Vote now for your pick for Stem Cell Person of the Year 2016

Vote on your pick for the top stem cell outside the box thinker and positive impactor in 2016 from the 20 choices below. The top 10 vote getters will be finalists from which I will have the tough task of picking the one winner as Stem Cell Person of the Year along with the $2,000 prize and recognition.

You can vote once per day. The voting closes in 10 days on December 15th at 11:59pm Pacific Time. Read more about the 20 nominees here.

20 Nominees for Stem Cell Person of the Year 2016 Award

stem-cell-person-of-the-year-awardI received a score of great nominations for the Stem Cell Person of the Year 2016 Award and have briefly described the twenty nominees below. The point of the award is to honor the top positive stem cell leader who specifically thinks outside the box and takes risks.

I’ve started an on-line vote where you can vote once per day for your favorite nominee(s) for Stem Cell Person of the Year. The top half or so of nominees getting the most votes will be the finalists from which I will choose the final winner, who receives the $2,000 prize and international recognition as a global leader in the stem cell and regenerative medicine field.

Past winners of the Stem Cell Person of the Year Award include the following:

  • Top stem cell scientist Jeanne Loring in 2015.
  • Pioneering vision and pluripotent stem cell clinical researcher, Masayo Takahashi in 2014.
  • Neural stem cell scientist and very effective Italian politician Elena Cattaneo in 2013.
  • Stem cell patient advocate Roman Reed in 2012.

Here are the 2016 nominees in alphabetical order by first name with some description of who they are and a bit of the words from the person(s) who nominated them in some cases. Where I could find a link to websites describing their accomplishments, I have provided those.

Amy Wagers, Professor at Harvard. She has a long track record of cutting edge research on stem cells including recently very provocative work on the role of stem cells in human aging and approaches to reversing aging.

Arnold Caplan, Professor at Case Western Reserve. He is often considered the “father” of the mesenchymal stem/stromal cell (medicinal signaling cell) field and has done important research on MSCs over many years.

Connie Eaves, Distinguished Investigator at Terry Fox Laboratory at UBC. She has a remarkable track record of innovative research on stem cells including both normal and cancer stem cells and a reputation as a fantastic mentor and leader in the field more generally. “Brilliant scientist with unmatched piercing view of science”.

Hiroshi Nagashima, Professor at Meiji University, Tokyo. “A true translational scientist (with a wicked sense of humor!)” He works in part on cloning technology and could revolutionize organ transplantation approaches leading to huge impact.

Jim Gass. Jim is a patient who suffered a stroke and then sought stem cell treatments to try to reverse some of the damage. Somewhere along the lines, one or more of the unproven stem cell therapies he received caused him to develop a spinal tumor. He had the courage to go public with his story and describe his experiences, potentially risking litigation. “A gutsy man who has prevented others from getting injured.”

John Pimanda, Associate Professor of Medicine and Stem Cell Biology, UNSW Australia. He researches transcriptional regulation of adult stem cells and now the use of fat stem cells for spine injury.

Judy Roberson. She is a tireless Huntington’s Disease (HD) advocate, always working to make a positive difference. “She is a straight shooter who will tell you what she thinks and work to make it a reality.”

Jun Takahashi. He is a Professor at CiRA and pluripotent stem cell biology researcher. Jun has done pioneering IPSC research and is working to start a very exciting Parkinson’s Disease clinical trial using IPSC in Japan.

Margaret Goodell, Professor at Baylor College of Medicine. She is an internationally respected scholar in the stem cell field. She conducts cool, innovative research on transcriptional and epigenetic regulation of hematopoietic stem cells and how this goes awry in leukemias.

Mike West. Often mentioned as one of the founders of the regenerative medicine field, he is the leader of BioTime and is a thought leader in the field. “Mike knows all about taking risks in regenerative medicine leading to big, positive leaps forward.”

Nissim Benvenisty, Professor of Genetics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is a super-prolific, long-time stem cell researcher. His latest work this year was on revolutionary production of haploid ES cells.

Oliver Brustle, Professor and Director of the Institute of Reconstructive Neurobiology and Professor of Reconstructive Neurobiology at the University of Bonn Medical Center. He conducts innovative neural stem cell research and is a globally respected stem cell leader.

Randy Mills, President and CEO of CIRM. He has been a leader in stem cell biotech for years and has shaken things up at the helm of CIRM with a much more translational emphasis. “Randy has CIRM on track to meaningful clinical outcomes in a way that I cannot imagine another leader could have achieved. The outcome will change the world.”

Richard Ambinder, Johns Hopkins Hospital. Professor Ambinder has done pioneering work in the area of stem cells and viruses, including HIV, as well as stem cells for patients with hematopoietic malignancies. A scientist with a prodigious publication record of high-impact papers.

Robert Lanza. He has been a regenerative medicine leader for, what, decades? Long time scientific leader behind ACT and then its new incarnation as Ocata, which was purchased by Astellas and he leads global regenerative medicine at Astellas.”We expect something new and big from Bob at every turn”.

Sally Temple, Scientific Director, Co-Founder, and Principle Investigator at the Neural Stem Cell Institute. She is also the President of ISSCR. Scholar and innovative researcher in the stem cell field with a focus on stem cells in the brain. Past MacArthur Fellow. “One of the brightest developmental biologists in the world and a natural leader.”

Sheng Ding, Senior Investigator, Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease. Dr. Ding has done some of the most creative and impactful research in the stem cell field to date, and continues to crank out new discoveries in particular related to chemical reprogramming. He also has co-founded a number of exciting biotechs including Fate Therapeutics. “He has been a positive leader in the stem cell field, and his outside-of-the-box thinking has greatly enhanced our collective efforts to advance the field.”

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Professor at ONPRC and OHSU. Shoukhrat is a top researcher in the stem and germ cell arenas of research including cloning and mitochondrial transfer, with cutting edge high impact papers published every year. “Fearless and one of the premier innovators in the field”.

Ted Harada (posthumous). Ted was one of the most prominent patients participating in a stem cell clinical trial ever. He fought for patients and efforts such as right to try every step along the way, and brought people together in the field. You can see his obituary and tributes here.

Theresa Liao. Powerful advocate for the use of stem cells to treat recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB). Through relentless advocacy she has made a profound difference in this area of clinical research.  “A parent and visionary patient advocate.”

ISSCR Releases Flood of Stem Cell Policy Docs

A committee of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) did one heck of a document dump yesterday on stem cell policy, releasing a whole bunch of policy recommendations on stem cells and more.

The torrent from ISSCR included a 37-page policy statement itself as well as several papers in top journals including the Lancet, Science, and Nature.

This output was the product of the members of a special  ISSCR Task Force, whose members I have listed at the bottom of this post. Who are the members? These are knowledgable, extremely bright people who care deeply about the issues.

ISSCR Policy Guidelines 2016

The stem cell policy positions of ISSCR and those in the associated publications were wide-ranging, touching upon everything from avoiding stem cell research hype to policies on human embryos to CRISPR of human embryos to three-person IVF/mitochondrial transfer, to clinical trials generally to patient-funded trials and more.

Continue reading

What Does New Paper Mean for Future of Nuclear Transfer ES Cells?

NT-ESC versus IPSC

Advances in therapeutic cloning reported in the past year have been very exciting.

Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) can be used to produce very powerful human embryonic stem cells (ESC).

These new cells are called NT-ESCs for short. Neither embryos nor reprogramming factors are needed to produce human NT-ESCs. See herehere and here for discussions of the pioneering papers reporting creation of NT-ESC including the first paper by the lab of Shoukhrat Mitalipov of OHSU, which I called the stem cell event of the year for 2013.

Now that human NT-ESC are a reality, the big question is how good these cells are compared to existing alternatives. For example, can they compete with induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC) in terms of clinical impact as a basis for regenerative medicine?

Because NT-ESC are extremely difficult to make and have other issues (more on that below), the general sense in the field is that NT-ESC have to be clearly better than IPSCs in some concrete way to be a major, meaningful clinically relevant advance. Otherwise, what’s the point of going to all that trouble to make them when IPSCs are relatively so easy to make?

Just a few months ago it seemed that NT-ESC might jump that high hurdle.

Mitalipov’s team published a Nature paper in July (Ma, et al) claiming that NT-ESC are demonstrably superior to IPSC. You read see my review of that paper here in which I was pretty excited.

However, now a new, very important paper from Dieter Egli’s lab just came out in Cell Stem Cell reporting a very different result than that of the Ma paper. The new paper (Johannesson, et al; see graphical abstract above) conclusively shows that NT-ESC and IPSC are extremely similar cell types. So Johannesson, et al say that NT-ESCs are not better than IPSCs. Drs. Mitalipov and Ma are authors on the new paper as well that seems to contradict their own July NT-ESC paper.

We are left with a dilemma.

What to do when a Nature paper and a Cell Stem Cell paper only a few months apart so strongly disagree?

What the heck is going on?

Preview piece by Alan Colman and Justine Burley accompanying the Johannesson paper in Cell Stem Cell discusses this puzzle. Colman and Burley call the wide difference in data between the two papers “troublesome” and “puzzling”. One possibility discussed is that the differences in data could be due to technical distinctions between the methods used in the two papers, but it’s hard to imagine how both results could be correct since they are so opposite in nature. The sense I’m getting from the grapevine is that the field is leaning towards thinking that IPSC and NT-ESC are largely equivalent, at least at this point.

The Johannesson NT-ESC paper is entitled “Comparable Frequencies of Coding Mutations and Loss of Imprinting in Human Pluripotent Cells Derived by Nuclear Transfer and Defined Factors”. This impressive paper has 4 key points outlined in its highlights section:

  • Isogenic human NT-ESCs and iPSCs were derived from the same somatic cell cultures
  • Human NT-ESCs and iPSCs show similar profiles of gene expression and DNA methylation
  • De novo coding mutations occur at the same rate in human NT-ESC and iPSC lines
  • Loss of imprinting occurs in both NT-ESC and iPSC lines at similar frequencies

In a number of assays reported in this paper, the IPSC and NT-ESC appeared essentially the same with remarkably similar rates, for example, of mutations and epi-mutations. Again, keep in mind that IPSC are a piece of cake to make compared to the challenges that go into making NT-ESC. It is reasonable to expect that making NT-ESC will get easier as more labs try the published protocols, but it is unlikely to ever be as simple as making IPSCs.

The other, non-trivial complication with NT-ESC is that for every individual NT-ESC line must be produced from a separate human egg obtained from a human donor, which invokes difficult practical and potential bioethical issues. For example, compensation for human egg donation is barred in numerous states in the US and in some countries.

NT-ESC technology has a third potential disadvantage of potentially paving the way for human reproductive (“Star Wars”) kind of cloning. This is definitely a dual-use issue for the stem cell field to consider carefully and openly discuss.

I’m glad to report that the proponents of NT-ESCs (e.g. see my interview with Mitalipov on this topic here) oppose human reproductive cloning, but that wouldn’t stop rogue labs from going ahead and doing it anyway, especially if the cloners can piggyback on key, published methodological steps from therapeutic cloning technology. You see, the exact same initial steps would be shared in the processes of human reproductive and therapeutic cloning (see diagram here). They diverge later.

So what’s the bottom line and where does this all leave us?

At this point, human IPSC and IVF ESC are far ahead in terms of clinical translation compared to NT-ESC, but it’s early days in NT-ESC research so I agree with Egli’s team that it is logical to continue research on NT-ESC. Let’s see how things look as we learn more about these cool, new cells, but at the same time let’s discuss all the implications (potentially positive and negative) and bioethical issues related to NT-ESC as well.