Stem cells & the philosopher’s stone, P53, thyroid organoids

I hadn’t remembered the history of the philosopher’s stone until reading a new review article about stem cells and aging. Here’s the article.

Is the philosopher’s stone to rejuvenate blood stem cells an epigenetic regulator? Nature Aging. This preview kind of piece discusses how inhibiting a specific factor called PHF6 can “rejuvenate” HSCs in mice. I think a punnier title would have been “philosopher’s his-tone” given the epigenetic connection.

Before discussing this “stone” further, please check out our stem cell and regenerative medicine YouTube channel. I have a new video on chimeras including chimeric cats, pigs, and people.

Historically, the philosopher’s stone was a powerful but elusive healing substance.

It was also a symbol of alchemy. The stone was thought to consist of some magical combination of metals that could heal disease or reverse aging.

It’s interesting that researchers would bring this magic “stone” up in talking about hoped-for reversal of aging in stem cells. For me, it brought to mind that many unproven stem cell clinics seem to think of stem cells as magic.

The clinic operators sometimes convince their potential customers, often vulnerable patients, of that too.

philosopher's stone
The philosopher’s stone was a major part of the first Harry Potter book and film.

Further, those selling this idea portray stem cells as almost like a cellular kind of alchemy. I’ve talked before about the risks of portraying stem cells or other innovative science as magic. I don’t think the authors of this paper were doing that but the title of the paper makes you think.

As a side note, the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was also widely called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone outside the U.S. In the movie they destroy the magic stone to prevent misuse. They should have analyzed it!

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