By Jen Bucciarelli
The Rochester community will welcome some of the top stem cell researchers from as far as the Netherlands as the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine—a collaborative initiative between Oakland University and Beaumont Health System—hosts the Second Midwest Conference on Stem Cell Biology and Therapy this weekend.
Dr. Rasul Chaudhry, conference organizing committee chair and OU biology professor is passionate about educating his students but identifies the role of educating the public to be equally important.
“Learning is from the day you are born until the day you die,” he said.
Chaudhry has been planning the conference for the past year to schedule more than 80 experts from around the globe to speak in lectures, panel discussions and workshops, which will be held in the recently-opened Human Health Building on Oakland’s campus.
The conference will feature the latest stem cell research such as developmental and age-related diseases, cancers, regenerative medicine, as well as drug design and discovery.
“Stem-cell-based therapies are an exciting area of research and provide hope that someday there will be novel treatments for a variety of devastating diseases,” Dr. Dorothy Nelson, OU vice provost for research, said in an email response.
“However, there is much basic science and pre-clinical work to be done before we are able to fully understand the nature, variability and potential of stem cells,” Nelson said. “The (conference) brings together scientists and ethicists from a broad range of backgrounds to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas that may help move the field forward.”
A closer look
As a stem cell researcher, Chaudhry finds all of the upcoming presentations for the three-day conference beyond important and intriguing (and there are plenty of them!) But, here is a handful of what Chaudhry highlights as some of the conference segments geared toward the public:
• On Friday, Oct. 5 from 3:10-3:30 p.m., Dr. Mick Perez-Cruet, of the OU-WB School of Medicine and Beaumont Health System will discuss stem cell-based treatment of spinal degenerative disorders.
• Dr. Kenneth Peters from Beaumont Health System will speak on Friday from 4:50-5:10 p.m. about “Autologous Muscle Derived Cells for Treatment of Stress Urinary Incontinence” or muscle-derived stem cell injections to treat uncontrollable loss of urine during physical activity.
• Also on Friday, Dr. Mahendra Rao, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the National Institutes for Health will provide an update on translational science from 6:15-6:55 p.m.
• A panel discussion will be held on Sunday about the political, ethical and regulatory issues regarding stem cell research from 10:15 a.m. – noon.
“It’s a good mix of basic and applied research,” Chaudhry said, as those are just a sampling of the presentations that he thinks the Rochester community might enjoy. (The event program with the full schedule can be found at www.Oakland.edu/scbt.)
Students share excitement for upcoming conference
Both undergraduate and graduate students have played an important role in the planning process for the conference, Chaudhry said.
“They are high energy,” he joked, “A major portion of the help has been from the students.”
As doctoral candidates, students like Christina McKee and Naimisha Reddy Beeravolu will display their work with stem cells in poster presentations. McKee, who just finished her master’s at OU this summer and has moved into the doctorate program has worked on the maintenance of stem cells using scaffolds (or structures made of proteins, carbohydrates or synthetic material) to grow cells in an ideal environment, working to improve culturing techniques, such as those with in vitro (or isolated in glass, as in a test tube).
“This kind of work has a lot of implications for tissue engineering,” she said.
When stem cells are injected into the body, they typically diffuse or “go everywhere,” McKee said. “So the idea of using scaffolding is that you can concentrate the cells in one place and then when the cells grow, the scaffold will degrade and in place of that you have your new tissue.”
Through her master’s work, McKee has found that the scaffold she uses not only supports cells she’s working with, it assists in cell growth, too. She will continue working toward her doctorate studying these scaffolds but with a focus on cell differentiation.
Naimisha Beeravolu has always wanted to work with stem cells and “I thought this would be the best place for me to continue that interest,” she said, where she began working on her doctorate in Chaudhry’s lab a year ago, after finishing her master’s at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. She is studying the use of stem cells to regenerate degenerative discs in vertebrates.
“The goal is to regenerate the part of the disc that is degenerated over time, in vitro, then inject it in vivo (in a living organism or model) and see how it works,” she said.
Both Beeravolu and McKee agree that dedication is key when studying stem cells, but there is a resounding agreement on the thrill of working in such a young field.
“We have to be here every day because we have to take care of the cells,” Beeravolu said, “Just like giving attention to children.” But, “It’s really an interesting field to work in.”
“There is a lot of room to grow so it is really exciting to be in on it,” McKee said.
Students and residents can register for the conference for $200 and professionals for $400. This fee also includes a reception as well as three meals each day, during the conference weekend.
Registration will be available onsite, too.
For more information on the Second Midwest Conference on Stem Cell Biology and Therapy, please visit www.oakland.edu/scbt.