A tale of two labs: collaborating scientists uncover how cancer stem cells remake bone marrow cavities

This tale begins at Stanford (and CIRM) and follows our two scientific heroines to opposite sides of the country, where together they made a discovery that might explain how cancer stem cells actually promote leukemia in bone marrow.

Normally, blood stem cells are able to outcompete leukemia cells in the bone marrow cavity where they are produced. However, the researchers found that cancer stem cells, like a nightmare contractor, remodel the bone marrow cavity so it’s more favorable for leukemia cells and less hospitable for healthy blood stem cells. Leukemia cells can move in and proliferate in the renovated bone marrow cavity.

Emmanuelle Passegue, a CIRM grantee at UCSF

The senior authors on the study, Amy Wagers and CIRM grantee Emmanuelle Passegue met at Stanford as postdoctoral researchers in the lab of Irving Weissman (another CIRM grantee) more than a decade ago. As they settled into their new labs on opposite coasts – Wagers at Harvard and Passague at UCSF — they managed to keep in touch with each other’s work – at first, mostly due to annual junior faculty conferences funded by CIRM and Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute. As their collaboration deepened, they traded methods, supplies and even shuttled postdoctoral researchers between their labs.

In a press release, Passegue described how cancer stem cells do their damage,

“They remodel the microenvironment so that it is basically callous, kicking the normal stem cells out of the bone marrow and encouraging the production of even more leukemic cells”

The study was published online in the scientific journal Cell Stem Cell last week.

This finding could lead to new targets for cancer drug therapies. Currently, the only treatment for late stage leukemia is bone marrow transplants – and only one in four succeeds in beating back the disease.

Amy Wagers of Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute

This finding is just one example of the collaborations CIRM tries to foster between stem cell scientists. CIRM’s collaborative grants include funding commitments from agencies outside the state to encourage California’s stem cell scientists to collaborate with colleagues in other states and countries. We also sponsor Disease Team grants to encourage scientists from multiple institutions to bring promising therapies to the clinical trial phase. Our annual grantee meeting and workshops on special topics – including the most recent one on Parkinson’s disease – are another chance for CIRM-funded scientists to meet one another and forge connections.

The next HSCI/California Junior Faculty Symposium – the meeting that helped Passague and Wagers stay connected – will be in November at UCLA.

Rina Shaikh-Lesko

Getting business and scientists LinkedIn to further stem cell therapies

CIRM wants to be “LinkedIn” with the For-Profit stem cell community, including companies located within California and outside of California. Please take a look at the CIRM LinkedIn forum and introduce yourself on our new discussion thread, “Introduce Your Company”.

Why is CIRM using the LinkedIn forum for this information?

  1. Because it is a good resource. The CIRM LinkedIn forum is a networking group with over 1,600 members including CIRM Grantees.
  2. Because we can’t use the CIRM website. CIRM would love to have a page on its website talking about great companies in the stem cell field. However, as a State Agency, CIRM must not give the appearance of endorsement and so we cannot maintain a list of vendors, whether they are within the state of California, in another state, or outside of the US all together.

CIRM is interested in developing relationships with for profit companies that are able to provide products and services for our grantess. For example, CIRM has had a relationship with univerCELLMarketplace for a couple of years now. Companies have been invited to join the univerCELL database which has a California regional profile listing companies developing therapeutics and companies supplying products and services for research applications. The univerCELL database has been useful for CIRM as an information resource as well as a statistical comparison for California based companies. However, CIRM is also interested in knowing more about companies outside the great state of California.

The genesis of our new LinkedIn Forum “Introduce Your Company” was from the Cell Therapy Industry Group which had a wonderful thread on its LinkedIn Forum called – “Introduce Your Company, Product and/or Service”. We greatly admire this thread, and imitation being the most sincere form of flattery, have decided to imitate it on the CIRM LinkedIn.

We anticipate this new thread will be useful for CIRM’s Grantees to learn about companies who have products and services which will help them in their CIRM sponsored research. We have placed a link to this thread on our website at the “Resources for Researchers” webpage where we also maintain information about the univerCELL database.

We would like to continue to encourage California companies to register with univerCELL, as well as introducing yourself on the CIRM LinkedIn thread. If you are not a California company, please introduce yourself on LinkedIn and consider the benefits of developing a presence in California (see the CIRM website for information on funding programs).

Finally, as part of CIRM’s Industry Engagement and Commercialization Plan, CIRM is continually developing new programs to link CIRM Grantees with the companies who can help them with their translational development efforts. If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact Neil Littman, CIRM Business Development Officer, or Cynthia Schaffer, CIRM Project Manager.

Neil Littman is the Business Development Officer at CIRM

Through their lens: Nancy Tran gets a new perspective on stem cell and medical research

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to ourInstagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences. 

Nancy Tran changing media flasks containing mesenchymal stem cells. She submitted this photo through Instagram to CIRM’s #CIRMStemCellLab collection

My name is Nancy Tran and I am currently a junior at Sheldon High School. My internship at the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures has been an extraordinary experience. I have been working with my mentor, Dr. Fernando Fierro on the Wound Team and throughout the eight weeks, I have learned to do so many things I never imagined I would be capable of doing. The best thing about my internship would have to be working side-by-side with brilliant researchers. Without the doctors, graduate students, and people there to aid me, I would not have been able to gain so much knowledge about stem cells and what it is like to work in a lab environment.

Working with stem cells –mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) specifically has fascinated me so much because these cells can potentially become so many different parts in the human body such as: bone, cartilage, fat, conduct revascularization, and tendon repair. Stem cells actually play a huge role with medical research because of all the diseases people can potentially treat using this cells. Like using HIV vectors to fight HIV; this is very ironic –or using MSCs for vascularizing patients with critical limb ischemia. Furthermore, through my stem cell biology class, I have learned about the classifications of stem cells, different types, and even about working in the GMP –Good Manufacturing Practice and using sterile technique. Being able to work in the GMP facility was also really amazing because of how clean it is. For example, there are only 10,000 particles greater or equal to 0.5 micron per cubic foot per minute, compared to the 35,000,000 particles in the outside environment. The projects being conducted and equipment in the GMP are very intriguing to me.

The most challenging thing was to catch up on the different types of cells, genes, and names because there was just so much information being exposed to us. This was cumbersome because I came to this internship not knowing very much about stem cells, but now I am very happy with how much more I was able to learn. As for my career, I am still keeping my mind open to various kinds of work in the medical field. Working in the lab and conducting research also became a possible route for my career because I find it exciting especially when you discover techniques and cures. My family very much supports me receiving this opportunity and are all extremely proud of what I have experienced and learned.

This internship has changed my perspective on both stem cell and medical research. There are infinite research topics and ways to approach a certain disease. After my time at this internship, it has opened my mind to a deeper understanding of what stem cell research is like. Overall, I am deeply humble and thankful for receiving this once in a life time opportunity with the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures and am hopeful that through this, it will bring me one step closer to success.

Nancy Tran