Stem Cell Awards for 2011

Last year around this time I presented my first stem cell awards of the year, in that case for 2010.

You can see whom I thought deserved awards here.

Now it is time for our 2011 stem cell awards. These awards reflect my opinions and those not mentioned will hopefully forgive me as there is an amazing array of great people and resources.

If you disagree or have your own choices for awards that you’d like to give a nod to, please do so in the comments section.

The Stem Cell Political Cartoon of the Year. This award goes to the super talented Matt Bors, whose comic I mentioned in my post on the California Personhood Movement. His winning comic is below. If you like his work as much as I do, please go to his website and check out his other art as well as consider making a donation! Warning, he’s not always politically correct, but that’s part of what is refreshing about his work.

The Stem Cell Blog of the Year. In 2011 we have a tie for stem cell blog of the year between two outstanding blogs. The award goes to both Stem Cell Network of Canada and Stem Cell Assays, by Drs. Gunn and Bersenev. These are two great resources for both factual information and thought provoking opinions about stem cells. Also worth noting is CIRM Research Blog by Amy Adams, the winner of our 2010 Blog of the Year Award. In addition, I have to mention the California Stem Cell Report by David Jensen. This blog is read by a who’s who of the stem cell world, and is a source of important information about CIRM. I personally wish that it was more balanced in terms of positive and critical stories, but I should note that of late there have been several posts there that have leaned far more positive than in the past so maybe this is an encouraging trend. To me it seems that David is impressed so far with new CIRM Chair Thomas, but I don’t claim to speak for David.

Stem Cell Politician of the Year. This award goes to Texas Governor and GOP Presidential Hopeful, Rick Perry.  Guv. Perry is so committed to stem cell research that he actually got a stem cell treatment himself. What a role model and pioneer as his treatment was not even FDA approved.

Stem Cell Misstep of the Year. I award this to Geron. Yeah, as a biotech company you have to make money and yes, I can see why they wanted to be more focused, but come on! You guys really screwed up by dropping your stem cell program in this manner. I believe this bordered on the unethical. I commend the actual stem cell scientists at Geron, but the person(s) who as leaders pulled the trigger on killing the stem cell program did wrong. In second place is the European Court’s ruling against patenting ESC-related inventions. This decision made no sense and will hinder progress towards helping patients.

Stem Cell Journal of the Year. As much as I am extremely impressed with the direction that the journal Stem Cells is going, I have to give this award to Cell Stem Cell, which has become one of my top 3 journals overall. Forget the stellar impact factor, what really has Cell Stem Cell winning my heart is that it publishes the best, most thought-provoking stuff. I look forward to each issue. If I had one suggestion for Cell Stem Cell it would be to move to 2 issues a month. I think they could do this without lowering the quality of their papers. They should also keep on working to be the best because Stem Cells is an awesome journal too and on a very steeply upward trajectory.

Stem Cell Activist of the Year. This award goes to Roman Reed (see picture to the left in my lab of me and Roman with our colleague Keri Kimler, who is a force in her own right). Roman is tireless is his fight to advance stem cell research and he personally goes out there on a daily basis to advance our cause. I admire Roman (and his dad, Don) a great deal, and in my additional role besides stem cell scientist as a patient advocate, I am inspired by Roman on a daily basis. A close second prize in this category goes to Bernie Siegel, the head of the Genetics Policy Institute and the organizer of the amazing World Stem Cell Summit, at which I was honored to be a speaker this year. Bernie is a true powerhouse force for good and it is difficult to imagine the stem cell field continuing to advance without his leadership.

Stem Cell Leader of the Year. Jonathon Thomas (JT), the new CIRM Chair, gets this award. There are many people out there deserving of this award, but I think JT deserves it because of a number of reasons. First, how does one replace someone like visionary Bob Klein? Not an easy job and the whole process of trying to find a new CIRM Chair was the cause of much consternation in the media. But, in the relatively few months of JT’s tenure, he has impressed the stem cell community and made some very positive changes at CIRM to make an awesome organization even better.

Over-rated stem cell event of the year. I award this to the human therapeutic cloning-related research that came out of NY. I know a number of people will disagree with me on this, but the fact that the ES cells produced by this study were genetically abnormal to me makes the impact relatively low. Remarkably, Time magazine even has now named this research as one of the most important of the year in Science more generally, which I think is way off base. As Bob Lanza of ACT put it regarding this research, it has “no clinical relevance”. I mean no disrespect to the researchers in NY or the NY stem cell agency, and I think this research was important, just not to the extent to which some people, particularly in the media, have hyped it.

Stem Cell Biotech of the Year. This award goes to Advanced Cell Technology (ACT). ACT has had a relatively long, somewhat rollercoast-ish existence, but they really seem to have gotten their act together for the last several years. Their two clinical trials seem on track and they have an impressive scientific leadership.

Stem Cell Scientific Issue of the Year. What has been most on everybody’s mind as reflected in the rapid turnaround citations of 2011 papers are the possible “warts” of iPS cells.  Of the more thousands of papers already published in 2011 with “stem cell”, “stem cells” or “pluripotent/pluripotency” in the title, the top 4 in terms of rapid citations (meaning these papers published in 2011 already have a huge number of citations in other papers that were also published in 2011) are all related to genetic alterations in iPS cells. See table above. At number 9 is the paper on immunogenicity of iPS cells. Of course it remains unknown if the small number of genetic changes in iPS cells really matter for their function and it also is unclear whether iPS cells are (in a transplant relevant setting) truly immunogenic in a syngeneic host or if those studies produced those results because they were done in the context of teratoma.

Stem Cell Political/Cultural Issue of the Year. One of my pet peeves is when people try to force other people to believe the same thing that they do. This seems to happen a lot in the stem cell universe. My award for the stem cell political/cultural issue of the year goes to the Vatican Stem Cell Meeting. For the first time in its history, the Catholic Church hosted a meeting on stem cell research. No presentations on ES cells were allowed and with a few important exceptions, the majority of invitees were not ES cell researcher or proponents. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised that there were not any anti-ES cell press releases that came out of the Vatican meeting, but I think it is unfortunate that their vision is focused only on one type of stem cell.

The Enemy of Stem Cell Research and Hope Award. This award goes collectively to the personhood movement. These are the folks in various places around the U.S. who are trying to give the same rights to a single celled fertilized egg that real living breathing, walking, thinking human beings have.  For example here in California, they are trying to pass an initiative that would make a single celled fertilized egg a Californian. These people want to take your rights away and give them to cells. By giving a cell the same rights as a person inevitably what happens is that people lose rights. Don’t underestimate the ‘personhoods’ as I call them because they are well-funded, smart, and driven. Look for them to cause more trouble in 2012 and beyond. In a close second place finish are the mythologs that keep saying adult stem cells can do everything and that embryonic stem cells can do nothing, that embryonic stem cells come from abortions, that embryonic stem cells always cause tumors, etc.

The Stem Cell Good News of the Year. This award goes to the stem cell community as a whole which remains, despite obstacles, super committed to helping as many, diverse kinds of patients in the world using stem cells as possible.  Not everybody can be helped by adult stem cells, as awesome as adult stem cells are, so we need a diversity of stem cells to help the diversity of patients. To me, the commitment of the stem cell community as a whole is the best news because it is not only strong, but grew stronger in 2011. Research continues to advance and despite some challenges such as Geron’s decision, the progress will continue in 2012 just as it did in 2011. I’m very optimistic. This is all part of our pro-cures movement. Look for that phrase ‘pro-cures movement’ to be in play a lot in 2012. It means that we want to cure people with stem cells no matter who they are.

2 thoughts on “Stem Cell Awards for 2011”

  1. As along time Geron Investor, I agree with you on the blunder by Dr. Scarlett and our now departed Dr. Barkas but I also have to wonder how much the EU ruling weighed on their change in direction since that ruling could have effected the funding of GRNVAC2 phase 1 trials in the UK by the DDO since GRNVAC2 is a HESC product. The abbrupt ending to Geron HESC left many long term investors wondering about the capital raise last year and the acquistion of GRN1005 coupled with the departure of Dr. Okarma when share holders wanted Dr. Barkas and David Greenwood to leave the company. These actions make Shareholders wonder how this quick change in direction could occur when the funds raised last year were raised to support Stem Cell research. The new CEO said this change in direction causes Geron not to loose any synergy between Cancer programs and Stem Cells long term shareholders know this statement was false. I apreciate your take on Stem Cell Research. By the way the Patent case between Geron (GE) and Viacyte (J&J, Cellular Dynamics International, and Pfizer) is heating up and should conclude some time after April 5, 2012. Here is a link to the patent case filings

  2. Paul — Thanks for the mention of the California Stem Cell Report, which carried an item this afternoon on your list. As always, I value your perspective, including your thoughts about what I do and how I do it. Keep up the good work. You can find my item here –

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