November 25, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Mapping & driving the stem cell ecosystem: key points of my new paper

stem cell ecosystemWhen you think of an ecosystem, do you imagine something like a forest or jungle full of different organisms?

I usually do, but over the last few years I’ve also been thinking about this concept in a different way. I’ve been viewing the broad stem cell arena as an ecosystem. In that spirit, I’ve recently published a new paper in Regenerative Medicine that delves into the idea of a “stem cell ecosystem”.

This system has many parts and if you view it historically it has been getting increasingly complex. Another way to view the stem cell arena is as an “interactome”, which is a term us scientists use for molecules that interact, but here I’m meaning it as a system of stem cell “parts” (people, organizations, agencies, etc.) that interact in different ways.

Here’s the paper’s abstract:

“The stem cell and regenerative medicine arena has become increasingly complicated in recent years with thousands of people involved. There are as many as a dozen or more main groups of stakeholders, who together may be viewed as one ecosystem that is now rapidly evolving. The nature of the ecosystem and its evolution have major implications for not just those within it, but also for medicine and society at large. Here, I describe this ecosystem and its evolution, as well as the negative impacts within the ecosystem of a constellation of hundreds of unproven for-profit clinics and related businesses. Finally, I propose approaches for how to positively influence and drive the future of the global stem cell ecosystem.”

My thought is that through defining and staying aware of the stem cell system, we can better drive positive change. We can also better anticipate problems and try to stay ahead of them or at least plan for them. The unproven stem cell clinic area, what I’m calling a constellation of related businesses, has become a major problem in this system and for society more broadly. You can see it depicted in blue and purple in the figure diagram from the paper.

As this constellation continues to expand heading towards probably 1000 clinics soon in the U.S. alone, we need to stay on top of it and its place in the system. Some would say it’s already too late for that. One possibility for why the FDA has been so inactive on stem cell clinics historically is that the agency was “behind the curve” as to the current state of the stem cell ecosystem and how dramatically the clinic part was expanding. The current FDA may change that, but we’ll see.

If you consider yourself part of the stem cell arena, where do you fit into the above figure outlining the many moving parts? In this interactome, you might have several roles. Overall, do you positively impact the system? Do you think any key constituents are missing and if so, which ones? In my paper I also discuss how there are other science ecosystems such as in the cancer field, and perhaps they all share some common steps in their evolutions.

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