Stem Cells & The Aging Brain - Karolinska Symposium

Public Symposium @ Karolinska Institute - Pre-Meeting Event

One of the best aspects of going to a new city is exploring, which I had a little time to do on Tuesday before the official start of events. Stockholm has always been on my list but until last week had slipped through undiscovered. All the more reason to attend ISSCR’s annual event! I believe a few of the attendees also felt that was a good hook...

The old city is a magical labyrinth of cobblestone and majestic buildings - rising higher than I thought would be the case. Each seeking out the light and colored in different facade hues. Of course any city centre is filled with tourist shops, but for some reason Stockholm’s heart doesn't seem overly commercial. Above all it’s the ambience of sophisticated posture and calm that permeates the capital. The palace and Noble museum are but a couple of the great buildings in the old town. By boat you can really appreciate the uniqueness of the city as it spreads out across many islands all interconnected in some way. It certainly is one of the most interesting & beautiful cities in the world and has the must visit ABBA collection!!

Onto the science. Well a little rain and traffic to get there but well worth it as Karolinska Institute is well known for its prowess and was hosting a seminar on the Aging Brain in association with EuroStemCell and the ISSCR. I was a little late due to the weather so I arrived just as the talks were starting and settled in to listen.

Four great speakers made presentation, moderated by Professor Arenas Ernest of Karolinska. 

What stuck me as interesting was that the brain evidentially has pockets of stem cells which aren’t known to be regenerative but may have the potential, if activated, to proliferate. Magdaline Gotz was adamant that her focus on Radial Glial Cells would prove beneficial as a potential personalised restorative pathway of new brain tissue. Her work on the topic can be found at her link below and also via youtube here and is is very exciting.

Magdalena Gotz, PhD - Malin Parmar, PhD - Per Svenningsson, MD, PhD - Fred “Rusty” Gage, PhD
As I’m learning as I go along here, I always enjoy the structural and mechanistic aspects of these talks. Per Svenningsson of Karolinska was very helpful on that front as I didn’t know for instance that there are actually different types of Dopamine Neurons and only one type is able to help Parkinson’s patients.

As a patient focused translational analyst I look out for those programs that have nearish term impact value. In this case Malin Parmar of the Lund University in Sweden has a long history battling Parkinson’s disease and noted the pioneering fetal work done in the past and restarted recently under the TransEuro initiative to trial fetal derived dopamine producing neurons. This approach was shown to be effective in certain patients yet had a 25% risk factor on adverse events. With the new protocol they hope to improve on that inefficiency with a pan-European effort to study the approach again. In the meantime Malin and her collaborators are in pre-clinical development on hESC derived dopaminergic neurons with a timeline to being in the clinic by 2018. I have previously featured her work in the Pluripotent section of the blog here (a few sections in).
To close out the presentations Fred (“Rusty”) Gage of the Salk Institute made a wonderfully positive talk on the ability of the human brain to be proliferative if stimulated by activity and learning. Studies were shown to prove the point and indeed it’s this authors firm belief that the more you remain active and curious throughout your life the more you can improve your cognitive ability even in a disease state. So the take home was stimulate those brain cells by being sporty and curious into your late years and you’ll battle on healthier and more able.

Post meeting I got a chance to chat with Malin briefly about the state of play with the planned pluripotent ISC-hpNSC Parkinson trial and embryonic derivation issues in Europe. She wasn’t sure of the parthenogenetic cell line approval in Europe at this stage and that Karolinska had developed a proprietary hESC line using xeno-free conditions (more on that in another post). I noted some of the legal issues and commented on the inaccessibility factor in current procedural approaches to treatments for cell transplantation into the brain. Gen 2 & 3 therapies may be more universal given the potential for systemic or non-surgical applications.

One takeaway stat from the talk was we have roughly 100 Billion neurons and 1 Trillion connections in our brains!! Wow! Now that’s what I call hard-wiring!

GL of course to all those in this area as it’s a major challenge which has so many unmet medical conditions.

Next up in a couple of days will be some coverage at convention centre.