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“Regenerative medicine is to the future of healthcare as ‘the cloud’ is to the future of information technology,” said Ed Davis, executive director of the San Antonio Economic Development Corporation, at the BioMed SA annual breakfast meeting in December of 2013, at which the city’s selection to serve as host for the 2014 World Stem Cell Summit was announced.
The future of healthcare, in which stem cells and regenerative biotechnology save and dramatically improve countless lives, isn’t as far away as one might think. While the World Stem Cell Summit lands in San Antonio in December of 2014, big things are happening even now.
On Thursday and Friday, Feb. 13 and 14, the University of Texas at San Antonio will host the first annual San Antonio Conference on Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine, an event organized by nonprofit RegenMed SA to bring together individuals, institutions, companies and foundations that work in stem cell research, tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and related biotechnology for two days of networking, information exchange and interaction.
John McCarrey, the Robert and Helen Kleberg Distinguished Chair in Cellular & Molecular Biology and director of the San Antonio Cellular Therapeutics Institute at UTSA, serves as the inaugural steering committee chair of RegenMed SA.
After a welcome from UTSA President Ricardo Romo and Henry Cisneros, Dr. J. Peter Rubin, a leading clinician of the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine in Pittsburg, will deliver the keynote speech on Thursday, focusing on adipose stem cells.
Presentations by local stakeholders, including researchers and entrepreneurs, will follow, grouped into four primary subject areas: the science of stem cells, tissue engineering, the clinical process of regenerative medicine, and biotech, or the business of regenerative medicine.
“Sessions will move from most basic science to the most practical applications over the two days,” McCarrey told the Rivard Report. Ann Stevens, president of local biomedical nonprofit BioMed SA, explained, “It’s largely a scientific meeting except for the final afternoon (Friday 2/14) which focuses more on the industry side.”
Undergraduate and graduate students, as well as postdoctoral fellows and research technicians, will have an opportunity not only to attend the conference for free, but to present and view research abstracts and posters in a session and reception from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday evening. “Being that we’re hosting this at UTSA,” said McCarrey, “student involvement was one of our major objectives in planning the conference.”
Newly established nonprofit organization RegenMed SA‘s mission is “to facilitate and promote communication, interaction, and collaboration among the many people and facilities within San Antonio and neighboring regions that share interests and resources related to the areas of stem cell research, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.”
Along with McCarrey, the inaugural steering committee includes Michael Davis, U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research; Sy Griffey, StemBioSys; Jian Ling, Southwest Research Institute; Joe McDonough, Southwest Research Institute; Sharon Smith, National Trauma Institute; Neal Vail, Practical Innovations; and Christi Walter, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
By bringing together individuals and organizations with diverse professional experience who share a common interest in stem cell research and regenerative medicine, RegenMed SA hopes to leverage the talents and specific focus areas of complementary groups to collaboratively further the field in San Antonio.
“Our goals are to identify and catalogue the assets in San Antonio,” explained McCarrey. “Our view is that there is a great deal going on in San Antonio relevant to stem cell and regenerative medicine, but no one knows about all of it. I feel like I’ve been trying to make myself aware of things going on in town, but I keep finding out about new companies and areas of research,” the UTSA researcher told the Rivard Report.
McCarrey hopes that RegenMed SA can foster improved communication and identification of and between individuals or groups with particular expertise, facilities, and manufacturing or technical capabilities. “We want to facilitate maximum interaction between assets, and coordinated and hopefully synergistic interaction between people,” he said. “It’s good to know what’s in your own backyard.”
Several years back, BioMed SA established subject area-specific committees tasked to identify related organizations in the area, focusing on diabetes, cancer, infectious diseases, neurosciences and military medicine/regenerative medicine. McCarrey served on that final committee and came to discover a significant amount of activity in San Antonio related to regenerative medicine.
“Once we concluded our work for the BioMed SA committee, we decided to form a freestanding network, one that would coordinate with but operate independently from BioMed SA,” he explained, adding that he and early RegenMed SA colleagues “felt like we had to get the word out, and that people should know about all these resources, because by utilizing them, everyone could be even more productive.”
On a website scheduled to launch by the end of 2014, RegenMed SA will maintain a directory of key players in stem cell research and regenerative medicine.
“We feel that this will provide BioMed SA a great new tool to use in its mission to attract new biotech companies to San Antonio,” McCarrey said. “Once outside companies can see what is going on in San Antonio, they’ll find this city all the more attractive.”
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Planning for this week’s conference at UTSA was already underway when the announcement came that San Antonio will host the 2014 World Stem Cell Summit (WSCS) in December. A project of the Genetics Policy Institute, the 10th installment of this annual meeting that focuses on regenerative medicine and stem cell research will pull major players from the international biomedical community to San Antonio.
McCarrey finds the timing of the RegenMed SA-sponsored conference at UTSA to be quite convenient.
“The conference should position us to be stronger in preparation for the for the WSCS,” he said, “and we’ll be up and running and in good shape to help represent all that is going on in here in stem cell and regenerative medicine by the time the big spotlight arrives in December, when we’re on the international stage.”
*Featured/top photo: Biomedical engineering graduate student Anand Srinivasan works with cell cultures during his research into high-throughput analysis. Photo by Tim Luukkonen/UTSA.