to the new address. Comments will be closed on this site, but we'll keep a copy of the archives here for the short term. 

This is our final post on this site: please update your links and check out our new niche at www.signalsblog.ca!

April 24, 2012

The stem cell fraction

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To read this article, please visit Signals BlogThe stem cell fraction

February 10, 2012

Inside the Sauvageau lab

by Lisa Willemse

One of the advantages of working in an admin office of an organization that funds stem cell research is that you tend to hear about what's happening in labs all across the country. So when I heard that some interesting things were happening in the Guy Sauvageau lab, I decided to pay an overdue visit to Montreal to talk to Guy and do some filming in the lab. It was a miserable December day -- rain sheeting down sideways -- and, well, even if everything didn't go exactly as planned that day, the lab was warm and welcoming.

While the video footage is not yet ready for posting (stay tuned), I did write an article on the visit, which has been posted in an excellent blog -- "The Crux" -- run by Lynne Quarmby, a molecular biologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver (and a writer of insightful, thought-provoking blogs about research and the realities of being a basic researcher in Canada).

Read the complete blog profile of the Sauvageau lab.


September 14, 2011

The quest for eternal youth: Atwood v. Smith

by David Kent

A prize-winning author sits down in an Edinburgh pub across from a world famous stem cell biologist. Together they begin to ponder mankind’s desire for eternal youth. Though it may sound like the first lines of a joke, it is the opening scene of a documentary film, supported by the UK’s Wellcome Trust. Oddly enough, this film represented a collision of my seemingly polar worlds.

As many of my readers know, I hold a Genetics/English degree, and this opening scene was a bizarre blending of both -– Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood vs. Cambridge stem cell biologist Austin Smith. As their conversation progresses throughout the film, one cannot help but become acutely aware of the highly relevant casting choices -– Atwood often writes about the potential consequences of science/technology (e.g.: Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood) and Smith is at the very leading edge of some of the most exciting advances in pluripotent stem cell biology. 

This full length feature, entitled Stem Cell Revolutions:
A Vision of the Future, is a snapshot of the current state of stem cell technologies and offers some insight into how we arrived here and where the field might take us. It was created by science producer Clare Blackburn and Director/Producer Amy Hardie, the same filmmakers that created the acclaimed Eurostemcell short films: A stem cell story, Conversations: ethics, science, stem cells, Cell Culture, Dolly and beyond.

Continue reading "The quest for eternal youth: Atwood v. Smith" »

January 20, 2011

A tribute to Ernest "Bun" McCulloch (1926-2011)


Mccullochb&w On January 20, 2011 Ernest (“Bun”) McCulloch passed away. Although Bun was known to the young generation of stem cell researchers only by reputation, for those of us who knew him “back then” he was an icon. “Back then” was the 60s and 70s when the group led by Bun McCulloch and Jim Till conducted experiments that led to the concept of stem cells as the source of all cell types in the blood-forming system, proved their existence, described their properties and set the stage for the life-saving procedure of bone marrow transplantation.

Back then we didn’t think much about stem cells in other tissues, and it was more than 15 years before stem cells were identified and characterised in other tissues and in the developing embryo.

Back then I was a PhD student under the supervision of Jim Till. I had come from a physics background as had Jim. Dr. McCulloch, as I called him back then, was a haematologist, a visionary, a descriptive scientist who loved to dream about the art of the possible. His knowledge of the blood-forming system was prodigious, but he was not content with its description. He wanted to know how it developed and how it sustained itself. Jim Till, being a quantitative scientist was the driving force behind the idea that to understand the biology required quantitative measurements.

So when nodules of growing cells were seen in the spleens of irradiated mice who had received bone marrow transplants, it was the two of them together who realized that these could be clones of cells derived from multi-potential precursors. We didn’t use the term “stem cells” back then. Together they set out to develop the spleen colony assay as a quantitative assay for stem cell number, to demonstrate the presence of multiple cell types in the colonies through detailed cytology and to prove that the colonies were derived from single cells. It was a very productive time, with many graduate students and post-doctoral fellows contributing to the effort. You will recognize some of the names – Andy Becker, Allen and Gillian Wu, Ron Worton, Paul Austin, Don Sutherland, Norman Iscove, Allan Bernstein, Bob Phillips, Rick Miller, and somewhat later Connie and Allen Eaves.  Many of them went on to train the next generation of stem cell biologists. 

At the beginning I was afraid of Dr. McCulloch, so I stuck to getting advice from Dr. Till. The odd time I did speak to him, I felt that he was thinking so far ahead of me that I struggled to understand. Slowly, after a great many weekly group seminars (held in the office of Lou Siminovitch until we outgrew it) I began to be comfortable speaking briefly to Dr. McCulloch, but still didn’t venture into the inner sanctum of his office. Finally, one day after I had generated my first substantial results I presented them to Jim who suggested that I tell Bun as well. I made an appointment and went to see him. He listened, agreed on the importance of the work and without hesitation began to suggest future experiments – dozens of them – so many I couldn’t keep track. This was my first real encounter with the brilliant mind and quick intellect of Bun McCulloch.

Soon I was making regular visits to his office.The next memorable encounter was when I wrote my first paper on stem cells. Like all graduate students, my first paper was way too long and had unnecessary detail that only I deemed to be important. Jim had told me that, and suggested ways to improve it. Bun had received a copy of the manuscript and invited me to his office. He agreed with Jim about the unnecessary detail, and asked if I would like to know how he would write it. I said yes. So, he picked up his Dictaphone and in the next 20 minutes he paced the floor in his office while he dictated a manuscript from start to finish. In those 20 minutes he transformed my pedantic, thoughtful, careful, and fully detailed manuscript into a lively, punchy and dramatic account demonstrating that stem cells defined by the spleen colony assay are distinct entities from the other known precursor cells of the blood-forming system. I was transfixed. It had never occurred to me that anyone could do that. To be sure, his dictated version needed some editing and polishing, but the essence of what he dictated remained intact. It was a valuable lesson, and it completely changed my concept of how to write a scientific paper, even though I never did learn to dictate them in 20 minutes.  

Even though Bun had been retired for many years, he will be missed by all of us who knew him well and admired his intellect, his dedication and his profound influence on the field of stem cell biology. For Jim Till, I am sure it will be like losing a twin who for many years had been joined at the hip. And for the younger generation of stem cell scientists it will be a time to pause and reflect on those early experiments, carried out long before the term “stem cell” was a household word, and long before the profound importance of stem cells was recognized. Bun and Jim were true pioneers whose work dictated how we think about the human body, its development and its replenishment. Bun can rest knowing that he truly made a difference.  

-- Ron Worton, former Scientific Director of the Stem Cell Network


I invite additional memories, thoughts and comments to this blog as a public, scientific memorial of the incredible Bun McCulloch.


October 21, 2010

Till and McCulloch inducted into Science and Engineering Hall of Fame

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Please check it out on its new home, Signals BlogTill and McCulloch inducted into Science and Engineering Hall of Fame

October 04, 2010

Fireside chat with Jim Till and Janet Rossant

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Please check it out on its new home, Signals BlogFireside chat with Jim Till and Janet Rossant

May 17, 2010

Stem cell science across the pond: organizations in the UK

by David Kent

After being spoiled with six years’ worth of camaraderie with the stem cell community in Canada via the Stem Cell Network’s annual meeting and countless other interactions, I recently made the journey from  Connie Eaves’ lab in Vancouver to pursue post doctoral research at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research under Tony Green’s supervision. I came with a very open mind, but knew that the Canadian network was going to be a hard act to follow. Almost immediately upon touching down, I went on a hunt for all things stem cell in Ol’ Blighty.

It appears the UK has an extremely vibrant stem cell community that can address the scientific questions along with pursuing an understanding of the complicated ethical, legal, and social issues that arise. They have also recognized that public outreach is a critical component of well-supported science and science policy. Some selected organizations that showcase the breadth and depth of the UK’s stem cell involvement are:

  • The UK National Stem Cell Network is a great politically-driven initiative, founded on the recommendation of the Government-commissioned Pattison Report which presented a 10-year vision for stem cell research in the UK. The UKNSCN brings together members of the stem cell community and is the primary disseminator of information regarding UK stem cell research to the public and to international scientists.
  • The UK Stem Cell Foundation, which among other things, hopes to raise a £100 million endowment to fund research and scientists where funding gaps exist.
  • The Social Science Stem Cell Initiative recognizes the importance of getting a handle on the social, ethical and legal issues and aims to build research capacity for high-quality social science research in the area of stem cells. 
  • The UK Stem Cell Bank was established to be a repository for stem cells of all sources and provides quality controlled cells to researchers across the country.

On top of this, individual cities have very active stem cell communities. In Cambridge alone, a tiny town of 100,000, there is a monthly Stem Cell Club which is an informal evening gathering of academics from all over town with excellent local speakers and occasional imports (e.g.: last month featured new investigator Steve Pollard, clinician scientist Brian Huntly and Anna Philpott speaking about embryonic, blood, and neural stem cells respectively). Also in Cambridge there is a government-funded Stem Cell Initiative which engages basic and clinical scientists with an interest in biomedical translation of stem cell and regenerative medicine research.  

With all of this activity, it will be difficult to attend everything, but where possible, I’ll get there and will report via this blog. Look forward to profiles of research findings, social and political groups and their activities, and reports on major talks and conferences from the UK and mainland Europe.