TGIF stem cell headlines of week: Asterias, lasers, immunity, & more

Laser tooth stem cellsIt’s been an important week for stem cells. Although I’ve been busy working on multiple grants and papers, when I take a break I like to read up on what’s been going on with stem cells.

What are the top stem cell stories and headlines of the week?

CIRM awarded Asterias (a subsidiary of BioTime) $14.3 million to continue clinical research into the use of hESC-derived OPCs for spinal cord injury. This is great news as the work formerly started by Geron lives again and provides real hope.

Lasers, stem cells, and teeth came together in a cool new story that has nothing to do with teeth whitening, but provides promise for tooth repair. In a paper (Arany, et al.) in Science Translational Medicine, a Harvard team showed they could activate stem cells to make dentin, which I believe is even harder than bone and gives teeth their strength. In Figure 1E from the paper above you can see histology showing more dentin in the laser-treated tooth.

Bioscience Technology quoted team leader Dr. David J. Mooney, who is a professor of bioengineering at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS):

“Our treatment modality does not introduce anything new to the body, and lasers are routinely used in medicine and dentistry, so the barriers to clinical translation are low”

Pretty cool.

STAP cell retraction OK’d for one, but not the other Nature paper? Author, Dr. Haruko Obokata, reportedly agreed this week to  retract her STAP cell letter, but not the STAP cell article. You can read more on my take on that here and my editorial the day before calling on Nature to retract both papers.

An interesting twist on iPS cells and immunity. For a long time folks have argued that pluripotent stem cells such as ES cells and iPS cells have a special trait of being immunoprivileged because of their early embryonic-like state. However, the opposite case–that ES and iPS cells are in fact more immunoreactive because they express unique antigens not seen by organisms throughout the rest of life–gained more ground with a new report from Stanford. Krista Conger of SCOPE published on an excellent piece on this new work from the great stem cell researcher, Joseph Wu. The Nature Communications paper (Almelda, et al.) argues that differentiation of iPS cells yields cells that are less immunoreactive. It’s intriguing to think about these different perspectives on stem cells and immunity from a human transplant perspective.