National stem cell scientists convene at UT Southwestern

More than 200 stem cell scientists attended the annual meeting of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Progenitor Cell Biology Consortium, hosted this year at UT Southwestern.

By Deborah Wormser

More than 200 stem cell scientists from across the country converged on UT Southwestern Medical Center for two days in September to share their findings in heart, lung, and blood stem cell research.

The event was the fourth annual meeting of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Progenitor Cell Biology Consortium (PCBC).

“We knew this was an important meeting for the PCBC because it is the halfway point for the seven-year, $170 million federal grant program that currently involves nine research hubs. There was a lot of pressure on the scientists to show progress and to show collaboration. Still, we didn’t think we would have as many people as we did. There were well over 200 scientists,” said Dr. Jay Schneider, a cardiologist and Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, who hosted the event.

The consortium created by the NHLBI, through an extremely competitive grant award process, is one of the nation’s largest federally funded team science projects. It brings together heart, lung, and blood stem cell biologists to learn from each other’s research. The event was intended to cultivate the next generation of stem cell scientists by only allowing presentations from early-career scientists, Dr. Schneider explained.

Traditionally, stem cells referred to cells capable of differentiating into any kind of cell, while progenitor cells were those known to differentiate into only one type, such as a blood or muscle cell. However, today the two terms often are used interchangeably.

UT Southwestern’s participation in the consortium came about when Dr. Schneider and Dr. Eric Olson, Chair of Molecular Biology, teamed up with Dr. David Scadden and his colleagues in Boston. Dr. Scadden is a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Co-Director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Regenerative Medicine.

Their joint project focuses on improving the chemical microenvironment to promote adult stem cell repair of damaged tissue in the heart, lung, or blood following injury, Dr. Schneider said.

He added that the UTSW team has received generous help from Dr. Sean Morrison, Director of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

The meeting ended with some Texas hospitality – a rock concert at the Granada Theater by The Transactivators, a cover band that includes Dr. Olson, lead singer, and Dr. Schneider, lead guitarist.

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Dr. Olson is Director of the Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Center for Basic Research in Cancer and the Nearburg Family Center for Basic and Clinical Research in Pediatric Oncology. He holds the Pogue Distinguished Chair in Research on Cardiac Birth Defects, the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair in Science, and the Annie and Willie Nelson Professorship in Stem Cell Research.

Dr. Morrison holds the Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics.

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