Stem Cell TGIF on Friday the 13th: My Reactions to the Big Recent Stories

Friday the 13thOn May 13, 2011 I published a post entitled “Friday the 13th for iPS cells”. That day was indeed Friday the 13th and there were some reports in Nature of concerns about iPS cells in terms of immunogenicity and this had followed on the heels of reports on significant genomic and epigenomic warts in iPS cells.

Well, today, more than two years later, iPS cells are still going along fine and we have another Friday the 13th facing us today…..let’s think of it as TGIF rather than a scary day.

The last few weeks have seen many big stories on stem cells in the media including some on iPS cells. It seems fitting on this Friday the 13th to go through these briefly and boil each down to their key points with no baloney.

Just about 3 weeks ago we had a Canadian dentist reported to have shelled out 30 large for supposedly one of John Lennon’s old molars in what I think is a naive, doomed-to-fail attempt to clone the former Beatle. 

A couple weeks ago researchers in Austria made mini-brain-like pea-sized structures from stem cells. I believe this is an important advance and could lead the way to a whole bunch more powerful research on brain function and dysfunction. I also thought it fun to speculate what we might do with an extra brain even if that is a kind of geeky way out there speculative offshoot of such technology.

Last Friday we all saw a quote from Masayo Takahashi that Japan wants to dominate the world when it comes to iPS cells. I thought that was notable even if perhaps she was quoted or translated out of context. I’m still not sure about that. Still the bottom line is that Japan as a whole is investing an impressive amount of money and resources into clinical translation of iPS cells.

The New York Times published a lengthy article on stem cells by Laura Beil on Monday of this week entitled “Stem Cell Treatments Overtake Science”. I liked the title and there was a lot more in the piece to like. I have to admit being its nice to see oneself quoted too. Some folks complained to me that the piece was not “hard hitting” enough. Perhaps, but I think all things considered it was a good article that had a positive net impact.

On Tuesday, Nature published a big article on a report of making iPS cells inside the bodies of mice. No lab required, huh? I found the piece kinda interesting, but I’d boil it down to one word (and associated punctuation): why? What was the point of doing this experiment other than curiosity? I’m not sure we learned much from it. Stem cell godmother Jeanne Loring seemed to feel likewise and made some interesting comments on my piece on this story.

Also on Tuesday I launched my 2013 Stem Cell Person of the Year Award process with the big $1,000 cash prize. Nominations are open so laud your favorite stem cell guru!

On Wednesday we heard from excellent science writer Krista Conger about a Stanford study led by the great Michael Clarke on how goofed up stem cells may contribute to accelerated aging in Down Syndrome patients. The work, published in Nature, is pretty intriguing I thought. I have to confess a penchant for studies that explore links between stem cells and aging though.


1 thought on “Stem Cell TGIF on Friday the 13th: My Reactions to the Big Recent Stories”

  1. The NY Times article “Stem Cell Treatments Overtake Science” has an unfortunate title. Medical practitioners have always been confronted with maladies of which science could not sufficiently inform. So treatments are devised as the alternative to doing nothing. For arm chair critics, the option of doing nothing is more easy (bioethicists and some scientists, take note!).

    What bothers me about this article, and many others of it’s ilk, is that it generalizes in a deceptive way. The relationship between science and stem-cell treatment varies from treatment to treatment — just as it does for other medical therapies.

    Laura Beil does not present either the science or the treatments in a fulsome, analytical manner. It’s just the usual “he said, she said”, junk journalism —- substituting over-generalized statements by authority figures for real analysis of specific therapies. I hate this sort of stuff because I have been personally burned by the power of authoritative people (who didn’t really know what they were talking about).

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