Each year at this time I start thinking about what the next year will bring for the stem cell field. This year is no different and I’ve been pondering what 2012 has in store for us. You can read my predictions for 2011 here and see how I fared. Not too bad, but overly optimistic I’m afraid about trans-differentiation.
Of course in a way, calendar years are meaningless for science since it proceeds with its own rapid pacing regardless of any arbitrary indicators of the passage of time, but like most of us I still like to use years as times to mark milestones and predict what’s ahead.
In that spirit, here is my list of the top 10 predictions for the stem cell field in 2012. It’s a mixture of good news and bad news.
10.) Transdifferentiation remains extremely intriguing, but there’s little progress on it. A few more trans-differentiation papers come out in 2012, but no flood to be sure. Trans-differentiating cells is a lot tougher than reprogramming them into iPSCs. Wilmut’s declaration of our need to be independent from ESC because we should be working on trans-differentiation instead is shown to be very overly optimistic about the timeline of transdifferentiation.
9.) Obama is re-elected President, Democrats retain the Senate and Republicans retain the House, but the political environment remains hostile to science and stem cell research, particularly at the state level. Obama beats the Republican candidate for President (most likely Romney) so we dodge that bullet, but science and stem cell research still receive little support and are attacked further at the state level, especially by Republican governors.
8.) The all-chemical (small molecule) iPSC dream still remains unrealized in 2012. I hope I’m wrong about this one.
7.) We learn more about the properties of iPSC in even more potentially clinically relevant settings and the data are very promising. More studies are published on using iPSC in model systems to treat diseases.
6.) The iPSC field continues to mature as reflected in its publication trends. The number of iPSC articles stays about the same or only increases modestly in 2012 and the citation rate per iPSC paper continues to plummet as the field matures. You can see the trends here.
5.) The personhood movement continues to stir things up. They spend millions of dollars trying to legitimize their extreme views that one cell fertilized eggs are the same as living breathing people. They succeed in getting on the ballot in California, are overwhelming defeated, but declare victory because they got their message into the conversation some more.
4.) The Vatican and potentially other churches continue to increase their involvement in stem cell research, although not of course that involving ESCs. During the same year, the extremists who are fighting their self-declared “war” on ESC research continue to attack and attack some more.
…..and now the top 3…
3.) There is no for-profit buyer for Geron’s stem cell program/GRNOPC1. I seriously hope I am wrong about this one.
2.) CIRM continues to have a huge, positive influence on the stem cell field. Under the super leadership of Jonathan Thomas and Alan Trounson as well as its Board, CIRM continues its record of vision and excellence in driving stem cell research forward. They continue to streamline CIRM processes and fill essential positions at CIRM, making it more efficient and more accessible to the public. CIRM-funded research continues to wow the world and strides are made toward translating the work to the bedside. In short, CIRM is better than ever in 2012 and continues to have a bright future.
1.) Advanced Cell Technology (ACT)’s combined Phase I/II Clinical Trials show their hESC-based RPE drug is safe for the treatment of blindness. I might be going out on the limb in terms of timeline (i.e. the trials finishing in 2012). Also, we’ll most likely have to wait a bit longer for news on efficacy, but I hope the data points in that direction.