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.


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


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

Human embryo CRISPR pub includes plagiarism: the victim’s unique account

PlagiarismCut, modify, paste…

It’s kind of a CRISPR mantra for those of us using gene editing in the lab. But it’s supposed to be happening just on DNA, right?

Now it appears that someone on a team of human embryo CRISPR researchers possibly got carried away with the cutting-modifying-pasting mindset to take it beyond DNA to also do so with passages of another researcher’s published work that they apparently slightly modified and put into their own paper without any acknowledgement.

The 2016 article in question containing plagiarized passages was published by the lab of senior author Yong Fan with first author Xiangjin Kang, and was entitled, “Introducing precise genetic modifications into human 3PN embryos by CRISPR/Cas-mediated genome editing”. I blogged about the science and bigger picture policy issues of the Kang, et al. article last year here including the technical challenges of CRISPR’ing human embryos. Now the Erratum to the Kang piece in the journal JARG indicates that text plagiarism took place. I’ve included the entire Erratum near the bottom of this blog post.

Who got plagiarized? Continue reading

SCOPE 2017: learn about stem cells in your own language

I’ve been working on an outreach program I call the Knoepfler Lab Stem Cell Outreach Program for Education (SCOPE).stem cells languages

The idea behind SCOPE is to make available on the Internet a basic page of facts about stem cells in as many languages as possible.

Our motto could be articulated as “Stem cells not lost in translation!”

Stem cells are a topic that concerns the people of the world, not just certain countries or certain people speaking only in certain languages.

SCOPE has been a big hit and as the number of languages has grown, the number of page views of my white paper “What are stem cells?” in languages besides English has skyrocketed. For example, our page in Spanish has received about 3,000 views, while the pages in Chinese and Japanese are not far behind. Vietnamese and Polish views are skyrocketing.

We are getting readers from all over the world who appreciate reading about stem cells in their own languages.

We now have the stem cell white paper in the following 32 languages (listed alphabetically with links in each specific language).

A big thank you goes to our volunteer translators!

If you can help with an additional translation in another language please email me at:

It’s a great thing to put on your CV for outreach and education, areas that many funding agencies including for fellowships are now looking for when evaluating applicants!