Weekly reads: NAM dubs 3 stem cell researchers, kick the 2 buckets, stem cell homing

The National Academy of Medicine elected a cohort of new members including three stem cell researchers. It’s great to see our field and these great scientists get recognition.

Sally Temple, stem cell researchers
Sally Temple was one of three stem cell researchers to be inducted into the National Academy of Medicine.

The new NAM stem cell researchers include Sally Temple, Connie Eaves, and Tippie MacKenzie. Here’s a little bit about each of them.

  • Dr. Temple is a stem cell biologist and leading neuroscientist. She is currently the Scientific Director at the Neural Stem Cell Institute. Her work on neural stem cells has been groundbreaking in several ways.
  • Dr. Eaves is a stem cell biologist with numerous titles including professor at the University of British Columbia. Her work on hematopoietic and mammary stem cells also relates to tumor formation. This research has made major impact.
  • Dr. MacKenzie is professor of surgery and director, The Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF. She has pioneered fetal transplantation, which has included stem cells.

Bioethicist Steven Joffe was also elected. Steve has written extensively on bone marrow and stem cell transplantation.

Binary thinking by stem cell researchers on stem cell “treatments”?

The two-bucket problem of unproven stem cell interventions, Regenerative Medicine. Zubin Master raises some interesting points in this commentary. Many stem cell and cell therapy interventions fall in between the poles of “approved” and something at the other end, variously described as “unproven” or “unapproved”. Certain unproven approaches like using PRP or minimally-manipulated bone marrow are unapproved, but they nonetheless are FDA compliant. They don’t nicely fit into either “bucket.”

We still don’t know whether some of these compliant but not yet approved things actually do any good. There is at most limited evidence for their efficacy and some negative data too. The data paint a muddy and incomplete picture. For instance, the Regenexx clinic brand of PRP and bone marrow offerings are marketed for many conditions in the U.S. As I recently wrote in a review, I also can’t really say if Regenexx works or is worth the cost and some degree of risk. They do stand out as different from most U.S. clinics including in that they are apparently FDA compliant and publish data.

Do they belong in the same “bucket” as a place like US Stem Cell that was injecting fat stem cells into people’s eyeballs and doing other risky stuff? In a bucket with clinics that sell all kinds of noncompliant and unproven baloney for things like autism, ALS, and Parkinson’s?

I’m not sure what Zubin is proposing here exactly in terms of concrete actions moving ahead, but he concludes, “We need to set aside differences and refocus efforts as a collaborative community to address pertinent questions to advance stem cell science and therapy.”

The cell therapy community is very complex so setting aside differences and working collaboratively could be tough.

More recommended reads including cancer stem cells

These last two articles on glioma stem cells are more relevant to my own lab’s work. We’re interested in the relationship between cancer and stem cells, including cancer stem cells. What are cancer stem cells? These are tumor cells that have important stem cell-like properties. In theory one cancer stem cell can reinitiate growth an entire new tumor. This is why they are also sometimes called tumor-initiating cells. They may be more resistant to treatment such as chemo and radiation than typical cancer cells. Thus, overall they have major clinical significance.

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