Ground-Breaking Research, Noteworthy Awards Presented at International Research Conference Hosted by UTHSC

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Groundbreaking research on regenerative medicine and stem cell biology was recently presented at a major international conference recruited to Memphis by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC).

Twenty national leaders in the field of regenerative medicine gave presentations at the International Experimental Biology and Medicine Conference (IEBMC), which took place earlier this month at the Central Station Hotel. Steve Goodman, PhD, vice chancellor for Research at UTHSC, chaired the conference planning committee and was instrumental in bringing the event to the city.

Gábor Tigyi, MD, PhD, Harriet Van Vleet Endowment professor of Physiology at UTHSC, was a presenter at the recent International Experimental Biology and Medicine Conference.

“We were thrilled to bring outstanding global leaders in the field of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine to Memphis,” Dr. Goodman said. “The IEBMC presentations were of extremely high quality, and it provided an opportunity for students and post-doctoral fellows to showcase their work in poster and platform sessions.”

Famed researcher Arnold I. Caplan, PhD, of Case Western Reserve University, was the conference keynote. A pioneer in the field of regenerative medicine, Dr. Caplan was the first to discover and describe mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), the cornerstone for many regenerative therapies. His conference presentation described the power of putting MSCs at sites of bodily damage or injury to stimulate the surrounding tissue to fix itself. He emphasized the effectiveness of MSC infusion to manage serious complications and multiple organ failure associated with COVID-19. Dr. Caplan directs the Skeletal Research Center and is a professor of Biology at Case Western.

Highlights from the program include:

  • Robert Schwartz, PhD, a Cullen distinguished professor at the University of Houston, gave a talk on repairing infarcted heart muscle, describing his studies using synthetic mRNA to deliver a combination of mutated polypeptides that stimulate tissue regeneration in diseased heart muscle. He has induced cardiomyocyte proliferation in animal models, effectively repairing infarcted hearts, improving pumping function and reduced scarring.
  • Guoli Ming, PhD, Perelman professor of Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania, described how her lab develops protocols for generating brain organoids from human pluripotent stem cells. These organoids are three-dimensional cell cultures with a developmental trajectory resembling the developing brain, that generate different brain cell types organized into the right structures. Dr. Ming presented data on how these human cell models can be used to understand human brain development and neurological diseases.
  • Gábor Tigyi, MD, PhD, Harriet Van Vleet Endowment professor of Physiology at UTHSC, gave a presentation describing his research aimed at developing a drug that protects intestinal stem cells following radiation injury. Dr. Tigyi’s lab has chemically modified a specific bioactive lipid, lysophosphatidic acid, to protect the genetic integrity of stem cells after radiation exposure, allowing life-saving recovery of the gut tissue. From this, his team has developed several drug candidates that affect cancer stem cells that suppress cancer growth and metastasis in animal models. 
  • John Wikswo, PhD, Gordon A. Cain University professor at Vanderbilt University, gave a presentation describing microphysiological systems, also known as organs on a chip, that provide powerful in vitro models of human health and disease and reduce the use of animals for research and toxicology testing. His organs on a chip efforts have motivated his group to begin to create thousands of miniature fluidic systems that will operate under the control of artificial intelligence and machine learning software. These self-driving biological laboratories, or “robot scientists,” can accelerate progress in medicine and biotechnology.

An awards ceremony with two standout tributes was another highlight of the conference. One award was to former SEBM president, Peter Stambrook, PhD, an internationally respected cancer researcher who passed away in 2020. The other honored Dr. Goodman for his 15 years as editor-in-chief of SEBM’s journal, EBM. Dr. Goodman was given a special award and video tribute in which SEBM leadership spoke of his transformative work for the society and journal. Dr. Goodman is responsible for expanding the journal into a global publication with offices in five countries (the U.S., the United Kingdom, Brazil, Taiwan, and Ghana) and recruiting an international editorial board with 180 members. He has also expanded the number of scientific categories within the journal from seven to 21, covering a wide breadth of experimental biology. “The society would not be where it is without him,” said SEBM President Tom Thompson, PhD, professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

From left, UTHSC Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD; Steve Goodman, PhD, vice chancellor for Research at UTHSC; and UTHSC Chancellor Emeritus Steve Schwab, MD, welcomed guests to the event held in Memphis.

The event, held April 29-May 1, was a coup for the city of Memphis, as this was the first stateside location the conference has chosen in its eight-year history. Jointly hosted by UTHSC and the Tennessee Institute of Regenerative Medicine, the event opened with welcomes from UTHSC Chancellor Peter Buckley, MD, UTHSC Chancellor Emeritus Steve Schwab, MD, and Shannon Brown, senior vice president at FedEx.

A Saturday night Beale Street-themed party with performances by two local bands, The Sensational Barnes Brothers and the SMA Alumni Band, 926, celebrated Memphis as the conference’s live comeback site. It was the first time in two years that the event has been held live, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The conference was sponsored by the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine (SEBM) and its journal, Experimental Biology and Medicine (EBM), and was supported by industry and foundation partners, including Medtronic, the University of Memphis, Revotek, and the Regenerative Medicine Foundation