Dr. Marilyn K. Glassberg Presents Research Findings at Vatican Stem Cell Conference

When Marilyn K. Glassberg, M.D., professor of medicine, surgery and pediatrics, spoke at an international conference held at the Vatican, she delivered a moving account of the promising early results obtained by investigators at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in a small clinical trial that explored stem cell treatment in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

Glassberg, who is also Director of the Interstitial Lung Disease Program and Director of Pulmonary Diseases at the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute, was the only lung disease expert in the world invited to speak at “Cellular Horizons: How Science, Technology, Information and Communication Will Impact Society.” It was the Vatican’s third international conference on regenerative medicine, and Glassberg joined a stellar group of speakers that included Pope Francis and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

The spring event focused on pediatric cancers and rare genetic diseases, as well as diseases that occur with aging. Glassberg’s presentation on lung diseases was part of “Application of Mesenchymal Stem Cells to Repair Damaged Tissue,” a panel discussion moderated by medical journalist Sanjay Gupta, M.D., that included four additional research scientists, each of whom spoke of using stem cell therapies in a different part of the body. From the results of the small trial Glassberg discussed, stem cells showed promise to outperform the drugs currently used to stabilize the disease in terms of maintaining pulmonary performance over time. Glassberg has recently received an award that will fund the next phase of these studies in patients with IPF.

“We have strong safety data on a very small group of patients with a terminal disease for which there isn’t a cure,” said Glassberg of the research findings she presented. “We have early exploratory evidence of efficacy, but only in a very small number of patients. We also have data on patients after two years, and they appear to be doing well at a time when they should have a decline in their lung function.”

Many questions remain about the correct dosage and timing, said Glassberg, who believes strongly that lung disease treatment has the potential to be altered dramatically with cell-based therapy.

“We don’t manage to cure most lung diseases,” she said. “We only have a good track record with solid tumors we can cut out at an early stage. Stem cells offer a way to see if we can really change outcomes in chronic lung disease, but now we need more studies and larger studies.”

Glassberg said she felt honored to have been invited.

“Being there gave me interaction with people who are doing interesting work,” she said, “and I met people I’m going to bring to Miami as speakers. The meeting also demonstrated the importance of research partnerships and team science. And it catapulted the reputation of UM in the area of stem cell research. There was great interest in our work because we have data no one else has.”

A video of the panel discussion can be seen here. Glassberg’s presentation begins at 16:05.

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