Weekly reads: gene therapy nod, Nature pub ethics, CRISPR LDL

Totipotency literally means all powerful, but it refers in biology to specific cells. These cells can make every type of cell in the body of an organism plus the extraembryonic tissues needed for development. This includes humans. So if you could reprogram human cells like blood or skin cells into totipotent stem cells, you might in theory be able to make a human clone. 

Also see this overview for more on totipotent stem cells.

Unfortunately, totipotency is in the news in not such a good way this week.

 human embryos, totipotency
Early human embryo cells can be totipotent depending on the stage. Photomicrograph of early human embryo development. An arrow in the inset higher magnification view of the hatched blastocyst (breaking out of the zona pellucida) indicates the inner cell mass (ICM) that can produce embryonic stem cells when cultured. Early embryonic cells may have totipotency. What if you could reprogram other cells to have that power? Photos courtesy of Meri Firpo.

Totipotency paper ethics question

Stem cell study in science journal Nature didn’t have ethical approval, Chinese Academy of Sciences says, SCMP. This sounds like a big mess.

From the newspaper, “The study, published in Nature in March 2022, was led by Miguel Esteban, a researcher with the CAS’ Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health since 2008. Esteban earned a doctorate in Spain and has worked in the United Kingdom. His research areas are immunology, cancer biology and stem cell biology. Esteban has not responded to a request for comment.”

I think this is the Nature paper in question, Mazid, et al: Rolling back human pluripotent stem cells to an eight-cell embryo-like stage.

By coincidence, Nature just published a news and views focusing on research reporting reprogramming to totipotency by three teams in 2022 including the Mazid paper by Esteban’s lab. A step closer to making the mother of stem cells, Nature. 

I don’t see any reason why the current ethics issue with the Esteban team paper sheds down on the actual reprogramming to totipotency. It’s still important to resolve.

The Mazid paper has a lengthy ethics statement including a discussion of the human cell and blastoid research. So what’s happened?

From the SCMP:

“Yang Weiping, director of the CAS office, said the researcher involved had falsified paperwork during the process of publishing the paper to show the study had ethical approval when it did not.

The researcher was given a warning, suspended as a postgraduate supervisor for a year, and had some of his research funding cut, Yang told China Science Daily, the academy’s official newspaper. He did not name the researcher.”

Hopefully this will get clarified in terms of the specifics of what happened.

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