USC stem cell researchers discussed the promise of regenerative medicine and cellular therapies — from curing HIV to building organs such as kidneys and intestines — at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Annual Symposium, held on Feb. 21.

The panel of speakers included investigators from USC, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the University of Colorado and City of Hope. Several of the presenters are also participants in USC Stem Cell, a collaborative, multidisciplinary initiative working to translate the potential of stem cell research to the clinical imperative of regenerative medicine.

D. Brent Polk, MD, director of The Saban Research Institute and chair of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, welcomed speakers and guests.

“This is an exciting and fast-moving field,” he said, “where the promise of lifesaving stem cell therapy, organ regeneration and tissue engineering are quickly becoming a reality.”

Andrew McMahon, PhD, keynote speaker and head of USC Stem Cell, announced a call for proposals for free small molecule screens, which allow researchers to test the effectiveness of 3,000 potential drugs to treat various diseases. The screenings will take place at The Choi Family Therapeutic Screening Facility, located at the Eli and Edythe Broad CIRM Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC.

McMahon also shared his research about the generation and regeneration of the kidney and its promise for preventing chronic kidney disease, a condition that affects one in 10 adults in the United States. As a key member of the USC Stem Cell Kidney Disease Team, he is collaborating with Laura Perin, PhD, assistant professor of urology and part of The Saban Research Institute, who spoke about the therapeutic potential of amniotic stem cell injections in treating these patients.

Scott Fraser, PhD, Provost Professor of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering and Pediatrics at USC, and co-director of the new Translational Biomedical Imaging Lab (TBIL) at The Saban Research Institute, spoke about the goal of TBIL: To bring together clinicians and engineers — those who know what needs to be built and those who know how to build things — to create innovative, image-based solutions for challenges in medicine and the basic sciences.

Tracy Grikscheit, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the Keck School, presented her notable early success in creating tissue-engineered human intestine, providing hope for premature infants and others with digestive tract problems.

Paula Cannon, PhD, associate professor of molecular microbiology, pediatrics, and biochemistry & molecular biology at the Keck School and part of The Saban Institute, offered additional research results, including gene therapy that could potentially confer immunity to HIV to patients’ blood stem cells. Cannon noted that she will begin human clinical trials later this year.

Ellen Lien, MS, PhD, assistant professor of surgery at the Keck School and part of The Saban Institute, discussed her research about cardiac vasculature and heart regeneration after injury.

The event featured a presentation of CHLA’s Pasadena Guild Endowed Chair in Developmental Biology and Regenerative Medicine to David Warburton, DSc, director of the Developmental Biology and Regenerative Medicine program at The Saban Research Institute, and professor of pediatrics and surgery at the Keck School. “The future doesn’t just happen,” said Warburton during his keynote speech. “Someone has to go into the lab and invent it.”

— By Ellin Kavanagh and Cristy Lytal