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USC Stem Cell Symposium achieves scientific synergy

Top researchers share their innovative research shaping the future of regenerative medicine

Interim Provost Michael Quick convened the inaugural USC Stem Cell Symposium with a straightforward truth about the future of regenerative medicine: “It will take a dedicated community of scholars across the disciplines to have maximum impact.”

The Jan. 16 event brought together just such a community, with speakers from USC’s schools of medicine, dentistry, gerontology and engineering and from The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Held at Aresty Auditorium at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, the event was hosted by USC Stem Cell, a collaborative and multidisciplinary effort bringing together more than 100 researchers and clinicians working to translate discoveries into cures.

‘An important part of the future’

Andrew McMahon, chair of the USC Stem Cell executive committee, shared his vision of engaging even more scholars from beyond the scientific realm: “An important part of the future is how USC Stem Cell is going to engage other schools — in business, in public policy, in law — as this area of medicine becomes increasingly more involved. So I’m looking forward to a future that embraces many more schools than are currently represented.”

McMahon also unveiled two new opportunities for young scientists to engage in collaborative and creative research projects.

The new USC Stem Cell Hearst Fellowship will support exceptional junior postdoctoral fellows pursuing stem cell research at USC. The USC Stem Cell Student/Postdoc Collaborative Challenge Grant Program will provide $10,000 to one-year research projects bringing together students or postdocs in two or more labs.

The idea is to stimulate new interdisciplinary research and with this, to enhance the student’s or postdoc’s ability to be a creative and independent scientist.

Andrew McMahon

“Particularly, we’re interested in interdisciplinary projects that bring people together across different areas of research that tend to have boundaries,” McMahon said. “The idea is to stimulate new interdisciplinary research and with this, to enhance the student’s or postdoc’s ability to be a creative and independent scientist.”

The USC Stem Cell Regenerative Medicine Initiative Awards have enabled additional multi-investigator research collaborations among USC-affiliated faculty members. The three winning teams presented their progress in developing stem cell-based strategies to treat certain forms of deafness, bone defects and pediatric leukemia.

One of the day’s highlights was the keynote address by Fred Gage, holder of the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences and the University of California, San Diego.

Gage introduced the concept of “mobile elements,” genetic material that that can move from one part of the genome to another. When these mobile elements insert into neural genes, they may potentially alter behavior, enhance genomic diversity and even speed evolution.

Recent research

Several USC Stem Cell principal investigators also shared their most recent research:


David Warburton addressed lung development and disease
  • Paula Cannon talked about genetically modifying blood stem cells to cure HIV/AIDS.
  • Rong Lu discussed “barcoding” individual blood stem cells by labeling them with a genetic marker.
  • Tracy Grikscheit explained her strategy for “using science to cure babies” with injured or diseased intestine.
  • Senta Georgia has different plans for patients’ intestines: inducing intestinal stem cells to make insulin by “turning on” key genes.
  • Valter Longo introduced his research on fasting, which inhibits the genes responsible for both aging and overall growth in response to protein.
  • Min Yu recently isolated breast cancer cells circulating through patients’ blood streams and kept the cells alive in petri dishes.
  • Alan Wayne talked about immunotherapy for patients with the most common form of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
  • Michael Bonaguidi described the potential of neural stem cells within the adult brain.
  • Justin Ichida shared his progress in finding treatments for another fatal neurodegenerative disease: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Ruchi Bajpai addressed why neural tube and craniofacial birth defects occur together in a congenital disorder known as CHARGE syndrome
  • David Cobrinik discussed the formation of a childhood eye tumor called retinoblastoma, which he studies by creating retinal tissue from human stem cells.
  • Megan McCain introduced the concept of a “heart on a chip.”
  • Cheng-Ming Chuong addressed two related topics: how feather stem cells enabled the evolution of birds and how hair stem cells might enable the “extinction” of male pattern baldness.
  • Yang Chai explored stem cells that can maintain tooth growth and a possible way to help babies with fused skulls that can’t grow normally.

At the end of the day, USC’s stem cell scientists left the symposium informed and inspired to translate discoveries into cures.

“It’s fantastic to see the diversity of different research that’s going on in the schools across USC,” McMahon said. “I very much look forward to meeting again next year.”

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USC Stem Cell Symposium achieves scientific synergy

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