Wednesday's sessions are devoted to academic topics while Thursday's program focuses on corporate participation and investment opportunities that seek to translate research findings into new therapies.
Researchers and investors in Israel are at the forefront of stem cell science, in part because Jewish traditions related to the beginning of life differ from beliefs held by some Christians and others, permitting work with embryonic stem cells that has been the subject of ongoing debate in the United States and elsewhere.
Three of Israel's prominent stem cell scientists will open Wednesday's sessions. Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor, M.D., of Rambam Medical Center at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, will present "The Promise of Human Embryonic Stem Cells," beginning at 9 a.m. He was among the team that first isolated stem cells from human embryos in 1998. He will be followed by his Technion colleague Lior Gepstein, M.D., Ph.D., who will describe the use of stem cells in the regeneration of heart muscle cells. Gepstein and Itskovitz-Eldor were the first to grow the precursors of heart cells from embryonic stem cells.
Developmental geneticist Nissim Benvenisty, M.D., Ph.D., of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, credited with making a number of discoveries and innovations in the development and modification of stem cells, will present a session on human embryonic stem cells in medical and genetic research. Benvenisty was one of the symposium's organizers, along with David Meyer, Ph.D., vice president of Research and Scientific Affairs at Cedars-Sinai.
Wednesday's academic sessions also include:
- "Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Exploring the Controversy," presented by Laurie Zoloth, Ph.D., professor of Medical Ethics and Humanities, and of Religion, at Northwestern University in Chicago. Director of Bioethics for Northwestern's Center for Genetic Medicine, Zoloth is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Society for Stem Cell Research and is Chair of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Bioethics Advisory Board.
- "Funding Stem Cell Research in the United States," presented by Arlene Chiu, Ph.D., director of Scientific Programs and Review of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). A developmental neurobiologist, Chiu is associate director of the Office of Research Administration of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). CIRM was established in 2004 with the passage of Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, responsible for disbursing funds to California universities and research institutions.
- "Adult Stem Cell Transplantation for Treatment of Malignant and Non-malignant Disorders and for Tissue Repair," presented by Shimon Slavin, M.D., a specialist in internal medicine, immunology/rheumatology, immunology/allergy, and bone marrow transplantation at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. Slavin conducts extensive research in immune system regulation, bone marrow transplantation, gene therapy, and bone marrow stem cells.
- "Stem Cells and Prostate Cancer," presented by Owen N. Witte, M.D., professor of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has received awards for his contributions in basic cancer research. Among his research interests are the development of the immune response and growth regulation mechanisms related to leukemias and metastasis of certain cancers to the bone marrow.
- "Rarely Pure and Never Simple: Paradigms from the Bone Marrow," presented by Gay M. Crooks, M.D., a member of the Gene, Immunology and Stem Cell Therapy Research Program at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, and an associate professor of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. For more than 10 years, Crooks has led a team studying stem cells in bone marrow and cord blood. In the past few years, the researchers have studied the unexpected potential of bone marrow to form the tissues of the pancreas -- research that may impact such diseases as diabetes and cystic fibrosis.
- "Immune Cells and Adult Stem Cells Interact Synergistically to Renew Brain Cells and Rehabilitate Cognitive Functions in Dementias and Other Neurodegenerative Conditions," presented by Michal Schwartz, Ph.D., professor of Neuroimmunology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. Among subjects being studied in Schwartz's research laboratory are vaccination for glaucoma, peptides to be used in post-traumatic vaccination for spinal cord injury, the mechanism of protective autoimmunity at the immunological, molecular and cellular levels, and the therapeutic approach of protective autoimmunity to neurological disorders.
- "The Two Faces of Neural Stem Cells: Cancer Cause or Cancer Cure?" presented by neurosurgeon John S. Yu, M.D. co-director of the Comprehensive Brain Tumor Program at Cedars-Sinai's Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute. Yu leads research of immune and gene therapies as well as bone marrow-derived neural stem cells in the treatment of malignant brain tumors. Yu and his colleagues have isolated "cancer stem cells" from tumors. These stem cells share the multi-potent and self-renewing properties of normal stem cells but instead of producing healthy cells, they propagate cancer cells in their own image.
- "Using Gene Therapy to Manipulate the Fate of Stem Cells," presented by Pedro Lowenstein, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Board of Governors Gene Therapeutics Research Institute at Cedars-Sinai. Internationally recognized for breakthroughs in experimental gene therapeutics, Lowenstein is a member of the education committee of the European Society of Gene Therapy and the Neurological Diseases Gene Therapy Committee of the American Society of Gene Therapy. He also serves in a study section of the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke.
Thursday's Corporate Sessions will begin at 8:30 a.m. with a keynote address by Alan Colman of ES Cell International titled "Stem Cells: From Bench to Bedside to Bank." ES Cell International Pte. Ltd. of Singapore and Melbourne, Australia, holds the rights to the embryonic stem cell lines that have been approved for research in the United States. Scientists in this country have access to the cell lines through an arrangement between ES Cell International and the National Institutes of Health.
Representatives from biotechnology laboratories in Israel will speak on these topics:
- Neuronal Differentiation from Cultured Embryonic and Adult Stem Cells
- Immune-based Therapies for Spinal Cord Injury and Stroke
- Autologous Transplantation of Bone Marrow Stem Cells for Parkinson's Disease Therapy
- Restoring Joint Function with Growth Factor Directed Stem Cells
- Cell Grafts Expressing Ion Channels for the Treatment of Cardiac Arrhythmias & Neurological Disorders
- From Embryonic Stem Cells to Cell Therapy and Beyond
- Towards a Human Embryonic Stem Cell-Based Cure for Parkinson's Disease
Although the symposium is open to the public, the highly scientific nature of the presentations makes it more suitable for the scientific community and those who may be interested in funding stem cell research.
One of only five hospitals in California whose nurses have been honored with the prestigious Magnet designation, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is one of the largest nonprofit academic medical centers in the Western United States. For 17 consecutive years, it has been named Los Angeles' most preferred hospital for all health needs in an independent survey of area residents. Cedars-Sinai is internationally renowned for its diagnostic and treatment capabilities and its broad spectrum of programs and services, as well as breakthroughs in biomedical research and superlative medical education. It ranks among the top 10 non-university hospitals in the nation for its research activities and was recently fully accredited by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs, Inc. (AAHRPP). Additional information is available at www.cedars-sinai.edu.