Battle over Texas stem cell legislation flares as it nears end

Will Texas go it alone by giving stem cell clinics free rein or will it break new ground by passing laws that promote reasonable stem cell clinical practices with safeguards? Some middle ground?

It’s a dramatic moment for the stem cell field as legislation under consideration in Texas could have big impact on stem cell businesses and patients in that state as well as on the stem cell field overall. As soon as tomorrow we may know what direction the state goes with the stem cell legislation. One possibility is that disagreements amongst lawmakers about issues such as assurances of patient protections, data collection, and oversight could end up meaning no legislation comes through in the end.Texit stem cells

As I blogged before here, the battle began in the Texas House. There three bills ultimately got approved, after a sometimes emotional and dramatic session, which if enacted into law would be plums to stem cell clinics by saying that clinics could experiment on patients with little data to back up what they were doing and yet charge patients an arm and a leg for doing so…and patients would even been restricted in their rights including to sue.

That doesn’t seem right. But understandably some patients have been advocates for these bills as there are many patients are looking for hope and some want less oversight, but in reality these House bills would be harmful to patients and the stem cell field. Who else is behind these bills? You can bet that stem cell clinic businesses (possibly including Celltex?) have pumped big money into the Texas Legislature to try to get the desired laws.

Through efforts of many parties led by Texans for Cures including its Chairman David Bales working with Texas Senators, the Senate versions of these bills have evolved and come to include a number of responsible provisions that would provide balance and patient protections including not allowing for charging for risky experimental offerings. They’ve done really good work. I still find myself at the moment unsure of whether on balance I would feel 100% comfortable supporting these bills entirely and would have to see how the language ends up if something is passed in the end. Still they are dramatically better than what the Texas House passed and contain good common sense provisions so a toast to Texans for Cures.

When a House and Senate in a state or at the federal level pass different versions of bills, they must have a conference and hammer out the final legislation. Now in Texas at this stage there’s conflict between the House and Senate over how to resolve the differences. The House apparently wants the bills to more simply green light stem cell clinics to do what the heck they want and profit big time off of patients from their high-risk experiments.

And there’s just hours left to vote.

How will it all turn out?

Ongoing story on stem cell fake news: send me your tips

I’m working on an investigative story on fake news in the stem cell and regenerative medicine arena.stem cell biotech fake news

Is there a growing stem cell fake news problem in the biotech world?

More broadly, the SEC is cracking down on the mess that is fake biotech news, but what about publicly-traded stem cell biotechs more specifically?

Already in the past year I’ve seen examples of possible stem cell fake news.

If you have any tips about specific instances of fake news in this area please contact me (knoepflerATucdavisDOTedu). 

GOP reps to Trump: fire NIH Director Collins for stem cell research support

Should there be a religious or moral litmus test for the NIH Director?

A few dozen super conservative Republican members of Congress have written a letter to President Trump saying he should fire NIH Director Francis Collins.

Why?

Because they claim that Collins is not conservative enough for their taste and in particular they don’t like his support of embryonic stem cell research funding.

You can read the actual letter here and see text in a clip from it below where religion is invoked. Does that mean that if the NIH Director was not a Christian that they would hold it against him/her? It sure sounds that way.Francis Collins fire letter

These Republicans argue in the letter that Dr. Collins is not ‘pro-life’ enough or perhaps moral enough for them so they are telling Trump to fire him. There is no scientific or even logical basis for this proposed action. In fact, this is about as anti-science as it can get. It’s not just putting politics over science, it is also trying to put one religious viewpoint over others and over science.
Gallup Poll embryonic stem cells

Dr. Collins’ views on embryonic stem cells are in reality not extreme as they are in line with those of most Americans and scientists. Americans generally have become more supportive of embryonic stem cell research in the past 10-15 years and this consistently shows up in most polls on the topic. For example, in a 2013 Pew poll greater than 2/3 of Americans either voiced support for embryonic stem cell research or felt it wasn’t a moral issue at all. That’s decisive. A more recent Gallup poll is very clear too in terms of Americans favoring embryonic stem cell research by about a 2-1 margin. The fact is that these 41 GOP representatives are the extremists and are trying to force their views onto biomedical science.

Also note that the “human cloning” that is referenced in this letter is not reproductive human cloning (which is actually widely controversial), but rather somatic cell nuclear transfer that can be used to make patient-specific embryonic stem cell lines, which is sometimes referred to as “therapeutic cloning”. It is also worth giving a reminder that the embryos being discussed here are left over, blastocyst embryos from fertility procedures that would otherwise mostly be thrown away as biohazardous waste. Human blastocysts have only about 100 cells, are hard to see with the naked eye, and have no distinctly human features other than their DNA.

With Trump wanting to severely cut NIH funding in general and now these GOP representatives asking for a new, uber-conservative NIH Director who will likely put science itself as a low priority and their own specific religion first, it is even more important than ever that those of us who support science and specifically biomedical research let our voices be heard. I know many people of faith who support embryonic stem cell research and science more generally. We are stronger when we are united together as advocates. This research has concrete, future potential to help a lot of people as well as end suffering and ongoing early-phase clinical trials for conditions such as paralysis and blindness show promise.

Let’s put science, medicine, and patients first.

Blog reader survey results & winner of the stem cell swag

It’s fun and useful for me to learn about the readers of this blog in terms of who they are and what their interests are in terms of the types of posts that I do.

Below are the results of two recent reader surveys that I did to get this kind of information. The two polls got 162 and 192 responses, respectively.

Before I get to discussing the results, I also included a prize/raffle element to this survey whereby I would choose one winner out of the participants who would receive a stem cell t-shirt, and signed copies of my two books, Stem Cells: An Insiders Guide and GMO Sapiens.

And the winner of the random drawing is Josephine “Jo” Bowles, Senior Lecturer at the School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Queensland, Australia.

Congratulations, Jo!

Okay, now to the results.

readership survey

Who are you?

The first survey asked you all about your backgrounds. Exactly half of you turn out to be scientists with more academic researchers, but also quite a few industry researchers. Many of you are also patients or patient advocates, with your numbers being about the same as industry scientists. I tried really hard to think of as many types of backgrounds as I could for this poll, but even so in fourth place was “other” in this survey.

One category that in hindsight I should have included was “teacher”, but if you answered “other” in this survey please let me know in the comments what kinds of backgrounds I missed. The fifth most common selection was “Physician”, which doesn’t surprise. I hear from doctors regularly that they are readers. I was surprised not to see more journalists showing up in this survey since they also regularly get in touch about specific posts that they read. Of course this survey is not scientific and may not be very precise.

What kind of content do you like?

The second survey asked you all about what kinds of blog posts here on the Niche that you like the most. Here again came the challenge for me of what categories to include. The types of posts that are the most work and frankly pose the greatest risk to me are the ones that turned out to be the most popular: investigations. People want to know facts and new insights about difficult, messy situations. I get it and I try to regularly do those kinds of pieces despite the fact that I’m so busy, these take more time, and like I said I always am concerned about risks of being sued or threatened.

Other popular types of posts included Newsy items, journal-club like paper reviews, opinion pieces and interviews. I was surprised that CRISPR pieces weren’t more popular because when I do them I can see in the metrics that they are heavily read, but then again this is mostly a stem cell blog.

Thanks for doing the survey and please as you read consider adding in your voice in the comments.

Sunday brunch buffet of stem cell good news, fun links, & cool papers

Enjoy! A brunch for the brain.

News and links

CBER Director Focuses on Flexibility to Advance Regenerative Medicines

Lab-Grown Blood Stem Cells Produced at Last

Transplanted stem cells become eggs in sterile mice

hair stem cells

Liao, et al Figure 2D

Maryland fund awards $8.5 million for stem cell research

Positively good news from Asterias for CIRM-funded stem cell clinical trial for spinal cord injury

Sergio Canavero: Will His Head Transplants Roll?

Century-old tumours offer rare cancer clues

Papers

Identification of hair shaft progenitors that create a niche for hair pigmentation (see Figure 2D above)

Tip110 Deletion Impaired Embryonic and Stem Cell Development Involving Downregulation of Stem Cell Factors Nanog, Oct4, and Sox2

Modeling Psychomotor Retardation using ipscs from MCT8-Deficient Patients Indicates a Prominent Role for the Blood-Brain Barrier

Elevated FOXG1 and SOX2 in glioblastoma enforces neural stem cell identity through transcriptional control of cell cycle and epigenetic regulators

Prc2 facilitates the regulatory topology required for poised enhancer function during pluripotent stem cell differentiation