by Kristen Ashworth
Graphic design by Vanessa Nguyen
University of Toronto professors James Till and Ernest McCulloch were studying the effects of radiation on the bone marrow when their experiments led to one of the greatest discoveries in recent medical science: stem cells. Fast forward to the present day, and an international network of stem cell scientists gather each year under their namesake. The annual Till & McCulloch Meetings (TMM), hosted by Canadian organization the Stem Cell Network, was held in-person in October 2022. As a first-year master’s student one month into my stem-cell based thesis project, I had the fortunate opportunity to travel to Vancouver, British Columbia for six beautiful, rain-free days to soak up the groundbreaking science presented at TMM.
Kicking off the week, I attended a pre-conference workshop entitled “Surviving and Thriving in Grad School” (a felicitous theme for a new master’s student). The day consisted of a morning presentation and group activity on experimental design, and an afternoon panel on getting through the hills and valleys of grad school. The workshop set the stage for an inspiring week of learning. The following days encompassed a diverse array of keynote speakers, plenary sessions, poster talks, and meet-and-greet opportunities. My thesis work is specific to retinal stem cell biology, so it was exciting to be exposed to stem cell research happening outside the realm of vision science. Whether speakers discussed the impacts of the environment on muscle stem cells, the optimization of a bile duct organoid model, or the development of a novel regenerative fertility therapy, the topics were innovative and intriguing. A particular highlight was the opening keynote speaker, Dr. Catriona Jamieson, Professor of Medicine and Chief of Regenerative Medicine at the University of California San Diego. Dr. Jamieson discussed her groundbreaking research in developing an FDA-approved, selective therapeutic inhibitor that effectively targets pre-cursor blood cancer stem cells. She also spoke of the next steps in her lab’s research portfolio: taking things to the next level (literally) by rocketing tumors into space to study the accelerated effects of aging on blood cancer development.
Although TMM was action-packed, I did have a few moments throughout the week to capitalize on the warm autumn weather and absorb the sights for which Vancouver is touted. At the end of each day, I walked to Coal Harbour downtown to marvel at the majestic triad of mountains, water, and cityscape that encircled my view and backdropped the perpetual landing of seaplanes closeby. Following the conclusion of the conference, a friend and I ventured to Capilano Bridge, where we experienced the natural beauty of a West Coast rainforest. Later, we walked the SeaWall in Stanley Park at golden hour. If you’ve never been to Vancouver, it’s a city to place at the top of your travel bucket list.
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to attend TMM this year. My takeaway from the experience was invaluable and potent: a surge of inspiration that would thrust me through the first few months of my own project on stem cell therapy discovery for those with blinding eye diseases.
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