International Stem Cell Conference & International Placenta Stem Cell Society (IPLASS)

Bern, Switzerland - September 6-7, 2018 Conference Report:

The International Stem Cell Conference / International Placenta Stem Cell Society Conference took place in Bern, Switzerland between the 6 and 7 September 2018. More than 27 presentations with speakers arriving from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Russia, France, UK, Ukraine, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Spain and from across different universities within Switzerland.

The topics covered a wide range of the stem cell field discussing current trends in genome editing, tissue engineering developments, translational research, perinatal tissue developed products, with researchers presenting pioneering studies and clinical trial data. The presentations started with Raphael Guzman (Univ. of Basel, Switzerland) explaining hypoxic and ischemic injuries in the brain and experimental in vivo animal models for stem cell delivery for treatments. At the same time, he discussed issues related to where the cells go upon the injection, how long the injected cells live for and how the effect is mediated, highlighting that autologous cells therapy approaches, would be preferable.

Sveva Bollini (Univ. of Genova, Italy) gave an insight into the amniotic fluid stem cell isolated extracellular vesicles – small carrier vesicles – that can carry elements helping the cells to repair upon an injury or trauma. This could potentially be a new area for future perinatal stem cell related therapies. Grazia Nicoloso (Swiss Transfusion SRC) highlighted the advantages of storing and using cord blood as well as the establishment of a new type of cord blood banks, the hybrid banks that are both public and private.

Fabio Marongiu (Univ. of Carliari, Italy) noted that experiments implanting patches of the amniotic membrane on an animal fibrotic liver model reduced signs of fibrosis. Similarly, transplantation of amniotic epithelial cells in immunocompromised mouse model has shown that the cells differentiate into liver cells, integrate and express key liver proteins closing his presentation characterising the human placenta as “amazing” for its potential applications in regenerative medicine.

The amniotic membrane is not only used in liver defects but also in bone defects to replace scaffolds currently used as explained by Florelle Gindraux (Univ. Hospital Besancon, France). More insights into the molecular signalling pathways affected by the factors derived by the amniotic membrane during wound healing was given by Francisco J. Nicolas (IMIB-Arrixaca, Murcia, Spain) and a deep explanation of the role of inflammation, signalling pathways and overall lessons learned from the placenta was presented by Ornella Parolini (Catholic Univ. of the Sacred Heart Rome, Italy).

Cesar V. Borlongan (Univ. of South Florida, USA) gave an update on the cell therapy approaches for the central nervous system where in animal models, stem cell transplantation leads to an improvement of the stroke cells. That was attributed to transported mitochondria acting as carriers of genetic material and cell information for the recovery. Rebecca Lim (Monash University, Clayton VIC, Australia) presented a clinical trial for treating babies with established bronchopulmonary dysplasia with an allogeneic transplant of human amniotic epithelial cells.

Gierin Thomi (Univ. of Bern, Switzerland) highlighted the role of exosomes isolated from Wharton Jelly’s MSCs, their role in perinatal brain injury and their recent animal experiments that have
demonstrated positive results when the isolated exosomes were used for treatment. The principles of de-cellularisation and recellularisation, and the isolation of human amniotic fluid stem cells for liver and gut modelling were described by Paolo de Coppi (Univ. College London, UK). Human amnion derived MSCs showing signs of wound healing and improvement when used on a carrier to cover mouse wounds were explained by Ingrid Lang (Medical Univ. Graz, Austria).

A presentation of promising new products using perinatal tissues under development was also in the schedule. Pluristem Therapeutics presented their developing products from cells isolated from the human placenta. The PLX-PAD product is developed for peripheral artery disease and demonstrated an increase in the blood flow in the tibia; this is currently in phase 3 clinical trials. The same product has also been recommended for use on orthopaedic muscle injury and hip fracture. Under development is the Pluristem RLX-R18 product for haematological disorders. NervFix is developing solutions to achieve nerve reconstruction by inverting umbilical cord vessels and showing that they have a high conduit and wrapping abilities. They have tested them in vivo in rats upon implantation and the results are promising.

Generium Pharmaceuticals presented their recent work on placental derived mesenchymal stromal cells to treat thermal skin burns and help with skin regeneration. Preservation of the human placenta for 48 hours post isolation without significant compromise in the growth factor content is now possible following technologies developed and presented by Cook Biotech. Overall, the presenters highlighted advantages for the use of perinatal sources such as the placental, the umbilical cord or the amniotic fluid stem cells for the development of therapeutic products for use in humans, heralding an exciting new era for regenerative medicine.

The highlight of the meeting was the launch of the new public/private platform for cell therapy and regenerative medicine in Switzerland called the “Swiss Translational and Clinical Bio-Manufacturing” (TCBM) Platform. The TCBM platform connects researchers across 5 universities in Switzerland based at the University of Zurich, University of Fribourg, University of Basel, University of Bern and SCRM Bern. The mission of the TCBM platform is to bundle the existing expertise of regenerative medicine activities in Switzerland with a focus on the translation from the pre-clinical phase towards therapeutic biomedical applications. Networking activities facilitated through the TCBM platform will lead to novel research co-operations between academic partners. Key researchers from each institute presented the spectrum of projects they are currently working on highlighting the advantages of collaborations between the TCBM members. The conference ended with the announcement of the new IPLASS president, Cesav V. Borlongham taking over from Ornella Parolini who was successfully the president for the last 8 years. The closing remarks and farewell was held by Dr Daniel Surbek.

Overall the conference offered a great update on the most recent advances in regenerative medicine, treatments and therapies utilising perinatal stem cells Clinical trials are investigating the role and effect that newly developed products have towards the treatment of diseases or defects that currently need addressing. As expected, soon we will be hearing news and the results of those trials, ideally leading to the launching of new therapeutic products in the market.