The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) annual meeting was held June 20-23, in Melbourne, Australia. Roughly 3,000 attendees descended on Melbourne’s modern convention center – significantly down from previous years, but respectable given the distant location and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Particularly the small exhibition in a vast hall often felt more like a ghost town than the bustle we experienced in previous years. This was the second time after Cairns in 2007 that this conference was held in Australia, Genea Biocells’ country of origin and we were happy to reconnect with former employees and many Australian scientists we worked with or got to know in the past.
Scientifically, ISSCR offered the usual mix of research presentations on pluripotent, adult and cancer stem cells. Fairly new technologies such as genome editing technologies and stem cell-derived organoids/tissue engineering received significant attention although real breakthroughs with clinical benefits to patients, while getting closer, are yet to be achieved. In the ‘Tissue Engineering’ concurrent session, Dr. Saverio Tedesco from UCL presented on the development of a 3D skeletal muscle platform. Using Genea Biocells’ skeletal muscle differentiation method, Dr. Tedesco highlighted the successful 3D modeling, which was previously published (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29669293).
Genea Biocells’ intern, Ernesto Solano Guizar, was supported through the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine’s Bridges program to attend ISSCR and present a poster on his work entitled, “An in vitro model of Myotonic Dystrophy type 1 using human embryonic stem cell-derived skeletal muscle.” We described decreased mitochondrial respiration and spare respiratory capacity as a novel phenotype in DM-1 affected myoblasts. Also, for the first time to our knowledge, we demonstrated consistent DM-1 specific splicing variations and gene expression in pluripotent stem cell-derived skeletal muscle. In addition, a poster entitled, “Human iPSC-derived Motor Neurons and Skeletal Myotubes Co-culture Enabling Disease Modeling” was presented in collaboration with Cellular Dynamics International (CDI). The project aimed to combine CDI’s iPSC-derived motor neurons with our human stem cell derived skeletal muscle to generate functional neuromuscular junctions (NMJ) for complex disease modeling, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).