Q&A video with Paul Episode 1: your stem cell questions answered

Where is the stem cell field now and where the heck is it heading? There are hundreds of questions.

Readers often email me questions or leave them as comments. It’s not unusual to get questions about CRISPR as well.

As time permits, I’m hoping once or twice a month on Sundays to post a video answering some reader questions. Here’s today’s February 26th edition, focused on stem cells.

Lab tour video contest: $100 prize

What’s your lab like? What do you work on? What are you most excited about? Is your lab hiring? What are your lab traditions? Superstitions? How messy/clean is your lab? You can see a picture of me in my lab below about 5-6 years ago…the usual busy semi-clutter of a lab.

You can win $100 just by doing a video all about your lab!

paul lab

Make a short no more than 3 minute video of your lab (and by “lab” I mean any representation of it you want: the space, the people, the view from the window, cool images, etc.) and send it to me or post it on Twitter with the hashtag #labvideocontest.

The most compelling video maker wins a $100 gift card from me….and maybe I’ll throw in a free stem cell t-shirt and signed copies of my books, but we’ll see.

Plus, just by entering you get some free PR for your lab if you post the video on Twitter and I may post honorable mention videos. If more than one video is great, I’ll likely give out additional prizes.

The video doesn’t have to be funny, but that can be a plus. Including cool images in the video can be a plus. Telling lab stories is fun. Singing? Dancing? Science as a performance art? Use your imagination.

Rules

Anyone can enter from any country.

Anyone shown in the video has to be OK with being in the video.

By submitting the video you are consenting to it potentially being posted on this blog.

Your lab doesn’t have to be doing stem cell research, but that’s not discouraged either.

The video should, of course, not contain any confidential information or images (e.g. unpublished stuff you don’t want seen) from your lab. Any level scientist can enter the contest from students to techs to PIs but non-PIs should ask their PI first.

The deadline for submission is March 15.

Do stem cells for pain make any sense?

stem-cells-for-painDoes it make any sense scientifically or medically to use stem cells for pain?

I’m skeptical in most cases today.

The whole idea of stem cells for pain has been on my mind for a number of reasons.

For one thing, more stem cell clinics are marketing unproven stem cell therapies at a high price specifically for pain relief lately.

People are even having conferences on this concept. See the email ad I got yesterday on one such conference below

Is there any FDA-approved stem cell-based treatment for pain? Even one? Nope.

In Leigh Turner’s and my paper last year on stem cell clinics, we found in our data analysis that marketing of stem cells for pain was the 2nd most common claimed condition (see Figure 2B below). Even though this indication is unproven as safe or effective, clinics charge thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars per intervention for this

Circling back, does it even make any sense scientifically that stem cells could relieve pain specifically?

How could this work if it can?

stem-cells-for-painA damaged tissue such as a knee-joint, if repaired by stem cells, could be less painful.

Maybe it could.

But again RCTs have not been done to prove this approach is safe and effective for repair, let alone pain relief.

In theory stem cells might be able to repair or replace dysfunctional nerves themselves leading to less pain, but most commercial offerings in this area aren’t using the right kind of stem cells. It’s not clear to me how, for instance, adipose or bone marrow stem cells could repair nerves. They are not programmed to do this.stem-cell-treatments-pain

Repairing a damaged spine with stem cells could also lead to less pain. But how do you get the right stem cells to the right place in the spine and have them do the right thing (and not the wrong thing) to fix the spine in such a way to reduce pain? Not simple, but possible.

There are more than 300 clinical trials for stem cells at least somehow related to pain. Hopefully some of these will provide clarity on this hot topic.

7 cool recent CRISPR articles

CRISPR Model Jacob Corn

CRISPR Model from Jacob Corn

So everyone is buzzing about the CRISPR patent court decision (which BTW I think was flawed but that’s for another post), but the research roars on at warp speed.

Here are 7 recent CRISPR articles that caught my attention.

What are your favorite recent CRISPR papers?

Genome surgery using Cas9 ribonucleoproteins for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration. Do you think the term “genome surgery” is appropriate?

Efficient CRISPR/Cas9-assisted gene targeting enables rapid and precise genetic manipulation of mammalian neural stem cells. CRISPR on the brain.

Muscle-specific CRISPR/Cas9 dystrophin gene editing ameliorates pathophysiology in a mouse model for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. CRISPR pre-clinical promise.

The CRISPR/Cas9 system efficiently reverts the tumorigenic ability of BCR/ABL in vitro and in a xenograft model of chronic myeloid leukemia. CRISPR vs. cancer.

Expanding the CRISPR Toolbox: Targeting RNA with Cas13b. CRISPR systems continue to evolve.

CRISPR/Cas9-AAV Mediated Knock-in at NRL Locus in Human Embryonic Stem Cells. CRISPR’ing ES cells.

Interspecies Chimerism with Mammalian Pluripotent Stem Cells. I blogged on this one here and did an opinion piece at WaPo here.

Kudos to Dr. Oz for stellar stem cell clinic show: time for more action

For me it’s been a wild week of grant and paper writing, grant review, going over data, and more, but finally I had a chance to watch this week’s Dr. Oz show on stem cell clinics in full last night and I give it an A+ grade.

dr-oz-stem-cells

A show producer went undercover with an MS patient to a number of stem cell clinics and let the clinic people’s words do the talking about what’s most important to the clinics: money and not patients’ well-being.

The guests on the show included actor and MS patient Montel Williams and stem cell scientist Dr. Sally Temple, the President of ISSCR. They and Dr. Oz all did great on covering this issue. A special shout-out to Sally Temple for doing the show. Not many leading scientists are willing to put themselves out there to make a difference like that.

The show combined science, medicine, and compelling personal stories together with the undercover videos to expose the stem cell clinic industry for what it actually is: an endeavor almost solely focused on making money taken from vulnerable patients. It’s an industry that collects tens of millions of dollars from patients for experimental offerings that have little-to-no data behind them. No FDA approval.

And there have been bad outcomes ranging from deaths to blindness. Tumors.

If certain stem cells work and are safe for specific medical conditions, you must prove it scientifically and medically, and you have to do that first before you start marketing it. This means putting patients before profits.

Many biotech companies are doing exactly that and there are a host of promising investigational stem cell therapies in various clinical trials. Some will be proven safe and effective, which is so exciting! Others won’t work out. We can’t know the difference in advance of getting the data, but stem cell clinics are pretending they know their stuff works and is safe.

What do I say to patients who believe that the offerings of stem cell clinics do work?

Each of us understandably place great weight on our own individual patient experiences, but the experiences of one, ten, or even many more patients don’t prove things if they aren’t studied carefully with controls and in an unbiased manner. In biomedical science we learn that often, even if we are excited about an idea/hypothesis, once we carefully study our data collected from enough properly controlled experiments and it all gets examined critically by qualified colleagues, we end up being proven wrong. Sometimes we are right. The key thing is you have to let data tell the difference rather than hope or belief.

I appreciated how Dr. Oz issued a call to action at the end for his wide audience to tackle the major problem of stem cell clinics. We all need to work together on this. There’s going to be major positive impact from the show as a starting point to more action that involves the FDA, the FTC, and other governmental agencies such as state attorney generals and medical boards.