Top 20 Stem Cell Predictions for 2017

stem cell crystal ball

Stem cell crystal ball

Each year I make a list of predictions for the stem cell and regenerative medicine field for the coming new year. Later in this post I list my top 20 stem cell predictions for 2017. In looking at my past predictions I realized this will now be my 7th year doing stem cell/regenerative medicine yearly predictions.

You can see below links to these predictions for past years, which sometimes seems rather far removed from today and in other cases strike me as strangely apropos of our times.

What will 2017 bring? Below are my top 20 predictions in no particular order except starting with a few hopeful visions for the coming year.

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Grading my top 20 stem cell predictions for 2016: how’d I do?

Below are the 2016 stem cell predictions I made last year and their status now color-coded near year’s end. Green is right, orange is mixed bag, and red is flat out wrong.

Overall, I did better than most past years with only having entirely blown it on four.

Stay tuned later this week for my 2017 predictions, which looks to be a dramatic year in the field of stem cells and regenerative medicine.

The Score Card on 2016 Predictionsstem-cell-predictions

  1. Another stem cell biotech acquisition by pharma (recall Ocata (now finally sold to Astellas) & CDI in 2015). Grade: Some acquisitions, but not huge news.
  2. Charging patients for clinical trial participation, particularly in Japan due to the new policy and here in the US related to predatory clinics remains a hot topic. Grade:  Correct.
  3. Stem cell clinics and doping in sports flares up more. Grade:  not really the two together.
  4. Organoids continue to excite. Grade:  Correct.
  5. Bioheart and some other small stem cell companies struggle. Grade:  Correct.
  6. Stem cell stocks overall have a bad year. Grade:  Unfortunately, generally correct.
  7. Stem cell clinics ever more aggressively use celeb clients for PR and marketing. Why? It is powerful, effective, and essentially free advertising. Grade:  Correct.
  8. More news on human-animal chimeras. Grade:  Correct.
  9. FDA continues its slow-go approach to action on stem cell clinics/unapproved stem cell products. Grade:  Sadly correct.
  10. Pressure from industry and some academics on FDA to not regulate adipose products as drugs and/or to not enforce some other draft guidances including at the public hearing on the draft guidances. Grade:  Correct.
  11. FDA receives increasing public criticism for “slowness” on approving new stem cell therapies including from beyond the stem cell clinic industry. Grade:  Correct.
  12. One or more lawsuits against a stem cell clinic. Grade:  Correct in a big way. E.g. versus U.S. Stem Cell, Lung Institute, and Stemgenex.
  13. A new stem cell scandal pops up related to publication issues. Grade:  Correct. You just have to go visit Retraction Watch (e.g. the Spain mess), For Better Science, or PubPeer, and then also see the continuing Macchiarini debacle in particular.
  14. Some hiccups on mitochondrial transfer/3-person IVF in the UK or China. Grade:  Correct. Diseased mitochondrial carry-over and mito-nuclear cross-talk issues have popped up and deserve serious attention. Remarkably, nevertheless UK folks are going forward with it in humans anyway.
  15. The trend last year of increasingly blurred lines between legit research entities such as universities and dubious stem cell enterprises continues. This is worrisome. Grade:  Correct. For instance, see Rasko paper.
  16. Stem cell-derived human germ cells stay in the headlines. This has exciting potential for providing new windows into human development and tackling infertility, but also raises thorny issues such as human genetic modification. Grade:  Correct.
  17. ViaCyte has some big news. Grade: Not yet… 
  18. High-profile developments on veterinary use of stem cells. Grade:  Correct. 
  19. Animal cloning, particularly in China, continues to proliferate. Grade:  Correct.
  20. More rumblings on possible human reproductive cloning attempts. Grade:  Some here and there, but not much. See this piece on cloning focusing on 20th Anniversary of Dolly.

First 3-person IVF baby born via “rogue” experiment at Mexico clinic?

Today we got the first report of a baby being born via so-called “3-person IVF”, sometimes called 3-parent IVF, in which the DNA of three people contribute to an offspring.

Before discussing this further I have to emphasize that we need proof that this is indeed really a 3-person IVF baby via genetic testing. Until that data is released publicly we should all be cautious on this news. Apparently the clinic plans to present such data later.

Assuming it is a 3-person IVF baby, which seems most likely, I discuss the key issues below.

For the 3-person IVF baby, it is hoped to be free of mitochondrial disease (the whole point of doing the procedure), but there are serious risks here. The doctor doing this experiment was John Zhang of New York University and New Hope Fertility Center, but he did it in Mexico.

john-zhang-with-3-person-ivf-baby

John Zhang holds the baby; New Scientist picture

I’m deeply concerned by this news.

The fact that Zhang went to a place where he reportedly himself said, “there are no rules”, to do this illustrates that this 3-person IVF procedure was not given proper regulatory and ethical oversight. It feels more like it was done in secret.

Marcy Darnovsky, Executive Director of The Center for Genetics and Society referred to this kind of thing as “rogue experimentation” in a press release. In a sense she’s right about this, in particular because the world’s experts are really still trying to sort out the core issues surrounding this kind of technology. It is an understatement to say this was jumping the gun. 3-person IVF is not permitted in the US due to safety concerns.

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Hyped Nature paper & author knighthood 2 days later raise red flags

Was an intensely hyped Nature paper connected to the subsequent knighthood for one of the authors just two days after publication?

It’s hard to imagine there isn’t a connection and such a link is bad news for biomedical science.

Professor Doug Turnbull and fellow UK authors published a Nature paper a few days ago that reinforced a safety concern about 3-person IVF/mitochondrial replacement. The same safety issue had also been raised by an earlier paper by a different team. However, some of the authors of the new study, the press in the UK, and the sponsoring Wellcome Trust foundation all spun this new paper as being good news and hyped it.

doug turnbull

The main meme pushed forward in the hype was that the study proved that 3-person IVF would lead to safe pregnancies. If you focus on the actual data in the paper by the team led by Mary Herbert, it pointed to the opposite conclusion in the form of continuing safety concerns. For many of us in the broader scientific community the intensity of the hype surrounding this paper and the misleading narrative about safety was concerning.

Why was there such a coordinated effort to spin this paper as good news?

On Friday only two days after the publication of this new paper, the BBC reported that Turnbull received a knighthood.

Could this be part of the answer for the hype fest? What’s the scoop here?

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New Herbert lab Nature paper reinforces mitochondrial replacement Achilles heel

Today a new Nature paper from Dr. Mary Herbert’s group in the UK has found a key problem with mitochondrial replacement therapy that fits with data from others.

The goal of preventing mitochondrial disease using various kinds of genome transfer technologies is a noble one, but mitochondrial replacement therapy has faced a number of technological challenges including perhaps most prominently the carryover and subsequent amplification of diseased mitochondria.

This mitochondrial replacement carryover issue was clearly defined in an excellent recent Cell Stem Cell paper from Dieter Egli’s lab, which demonstrated some cases of pronounced carryover and/or amplification of certain mitochondrial types following nuclear transfer. For more on my perspectives on the Egli paper see here.Herbert mitochondria Nature paper

In the data from the Herbert group paper, the same kind of problem is evident despite the use of a somewhat different adaptation of this technology in which pronuclei are transferred instead of nuclei or spindles from the mom-to-be. In the new paper, Hyslop, et al., the data point toward mitochondrial carryover as a significant problem still to overcome. Some scientists and politicians in the UK successfully pushed for governmental approval there to proceed with mitochondrial replacement therapy in humans last year, but I argued that this technology was not ready for prime time yet due to a number of gaps in our knowledge of both mitochondria themselves in germ cells and also what happens in actual human embryos post-genome transfer.

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