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Landmark Canadian paper advances knowledge to cure diabetes

Timothy Kieffer to receive 2015 Till & McCulloch Award

Toronto – Prof. Timothy Kieffer, a University of British Columbia researcher in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences and in the Department of Surgery, has made significant progress in the quest to generate a fully functional cell type from scratch – one of the ‘holy grails’ of stem cell research and regenerative medicine – by developing a protocol that converts human stem cells into glucose-responsive, insulin-secreting cells capable of reversing diabetes in mice. For this breakthrough work, published in Nature Biotechnology last year, Dr. Kieffer has been chosen to receive the 2015 Till & McCulloch Award in recognition of this contribution to global stem cell research.

The paper “Reversal of diabetes with insulin-producing cells derived in vitro from human pluripotent stem cells” has been recognized as the most impactful stem cell research publication authored in Canada in the past year. Dr. Kieffer will accept the award, named after Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, and present a lecture entitled “Insulin Replacement for Diabetes by Transplant of Differentiated Pluripotent Stem Cells" as part of the Till & McCulloch Meetings, Canada’s premier stem cell event.

Dr. Till, half of the team who first discovered transplantable stem cells in 1961, and Connie Eaves, a world authority on the stem cells of the blood-forming system, will introduce Dr. Kieffer and present the award to him. Dr. Eaves is a past recipient of the Till & McCulloch Award.

“This paper is a fantastic example of Canadian leadership in an important and competitive area of regenerative medicine,” explains Dr. Peter Zandstra, Chief Scientific Officer of the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, and a member of the selection committee. “Dr. Kieffer and his colleagues’ ability to demonstrate that so-called mono-hormonal glucose responsive cells can be generated from human pluripotent stem cells represents a major step forward in the development of a cell therapy to treat diabetes.”

While not claiming to cure diabetes, Dr. Kieffer’s paper is considered an important step on the pathway to curing a disease that affects over nine million Canadians, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association. Worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates the global prevalence of diabetes to be 9% among adults aged 18+ years. Dr. Kieffer and his co-authors were able to demonstrate that cells derived from stem cells express insulin, but not other secreted hormones; these cells were functionally similar to insulin-producing beta cells and reversed diabetes in transplantation studies in mice. The reputable journals Nature Medicine and Science identified Dr. Kieffer’s paper as a notable breakthrough of the year.

Upon learning the news he had been chosen to receive this year’s award, Dr. Kieffer had this to say: “I am truly honoured to receive this year's Till & McCulloch Award for the team’s work to develop a stem cell-based cure for diabetes. The work was done in close collaboration with scientists at BetaLogics and this would not have happened without the Stem Cell Network’s encouragement. I am also grateful to the Network for funding for this research. I sincerely hope this research contributes to a cure for all Canadians suffering from diabetes.”

The Till & McCulloch lecture will take place in Toronto, Ontario, on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 at 2 p.m. at the Sheraton Centre Hotel.

The Stem Cell Network established the Till & McCulloch Award in honour of Canadians Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, whose pioneering work established the field of stem cell research. The Till and McCulloch Award is presented each year as part of the Till & McCulloch Meetings. The Award is given to one researcher in Canada who is nominated through a public process. The Adjudication Committee chooses the awardee based on what is determined to be the year’s most influential peer-reviewed article by a stem cell researcher based in Canada.



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