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Reports from the ISCT 2022 ESP Ambassadors

Reports from the ISCT 2022 ESP Ambassadors

The Early Stage Professional (ESP) Ambassadors for ISCT 2022 provided an insider eye on the ISCT 2022 Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Hear from Tiffany Hood, Ted Kieffer, and Kathryn Strange on all the meeting buzz - their experiences at the meeting, what sessions and speakers caught their attention, and key takeaways. Also, don’t forget to catch their interviews with CGT leaders in the ISCT TV daily recap shows!

Tiffany Hood, BSc
PhD Student
University College London
United Kingdom

Joining the ISCT Annual Meeting in San Francisco this year as an ESP Ambassador was a remarkable experience. I am truly honored and humbled to be a part of this exciting community. Thank you to the ISCT home office, organizing committee, and conference co-chairs for the opportunity to be one of this year’s Ambassadors.

Reflecting on my experience during the conference, I am so inspired by the amazing work that was shared. I particularly enjoyed the new format of the conference this year that opened with a day of panel discussions and then moved to the sequential tracks: Science & Innovation, Translation to Clinic, From Frist in Human to Clinical Acceleration, and Launch & Patient Access.

I found the panel discussions on day 1 to be a great way to open the conference to start discussions in key areas of our field today. It was interesting to hear some of the conversations and ideas for workforce retention. Another key takeaway from the day was the importance of starting to incorporate more digital tools into manufacturing processes. However, I think the most memorable moment of the day for me was to hear from Doug Olson about his experiences and thoughts as the first CAR-T patient. It was a motivating and exciting way to start off the conference. After all, patients and their needs are at the heart of all of our work.

Moving into the sequential tracks of the conference, I enjoyed going through the program from new innovations all the way to product launch discussions. The new format of sequential rather than concurrent tracks helped to reinforce ISCT’s mission to foster collaboration and open communication between Scientific, Regulation, and Commercialization. Highlights for me from the different conference tracks included research using bioactive lipids, mitochondria, and iPSCs as novel therapeutics. Updates on current clinical trials emphasized the need for potency assay development and early manufacturing process understanding to support product access. Commercial product discussions showed the need for production capacity improvement by incorporating updated technologies and automation into processes.

If you missed any of this great content, you should check out the ISCT TV Recaps from each day. As an ESP Ambassador, I was grateful to be involved in the Day 1 recap. I was able to sit down with Bruce Levine, Bambi Grilley, and Zlatibor Velickovic to discuss their thoughts on day 1 of the conference and their general experiences with ISCT. We had some great conversations about workforce development, mentoring, and the ISCT community.

While I enjoyed all of the scientific content during the program this year, the most rewarding part was the opportunity to connect with this amazing community. I was even more grateful we finally got to do this again in person this year! Looking forward to next year already!

Ted Kieffer, MD
Medical Director
Blood Assurance
United States

I am still trying to wrap my head around the opportunity I was given as an Early Stage Professional ISCT 2022 Meeting Ambassador. My career path into CGT has been highlighted by several impactful experiences. In my master’s program, I took a ‘Regenerative Biology and Medicine’ and was overwhelmed by the advancements and opportunities shared by professor Dr. David Stocum. During pathology residency at an USCAP conference, I had the good fortune of crossing paths with Dr. Thomas Lane at UCSD which brought practicality to a CGT career. Now, with the dedication of ISCT to developing its young professionals, I can add ESP Ambassador to that list. 

From the get-go, it was unquestionable that the ESP team was dedicated to making this a positive and practical role not only for me but all ISCT. Dr. Shiraz Ziya and Meagan Pasternak were immediately accessible and on point with meetings to outline responsibilities and develop resources. It was a delight to meet my co-ambassadors Tiffany Hood and Katy Strange and find that there was a breadth professional experience between us. As the anticipation and weight of the meeting built, Ms. Pasternak scheduled additional meetings to ensure prior ESP Ambassadors could share meeting pearls and advice. 

I won’t lie, the responsibility to document an international conference and interact with leaders of CGT community was without a doubt daunting, especially for someone without a lot of social media experience. At the start of the meeting, ISCT’s investment in its ambassadors was again validated with the gift of ISCT TV embossed navy Patagonia jackets and access to a videographer. I’ll admit the first day was a little rocky – trying to navigate the venue, answer emails, and share as much as possible. It wasn’t long, with the ISCT ESP team’s support, that the doubts and angst subsided; and I settled into a rhythm that allowed me to sit on amazing sessions, break the ice with scientists, business leaders, and regulators, and review the technological advances all while sharing a few dad jokes along the way to keep it light.

There are too many fantastic individual moments to recall in this brief. My biggest general recollection from the Ambassador interactions was the ease with which everyone was willing to engage, find time to share their stories, and offer assistance. This sense of comradery extended from the meeting co-chairs and society president (who popped his head in during one of my interviews) to new ISCT session speakers and other ESPs. Okay… so, aside from Ted Lasso impression on ISCT TV, Dr. Bruce Levine recognizing me probably does take the cake for most notable experience, but genuinely I reflect upon all the amazing discussions I had and connections I made with humble gratitude and awe. The team mentality to engage and value so many components and perspectives within CGT to move forward and make it a staple therapeutic option for those who so desperately need it is engrained into ISCT and its mission.

The one piece of advice I have to others and to myself is to approach each day like an ambassador – reach out, break down barriers, pursue interesting and novel ideas, and put aside any accompanying anxiety. This is how the field will advance and out pace for years to come. When a part of a community like ISCT, the discomfort of putting yourself out there isn’t warranted. Regretfully, I in part needed to take on the role of ISCT ESP Ambassador to see and realize that. Without a doubt it was a wonderful and growth experience.

Lastly, I would like to give thanks to all my interviewees in no particular order – Patrick Rivers, Wade Atkins, Dr. Mike Milone, Dr. Ed Botchwey, Dr. Boro Dropulic, Sven Kili, and Phil Vanek. Special thanks to Dr. Patrick Hanley and Lizette Caballero for hosting me during the ISCT TV wrap-ups… what a blast! Thank you to the ISCT ESP Team Dr. Shiraz Ziya and Meagan Pasternak for your help and ESP co-chairs Dr. Hopewell and Dr. Bosse for making this possible. Congratulations Dr. Sandeep Soni, Bambi Grilley, and Sven Kili for co-chairing a fantastic meeting. Last but not least, thank you to my ESP mentor Dr. Lynn O’Donnell and my co-ambassadors Katy and Tiffany. Cheers! Can’t wait for next year!

Kathryn Strange, MSci
PhD Student
Anthony Nolan Research Institute University College London
United Kingdom

After being restricted in the previous years to virtual conferences, it was clear that everyone was looking forward to being back in person, and ISCT 2022 in San Francisco did not disappoint. A highlight for me in this years’ format was the inclusion of the roundtables. Within which a panel of speakers would lead topic-specific discussions, engage with audience questions, and initiate debate. Some of the ones I attended included “Navigating in the Dark: Off-Target Effects of Gene Editing” and “Linking Patient Biology to MSC Responsiveness”. These roundtables were a fantastic way for me to expand my understanding, but also as an ESP, I felt it was important to see how discussions on these topics are formulated and how to communicate information in a timely, clear, and effective manner. In essence, these were a great way to help me understand and discuss ‘the bigger picture’ of MSC cell and gene therapy.

This year also marked the transition of leadership for ISCT. For the past few years, Dr Bruce Levine had carried out a fantastic job as president, transporting the society to its 30th milestone anniversary. Of his many achievements during his time as president, Dr Levine has ensured the support and development of ESPs through mentoring programs and training opportunities, therefore promoting more scientists into the field. This strongly reflects the supportive community that is ISCT, which was very clear to me throughout the conference. I thoroughly enjoyed the ESP specific events, such as the networking reception and the manuscript writing and editing workshop. Dr Levine now passes on the ‘gavel’ and the mantel of president to the Dr Jacques Galipeau, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing on day 3 of ISCT TV. With his strong presence within the cell and gene field, experience, and charisma, I am certain he is going to do a fantastic job!

Although this has been my first year attending ISCT, I have been blown away by how supportive the community is and have certainly been inspired to complete my PhD and pursue my career in this field. Talks I found particularly thought-provoking included those by Dr Tracey Heng and Dr Sara Enes, within the science and innovation concurrent. Both presented some fantastic data, with Dr Heng discussing the importance of MSC apoptosis in alleviating lung inflammation, and Dr Enes showing the effects of diseased lung environments on MSC cytokine secretion, gene expression and activity. A further track which was a great addition to the conference was “todays science-fiction/tomorrows science; promising innovation in CGT therapeutic developments”. I managed to catch the talks by Dr Edward Botchwey, who discussed the role of biolipids and MSCs in restoring homeostasis in the muscular skeletal system following trauma, and Dr Maroun Khoury's presentation on MSC-derived mitochondria for osteoarthritis. Both displayed innovative research and highlighted that although they have been studied for a long while now, there is still many novel branches of MSC therapy yet to be investigated.

There were so many other talks that I wish I had time to mention, particularly within the oral abstract sessions, which opened my eyes to the variety within the cell and gene therapy field, including the ever-popular CAR-T, natural killer cells, and haematopoietic stem cells. However, for my final comments, I want to thank ISCT for the giving me the opportunity to be an ESP ambassador. It gave me the platform to expand my network, to improve my communication skills and get to work with some fantastic people. Whilst many of those I met are US based, I am glad we have platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram to keep in touch.

I look forward to collaborating and working together again soon!



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