The University of Miami Miller School’s Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute (ISCI) and the Diabetes Research Institute are on the world stage of stem cell research this week, uniting with the Genetics Policy Institute to co-sponsor the world’s largest and most comprehensive interdisciplinary stem cell conference, in Florida for the first time.
Drawing 1,200 participants from 40 nations, the 8th annual World Stem Cell Summit officially kicked off Monday at the Palm Beach County Convention Center with a plenary discussion featuring ISCI Director Joshua Hare, M.D., Louis Lemberg Professor of Medicine and one of the summit co-chairs, on a topic that underscores just how far stem cell research and the Miller School’s contributions to the field have come in eight years: “How Stem Cells Are Transforming Medicine.”
“When we started, we were basically arguing about embryonic stem cells and basic research funding, but it’s so beyond that now,” noted Bernard Siegel, J.D., the founder of both the Genetics Policy Institute and the summit. “Those issues are still important, but we’re moving into the phase of clinical trials, the formation of a new industry and a paradigm shift in the way medicine is going to be and the Miller School is leading the way in Florida. That’s one of the reasons we brought the summit here this year – to give the University the recognition it is due. Other institutions are doing great work, but UM is the strongest in the state by far. We do not have the luxury of state funding, but we do have the intellectual firepower of our researchers at the Miller School of Medicine.”
That firepower was in full force at the convention center Monday when Hare, fellow summit co-chair Camillo Ricordi, M.D., the Stacy Joy Goodman Professor of Surgery and Director of the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) and the Cell Transplant Center, Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., Director of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and W. Dalton Dietrich, Ph.D., the Scientific Director of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, the Kinetic Concepts Distinguished Chair in Neurosurgery and Senior Associate Dean for Discovery Science, were among the impressive list of Miller School speakers scheduled to participate in or moderate sessions on a host of subjects, from stem cell science, ethics and consumer safety to translational studies in cancer, heart disease, central nervous system injuries, the senses and diabetes.
“This meeting is really important and you can see how over the years it has evolved with the field,” said Hare, who with co-author Alan W. Heldman, M.D., professor of medicine, presented the findings from their latest groundbreaking study, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that found that mesenchymal stem cells harvested from either a donor or the patient can repair heart tissue previously damaged and scarred by heart attack.
“This year the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to two scientists who discovered that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent,” said Hare. “That’s a measure of how this field is transforming medicine. What we have done here at the Miller School is create an institute devoted to furthering that field, specifically for treatments.”
Added Ricordi, “We are excited to host the World Stem Cell Summit in South Florida, headquarters of the Diabetes Research Institute Federation and The Cure Alliance – entities that have promoted global collaborative efforts to eliminate geographic and other barriers to the development of cures for diabetes and other life-threatening diseases.”
Also among the summit’s 170 speakers are the Miller School’s Juan Dominguez-Bendala, Ph.D., Director of Stem Cell Development for Translational Research at the DRI; Jeffrey L. Goldberg, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of ophthalmology; Nirupa Chaudhari, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics; James Guest, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurological surgery; Kenneth W. Goodman, Ph.D., Director of the UM Bioethics Program; Robin N. Fiore, Ph.D., Director of Special Ethics Initiatives for UM’s Bioethics Program; Dileep R. Yavagal, M.D., assistant professor of clinical neurology and neurosurgery and Director of Interventional Neurology; and Tan A. Ince, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pathology.