ISSCR 2020 VIRTUAL: Experiences and Takeaways

My experience going to one of the largest symposiums on stem cell research as one of the youngest junior trainee members — all online!

Apurva Joshi
3 min readJun 29, 2020

The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) is one of the largest organizations dedicated to stem cell research, and every year they hold a conference so that some of the world’s top stem cell researchers can come together and present their cutting edge work. Only this year, with the global COVID-19 pandemic going on, the conference went virtual!

I had the amazing opportunity to attend as a junior trainee member and be part of this event. Here are some of the highlights from the event!

General Overview: The Big Questions

One thing that I enjoyed seeing was the fact that all of the research projects I saw or heard about weren’t afraid to ask big questions. Here’s just a few:

  • What Controls Lineage Specification
  • Why observe RNA when comparing fetal vs organoid development?

And much more! It was inspiring to see the kind of questions that experienced researchers are asking, and it’s more motivation to ask the big questions in my own research as I start a career in regenerative medicine!

Computational Biology and Stem Cell Research

Machine learning is being integrated into all fields, and stem cell research is no different. From scSeq models for analyzing events in the process of cell differentiation, to RNA seq models, machine learning was a useful tool in a variety of research projects.

I found the use of RNA seq models really interesting in for analyzing chromatin remodeling complexes (as seen with Benoit Bruneau’s work)- more on this later!

Allon Klein (who won the Dr. Susan Lim award for Outstanding Young Innovator) presented his model on lineage training on transcriptional landscapes to learn more about their dynamics.

Genetics and Stem Cell Research

When it comes to transplanting hepatocytes (hiHep cells), which are cells derived from the liver, there’s a considerable amount of risk with pathology and the harm a treatment using hepatocytes has to a patient. It was discovered that the ERH gene, a gene involved in splicing and mitosis processes, can be good for activation and reducing pathology as a knockdown.

To speak more to Dr. Bruneau’s work, he and his lab found out that the knockout of a gene called BRAHMA caused embryonic cardiomyocytes to differentiate into neurons immediately after the gene knockout — mindblowing!

Li Qian and her lab presented researcher on the notion that Ptbp1 is another gene essential for maintaining the identity of cardiomyocytes, also determined via knockout.

When Not In Session…

Beyond hearing about the research that people were doing in the live sessions, I found going to the different exhibition halls and hearing from fellow junior invesitigators. to be fascinating as well.

Many companies presented products that would be useful in conducting stem cell research — I particularly enjoyed hearing about CELLINK’s bio inks and their applications in organoid generation.

Main Takeaways

  • I learned so much about all of the things that I didn’t know. There were lots of genes influencing stem cell development and processes they were involved in that I had never even heard of. It was humbling to see that there’s still a lot that I have to learn, especially as I think about moving towards human cell based experiments for my moonshot research project Likhagen.
  • There is still a lot about the exact mechanisms of differentiation that we don’t know, but by identifying genes and gene networks that are involved in the more intricate processes, we can begin to better understand this.

Gratitude Section

  • Dr. Deepak Srivastava and the team at ISSCR for organizing the event!
  • The Harvard Stem Cell Institute for sponsoring the event!
  • Li Qian, Albert Edge, Allon Klein, Benoit Bruneau, and all of the other speakers for presenting insightful and fascinating research!
  • The people from CELLINK, MaxWell Biosystems and the other companies for showcasing their products in the exhibition hall.
  • Ms. Dodie Clark for helping me figure out the logistics for my attendance!

Thank you for reading my article on my time at ISSCR! If you’d like to chat, I’d love to get in touch! You can find me on Linkedin or reach me through my personal email: Until next time!



Apurva Joshi

Currently conducting independent research in iPSC derivation. Outside of that: 2nd-yr bchm & neuro @ brandeis, alum @ TKS, writer of medium articles