About 30 years elapsed between the time Dr. James Till and Ernest McCulloch of the University of Toronto first demonstrated the existence of stem cells, in 1961, and the acknowledgment of their significance by the scientific community in the early 90's. Since then, Ontario has remained at the forefront of stem cell research and in the development of safe, novel uses of stem cell therapy in regenerative medicine. We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Janet Rossant, Executive Director of the Ontario Institute of Regenerative Medicine (OIRM), about how Ontario is playing a leadership role in this promising area of medicine.

"If you are working in regenerative medicine, either as a researcher, clinician or entrepreneur, Ontario is an ideal place to be right now," Dr. Janet Rossant says confidently. "Within the arena of stem cell research, Ontario is really punching above its weight. We attract world-leading scientists, we have a renowned bioengineering community, and we offer opportunities for commercialization." This has put Ontario on the map as a world-recognized hub for stem cell research and regenerative medicine.

Clinical trial offers hope that quadriplegic participants may regain use of their hands

There are at least eight stem cell therapy trials taking place in Ontario this year. Eleven partner organizations will participate in trials happening in three cities across Ontario. The therapies will tackle devastating degenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, malignant brain tumours, Crohn's disease and cervical spinal cord trauma. The impact these trials stand to have on the lives of the 647 patients is enormous. Dr. Rossant's colleague, Dr. Michael Fehlings, of the University Health Network in Toronto, has enrolled 12 participants with thoracic spinal cord injuries. In a separate interview, Dr. Fehlings spoke about the life-altering effect stem cell therapy may hold for those taking part in the trial:

"I think this could have a big impact because even small amounts of regeneration can influence one or two segments of the spinal cord. And if we can achieve this, participants will regain the use of their hands."

The progress of research and development of stem cell therapies in Ontario has both the medical community and investors excited, as the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) has had great success in connecting Ontario's medical research community with opportunities for commercialization. Stem Cells Inc. is one example of the international interest attracted by Ontario's clinical trials of stem cell therapies. They are collaborating with Dr. Fehlings' treatment of spinal cord injuries, as doctors and scientists from around the world continue to descend upon Ontario for a chance to be a part of the next breakthrough discovery. In the words of the Canadian stem cell research pioneer, Dr. James Till, "what we will see is a very steady advance toward the types of treatments that everybody is dreaming about." And Ontario is where it's happening.



June 18, 2015

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