South Africa grapples with “illegal” stem cell experiment scandal

dr-wian-standerSouth Africa is facing a stem cell scandal related to what a health policy news outlet called Spotlight there characterizes as illegal experiments by ReGenesis Biotechnologies, the company at the heart of the controversy. It had a contract with a governmental health provider agency, now apparently suspended.

The report begins this way: “The Medicines Control Council (MCC) this week suspended what appears to be unlawful stem cell experimentation at Pelonomi, a state hospital in Bloemfontein.”

However, there does not appear to be concrete data supporting safety and efficacy of the “treatments” in question. There were additional concerns over informed consent:

“MCC Chairperson Professor Helen Rees confirmed to Spotlight that inspectors had been to the Pelonomi site last Friday and again on Monday.

“Our concern was that the service level agreement made reference to medicines, injections and therapeutic research,” said Rees.

She said the informed consent documents referred to the patients giving permission for stem cell therapy, permission for stem cells to be removed, concentrated and re-injected and for their stem cells to be given to another person.”

The leader of the company was reported as Dr. Wian Stander.

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Reviews of my new book GMO Sapiens on #CRISPR & human modification

cover GMO SapiensIt’s exciting that the reviews are starting to come in on my new book, GMO Sapiens, on human genetic modification including CRISPR.

Here is one from The Scientist and the book was recommended by Scientific American.

Reviews from individual authors and scientists are below.

“GMO Sapiens could not be more timely. New technologies like CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing have great clinical potential, but they also bring us closer to a world in which future children can be pre-conceptively manipulated and customized to possess certain traits. A stem cell biologist, Knoepfler explains cutting-edge developments in human genetics in accessible prose. More importantly, he clearly presents the ethical complexities around designer babies and the pursuit of genetic perfection at a moment when the Brave New World envisioned decades ago by Aldous Huxley mimics reality more than science fiction.”

     -Alexandra Minna Stern, author of Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America, 2d ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015). 


“The book takes us on an engaging roller-coaster ride through the new genetics, which could greatly impact many economic, policy and personal decisions in the next few years.  It works hard (and succeeds) at fairly presenting pros and cons, as well as capturing as durable a glimpse of the future as possible in this, the most rapidly changing technology ever. Many readers will be shocked at how close we are already.”

-George Church, CRISPR pioneer and author of Regenesis


“Paul Knoepfler manages to convey the excitement and potential of genetic engineering without sounding like Pollyanna, and compassionate concern over its misuse without sounding like Chicken Little—a highwire act that is all the more virtuosic for its seeming effortlessness. GMO Sapiens is informative, thoughtful, entertaining, and deeply humane.” —Nathaniel Comfort, Baruch Blumberg Chair of Astrobiology at the Library of Congress/NASA and Professor, Department of the History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University

Recommended thought-provoking books…and one I’ve been writing

Frankenstein's CatIn choices of fictional books to read I gravitate toward sci-fi and fantasy. For example, in late 2014 and through the first few months of this year I read all the Game of Thrones books.

The first three of those were the best and I thought definitely better than the TV show, although it’s pretty good too even if a bit violent for my taste.

My reading lately has been leaning more toward books about human transformation of various kinds including non-fictional works.

This reading has come to constitute, I realized, a somewhat electric mix with the common thread of science (and in particular genetics and biology) fantasy becoming reality. I recommend these as thought-provoking reads.

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Regenesis by George Church and Ed Regis
  • Evolving Ourselves by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans
  • Frankenstein’s Cat by Emily Anthes
  • Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl

See any patterns there?GMO Sapiens

This reading is in part inspired by research I was doing for my own new book GMO Sapiens, hopefully coming out in December. By the way GMO Sapiens is a mashup (or portmanteau) of Homo sapiens and GMO.

It is focused on human genetic modification and the very real possibility of designer babies on the horizon.

In the coming weeks and months I will be posting excerpts from the book. Stay tuned.

What do you think of the whole George Church Neanderthal Cloning Media Debacle? Take our poll

It’s been a crazy week with a story about Harvard Geneticist George Church supposedly in his new book and in a magazine interview promoting the idea of cloning Neanderthals and possibly people too. I blogged about it here. The German Magazine Der Spiegel did interviewed Church (English version of interview is here) and many things discussed are in Church’s book.

Scientists interacting with the media have to be careful in what they say and certainly if one writes a book then it’s out there for people to discuss, but what do you think of this particular somewhat wild situation?

Take our blog poll below and make comments if you want to be more specific.