Monday, November 7, 2016

At the Forefront of Cell Therapy in Boston: Oren Levy of Karp Lab

Oren Levy from Karp Lab gave an excellent talk called “MSCs on Steriods” last month at Biotech Week Boston. Oren's research focus is "investigating the roles of signal transduction pathways in hMSC physiological processes, specifically, the involvement of the JAK/STAT cascade in hMSC proliferation and osteogenic differentiation". His research also focuses on "hMSC homing and engraftment to various sites in the body". Karp Lab is located in the Cambridge/Boston Biotech Hub and works closely with Brigham and Womens' Hospital, MIT, Harvard Medical School and Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology.

Levy started his discussion with this unfortunate fact - so common with so many potential biopharma cures being researched right now – that “MSCs clinical endpoints have not been met and there’s not a single approved FDA product”. He then also shared the impressive stat that “MSCs are used in 600 clinical trials worldwide”; with so much research happening right now, the industry is hopeful that some breakthroughs are on the horizon.

What are MSCs and Why Are They on Steroids? 

The NIH gives a good definition of MSCs on their website: “Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are adult stem cells which can be isolated from human and animal sources”. MSCs are being studied for bone, cartilage, heart and blood vessel repair, as well as inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Why are MSCs on steroids? If you check out their website, Karp Lab has a great sense of humor (and it’s an understatement to say the Lab’s work is “creative”) which makes sense that the title of the talk was playful. But in all seriousness, MSCs have the potential to be very powerful; researchers such as Oren Levy and Karp Lab have a real sense of urgency about getting MSC therapies to work. So much so that they embarked on a very ambitious project: with the help of Sanofi, Levy screened over 10,000 small molecules to improve cell targeting.

Our Goal is to Improve Control Over Cell Fate 

Oren Levy mentioned two disease areas where his team was studying the use of MSCs: prostate cancer and multiple sclerosis. In fact, Levy mentioned that their multiple sclerosis study was about to be submitted for publication, so we have that to look forward to soon. For prostate cancer, the screening of the small molecules Levy’s team did with Sanofi comes into play. Levy discussed how they use “drug loaded MSCs to kill prostate cancer cells”. How they’re trying to make this happen is by “small molecule pretreatment to give MSCs the homing mechanisms they lack”. Essentially, they’re “using engineering strategies to improve MSCs targeting to tumor sites”. The combination of engineering and life sciences – bioengineering – is a major trademark of what Karp Lab does. Their website relates one of their mission statements: “Our lab firmly believes that innovation occurs at the interface of disciplines”. You can read an in-depth interview of Jeff Karp of Karp Lab produced by Biotech Week Boston and written by journalist Nick Paul Taylor here.

Don't forget to follow Biotech Week Boston on Twitter for news on innovation in biotech and medicine. Each year passionate scientists and innovators converge on Boston to share ground breaking data, research and ideas - don't miss our next event in September 2017!

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