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Vail becomes epicenter of regenerative medicine

VAIL — The world to come has been discussed in Vail during the past few days, and the material was indeed futuristic.

Hosted by the locally based Steadman Philippon Research Institute, the Vail Scientific Summit wrapped up on Saturday with speakers from across the country discussing the latest in stem cell research and regenerative medicine.

The Steadman Philippon Research Institute has housed a cluster of leaders in the field of regenerative medicine during the past couple of years, with about 20 of the world's most respected physicians and scientists currently using the institute to conduct their research on how to delay the effects of aging.

The idea to engage the greatest minds in the field of regenerative medicine came about last year at the inaugural Vail Scientific Summit, and this year's event built on the momentum from 2015 by once again featuring an elite group of internationally known surgeons and scientists who discussed their latest findings.

"It's nice to see a real nice mix of clinical and basic research (at the summit)," Dr. Farshid Guilak of Washington University in St. Louis said on Saturday. "I'm really impressed by what we've been able to set up here in terms of leadership and collaborative efforts."

CUSTOM-DESIGNED CELLS

Guilak spoke on the topic of targeted genome engineering to create designer stem cells with auto regulatory properties. In basic terms, Guilak can turn bad fat into good fat. While his topic was just one in a score of fascinating material, it was a topic that met the goal of the summit especially well as the material was indeed late-breaking.

"We can cut and splice DNA in a way that was not possible two years ago," he said. "This let's us make custom-designed cells."

Guilak has used this technology to create what he thinks is a stem cell-based vaccine for Rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune system disorders, which will go into testing soon. Following up that project, "we thought, can we use that approach for osteoarthritis?" Guilak said.

Osteoarthritis occurs when mechanical loading creates a biological response — movement causes stress on the body's joints, and when those cells engage in a repair response, that response ends up disrupting the joints.

There are many different ways to develop osteoarthritis, but Guilak and his team focused on the number one preventable risk factor for osteoarthritis — obesity.

"It turns out that what you eat may be more important that how much weight you gain," Guilak said.

They fattened mice up on Omega 6 fatty acid — that's the bad one that comes from saturated fat — and injected them with stem cells found in worms which desaturate fat within the cell, converting Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acid.

While the mice were just as fat, "they got 30 to 40 percent less ostioarthretis than the ones without the gene," Guilak said. "Basically these mice had been vaccinated against a really bad diet."

EXERCISE, REAL AND SIMULATED

Although one of the topics explored scientists' new ability to harness the power of genes to mimic exercise, event organizer Dr. Johnny Huard — the chief scientific officer at the Steadman Philippon Research Center's Center for Regenerative Sports Medicine — said next year attendees won't be simulating exercise, they'll be enjoying the real thing.

"Next year we're going to do it Gordon Conference style, so in the afternoon we can take a break and enjoy the mountain with biking and hiking," he said.

Dr. Marc Philippon, after whom the research center is named, said the event was went off without a hitch this year due all those involved, including Mike Shannon with the Vail Health Services Board and Dan Drawbaugh, the Steadman Philippon Research Institute's CEO.

"I got great feedback all along from the attendees," Philippon said Saturday. "It was certainly another success."