A group of young scientists immerse themselves in the pre-conference lab portion of the Stem Cells, Cell Therapies, and Bioengineering in Lung Biology and Diseases Conference. Photos by Joshua Defibaugh.
Recognized as a prestigious gathering of the world's leading regenerative medicine researchers, the 10th biennial Stem Cells, Cell Therapies, and Bioengineering in Lung Biology and Diseases Conference took place at the University of Vermont from July 17-20, 2023. The conference serves as a powerful platform for scientific discovery and collaboration.
Setting the Stage for Inspiration
Since its inception in 2005, the Stem Cells, Cell Therapies, and Bioengineering in Lung Biology and Diseases Conference has emerged as a beacon of scientific advancement in regenerative medicine. This biennial event brings together distinguished experts from academic research institutions worldwide, converging with junior investigators, fellows, and graduate students to share knowledge, exchange insights, and push the boundaries of lung biology and disease research. Daniel Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at the Larner College of Medicine, has been a driving force behind the conference's success. His pioneering gene therapy research for cystic fibrosis gained recognition from lung-related foundations and the National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), leading to support for the inaugural Stem Cells and Lung Biology Conference at UVM in 2005. This support has continued, said Weiss, noting that “UVM remains a leader in cell therapy approaches for lung diseases with significant progress in potential use in asthma, cystic fibrosis, and other lung diseases.”
Igniting the Sparks of Curiosity
Amid the esteemed experts and accomplished researchers, local high school students were granted unprecedented access to laboratories and activities designed to ignite their passion for science and inspire the next generation of stem cell researchers. During tours and demonstrations, the students observed investigators performing state-of-the-art techniques for examining lung function, including using a flexivent -- a device that measures respiratory biomechanics -- and applying organoids, which are tiny, three-dimensional tissue cultures derived from stem cells, to investigate diseases.
Henry Nasse, a rising senior at Essex High School, enjoyed the opportunity to explore and learn more about this cutting-edge field. Nasse recounted a prior experience in a UVM microbiology lab, where he saw a machine designed to isolate stem cells. That experience sparked Nasse’s curiosity about regenerative medicine. Along with his penchant for building robots, Nasse realized that stem cells, the fundamental building blocks of the human body, resonated profoundly with him.
“Research is an avenue to understanding,” Nasse said. “The more we learn, the greater our ability to make a positive change in the world.”
The activities were designed to encourage the students to contribute to scientific advancements in the future, said Weiss, who has developed and published seminal work in stem cell-based therapies for lung diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, cystic fibrosis, and asthma. “Through immersion in these hands-on experiences, the high school students gained practical skills, insights, and knowledge that shapes their understanding of regenerative medicine research and its applications in lung biology,” said Weiss. “By inspiring and cultivating their interests in the field, we encourage them to pursue careers in scientific research and innovation.”
Beyond the Lab
The four-day conference also featured presentations by stem cell research scholars from universities throughout the United States, Canada, Germany, Brazil, England, and the Netherlands. Panel sessions explored various aspects of stem cell therapies, career opportunities, gender and racial diversity in stem cell research and bioengineering, and the compassionate use of gene therapies. Attendees engaged with faculty, received research mentoring, and explored potential career paths. The event showcased several research poster sessions, with Evan Hoffman ’22, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, nabbing first place, as well as a "Minute to Win It" research pitch competition for junior investigators.
According to Weiss, the potential for using varied regenerative medicine techniques to treat lung diseases is immense, and many potential therapies are yet undiscovered. By offering high school students an opportunity to become immersed in stem cell research and collaborate with expert researchers, the conference served as a powerful catalyst for scientific progress while simultaneously inspiring the next generation of innovators to pursue careers in regenerative medicine and lung biology.