Accelerating the potential of stem cell research: an interview with Karen Mueller

In this interview, Karen Mueller, Senior Market Development Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific (Madison, WI, USA), discusses the importance of continuing education and knowledge-sharing in the fast-moving field of stem cell research.

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Nov 08, 2016
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In this interview, Karen Mueller, Senior Market Development Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific (Madison, WI, USA), discusses the importance of continuing education and knowledge-sharing in the fast-moving stem cell field, and how Thermo Fisher Scientific supports education of researchers in order to help bring transformative changes faster. She discusses Gibco Education initiatives such as the Gibco 24 Hours of Stem Cells™ virtual event and the Gibco online learning centers providing tools, resources and applications such as handbooks and virtual labs that are aimed at helping researchers of all levels achieve successful results in their work.

Karen Mueller
In her current role as Senior Market Development Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific (Madison, WI, USA) Karen is responsible for the development and management of the go-to-market strategy for stem cell media and reagents. She has worked at Thermo Fisher Scientific (previously Life Technologies) for over 10 years.

What interests or excites you about the field of stem cell research?

It’s hard not to be excited about the field of stem cell research. What fuels my passion for this research area is the momentum that the discovery of pluripotent stem cells has created toward enabling better therapeutics and possibly one day cures for a wide range of diseases. When I meet someone whose loved one is struggling from a disease that hasn’t had any significant therapeutic advancement in over 30 years (such as Parkinson’s disease) due to the difficulty in obtaining disease-relevant primary cells for use in novel drug discovery, it’s a humbling experience to tell them that I work for a company that has a role to play in changing that. I feel fortunate to work for a company that is supporting this progress.

Thermo Fisher Scientific organizes several location-based events including the New York Stem Cell Meet-up. What impact do you hope events such as this will have for individual researchers, and the stem cell field as a whole?

Our goal with location-based events like the New York Stem Cell Meet-up is to bring the local stem cell community together. We have found that while there is often sharing of ideas and research within individual institutions, there are few opportunities for researchers to connect with peers beyond their institution walls. These events offer an opportunity to network and share research within a local community, opening the doors for collaboration.

The 4th annual Gibco™ 24 Hours of Stem Cells virtual event takes place on the 17th November. Can you briefly tell us how this came about?

24 Hours of Stem Cells launched in 2013 as the first virtual conference offered to stem cell researchers. Our goal was to offer a platform where researchers around the world could connect to learn about the latest advancements in the field. The benefits of a virtual conference are easy and free access to incredible research without ever having to leave home – no travel required! In a market that moves as quickly as stem cell research the ways in which we connect and learn needs to keep pace.

You have support from some leading experts in the field. What role do they play?

We are fortunate to have leading experts in the stem cell research field participate year after year in this event. How often at a large conference are you able to engage these experts directly? 24 Hours of Stem Cells opens the virtual door to researchers who aren’t able to travel to conferences, wouldn’t feel comfortable asking a question in a large auditorium, and don’t have the opportunity to speak directly with these experts. Here experts and prominent researchers from all over the world share their research and take questions from anyone in the audience. You also have the ability to leave questions for those who have recorded presentations and create an opportunity to broaden your network.

Have the topics covered changed much over the last 3 years, and what makes this upcoming event different from previous years?

The event has definitely evolved over the last few years. From a topic perspective, we are seeing many more presentations on advanced technologies like gene editing and scale-up of stem cell culture to a strong focus on disease modeling and development of cell therapies. We have always had an equal distribution of speakers from around the world and this continues to be the case today – we have speakers from North America, Europe, Japan, and Australasia.

We also now offer significantly more opportunities for researchers to broaden their stem cell knowledge and skills through our virtual training labs and presentations, and also give easy access to a number of resource handbooks developed by our R&D experts. In addition, through the live chat, audience members can connect directly with our R&D experts to ask them questions – how to optimize a protocol, what reagents work best for different applications, etc.

What can people learn from attending the event this month?

On November 17th, we will launch our 4th annual 24 Hours of Stem Cells event. During this event, our live keynote presentations cover genetic variability of iPSCs, the utility of patient-derived iPSCs to model and treat inherited retinal degenerative blindness, and the molecular elucidation and engineering of stem cell fate decisions. The keynote presentations are hosted live and offer a great opportunity to ask questions of these leading researchers.

We also have a very exciting live panel discussion planned with industry experts in the field of cell therapy. These experts will discuss what to consider when preparing for a clinical trial or a marketing application and common regulatory findings in cell therapy submissions. In addition, we will also host live presentations from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) and Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM) on their approaches to partner globally with researchers to advance stem cell research.

A number of presentations will be available on-demand as anyone joins the event. These topics cover a wide range of subjects and include presentations on advanced technologies such as genome editing in iPSCs through to disease modeling in neurodegenerative disorders to developing of cell therapies for spinal cord injury.

A favorite component of our event is our learning center – where we offer access to Gibco virtual labs, training presentations, and access to the many educational resources available at Thermo Fisher Scientific. In addition, as mentioned previously, the audience will have an opportunity to engage with our R&D experts directly in the live chat on topics ranging from challenges with culture and differentiation through to regulatory considerations in cell therapy.

Finally, not to be missed, in the exhibition hall, the audience can find out what new technologies we’ve launched to support stem cell research. Wondering what PSC media is best suited for your gene-editing experiments or how to eliminate more than 75% of contaminating neural progenitor cells in differentiation experiments? Check out the exhibit hall to find out!

How do you think the digital revolution has impacted the scientific field?

A really exciting impact of the digital revolution is the ability to access content from anywhere, anytime – and 24 Hours of Stem Cells virtual event is a great example of this. It also has made connecting and networking across state lines, countries, and oceans easier than ever. The more researchers are able to share, communicate, and collaborate the quicker we will see a positive downstream impact on society and the world will be a healthier place.

Do you think virtual events and online presentations and symposia may eventually overtake traditional conferences?

While there are clear benefits to virtual events – no travel, no leaving experiments behind, less cost (or free in the case of 24 Hours of Stem Cells), the expectation should not be that they replace conventional conferences. There are still and always will be great benefit to meeting peers face to face and being able to engage in a live conversation. I think virtual conferences provide more opportunities to connect and learn and are a great approach to staying in touch between the live events.

What other Gibco Education initiatives are there, and what are they aimed at achieving?

Gibco Education is aimed at providing researchers accessible resources and tools to expand their knowledge and experience. Just like in a classroom, there are multiple ways to learn and a great achievement with Gibco Education is that we’ve tried to accommodate as many learning styles as possible. If you are a visual learner, we have a number of resource and protocol handbooks. If you are an audible learner, check out the many videos and webinars. And finally, if you are a hands-on learner, you can access our virtual training labs and events like 24 Hours of Stem Cells. Additionally, Gibco Education isn’t just for stem cells. We offer a broad range of topics regardless of where you are looking to improve your skills including basic cell culture and transfection through protein expression.

24 Hours of Stem Cells is free and hosted on 17 November 2016. If you can’t join for the live event, be sure to register and check it out on-demand through 2017. Register for the virtual event here, and find online resources such as Pluripotent Stem Cell Education in the Stem Cell Research Learning Center online.

This interview was sponsored by Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.

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