A Retreat from everything but stem cells

Keynote speaker Clive Svendsen (right) and Director Andy McMahon
Keynote speaker Clive Svendsen (right) and Director Andy McMahon

It wasn’t the pristine 27-hole course that drew more than 120 stem cell researchers from USC and beyond to the Desert Princess Golf Resort near Palm Springs. It was the sixth annual retreat for the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC, which took place on October 20­ and 21.

The two-day, overnight retreat featured a plenary lecture by Clive Svendsen, PhD, director of the Regenerative Medicine Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, about the contribution of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to regenerative medicine, particularly to studying and developing treatments for neurological disorders.

The retreat also included presentations by the winners of the first Regenerative Medicine Initiative (RMI) Awards, which provide up to two years of seed funding for multi-investigator research collaborations that harness the full potential of USC-affiliated faculty members. The three winning teams are using various stem/ progenitor cells that might lead to future therapies for certain forms of deafness, bone defects and pediatric leukemia.

Many other principal investigators (PIs), postdocs and graduate students shared innovative research advancing several key areas of regenerative medicine.

Rong Lu, PhD, who will leave Stanford University to join USC’s stem cell research center as a PI in January 2014, talked about her new cellular “tracking system” for hematopoietic, or blood-forming stem cells. The system allows for the more effective study of blood and other types of cancers.

Min Yu, MD, PhD, who will leave Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard Medical School to accept a joint appointment as a PI at USC’s stem cell research center and the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in January 2014, discussed how to filter out circulating cancer stem cells from billions of other blood cells to understand and stop cancer’s spread.

Research associate Hu Zhao from Yang Chai’s lab and research assistants Yichen Li and Yingxiao (TK) Shi from Justin Ichida’s lab gave presentations.

Postdocs who presented research included Mohamed Hammad from Toshio Miki’s lab, Lori O’Brien from Andy McMahon’s lab, Sandeep Paul from Gage Crump’s lab, and Saaket Varma from David Warburton’s lab.

PhD student presenters included Wen-Hsuan Chang from Wange Lu’s lab, Guanyi Huang from Qi-Long Ying’s lab, Sapna S. Jain from Gregor Adams’ lab, Erin Moran from Ruchi Bajpai’s lab, Marie Rippen from Krzysztof Kobielak’s lab, and Yuki Yamaguchi from Henry Sucov’s lab.

The retreat also showcased the USC stem cell research center’s core facilities for stem cell sorting, derivation, culture, iPS programming, imaging and therapeutic screening.

During the cocktail hour, guests exchanged new ideas while voting on their favorite posters, which introduced research opportunities related to the Development, Stem Cells, and Regenerative Medicine PhD program.

Retreat sponsors included the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), Amgen, Sanofi, Zeiss, Leica Microsystems, Fluidigm, Lonza and Novogenix Laboratories LLC.

“This year’s retreat was a great success,” said Andy McMahon, PhD, who spearheads the USC Stem Cell initiative and directs the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC. “It helped solidify USC Stem Cell as an interactive scientific community and build relationships with our colleagues at the university and beyond.”

To view more photos from the retreat, visit