A nation of stem cell miracles? CNN puff piece on clinic patient & Trump blows it

CelltexWould you believe in a stem cell miracle?

Sometimes the mainstream media stumbles in its coverage of the stem cell world and a recent CNN puff piece on a patient of stem cell clinic Celltex is a prime example of just how extreme this can get.

The CNN piece focuses on a Celltex patient who self-reports perceived big improvement after receiving the non-FDA approved offerings of the Texas stem cell clinic. Celltex is most famous for their number one customer and supporter Rick Perry, former Governor of Texas and now DOE Secretary in the Trump administration. For more background on Celltex including the warning letter it received from the FDA, you can see archived posts here.

CNN stem cells

Jacqueline Howard of CNN wrote about how the patient was invited to and attended Trump’s big speech before Congress recently. Howard mostly blew it on this article as she provided no background on the controversy involving Celltex, its past run in with the FDA, and how its offerings that it sells to patients are not FDA-approved as safe and effective. Minor details, right?

What about the fact that these kinds of treatments cost the average patient thousands of dollars, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars? Not important enough to mention?

And risks? No mention. The reality is that using adipose stem cells grown in a lab has sizable risks. Continue reading

What’s the deal with US Stem Cell Inc stock?

The stem cell clinic business US Stem Cell Inc., formerly known as Bioheart, has seen its stock take a rollercoaster ride recently include a big run up and now today a big drop so what’s the scoop?

US Stem Cell, which includes a few subsidiaries such as US Stem Cell Clinic, focuses on the use of adipose stem cells to treat a variety of health conditions in people, as well as training and pet treatments.

US Stem Cell Inc Stock USRM

To my knowledge, the company does not have FDA approval such as an IND for the stem cell interventions that it sells. In addition, there is some debate over whether adipose stem cells/stromal vascular fraction is a biological drug. As a stem cell scientist and close follower of the field, I believe it is a drug. Note that I’m not aware of the FDA having taken any action on US Stem Cell or its competitors who use adipose stem cells. The company has also recently settled two patient lawsuits, which included allegations of harm to vision by a number of entities.

On the potential upside for investors, it seems there remains strong demand across the US and the world amongst patients for what stem cells clinics are offering even without FDA approval.

Why is the US Stem Cell Inc stock moving so much recently?

It looks like an investment research firm put out a report on the company and the report apparently details the company making deals outside the U.S. and in the Middle East so this may be part of what is driving the stock to move around.

There also seems to be something recent about a lawsuit settlement on social media, but seems pretty vague so hard to say if it is accurate or means something.

Any other thoughts?

Disclosure: I have no investment in stem cell/regenerative medicine stocks including US Stem Cell or its competitors.

10 takeaways from Future of Genomic Medicine meeting

The Future of Genomic Medicine conference last week down in La Jolla at Scripps was one of my favorite meetings ever. I wish I had time to have live blogged it more beyond the one post I did about some gene editing talks.


Carl Zimmer comparing his genome to that of other individuals from different parts of the world.

Below I discuss 10 top takeaways from this great meeting that I’m planning to attend regularly in the future. You should go to!

Continue reading

Artificial embryo tech reported in Science: how big is this?

Can you make an artificial embryo?

Developmental biologist Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz has long been on the trail of this seemingly almost uncatchable quarry.

With her team’s publication in Science today they took a big step forward on this path even if some major hurdles remain. You can see her discussion of the research in the YouTube video above along with interesting comments from her graduate student, Sarah Harrison who was the first author. Congrats to both.

The paper, Harrison, et al, is entitled “Assembly of embryonic and extra-embryonic stem cells to mimic embryogenesis in vitro”. The murine embryo-like structures are referred to as ETS-embryos since they are derived from both Embryonic stem cells and Trophoblast Stem cells.

The potential applications of this artificial ETS-embryo technology moving forward are broad, but there are some limits to the current version of the method. For instance, not all germ layers are represented. New Scientist quoted Robin Lovell-Badge about these limitations:

Robin Lovell-Badge at the Francis Crick Institute in London says that the embryos lack two other types of cell layer required to develop the bodies’ organs: ectoderm, which forms skin and the central nervous system, and endoderm, which makes our internal organs.”

artificial embryos

Figure 2 Series of images showing the development of ETS-embryos over a period of 5 days. Trophoblast-derived cells are stained with a DNA marker only and ESC-derived cells stained with Oct4

The team hopes to address that with future versions.

Could one ever create ‘real” living mouse embryos this way?

From New Scientist:

“We’re not planning to make a mouse in the lab using stem cells,” says Zernicka-Goetz. But she is hopeful that adding yolk sac stem cells will allow these artificial embryos to survive long enough to study the beginnings of organs like the heart.”

Another provocative open question that Harrison calls “the elephant in the room” in the video is whether this type of technology could work with human cells to make human embryo-like structures. If that is possible, a great deal of innovative research could be catalyzed, but of course huge ethical questions would emerge along the way. Harrison highlighted differences in mouse and human embryogenesis that could also be a challenge.

Of course one can more simply make early embryos through IVF, but a new perhaps tractable system like ETS-embryos may enable more flexible studies involving use CRISPR for instance. Would it bypass ethical concerns in the human context if someone went down that path? It all depends on how one defines an embryo.

Disclosure: Cell Guidance Systems, an advertiser on this blog, has licensed the embryo technology and conducted the interview in the video, but this is not a sponsored post.

Live blogging Future of Genome Medicine: great talks by Feng Zhang & others

What is the future of Genome Medicine?

The meeting by that same name that I’m at down here in La Jolla is all about tackling this question and the line up of speakers today on the first day is amazing. I’m speaking about IPS cells as a basis for personalized medicine tomorrow morning so that’s exciting.

As time permits I’m going to try to do a bit of stream of consciousness live blogging of the event so here goes. Don’t expect everything to be a full sentence…

Today got started with a cool presentation on diagnosing brain pathogens by deep sequencing, which is a remarkable technology. The first case presented was on a patient with a tap worm in the brain that could only be diagnosed via genomics.

Feng Zhang talk

CRISPR innovator Feng Zhang next discussed genome editing.

He started by talking about harvesting research tools from natural diversity. They asked, “Are there other CRISPR effectors that remain to be discovered?” They computationally looked for the answer and found a long list of candidates. They found for instance Cpf1, C2c1-c3. They felt C2c2 was more interesting and is a guided RNase. Upon recognition of the target, the enzyme becomes activated but becomes a non-specific RNase at that point. Naturally targets phage via immunity and PCD. How can C2c2 be useful? Sherlock method for diagnostics of biological pathogens. Using a guide that “looks for” target sequence using a degradation-activated reporter based on targeting pathogen RNAs. Example of Zika.  Sensitive to aM level in experiments. I wonder: could the same be done with CRISPR for pathogen DNA? He also briefly mentioned natural system of genome rearrangement in organisms such as one particular ciliate.

Ante “Bill” Lundberg, CSO of CRISPR Therapeutics, spoke next on CRISPR Therapeutics for Sickle Cell and B-thalassemia, both diseases of B-globin. The dramatic increase in characterized disease-causing genes lays the foundation for genomic medicine. A key question, once you edit cells in the body? What will work efficiently for delivery? Not everything can be done on cells outside the body. Goal is to get fetal hemoglobin elevation. They gene edited patient CD34+ HSCs as their therapeutic modulation. He also discussed safety considerations including off-target editing and unintended consequences of on-target editing. The rigorously probe for these including in animals. They get about 90% editing in the lab and strikingly very similar level at clinical scale, which is impressive. IND studies are underway.

He also talked about the National Academies report released this Valentine’s Day on non-heritable and heritable human gene editing. More discussion is needed going forward by all of us, he said. His own personal view is one of caution on germline editing and only rare applications are imagined plus PGD is an existing option. “Treat the patient, not the germline”.

Great session to start the conference.