Why We Need Stem Cell Avatars: Susan Solomon Speaks at IGNITION Conference

“It takes 13 years—after you have sunk 4 billion dollars into a drug—to figure out whether or not it will succeed, and your chance of being wrong is 99%,” NYSCF CEO Susan L. Solomon, JD, told the crowd at Business Insider’s IGNITION Conference, held last week in New York City. “What if you could find out, in the first few years, that your drug was going to fail, or that people with a particular genetic makeup should never take it at all?”

Stem cells make this possible. They allow us to study diseases and screen drugs in the actual human cells affected by a disease rather than in mice with a “facsimile” of that disease, making sure that the most effective therapies move into clinical trials and reach patients— NYSCF’s ultimate goal. At last week’s conference, which brought leaders in media and technology together to discuss recent advancements, Ms. Solomon shared NYSCF’s strides toward reaching this goal. The conference also featured speakers such as Alexis Ohanian (Industrialized Capital, Reddit), Darren Laybourn (Microsoft), and Randy Freer (Hulu), among others.

Ms. Solomon highlighted how NYSCF’s pioneering technologies, such as the NYSCF Global Stem Cell ArrayTM, are helping create high-quality stem cell avatars (stem cells that capture each person’s unique biological makeup) of a diverse population. Having a large resource and knowledge base about how diseases develop in different people will help us better understand how our genetics and environment factor into their onset and progression.

“Having one avatar for one person is not enough,” said Ms. Solomon. “With the Array, we can make thousands of cells from thousands of people, and they are identical in how they are manufactured, so the difference that we see at the end of the process is the difference that is intrinsic in the patients themselves.”

Finally, Ms. Solomon discussed the ability of stem cells to create 3D aggregates of human tissue called organoids. Organoids are essentially miniature version of organs that we can use for disease research and drug testing—allowing scientists to study diseased tissue without needing to surgically remove it from the body. NYSCF is currently making organoids from patients with women’s reproductive cancers, research into which is sorely underfunded, to study their progression and identify effective therapies.

“At some point, we or the people we love will become patients,” Ms. Solomon remarked. “I really believe [stem cells] are the key to understanding what’s wrong with us and how to fix it. They are our future.”

Watch her full presentation below or on Business Insider.

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