On St. Patrick’s Day, an update on stem cells in Ireland by Stephen Sullivan

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the Irish Stem Cell Foundation (www.stemcell.ie)! I’ve included a few picture from the parade here in Ireland.

St. Patrick's Day Parade Ireland MusicianScientifically, Ireland is going through a lean period. The national science funding agency SFI is having its first grant call in 2 years. If recent history is a predictor, they are more likely to fund grants based on geography (which centre or college you are associated with) and how quick the perceived economic benefit will be. This means information technology (particularly areas like Fin Tech) are a lot more likely to get funded than long term pursuits like biomedical research. It is not surprising then that we see the national centre for regenerative medicine research (REMEDI) being subsumed by the centre for medical devices (CURAM) as there has been little evidence of an immediate economic return.

This move may actually might be a good thing for stem cell research in Ireland, as the centre has had a near monopoly of national funding for the last ten years or so, meaning if you were not a researcher at the centre, you weren’t likely to get stem cell work funded. There are researchers with stem cell expertise in other colleges and centres now who might be supported in the future. So we shall wait and see what happens.

St. Patrick's Day Parade Ireland Politically speaking, science is weaker in Ireland now than at any point in the last twenty years, Ireland has lost its national council for bioethics, its independent office of Chief Scientific Advisor (the public servant charged with dispersing Ireland’s investment into science, is now also charged with assessing its impact – an obvious conflict of interest). Worse again, we have no Government minister with Science mentioned explicitly in their brief. So as North American scientists mobilise against denial of Science in public policy or proposed funding cuts, it’s something we have struggled with in Ireland for some time.

Despite the climate, Irish stem cell researchers have to fight against misinformation peddled by scammers and the zealous. A recent discussion I partook in at the BBC shows the particular problems we face in Ireland with regard to stem cell research, often it with get rolled in with a lot of ancillary topics that the Irish Government has also not dealt with. Thus, it is our job to extricate all the different topics and show where the status of each truly lies.

The short discussion included topics as diverse as stem cell tourism, reproductive cloning, artificial embryos, embryonic- and induced pluripotent- stem cells, 3 parent IVF, IVF embryo storage, artificial wombs, and the history of ‘fake news’ in cloning: Dolly the sheep ‘eating shepards’, and stem cell derived-sperm and eggs.

Hard work and slow progress.

You can listen to it by clicking here and scrolling in 34 minutes into the program where our discussion starts. Feel free to tell us what you think at @irishstemcell on Twitter or via email info@stemcell.ie.

Stephen Sullivan PhD, CSO Irish Stem Cell Foundation

Knoepfler Blog Stem Cell Person of the Year Finalists: time to vote

I’m giving out a Stem Cell Person of the Year award for 2012 along with all my other annual awards (e.g. best stem cell journal, paper, blog, comic, activist, etc).

The Person of the Year winner will get recognition for being a difference maker, someone who takes a risk to help others.   

The winner also gets $1000 in cash from me.  

About 30 people have been nominated, consisting of a truly amazing group of people. Many of them were nominated independently more than once for this award. I originally said I was going to list the top 5 finalists, but I decided to list the top 16 (~half of total nominees) since they are all so awesome. Scroll down below the poll to see information on each nominee. 

Ultimately I will choose the winner, but your votes (see poll below) could have important influence, especially in the case of a tie-breaker situation where I might have trouble picking between a few outstanding candidates. Given the stellar group of nominees the likelihood of this happening is not so small.

So please vote and tell your supporters to vote.

The voting deadline is 11:59PM December 31.

Listed below in alphabetical order by first name (I’m a very fortunate person to know most of these folks personally) are the finalists along with my short introduction of them to you including paraphrasing or actual quotes from nominators:

  • Alexey Bersenev. Alexey is a self-described “Cell trialist”, who amongst other things runs the fabulous stem cell assays blog. Alexey makes a difference through at least in part amazing educational outreach. Nominator: “He is arguably the most educated person I know about cell therapies from essentially every angle and is very helpful in educating others”. He calls it like he sees it.
  • Bernard Siegel. Bernie is the head of GPI and Stem Cell Action. He is the organizer of the annual World Stem Cell Summit. He is the tireless engine that drives stem cell advocacy and accountability. It’s hard to imagine the stem cell community today without Bernie’s contributions over the years including this year.
  • Don Reed. Don is a long-time stem cell advocate (blog here) who has inspired and empowered a whole generation of stem cell advocates. His nominator said of Don “He never ever stops working for stem cell research and advocacy.”  Here is an interview published with Don, who played a key role in Prop. 71 and the creation of CIRM. On Twitter, Don describes himself thusly: “sponsored California’s Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act, board of directors for Prop 71, Vice President for the Americans for Cures Foundation.”
  • Doug Sipp. Doug is someone whose actions make a huge difference in protecting patients and promoting accountability in the stem cell field. Nominator says: “More than anyone else, I think, he has taken fire for so many others in the stem cell advocacy arena, and yet doesn’t make a big deal out of it.” Doug’s work includes, but goes well beyond his blog.
  • Jeanne Loring. Jeanne is both a great stem cell researcher (see her lab page here) and also an educator. She is the Founding Director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. For years Jeanne has made herself available as an advocate, going beyond the lab to make an impact in multiple ways. Nominator: “Jeanne is an exceptional scientist who takes that step outside the lab to engage the wider community in powerful ways.”
  • Judy Roberson. Judy is a Huntington’s Disease advocate who, as described by nominator, “has positive spirit and energy beyond anyone I know.” She is the President of the Northern California Chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. She makes amazing things happen and I believe has contributed in tremendous ways to bringing transformative funding to research into Huntington’s Disease. Here is a radio interview with Judy that tells you so much about her efforts.
  • Katie Sharify. Katie is a hero and inspiration to so many. She is a participant in the Geron hESC-based clinical trial for spinal cord injury and a patient advocate. Katie is that rare person who has the courage to tell her story and inspire others. One way she does this is through YouTube Videos (e.g. here and an interview with CIRM here) . Nominator: “She really connects with people in a special way that makes a difference.”
  • Keri Kimler. Keri is a long-time stem cell advocate. She is a passionate worker for advancing stem cell research. Keri is the founder of Texas Cures Education Foundation. She is currently the Director of Constituent Relations at Texas Heart Institute and is former Vice Chair of Texans For Stem Cell Research . Keri also runs a great website on stem cells. Nominator says “Keri is someone who, in sometimes hostile territory, makes practical, positive things happen. She talks the talk, but also walks the walk.”
  • Lee Buckler . Lee describes himself on Twitter as “Blogger, analyst, consultant, and entrepreneur in the cell therapy & cell-based regenerative medicine industry.” Nominator: “Talk about your Renaissance Man, huh? Lee should include on there ‘educator’ because he is mindbogglingly informed about every aspect of the stem cell/cellular medicine industry.” He’s also quietly (although less quietly nowadays) working to help educate others including through his blog.
  • Leigh Turner . Leigh (pronounced “Lee”) is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota in their ethics center. On Twitter he describes himself as “Prof of Bioethics & Public Health; Interests include bioethics, global health, medical tourism, organ trafficking, health fraud, patient safety”. Nominator: “In the midst of an intimidating environment, Leigh took the revolutionary step of being a scientist asking the FDA publicly to look into a company that he felt was putting patients at risk.”
  • Mary Schneider. Mary is a long-time stem cell advocate who interfaces with politicians at the very top to make a difference. She has worked very hard specifically as a patient advocate for children to promote safe and effective therapies for children. I asked Mary about this and she wrote that her goal is: “that other children may some day have the gift of good health and opportunities that my son was blessed with.  I knew from the very beginning of the journey to help my child that the other children who were afflicted were equally as important and no matter what the outcome was for my child, I would never stop advocating to help the others.  I’ve kept my promise and the hard work is paying off in ways that I could never have imagined.” You can learn more about Mary’s great work here.
  • Roman Reed. Roman is a long-time spinal cord injury (SCI) research and stem cell research advocate (see his foundation here). Roman goes beyond educating others to make tangbile things happen. The SCI research act named after him in California funded groundbreaking research into SCI that was crucial for laying the foundation for Geron’s work. This year, through a lot of hard work as part of a stellar team, he helped get the TJ Atchison SCI Research Act passed in Alabama. Nominator says: “Working to make that a reality in a ‘red’ state is a great achievement.”
  • Sabrina Cohen
. Sabrina is a long-time stem cell and SCI advocate. She is the founder of the Sabrina Cohen Foundation, which does amazing things such as raising awareness through lecture series and funding of SCI research. Sabrina is a high-profile advocate who extends our community’s messages to an incredibly important, larger audience. Nominator: ” she’s given around 20,000 motivational talks, mentored hundreds of the newly disabled, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for health-related cause, which includes $75,000 in medical grants directly to the nation’s s leading stem cell researchers.”
  • Stephen Sullivan.  Stephen is the founder and Director of the Irish Stem Cell Foundation. He is one of the few scientists who is also an advocate, which is very admirable. Stephen is another one of those people who works tirelessly to make the stem cell arena a better place and safer for patients, but without claiming a lot of media attention for himself. No self-promotion there. Nominator: “He works in a hostile environment with opponent groups going after scientists and stem cell advocates personally and by name, but maintains a positive outlook.”
  • TJ Atchison. Nominator: “TJ is an inspiration and hero”. He suffered a SCI and became the first ever hESC-based clinical trial participant. He worked to make The TJ Atchison Spinal Cord Injury Research Program a reality via the TJ Atchison SCI Research Act. Nominator: “The impact of this new effort will be tremendous”.
  • Ted Harada. Ted was one of the patients in NeuralStem ALS trial and had a striking response. He describes himself on Twitter as follows: “Husband, Father of 3, ALS Patient & Advocate, politics & sports junkie and (hopefully) Catholic Gentlemen”. Nominator: “He became a vocal advocate for stem cell trials in ALS community.” You can read more about Ted here on CNN Health.

Some important notes. I note that CIRM as well as Drs. Ellen G. Feigal and Patricia Olson of CIRM were nominated and I believe are deserving of tremendous recognition, but I do not list them in my dozen finalists because as a CIRM grantee myself I feel there would be a conflict of interest for me. But they are wonderful!

President Obama was also nominated, but I frankly think he hasn’t done quite enough on the stem cell front yet. I do have hopes for his second term.