TGIF: stem cell headline weekly review for May 4

I’m going to try to do a new feature on Fridays, a TGIF review of the week in stem cell headlines in the news. What’s the good, the bad, and the ugly? What’s been hyped?

It was a busy week in stem cells.

The good

Prostate Cancer Stem Cells. I’d give the recent wonderful Cell Stem Cell paper on Prostate Cancer Stem Cells the award for stem cell paper of the week and perhaps of the month. A team led by senior author Dean Tang, Ph.D. at MD Anderson, identified prostate cancer stem cells.

Prostate cancer is almost always associated with a high level of a protein called PSA in the blood. It is thus seemingly paradoxically that the researchers have found that prostate cancer stem cells are in fact very low for PSA. What seems to happen is the prostate cancer stem cells give rise to large numbers of prostate cancer progenitors and more differentiated cells that are PSA+ during tumor growth, which leads indirectly to a spiking PSA. Because the prostate cancer stem cells are PSA low are even lack PSA altogether, they are quite distinct from the cells that make up the bulk of the tumor and may not respond to traditional anti-hormone therapies. In this way the prostate cancer stem cells may also eventually lead to hormone-refractory cancer, which is the form that kills prostate cancer patients when their tumors recur.

The good

Researchers right here at UC Davis showed that a possible stem cell therapy for HIV shows promise. This deservedly got a lot of media attention. Researchers at our stem cell institute showed in a new paper in the Journal of Virology that stem cells can have anti-HIV. The researchers in effect made designer stem cells that have many anti-HIV properties. Awesome!

The good, but perhaps a bit media hyped

As anyone knows who has grown embryonic stem cells (ESC) they are finicky and are prone to either die or differentiate during culturing. ESC are also well-established to be particularly sensitive to DNA damage and acquire mutations during culturing. In an interesting Molecular Cell paper from the lab of Mohanish Deshmukh at UNC Chapel Hill investigated the sensitivity of ESC to DNA damaging agents. It was not surprising that ESC are exquisitely sensitive. Headlines zoomed across the Internet (e.g. here in The Scientist) about this big discovery that ESC contain their own suicide “pill”. I think the reporters, not the scientists, hyped the story. This is no doubt an interesting paper, but I just don’t get why it is that novel. Can anyone explain? A Pubmed search for articles with the words embryonic, stem, cells, DNA, damage yields more than 400 articles including many with all of those words in the title itself and a large subset of those consists of very cool papers.

The good and monetary

The amazing Starr Foundation announced a $10 million gift for stem cell institute at University of Miami.

No “bad’ this week. I’ll jump right to the ugly….

The Ugly

Paradoxically, the ugly headline of the week is a story about trying to look beautiful using stem cells. An ABC news sensational story hypes a “4-hour, Whole-Body ‘Face Life” using stem cells. OMG. The story is really almost like an ad for the procedure and only notes vaguely that some experts warn that such procedures need more study. Hmm….

Have a good weekend!

5 Comments


  1. Here is my definition of ugly for the week. Geron Q 1 confrence call as CEO dodges answering questions from Shareholders about the HESC progarams being devested from Geron. 80% of Individual shareholders supported and invested in Geron for its stem cell programs. 30% of the stock is owned by insiders and institutional investors. The same 80% would have invested more money to support those programs. The CEO has said there is no reversing the direction back to Stem cells and regenerative medicine. Geron has also shelve the telomerase stimulator GRN510 which they may sell off. They spent 24 million to buy GRN510 out of their China JV 1 1/2 years ago.


  2. I’ve googled the Geron Q1 conference a bit, and gotten these results:

    Official press release: http://ir.geron.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=67323&p=irol-newsArticle&cat=news&id=1690555

    This guy seems to have invested in Geron and is not too unhappy about the company. He seems kind of disappointed of their bailing out of ESCs, though:
    http://geron-bt.blogspot.com.es/

    This is Geron’s current ESC site, where they make a call for partners for their cell therapy projects.
    http://cell-therapies.geron.com/
    It’s a shame, really. Apparently they had quite a few more things besides spinal cord regeneration going on:
    http://cell-therapies.geron.com/stem-cell-platform

    Let’s hope ACT’s trial is a success. It might encourage others to pick up Geron’s offer in this regard.

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