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Third-annual Vail Symposium stem cell event focuses on emerging therapies

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com
Stem-cell therapy has made big leaps in recent years, thanks to the discovery of reprogramming. In 2006, a Japanese scientist discovered that he could reprogram adult skin cells to return to an embryonic state — meaning that they turned into cells that, for all intents and purposes, could become any type of cell in the body.
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If you go ...

What: “Stem Cells: Exploring the Research Perspective,” part of the Vail Symposium’s winter season.

When: 5:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28.

Where: Donovan Pavilion, 1600 South Frontage Road W., Vail.

Cost: Tickets are $25 in advance, $35 after 2 p.m. on event day and $10 for students and teachers.

More information: Visit http://www.vailsymposium.org.

Much has changed in the past decade in the world of stem-cell therapy, and on Thursday, the Vail Symposium will host a panel of experts at the forefront of this field.

In partnership with the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus, Stem Cells: Exploring the Research Perspective features a panel of three Colorado researchers who will help Vail audiences understand emerging stem-cell therapies and explain the development process for such technologies.

This is the third annual stem cell-centered event from the Vail Symposium, and board member and organizer Dale Mosier said the panels have been very popular. They’ve moved to larger locations each year of the event, and all have been packed houses. Plus, stem-cell therapy is just a very exciting field, he said.

“When we had our first event, we found that there was just so much happening in the world of stem-cell regenerative medicine and so much progress being made that we committed to having an event every year in January,” he said

Meet the experts

Thursday’s panel includes Dr. Dennis Roop, director of The Charles C. Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology. He will speak about developments in dermatology. Dr. Vikas Patel is the chief of orthopedic spine surgery at the University of Colorado. He will focus on translating promising discoveries made through animal studies to humans. Dr. William Hiatt is a professor of medicine in the division of cardiology and president of the Colorado Prevention Center. He will address developments in cardiology.

“They represent three diverse areas, and people that attend will see the diversity and reach of stem-cell research, as well as the potential of the technology,” Mosier said.

Roop explained that stem-cell therapy has made big leaps in recent years, thanks to the discovery of reprogramming. In 2006, a Japanese scientist discovered that he could reprogram adult skin cells to return to an embryonic state — meaning that they turned into cells that, for all intents and purposes, could become any type of cell in the body.

The discovery had several big implications.

“This ability to reprogram has really changed the landscape tremendously. It avoids the controversy with using embryonic stem cells. The ability to reprogram gets around that political and ethical dilemma. It also avoids the immunosuppressive drugs you’d have to take if you got an organ transplant because your body won’t reject its own cells,” Roop said. “My first response when I read this paper about this discovery was, ‘No way.’”

Explaining the process

Roop’s research aims to use this technology to treat inherited skin diseases, genetically correcting these cells and differentiating them into healthy cells that can be returned to the same patient as an autograft. He hopes that in a few years, the techniques will be cleared for clinical trials.

There are other applications, too. These skin cells can be used to treat burn victims or help older patients heal.

“We think what happened in older patients is that the body exhausts the skin stem cell potential. When we get older, we just don’t heal as well. It really is like the fountain of youth. It could actually reverse the aging process,” Roop said.

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? However, work like this takes years to make it into mainstream medicine, and that’s part of what Roop and his colleagues will talk about on Thursday.

“There’s a lot of frustration that the approval process takes so long. Everyone asks, ‘How long is this really going to take?’ We’re trying to explain why its necessary,” Roop said. “You start off with just a few patients, and it’s a long, drawn-out process. But it really is thinking about the safety of those patients.”

Roop will give an overview of the different types of research going on at the Gates Center, while Patel will talk about how techniques and medicine get approval for clinical trials.

As a spine surgeon, Patel will talk about how stem cells could be used to make a graft for someone with a spinal injury. Finally, Hiatt is an expert at finalizing clinical trials in humans. He’ll talk about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration process and why the process needs to be regulated.

Mosier said to look for more stem cell-related events on the Symposium schedule in the future.

“This is a program that we’re going to try to continue having every year. We’re already starting to put together next January’s,” he said.

Assistant Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and mwong@vaildaily.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.


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