The first medical conference to focus on the emerging field of stem cells for tissue transplant will be held in New Orleans March 22 - 24. The conference, entitled ``Mesenchymal and Nonhematopoitic Stem Cells: Recent Progress and Current Controversies,'' will be co-hosted by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Tulane Center for Gene Therapy and the International Society for Hematotherapy and Graft Engineering (ISHAGE).

Scientists have known about stem cells that make blood for many years and physicians have transplanted bone marrow to transplant the blood making stem cells.

Recently researchers have recognized that stem cells exist for tissues other than blood. This suggests that stem cell transplantation and replacement of diseased tissue may someday treat diseases of many tissues, such as muscle, bone or possibly the brain, with healthy cells newly developed from the transplanted stem cells.

"The therapeutic potential of stem cells derived from healthy volunteers is just beginning to be realized," said St. Jude researcher Edwin Horwitz, MD, PhD, one of the conference organizers. ``This meeting will bring together the leading investigators to discuss where we are and where we're going."

The conference's keynote speaker will be John Gearhart, MD, of the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. Presenters include Darwin Prockop, MD, PhD, director of the Tulane Center for Gene Therapy; Evan Snyder, MD, of Children's Hospital of Boston; David Panchision, PhD, of The National Institutes of Health; and Malcolm Brenner, MD, PhD, of Baylor College of Medicine. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, in Memphis, Tennessee, is an internationally recognized biomedical research center dedicated to finding cures for catastrophic diseases of childhood. The hospital's work is supported by the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC). All St. Jude patients are treated regardless of their families' ability to pay. ALSAC covers all costs of treatment beyond those covered by third party insurers and total costs for families who have no insurance. The Tulane Center for Gene Therapy, part of Tulane University Health Sciences Center, held its grand opening and ribbon cutting on March 7, 2001. The center occupies 14,000 square feet of renovated laboratories in the J. Bennett Johnston Health and Environmental Research Building in downtown New Orleans. The International Society for Hematotherapy and Graft Engineering (ISHAGE) serves as a global forum and voice for clinicians, scientists and laboratory personnel engaged in basic research and development, translational studies and the clinical application of all cellular based therapies. Represented in over 40 countries worldwide, ISHAGE provides communication, education and training regarding recent developments in both the basic science and laboratory practices in cytotherapy.