Nov. 4, 2016
By Ann Perry
The final presenter at any conference has to contend with nerves, fatigue and the knowledge that some delegates have already left for the airport.
But Anastassia Voronova overcame her less-than-optimal time slot at the end of the third day of the 2016 Till & McCulloch Meetings to win the award for best plenary talk on her research investigating how certain molecules in the brain regulate the formation of white matter. Her work could point to ways to repair injured brains, and eventually lead to better treatments for diseases such as multiple sclerosis and stroke.
“I was thrilled to be chosen as the winner because there were so many engaging and meaningful presentations,” said Voronova, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Freda Miller and David Kaplan at the Hospital for Sick Children and among 24 trainees who received Medicine by Design Trainee Travel Awards to attend the stem cell research conference last week in Whistler, B.C.
Voronova was one of four members of the Medicine by Design community who were recognized for their research excellence, including two who received the conference’s most prestigious awards. Medicine by Design principal investigator Molly Shoichet accepted the Till & McCulloch Award for authoring the most influential peer-reviewed article by a stem cell researcher based in Canada, a 2015 paper in Stem Cell Reports on the use of hydrogels to improve stem cell transplantation. PhD candidate Huijuan Yang, another Medicine by Design Trainee Travel Award recipient, won the inaugural Drew Lyall Award of Excellence for the best abstract.
“This is really a tremendous honour for me, especially coming from the field of bioengineering and applying my engineering strategies to regenerative medicine and stem cell biology,” Shoichet said at the beginning of the Till & McCulloch Award Lecture she delivered on bioengineering tissue regeneration. Shoichet, a University Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto, noted that the award holds particular significance because it is named after two pioneers in the field, Toronto researchers James Till and Ernest McCulloch, who demonstrated the existence of blood stem cells in the early 1960s.
Yang, a member of Andras Nagy’s laboratory at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital, also expressed gratitude for her award, which honours the late Drew Lyall, the inaugural executive director of the Stem Cell Network.
“This award means a lot to me,” said Yang, whose research focuses on developing mice with personalized immune systems to better understand how individuals respond to particular diseases, a key step in creating more effective therapies that can be tailored to a patient’s unique needs. “It is a big support for me and motivates me to continue my research and work hard.”
Mukul Tewary, a PhD candidate in the laboratory of Medicine by Design Executive Director Peter Zandstra at the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering, won best poster in the bioengineering category. His research looks at how cells in specific sections of the developing human embryo give rise to different tissues, providing important insights that could drive new regenerative medicine therapies.
“I am thrilled that Medicine by Design was so well represented at this year’s Till & McCulloch Meetings,” Zandstra said. “This conference showcases Canada’s tremendous strengths in regenerative medicine and stem cell research, and it is clear that our principal investigators and trainees are contributing significantly to that success.”
The 2016 Till & McCulloch Meetings attracted more than 400 delegates from across Canada and around the world, including stem cell scientists, engineers, clinicians, ethicists and trainees, as well as representatives from industry, government, and health and non-governmental sectors. CCRM, Medicine by Design’s commercialization partner, co-hosted the annual event with the Stem Cell Network and the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine.