Decades of Stem Cell Research Coming to Fruition: Regenerative Medicine and Cancer Immunotherapy

Stem cell biology is a unique field of research with the potential to fundamentally change our understanding and treatment of human diseases. Adult tissue-specific stem cells are rare cells, that reside in each organ or tissue in our body, that can give rise to new cells of the tissue they reside in, to maintain or replenish and sometimes grow our tissues throughout life. Adult stem cells contribute fresh cells specific to the organ they reside in, unlike embryonic stem cells that still have the capacity to give rise to any type of tissue in the body.

Because stem cells have the potential to generate new cells that can integrate in an organ, they have the potential to replace and repair dysfunctional or damaged tissues. Thus, isolation and transplantation of tissue stem cells form the foundation for regenerative medicine and hold the promise of ‘replacement parts’ for people or the ‘fountain of youth’. Tissue stem cells also have a dark side, because by virtue of being the only cells that self-renew in the body throughout life, they are also the ones that can accumulate one mutation after another over the years, and sometimes these mutations can lead to the emergence of cancer and other diseases.

The talk will explore key discoveries in the field of stem cell biology, the promise of regenerative medicine, and how understanding the process of pre-cancer progression in tissue stem cells led to the development of a new and effective Cancer Immunotherapy.


Dr. Weissman, MD, is a professor of pathology and developmental biology at Stanford University. He is the Founder and Director of the Stanford Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, and the former Director of the Stanford Cancer Center. He is a world-renowned scientist widely respected for his innovation and leadership, and has received extensive recognition for his work. He has published more than 800 papers, received multiple patents, and co-founded a number of biotechnology companies were established to develop new therapies based on scientific discoveries from his lab including Systemix, Stem Cells Inc, Cellerant, and recently Forty Seven Sciences.

As the first scientist to ever define and isolate mammalian stem cells, the blood-forming stem cells in mice (1988) and then humans (1992), Irv Weissman is known as the ‘father’ of stem cell biology. He pioneered the isolation and transplantation of stem cells and his methodology is considered the gold standard in this field of research. Following the isolation of blood-forming stem cells, his group has successfully defined the stages of development that occur between those stems cells and mature blood cells, and then went on to the isolation of stem cells of other tissues including brain stem cells, muscle stem cells, and skeletal stem cells that give rise to bone, cartilage and bone marrow cells that support the blood-forming stem cells. His research on blood formation and cancer has led to several discoveries and the development of new therapies. These include the isolation and transplantation of pure hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), and the biological definition and prospective isolation of cancer stem cells that led to the discovery of CD47 as a ‘don’t eat me’ signal used by all human cancers to evade innate immunity. Weissman then led the clinical development of CD47 blockade as a new cancer immunotherapy in clinical trials conducted by Forty Seven Inc.

In addition to his scientific contribution, Weissman has been central to promoting and regulating stem cell research and public policy, and was the main force behind proposition 71 which was approved in 2004 and and established the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine to fund research not funded by the federal government, and to bring discoveries to and through early phase clinical trials.

Caring deeply about education he’s been working to increase public knowledge of the field, and remains committed to teaching and training the next generation of scientists.

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