Thursday, December 31, 2009

The noughties – nought to show for ESCs

Here is an amusing bit of spin from an ESC advocate "reflecting on a decade of stem cell research" – an end-of-decade review broadcast on the US National Public Radio yesterday.


Note the usual distortion of the science. Because ASCs (adult stem cells) are kicking such great goals in the treatment of actual patients, they do not even get a mention! That would be impolite – a bit like avoiding praising the top student in the class, because it might harm the self-esteem of the idlers.


And although you and I know that ESCs are inherently unusable in humans – thanks to their inherent tumour tendency – Dr Zon of the Boston Children's Hospital merely says that such treatments are "still a ways off". Chuckle. See "Geron and on and on" for an adult version of the end of the rainbow being "still a ways off". However, when the pot of research gold can be gained simply by showing politicians how pretty that rainbow is, never needing to find rainbow's end, you can understand Dr Zon's ever-hopeful fantasy.


The happy moment in this piece comes with Dr Zon's enthusiasm for iPS, which is proving so powerful that the stem cell spin machine is having trouble containing it. So, after consigning ESC therapies to the never never of "a couple of decades" we read:

More immediate, Zon says, is finding new drug therapies using a technique made possible by Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka. He found a way to take ordinary skin cells and turn them into cells that behave just like embryonic stem cells, but without destroying an embryo.

When the new technique was announced in 1997 (sic – it was 2007, DvG), stem cell researcher Jose Cibelli of Michigan State University predicted it would revolutionize the field of stem cell research, and not just because it removed the moral quandary of destroying embryos.

"Anybody can do this procedure," Cibelli said. "It's a very simple recipe. It's a combination of three or four genes, and in a couple of weeks you go from a skin cell to an embryonic stem cell. It's remarkable."

The new technique allows scientists to take cells from a patient with a disease, then convert them into these embryonic stem cell-like cells that can grow indefinitely in the lab.


A refreshing bit of truth in a sea of stale platitudes.


As to the closing claptrap about ESC research still being needed to provide the 'gold standard' against iPS – see earlier post. This is fool's gold, and how debased the ESC / cloning currency has become, that instead of being the saviour of little diabetics and old parkinson's patients, it is now merely a 'standard' to measure the real achievers against!


A Happy New Year – and may 2010 see scientific truthfulness and political integrity prevail in Australia. With the review of our cloning laws, the time has come to accept that (post the iPS revolution of November 2007) the scientific justification for cloning no longer exists. The unmitigated abomination of creating embryonic humans solely for research must cease.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Heart journal publishes success with adult stem cells

More good news from the quiet achiever of the stem cell world, the humble ASC.

Here, a rigorously structured human clinical trial in a leading journal shows safety and efficacy with adult stem cells (ASCs) after heart attack – improving objective measures like cardiac output and demonstrating repair of heart muscle in those treated with ASCs versus placebo.

Chuckle… Anybody interested in a trial using those tumorigenic ESCs? Even precious ones derived from a clone of yourself? No? Good decision: it is lot safer to suck a few ASCs out of your blood or marrow and use them – and hey, you have 'done no harm' in the process.

A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Dose-Escalation Study of Intravenous Adult Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells (Prochymal) After Acute Myocardial Infarction

Joshua M. Hare, MD*,* et al. J Am Coll Cardiol, 2009; 54:2277-2286, doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2009.06.055


``This is a pretty big deal. Echocardiograms showed improved heart function, particularly in those patients with large amounts of cardiac damage,'' said Hare, who also is director of the UM Medical School's Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute. ``They also had improvements in lung function.''


Patients who received the stem cells were compared to similar patients who received placebo injections. Both were followed by MRI and echocardiogram. After six months, treated patients:

• Were four times as likely to have improved overall condition.

• Were able to pump more blood with each heartbeat than untreated patients.

• Had only one-quarter as many dangerous heart arrhythmias.

• Suffered no toxicity or other serious adverse side effects.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Geron…. and on… and on…

From the USA, and colleague David Prentice, comes this handy synopsis of Geron Corp's triumph of hope over experience.

This is the company that makes headlines at regular intervals with its imminent human trial of embryonic stem cells – year after share-price-massaging year from at least 2002 (see comedy highlights below).

Hmmm… I am no financial planner, but why would you put money into such a left-behind science? In fact, a science that has never even got started – since there has still never been a single ESC put into a single human being anywhere (because, as we all know, they cause tumours, and do not even match the patient's immune system). If you have stem cell investments (and I do not) put your money where there are already results in human treatments – adult stem cells – or where we have the equivalent of ESCs which do in fact match the patients for research purposes – iPS cells. And leave the embryos unexploited.

For now – jeer on with this commentary from DP:

"Next Year" for Embryonic Stem Cells?

Geron now says that it hopes its embryonic stem cell experiment on spinal cord injury patients might begin in the 3rd quarter of 2010. The original FDA approval to test the cells in patients was given in January 2009 and Geron claimed it would begin in the summer of 2009, but before a single desperate patient had been injected with the potentially-dangerous cells, the FDA placed a hold on the Geron experiment due to safety concerns.

Meanwhile, the obsession with embryonic stem cells has obscured the real hope for patients-ADULT STEM CELLS. Peer-reviewed evidence of adult stem cell success for spinal cord injury patients has already been published by groups in Portugal, in Ecuador, and in Brazil.

With Geron's latest announcement Geron stock rose as much as 12%.

The Geron Prophecies

30 October 2009
Geron expects the data from this study to enable re-initiation of the clinical trial in the third quarter of 2010.

27 January 2009
Geron says that it expects to begin enrolment early this summer at up to seven US medical centres.

20 October 2008
A clinical trial that would test the use of embryonic stem cells to treat spinal cord injury could begin within three months.

17 October 2008
But the FDA is nearing the end of its review process and may lift the hold and allow clinical trials to commence within the next three months, Okarma told The Scientist.

15 May 2008
The Geron Corporation announced Wednesday that its plans to begin the first clinical trial using embryonic stem cells had been delayed by federal regulators. While companies typically do not announce when they submit an application to begin a trial for an investigational new drug, the F.D.A.'s action means Geron must have submitted its application in the last 30 days, Mr. Benjamin said.

12 February 2008
The first experiments using human embryonic stem cells in human subjects could begin within a few months, the chief executive of biotech Geron said Monday. At the annual BIO CEO conference in New York, Dr. Thomas Okarma said Geron plans to start embryonic stem-cell studies in humans with spinal cord injuries toward the end of the second quarter. Okarma said the tests would involve up to 40 human patients, while all prior tests involved rats.

13 November 2007
Geron's development plan for the product calls for the filing of an Investigational New Drug (IND) Application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and, pending the agency's review, initiation of human clinical trials in 2008.

31 October 2007
Geron, based in Menlo Park, Calif., has been using rats in its experiments of a potential treatment for spinal cord injuries. Geron has already met with the FDA and will submit its plans for human testing to the agency by the end of this year, according to Sion.

20 July 2007
"Geron Corporation in Menlo Park, California, expects to start clinical trials of a therapy for spinal cord injury early in 2008, according to spokesperson David Schull."

9 May 2007
"The first clinical trial of embryonic stem cells is on track to start early next year on patients with spinal cord injury. Geron, the California-based biotechnology company, will carry out the study on accident victims in six trauma centres across the US."

4 August 2006
One company, in particular, Menlo Park, CA-based Geron, is taking the lead in developing experimental embryonic stem cell therapies and hopes to begin human trials next year.

27 July 2006
The company will apply for approval to start US clinical trials in 2007, using glial cells derived from human embryonic stem cells to treat spinal injuries.

17 June 2006
"I'm confident that we will be in the clinic next year with the first human ESC-derived product," said Tom Okarma, chief executive of Geron, at a conference in London last week.

29 March 2006
Tom Okarma: We will complete our IND-enabling studies, which are now in process and still on track, and file our IND during the fourth quarter of this year, assuming the preclinical data continue to go well. That starts a 30-day review clock by the FDA, who then has 30 days to either accept our IND and allow us to proceed or, at that point, they have questions that we must answer before we can begin. We are on track for that. So, assuming they bless the IND, we would hope to be in the clinic in the first quarter of (2007).

7 November 2005
"[R]esearchers at Geron of Menlo Park want to take the next step - in people. They hope to get federal permission to inject those cells into damaged spinal cords. The procedure - which Geron intends to do next year - would be the first human tests of a treatment derived from human embryonic stem cells, the highly versatile body cells that can be coaxed into becoming almost any tissue in the body."

9 September 2005
"Geron plans to begin clinical trials on acute spinal cord injury treatment in early 2006, according to chief executive officer Tom Okarma."

19 April 2005
Thomas Okarma, Geron's CEO, is even less convinced that larger animals are necessary before testing Keirstead's technique in humans. During an interview at the conference, he said he believes the clinical trial could begin in mid-2006.

5 February 2005
"Next year [Hans Keirstead] and his corporate partner, Geron, plan to try treating people who have recent spinal cord injuries, in what would almost certainly be the first human trial of any therapy derived from such cells.

1 December 2004
According to Geron CEO Thomas Okarma, the company is aiming to file an investigational new drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting permission to begin clinical trials using glial cells derived from embryonic stem cells to repair damaged spinal cords in 2005 or early 2006.

22 February 2004
"The company believes it will be cleared to start the first stem-cell therapy in human tests next year, possibly for spinal-cord injury."

18 March 2002
Keirstead.would ask university officials to seek the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval to test the human embryonic stem cells on human patients with spinal cord injuries. Initially, Keirstead said he might be ready to take this step in about a year.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Back from leave… more good news re ‘virus-free’ iPS

Here it is again – making iPSCs with no genetic material introduced at all, no viral material involved at all (and no ethical violations at all). Yet we will still hear hysterical warnings, in the coming debate over the review of cloning laws in Australia, about how we need to keep creating and destroying embryos because the alternative to embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), are 'dangerous' because they have all sorts of 'viral genetic factors' in them… Watch this space, and watch their lying lips.


It is getting ever-easier and cleaner to make these iPS cells; here we have "the first proof in principles that somatic, or body cells, can be reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) simply through the influence of the microenvironment in which the sampled cells are cultured." Ethically easier, too, since we leave that embryonic human over there unmolested and use our own, superior, iPS cells. In the usual formulation found in all of these articles: "this would allow us to circumvent ethical issues and the problems caused by the immune system rejecting foreign cells".


Here is the report and the link - the research is published in Stem Cells this week:


Reprogramming a patient's eye cells may herald new treatments against degenerative disease

October 22nd, 2009


Scientists have overcome a key barrier to the clinical use of stem cells with a technique which transforms regular body cells into artificial stem cells without the need for introducing foreign genetic materials, which could be potentially harmful. The research, published in Stem Cells, suggests that cells taken from a patient's eye can be "reprogrammed" to replace or restore cells lost to degenerative diseases.


The research, led by Professor Iqbal Ahmad and co-authors from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, is the first proof in principle that somatic, or body cells, can be reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) simply through the influence of the microenvironment in which the sampled cells are cultured. Until now genetic materials were introduced into somatic cells to re-programme them to become pluripotent, enabling them to generate cells of all three embryonic lineages.


"Our findings provide evidence for an emerging view that somatic cells may be reprogrammed safely and simply by defined chemicals and other factors, which may facilitate their clinical use," said Ahmad. "The next step is to know how robust the reprogramming is and what existed within the microenvironment to cause it."


The team sampled progenitor eye cells, which regenerate the eye's cornea, from laboratory rats. By reprogramming them to resemble stem cells they acquired the properties necessary to replace or restore neurons, cardiomyocytes, and hepatocytes, cell types which are degenerated in Parkinson's disease, heart disease, and liver disease.


This reprogramming technique may allow 'autologous cell transplantation', where the donor of the cells is also the recipient. This is preferable to using cells from another person which may cause the patient's immune system to reject the transplanted cells.


Also, because this technique involves the use of iPSCs derived from adult eye cells and not embryonic stem cells (ES) it side steps many of the ethical dilemmas which have embroiled stem cell research.


"This research shows that it is possible to take cells from a patient's eye without affecting vision and reprogram them for use in autologous cell therapy to replace or rescue degenerating cells," concluded Ahmad, "this would allow us to circumvent ethical issues and the problems caused by the immune system rejecting foreign cells."



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Retinal cells from iPS cells… no need for embryos

Remember the excitement about ESC being used to create retinal cells? Big headlines amongst the excitable. Now, of course, the Aug. 24 edition of the Proceedings of the (US) National Academy of Sciences shows the creation of human retinal cells from the superior-in-every-way iPS cell derived from skin.


Says the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine scientist: "This is an important step forward for us, as it not only confirms that multiple retinal cells can be derived from human iPS cells using the Wisconsin approach, but also shows how similar the process is to normal human retinal development."


Here is the report in Science Daily:

Retina Cells Created From Skin-derived Stem Cells


"The Wisconsin team took cells from skin, turned them back into cells resembling embryonic stem cells, then triggered the development of retinal cell types.

"Because the group was successful using the iPS cells, they expect this advance to lead to studying retinal development in detail and treating conditions that are genetically linked. For example, skin from a patient with retinitis pigmentosa could be reprogrammed into iPS cells, then retina cells, which would allow researchers to screen large numbers of potential drugs for treating or curing the condition.

"The team had similar success in creating the multiple specialized types of retina cells from embryonic stem cells, underscoring the similarities between ES and iPS cells."


'Similarities' indeed between ES and iPS cells – they are functionally identical - but there are vital dissimilarities in the relative usefulness of iPS and ESC:

  • only iPS matches the patient, so only iPS is useful for genetic research and drug tailoring for that patient;
  • only iPS could (if any pluripotent cell is ever considered safe) be used in transplants of retinal cells without the need for immune suppression.
  • only the ugly science of ESC research involves strip-mining an embryonic human for its useful bits.


And as per our earlier Blog on the Big Deal about ESCs producing retinal cells:

  • For that matter, why use either ESC or iPS when you can use adult stem cells (ASC)? We already have reports of the capacity of ASCs to generate the same retinal cells generated by ESCs in this 'breaking news'. Again, there is not one but TWO huge clinical differences. ASCs, like iPS cells, match the patient – but ESCs are foreign. Further, ASCs alone are free from the tumour risk inherent in ESC / iPS cells. Which type of cell would you, the patient, prefer to have in the back of your eye?


Friday, August 21, 2009

This is the whole point: iPS cells shed light on a rare disease

Here is how it works, if you want to get specific cells from a patient to study their rare disease and test treatments on those cells. In this case, brain cells – without biopsying a bit of brain – in patients with FD (familial dysautonomia). And don't' forget, that is really the one serious use of iPS or ESC: researching a genetic disease and developing treatments. Talk of so-called direct cell therapies with ESC or iPS cells is just tall tales for journalists to help them sell papers; as we know, only adult stem cells are safe for use in direct cell therapy.


Meantime, back at the lab, Susan Slaugenhaupt, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, says this technology provides "the ability to examine disease-relevant cell types from patients" for the first time. "You can't get brains from patients and look at these cell types." They even find a promising response in vitro to one of their drugs.

And as the research article in Nature says today: "Our study illustrates the promise of iPSC technology for gaining new insights into human disease pathogenesis and treatment."


And that is the whole point. No ESC has ever given insight into a particular patient's disease, because you would have to clone that patient into his twin embryo first to get its stem cells (which has never been achieved). Why bother, when iPSC is doing the job?


Read today's MIT report at


Or look up the Nature article at doi:10.1038/nature08320


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

ESCs – again a redundant dud

Look at this pitifully muddled headline from the US News & World Report earlier this month:

Embryonic Stem Cells—and Other Stem Cells—Promise to Advance Treatments

Adult stem cells may reach patients first, and induced pluripotent stem cells have greatest potential

Do you spot the incoherence? That media tart, the embryonic stem cell, gets star billing in the main headline – but in the subheading and in the substance of the article, is shown (again) to be redundant.

How long will it be before there is some straight talk by scientists and journalists?

Yes indeed, adult stem cells 'may' reach patients first (correction: 'have reached' thousands of patients already, including over 2000 patients with heart disease alone) because only ASCs can be used in humans safely (i.e. they don't form tumours and don't require immune suppressive drugs). And yes indeed, iPS cells 'have greatest potential' (since in every possible measure of potential, iPS match or exceed the usefulness of ESC – again, because they are simpler to make, ethically innocent, and exactly match the patient to be studied).

Why then keep the artificial life-support on ESCs in every headline, every article ('ESCs are still the gold-standard' and other nonsense) when iPS has left it for dead? Just look at the clear statement of the superiority of iPS in this article:

"And because the (embryonic) cells are biologically foreign—like a transplanted organ—recipients will need to take powerful immunity-suppressing drugs, which have a host of side effects, to prevent rejection. It's that latter problem that makes scientists particularly excited about iPS cells, which would have the clinical potential of embryonic cells but can be created from a patient's own cells. Reprogramming an adult cell into an embryo-like, more malleable state sidesteps the issue of immune rejection, not to mention the moral debate."

And because both of these pluripotent cells naturally cause tumours, they are both inferior to ASCs for actual trials in human patients.

Ill-informed ESC puffing remains a trial of human patience, nothing more.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

iPS repairs heart damage in mice

Even the opening paragraph of this paper from the Mayo Clinic is pure music...

"R egenerative medicine offers the potential of curative therapy to repair damaged tissues.
Pluripotent stemcells derived from the inner cell mass of early-stage embryos have provided a prototype for multilineage repair. Ethical considerations along with practical limitations, however, have precluded adoption of embryonic stem cell platforms, driving advances in nuclear reprogramming to establish viable alternatives.

In this regard, induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS) technology provides an emerging innovation that promises the unlimited potential of embryonic stem cells while circumventing the need for embryonic sources".

A very cute bit of research - although I always seem to be a party-pooper, reminding excited people that while iPS is useful for genetic research and drug testing, it is no more feasible for direct implantation into humans than are ESC, as both are pluripotent and therefore tumorigenic; only the lowly ASC can be safely used (and has been used now in over 2,000 humans with heart disease... eg at John Hunter in Newcastle, Victor Chang in Sydney...never mind little white mice).

Always, however, the point is this: that if ESCs are useful for anything at all, iPS have the identical, exact same usefulness - and more, because iPS is a genetic match to the patient, while ESC is not.

But readers of this Blog understand that...

Here is the Reuters report on the paper:

Embryonic-like cells repair damaged mouse hearts Mon Jul 20, 2009

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Ordinary cells reprogrammed to act like embryonic stem cells can help repair damaged heart tissue in mice, researchers reported on Monday in a study that shows a potential practical use for the experimental cells.

When injected into mice whose hearts had been damaged by a heart attack, the new cells helped improve both the structure and function of the heart. Eventually the hope would be to patch up seriously ill heart patients using their own cells.

"It was obvious to the observer which animals had been treated and which ones hadn't," said Dr Timothy Nelson of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, whose study appears in the journal Circulation.

The team used a promising new type of embryonic-like stem cell called an induced pluripotent stem cell, or iPS cell, made from ordinary cells. Many teams are using this new technology to look for ways to repair the body, a fast-growing field of research known as regenerative medicine.

Like embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells have the ability to form any kind of cell in the body. Because they come from adult tissue, their use is less controversial than embryonic stem cells, which come from days-old embryos.

etc etc… Read the full report at

Friday, July 10, 2009

Industry loves it: iPS from a simple blood sample

Look at this new bit of good news where James Thomson’s company makes iPS from human blood – so any old blood sample can now become that ‘liquid gold’ that the cloning fantasists once claimed was to be found on their dig alone. Look at this summary comment about these iPS cells being just exactly the same as ESC, thank you vey much…

“Analysis revealed that the iPS cells are functionally identical to embryonic stem cells and iPS cells generated from other human tissue sources, that they carry the same genetic background as the source blood sample, and that they have the pluripotent ability to differentiate into any cell type.”

Cloning embryos has never achieved even a single patient-specific pluripotent stem cell, while iPS is achieving that goal with embarrassing ease.

What justification is left, then, for even attempting to clone human embryos – when the longed-for genetically-matched stem cells can be obtained so simply and ethically?

iPS is meeting all the goals of science and industry:

"Industry's challenge was to reliably create iPS cells from a commonly available and easily accessible tissue source and we focused on stored human peripheral blood samples," said Chris Kendrick-Parker, chief commercial officer of CDI. "Generating pluripotent stem cells from small volumes of blood, either freshly collected from a patient or accessed from blood storage repositories, provides a convenient source for generating patient-specific stem cells that are valuable research tools and may one day be used as a cellular therapy to treat disease."

Have no doubt: industry is going to drive the ethical alternative of iPS because it is a winner. SCNT cloning is a failed fantasy, a diseased fruit blighting the vine of stem cell science.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Media Release: ‘Sperm from Embryonic Stem Cells’ – a wanton abuse of embryos



"The abuse of embryonic humans reached a sinister new low today with the announcement that scientists in Newcastle, UK, have derived functional sperm from embryonic stem cells" said Dr David van Gend, national director of Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research.


"This is an abuse both because of its implications – namely, that scientists can now exploit a dead embryo as a source of sperm – but also because it was entirely unnecessary to use embryos as the source of stem cells. That was an ethically wanton act, to use embryos when an uncontentious and superior alternative was available.


"If there is any medical value in learning to create sperm from stem cells – and there are some arguable uses – then this objective could have been met in an ethically uncontentious way: the sperm could equally well be created from non-embryonic stem cells. Indeed the Newcastle researchers are already working on creating sperm from iPS cells, without exploiting embryos: Time magazine reports that "Nayernia's group is now working on creating sperm from the skin cells of infertile men (the sperm cells in the current study were generated from embryos discarded by fertility clinics)"


"We know that iPS cells, derived from adult cells without ever using eggs or embryos, are the exact functional equivalent of ESCs. Anything an ESC can do, an iPS can do – with the further advantage that iPS exactly matches the patient. The sperm created from embryos are that embryo's sperm. The sperm created from an iPS cell are the sperm of the adult whose skin cell was transformed into an iPS cell, and then into sperm.


"One valid medical application of sperm-from-stem-cells would be to enable infertile men – perhaps victims of mumps in childhood, or cancer treatment as young adults – to regenerate their own sperm from their own iPS cells. When this is done with iPS cells from the man himself, that avoids the exploitation of an embryo, and keeps the relationship of father-mother-child intact, since the sperm cells would indeed be derived to the patient himself.


"Incredibly, the Newcastle scientists suggest that SCNT cloning is the way to go to achieve genetically-matched stem-cell-sperm for an infertile man.


"But it would be scientific (and financial) folly to attempt to clone a patient into his twin embryo, in order to extract its stem cells – a task that has never been achieved - and turn them into sperm cells, when one could simply scrape his skin and turn those cells directly into pluripotent iPS cells – a task that is routinely achieved - and thereby into genetically-matched sperm.


"The abuses of embryonic stem cell science must be ended now that we have, in iPS, a scientifically and ethically superior alternative. I look forward to the Newcastle group's paper showing the creation of sperm from iPS cells, not embryos", Dr van Gend concluded.            ENDS.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Watch this show! ABC TV ‘gets it’ re the iPS revolution

Last night we saw that rarest thing: a nearly-accurate presentation of stem cell science on television. At last, the popular programmes – from Oprah in the US, to this more serious show, Catalyst, in Australia – are getting the message right (and maybe without even reading this Blog…):

"You are about to witness what the Science journal described as 'breakthrough of the year'. Where stem cells are created from ordinary adult cells, without the use of eggs or embryos."

There is first a detour through the history of ESCs – where they politely avoid the issue of tumour formation, but do refer to the immune-rejection problem - and then a reference to ASCs – where the weary old fallacy shows up (that lacking pluripotency is a disadvantage of ASC – whereas, as we know, it is a curse to be pluripotent: it makes you a dangerous, tumour-forming nuisance). These supposedly less useful 'multipotent' ASCs are shown, in another segment of the show, being use as therapy for damaged cartilage – in both a horse and a patient. No tumours there! All good. See Noticeable by their absence from any actual therapies are those little ESCs which are supposedly so much more 'potent'… Hey ho…

Next, the story returns to the Gee-Wizz headline about the iPS revolution:

"And in 2008, scientists did that successfully with human cells. They're called Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, or iPS cells. Now in theory, any cell in our body can become like an embryonic stem cell. … Researchers are still figuring out how this amazing transformation takes place. Put simply you start with an adult cell, say a skin cell. You then insert four genes into the cell, the kind of genes responsible for regulating the cells development. And that effectively reprograms the cell, wipes the slate clean and sends it back to the embryonic state. You can then direct it to become any cell you like, say a heart cell."

Enter Prof Bob Williamson. This is the same scientist, spokesman for the AAS on cloning, who brought you the most offensive furphy in the early stages of the cloning debate – that cloning does not really create a human embryo (he called it an 'intermediate cellular product', as I recall). That argument was designed to remove the moral sting from cloning, since if it does not create a living human embryo, what is the big fuss? But eventually even Loane Skene of the Lockhart Committee admitted that – as with Dolly the sheep – SCNT cloning does indeed create a human embryo, which could, in theory, be born as a baby.

Interviewed for last night's show, the Professor appeared to be on song with the South Australian scientists who recently tried to denigrate iPS to MPs: try to smear iPS as being somehow uniquely 'dangerous', and therefore make the case (as in SA) that 'we still need to do cloning and ESC research…'

Here it is:

"But Bob Williamson urges we proceed with caution before injecting genetically modified IPS cells into people.
"Obviously we have to know whether IPS cells can cause cancer or not and we don't even know that with certainty."

Cancer! Injecting cancer-causing cells into people! That gives iPS a real 'danger' label. Smart politics, but not a scientifically transparent statement of the equivalence, in terms of any 'dangers', of the new iPS and the old ESC. No, what a scientist in Prof Williamson's position might have explained to the viewer is this:

"Obviously we would never inject iPS cells into people any more than we would inject ESC into people. You can't do that, as they both form tumours. We can only inject ASCs into people. What we can do with ESC and iPS cells is study genetic disease and develop drugs against those diseases. And of course, dear viewer, any useful research an ESC could do an iPS can also do - because they are functionally identical cells. Indeed, the iPS is superior because it is an exact genetic match of the patient, while an ESC could only be a genetic match if one first clones the patient into an embryo, in order to destroy it for its stem cells… What sort of mug science is that, undertaking the ethically contentious, enormously expensive and technically difficult (indeed impossible, so far) act of SCNT cloning for stem cells, when you can so easily obtain the exact same research cells by scratching off a bit of skin?"

And then we have another worried comment from the Professor, this time on the troubling ethics (I jest not) of iPS: "the idea that every cell in your body has the potential to become an embryo, is itself a slightly scary thought". In the context of this TV story, his comment is another subliminal message of caution about these worrying little iPS cells - and it is a load of nonsense. There is only one cell in anyone's body that can 'become an embryo' and that is the oocyte. The woman's egg alone has the totipotency (that's one up on pluripotency) to 'become an embryo' once fertilised (or once tricked by cloning into 'thinking' it's been fertilised). Other cells can provide the nuclear DNA for SCNT cloning, and thereby act as a bogus 'sperm' - but they lack the cellular machinery for forming the whole show - placenta and embryo together. Prof Williamson is mistaken; no other cell in the body can ever develop into an embryo. Therefore his ethical suggestion that 'any cell' is now, since iPS, somehow morally equivalent to an embryo is misguided. It harkens back to his original attempt to degrade the true embryo created by cloning - to the status of an 'intermediate cellular product'; this time the moral equivalence smear is to upgrade 'any cell in our body' to the moral status of a potential embryo, and therefore remove the 'specialness' of the embryo.

Very disappointing spin coming from an honest scientist.

We can look forward to plenty more muddying of the waters by embryo-research advocates as we head into the cloning review next year. Yet shows like the ABC Catalyst of 25th June 2009 show that the truth of the redundancy of embryo experimentation is going to be harder to obscure behind scientific smokescreens.

Dr Margaret Somerville: why embryo experimentation is wrong – and unnecessary

Another pithy summary of the arguments for and against ESC research – from a professional ethicist (of Australian origin).

Well worth a read for those who want to think like an adult, not like a sound-bite-juvenile.


First, why embryo experimentation is wrong:

"We are all ex-embryos and are all in the process of becoming, from conception to death… Human embryo stem cell research kills embryos and destroys that potential. The central ethical issue it raises is: What does the value of respect for human life require that we not do to human embryos?"


And later, why embryo experimentation is redundant:

"As mentioned already, there are now ethically uncontroversial alternatives for obtaining pluripotent stem cells -- iPS technology. This is an example of science being able to solve ethical problems rather than creating them… Stem cells can also be obtained from umbilical cord blood or consenting adults. So far somewhere around 200 therapies have been developed from these ethically uncontroversial alternatives, while none have yet come from embryo stem cells."


But that snapshot does no justice to such an elegant, if brief, review of the subject. For the full article, pick up a copy of the Ottawa Citizen from the 22nd June – or click here:



Saturday, June 20, 2009

Caplan Capitulates on Cloning…

Hidden here in the Scientist Blog from Thursday 17th is another 'moment of truth' – this time from the noted bioethicist and not-usual-suspect, Arthur Caplan: "the odds are that cloning for research is never going to work".

Sweet on the ear. And scientifically correct. Cloning has been dead in the water at least since November 2007, despite the millions of dollars expended since then, and the dozens of desecrated human offspring. Nobody has managed to get a cloned human embryo to live long enough to form its inner cell mass of stem cells – those magic 'patient-matched' pluripotent stem cells that justified cloning in the first place. Meantime, the exact same patient-matched pluripotent stem cells have now been produced easily, cheaply, and surely by iPS direct reprogramming. Already we have hundreds of such stem cell lines up and running. Cloning, ladies and gents, is withering on the vine and will soon become mere pseudo-scientific compost…

Yet still the embryo lobby acts as if drunk on this rotting fruit, lurching around, refusing to admit that there is a better, less contentious science at hand.

Sadly, the mere ethical objection against creating living human embryos for the sole purpose of destroying them will never cause them to sober up. The only motives for them to kick their cloning habit will be the gangbuster success of the alternative, iPS, and the prospect of litigation from women injured in obtaining the necessary thousands of eggs for these experiments.

This prospect of obtaining more eggs from women is the subject of debate in this Scientist blog. New York State has now broken another rule of ethical research by proposing to buy eggs from (predictably poor) women – a decision reached following, of course, 'extensive deliberation' from its obliging ethics team.

Two issues: the possible exploitation of the poor by making women's ovaries a tradable commodity:

Many critics, including Father Thomas Berg, director of the Catholic think tank Westchester Institute for Ethics & the Human Person, argue that compensation will lead to the exploitation of poor and disenfranchised women. Paying women as much as $10,000 -- the upper limit under the ESSCB's directives -- will "create an undue inducement" that will put vulnerable women at risk, he said. "It's precedent setting."

Second issue, whether obtaining eggs for SCNT cloning is even justified scientifically. Enter Caplan:

"I don't think it's a good idea," Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Scientist.

It's "more ethically acceptable" to pay women to harvest eggs for in vitro fertilization programs because donor eggs have proven successful in assisted fertility treatments. With stem cell research, "the risk benefit ratio starts to slide," Caplan said. "It's a lot iffier a proposition and I think that makes a difference. In research you don't know what you're going to get, and the odds are that cloning for research is never going to work."

Of course, others continue to urge the need for women's eggs. The bioethicist for Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), a keen cloning company, speaks for the affirmative:

Ronald M. Green, a bioethicist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, said he's "glad to see" the ESSCB's decision. Green, who serves pro bono on the ethics advisory board of Advanced Cell Technology, a Massachusetts-based biotech company, said that it's ethical and necessary to pay women to donate eggs for stem cell research if researchers want to investigate the potential of therapeutic cloning.

ACT is especially clear on the need for human eggs, given their recent publication showing that the animal option – rabbit or pig eggs, for instance – is an utter failure. See the Blog on 'More nails in cloning's coffin: Frankenbunny RIP'.

Here, then, is the story on the latest desperate move by 'progressives' to shore up the crumbling edifice of SCNT cloning. Too late, and not worth the trouble, I am glad to say…

The Scientist: NewsBlog: NY to pay for eggs for research - 17th June 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

Smart private money backs adult stem cells

From this week's FORTUNE magazine, the rich people's rag, another greenshoot of commonsense on stem cell science.

We have already have seen that notably rich man, Al Gore, invest many of his own millions in iPS. And we heard some sound advice to Mum and Dad investors on the Oprah episode where that notable salesman for embryo experimentation, Michael J Fox, had his portfolio priorities trashed by Dr Oz.

Now another confirmation that smart money, if not serious ethics, will be the one to give the thumbs down to embryonic 'therapies' and get on with the serious business of using iPS and ASCs. Only dumb public money (as per Obama) will continue to be squandered on desecrating embryos.

Note the standard journalistic trope about embryo cells being possibly more useful for treatments in the long-term... that is a mindless mantra which readers of this Blog could demolish in a few short sharp blows:

1. You can never use ESCs as treatment, since they form tumours (unlike safe ASCs);

2. If you only want to derive secondary cells as 'treatment' (as per Geron Corp) then you would always do better to use iPS cells as the 'factory cells', as they are genetic matches - whereas ESCs are not;

3. smart money says the default position is always to use cheap and simple iPS cells, as they are easy to obtain, superior as research material, and ethically non-contentious...

No, the journos will someday realise how vacuous their comments are about ESCs, which remain inferior in every way to iPS - let alone to ASC.

Adult stem cells are a promising market
Amid controversies over embryonic stem cell research, drugs using adult
cells are already bearing fruit.

By Anna Kattan, contributor
Last Updated: June 16, 2009: 11:03 AM ET

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- When it comes to stem cells, the public -- and the
media -- tend to focus on embryos. But researchers and analysts say
marketable therapies already are emerging from less controversial work
with adult stem cells.

Adult cells make up the lion's share of the stem cell space, mainly
because they are easier to come by than embryonic cells, and less expensive to
run in clinical trials. They are also derived from mature tissue, like bone
marrow or umbilical cord blood, so they avoid the ethical debate that
surrounds embryonic stem cells.

To be sure, many researchers consider embryonic stem cells to be more
versatile, and they may someday be more useful than adult stem cells in
treating diseases. But researchers also hope adult stem cells can help
them combat a variety of maladies from diabetes to heart disease.

In fact, adult stem cells are currently the only type of stem cells used
in transplants to treat diseases, such as cancers like leukemia.

Furthermore, researchers are far closer to commercializing drugs based
on adult stem cells than any product based on embryonic stem cells.

Read the full article…

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Adult stem cells repair corneal blindness

Here is a tidy NSW application of our ever-versatile adult stem cells.


Corneal regeneration in humans has been around for some years using adult stem cells, but here a simple contact lens is used as the vehicle for applying the stem cells to the damaged surface.


Safe, cheap, and obviously "non-controversial", as Loane Skene (of the Lockhart Committee on human cloning and embryo research) points out.


To use cloning or embryos to obtain stem cells would not only be controversial, it would be plain stupid – as the cells are so second-rate: lacking the perfect immune match of our own stem cells, and likely to provoke tumours (and of course the exact same concern of tumours applies even to iPS cells).


Behold the future (and the present) of safe and effective stem-cell therapy: our own, simple, non-controversial cells.


Full story at:,27574,25549740-36398,00.html


COATING a common contact lens with stem cells could help restore a person's sight, Australian scientists have found.

University of New South Wales medical researchers used the technique to treat the damaged corneas of three patients, all of whose vision improved within weeks of the groundbreaking procedure. The results are published in the journal Transplant.

Stem cells were harvested from the eyes of each patient and then cultured inside a contact lens, which was then stuck onto a damaged cornea in a "transplant'' of regenerative cells.

"The procedure is totally simple and cheap,'' said the university's Dr Nick Di Girolamo. The procedure could be replicated in third would countries by a surgeon with a laboratory for cell culture, Dr Di Girolamo said.

It offered hope to people with a range of blinding eye conditions, he said, and there was also the possibility of adapting the technique to repair skin which behaved in a similar way to the eye.

The stem cell procedure was considered non-controversial, said former Deputy Chair of the Lockhart Committee on human cloning and embryo research Professor Loane Skene.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Read this! Wilmut, King of Cloning, says iPS has made cloning ‘no longer applicable’

A remarkable interview this month with Prof Ian Wilmut – who created the first cloned mammal in 1997, Dolly the sheep. Wilmut was the first senior scientist to signal the move away from cloning to 'induced pluripotent stem cells' (iPS cells) in November 2007 – see the report in the Telegraph, "Dolly Creator Ian Wilmut shuns cloning". This new interview shows again that the true shape of stem cell science is now acknowledged even by former advocates of cloning - and cannot be suppressed in the way it was during recent Parliamentary debates.


Browse the comments by Wilmut, and note that they exactly match what honest scientists – including this association – have been trying to get through to journalists and MPs since the iPS cell revolution of November 2007 – namely that the one justification that carried the vote for cloning is now dead and gone, and there is no longer any defence for this inhuman science:

  • iPS cells have achieved the exact goal that cloning hoped to achieve (but never has achieved) – namely, patient-matched pluripotent stem cells:
    • "Before the discovery of iPS cells, we were trying to derive embryo stem cells produced by nuclear transfer from the cell of a patient who suffered an inherited disease. So far, nobody has been successful. But then, reprogramming somatic cells from mice (Yamanaka's method) demonstrated that the same objective could be achieved directly using somatic cells from patients."

  • iPS is up and running now, already being used in research, whereas EScell research from cloning has never even started – and now has lost its justification:
    • "People do not yet realize that studying inherited diseases on cells obtained by reprogramming is much easier and faster than getting human embryonic stem cells by cloning. The iPS technique to obtain stem cells is now the most efficient technique for researchers, in particular for research on inherited diseases."


  • Contrary to the claims of the embryo-research lobby, we never really needed to experiment on human embryos to obtain this new, ethical stem cell science of iPS; Yamanaka has never touched a human egg or human embryo:
    • "The de-differentiation of somatic cells didn't require the use of human embryos as, technically speaking, it wasn't necessary. The first iPS cells were produced and identified through studies on mouse embryos."

The French interview is at


For the sake of non-French readers, here is the full English translation:


Gènéthique Interview with Prof. Ian WILMUT, May 2009:
Chair of Reproductive Biology at the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh, Ian Wilmut was the first to succeed in cloning a mammal in 1997 – Dolly the sheep.

Is research on the embryo and cloning still necessary
since the discovery of iPS cells ?


1 - After the discovery by Prof S. Yamanaka and J. Thomson in November 2007 , you told the BBC that you gave up cloning in favour of iPS cells and that "within five years the new technique could provide a better and ethically more acceptable alternative to cloning embryos for medical research". Since 2007, what have been the advances in research with iPS cells, compared to the scientific expectations and goals you had in cloning Dolly ?

WILMUT: "Before the discovery of iPS cells, we were trying to derive embryo stem cells produced by nuclear transfer from the cell of a patient who suffered an inherited disease. So far, nobody has been successful. But then, reprogramming somatic cells from mice (Yamanaka's method) demonstrated that the same objective could be achieved directly using somatic cells from patients.

"The main therapeutic advantage with iPS cells is that they are genetically identical to the patient, they can be used for disease modelling and to look for drugs to prevent symptoms of the disease. There are already about a hundred cell lines on which it is possible to work right away, and which could help us to understand diseases within 5 years.

"Therefore, the technique of cloning is no longer applicable. As with my experiments with Dolly the sheep, cloning requires considerable time to obtain stem cells. Moreover, this technique asks women to undergo ovarian hyperstimulation: they will have to endure an intensive and unpleasant hormonal treatment in order to produce a high number of oocytes and still obtain only a low number of cloned embryos.

"If science can offer faster, more interesting and more efficient means, I want to use them.

2 - What are the scientific and therapeutic hopes with iPS cells? And what are the challenges for researchers ?

WILMUT: "Researchers working on iPS cells are trying to improve the quality of these cells. Their availability and capacities are unquestionable, but the technical challenge is to successfully reprogram cells without provoking collateral damage. It will take very little time to overcome these obstacles: recent scientific publications showed that it is already possible to reprogram differentiated cells using neither viral vectors nor plasmids.

"For economic reasons, I think it no longer possible to envisage creating personal stocks of iPS cells for each patient to look for treatments to their diseases. What would be more feasible from my point of view is to have a sort of registry, or Bio-Bank, where cell lines for different kind of immunological diseases would be listed. It would then be possible to modify and work on these cell lines according to the requirements of each patient.

3 - In France, it has been said that iPS cells were obtained thanks to human embryonic stem cells. However, Prof. Yamanaka's publications on human iPS cells were preceded by results on mouse cells . Could iPS cells have been discovered solely through research on animal models, without recourse to human embryonic stem cells?

WILMUT: "The de-differentiation of somatic cells didn't require the use of human embryos as, technically speaking, it wasn't necessary. The first iPS cells were produced and identified through studies on mouse embryos.

"People do not yet realize that studying inherited diseases on cells obtained by reprogramming is much easier and faster than getting human embryonic stem cells by cloning. The iPS technique to obtain stem cells is now the most efficient technique for researchers, in particular for research on inherited diseases.

"There is also research being done on human embryonic stem cells to better understand their differentiation and cultivation, because iPS cells share the properties of human embryonic cell lines.

4 - Research on iPS cells is accelerating in the USA and in Asia. How about in Europe ? Is there significant support for this research ?

WILMUT: "Research on iPS cells is supported in many European countries: British agencies such as the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) are financing programs at the University of Edinburgh where I am currently working. In France too, interesting projects are underway with iPS.

5 - Is there more scientific interest in using human iPS cells than human embryonic stem cells to look for drugs, for (disease) modelling and for screening of pharmacological molecules ?

WILMUT: "Yes. iPS cells are more useful than embryonic cells for this research because, if you take reprogrammed cells from a patient who has an inherited disease you want to study, the advantage is that these cells already carry the characteristics of that person. You do not have to introduce a genetic error. There are many inherited diseases for which we do not yet understand the molecular basis."


Monday, May 11, 2009

Science publishes warning against embryo stem cell hype

Better late than never, a reality-check from a senior scientist who can see how embryonic-stem-cell hype serves no good end.


James Wilson has published "A History Lesson for Stem Cells" in the journal Science yesterday, drawing on his experience of the similar hype and hysteria that surrounded his field of gene therapy. His diagnosis is precise of the forces that distort the public perception of embryo research / cloning – and so derail the votes of our politicians.


For example... "A large and vocal population of patients suffering from a wide variety of ailments is pressing for stem cell-based therapies. Disease-specific stem cell research groups are more politically sophisticated than ever, in some cases employing congressional lobbyists. Unrealistic expectations have been fueled by relentless media coverage..."


That is exactly what we condemned on the header of our previous Blog, 'Conscience versus Con-Science': An effective strategy whereby scientists, via a gullible media, peddle false hope and disgraceful hype to desperate patients, who then beat down the door of MPs demanding liberal legislation on cloning.


After reading this article, I think anyone would have a more sober sense of the true shape of stem cell science, and the forces driving the hype and false claims about cloning and embryonic-stem-cell research.


(Remembering that the humble fellow-traveller, adult stem cells, have none of the problems of immune rejection or tumour formation identified in this article - they are safe and proven to be effective - but not as 'sexy' as messing with embryos, for some reason...)


Ah, yes, the truth will out, however belatedly! Unnecessary and unethical science will die by its own internal corruption; that is what this Blog will have the wry pleasure of documenting, re cloning and embryo experimentation, over coming years.


Excerpts from Science below:


A History Lesson for Stem Cells

James M. Wilson

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA; Science 8 May 2009:Vol. 324. no. 5928, pp. 727 – 728 DOI: 10.1126/science.1174935


"...Unfortunately, some stakeholders in hESC research have failed to exhibit the same restraint, effectively promising cures for Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, macular degeneration, and hearing loss, to name a few.


"...It is difficult to avoid getting caught up in the unabashed enthusiasm that attends the emergence of a novel, but untested, therapeutic technology platform, as I myself experienced. Still, January's media coverage of the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of a hESC-related clinical trial-an experiment sponsored by Geron Corporation of Menlo Park, California, aimed at spinal cord injuries-was surprising for its lack of restraint. News reports characterized Geron's mere gaining of federal permission to test the cells in patients as a "breakthrough" (10). And in a highly questionable move, Good Morning America accompanied its news report with faux video footage depicting the paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve getting out of his wheel chair and walking again (10).


"...Despite advances, our understanding of the biology of hESCs and iPS cells remains thin with regard to clinical safety and utility. Controlled incorporation of transplanted stem cells into host tissues and organs remains a major challenge. Questions about engraftment, rejection, and toxicity abound. Steps involved in transformation of hESCs, iPS cells, or their derivatives into tumor cells (and strategies to ablate any tumors that might arise) need further investigation. In February, researchers in Israel reported that a 13-year-old boy with ataxia telangiectasia who had received injections of human fetal neural stem cells into his brain as part of an experimental treatment performed in a Russian clinic developed brain tumors apparently derived from the injected stem cells (11).


"...I encourage hESC and iPS researchers to remember the Orkin-Motulsky report's central theme: that no one is served by bypassing the hard work of basic research and experiments in animal models."



See also his interview and comments this week in the rival journal, Nature, at:

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More for Scholars: hundreds of human iPS cell lines from at least 13 diseases to end April 2009...

Here is a neat summary of the current 212 induced pluripotent stem cell lines derived from human patients - with at least 13 distinct diseases, including of course Parkinsons and diabetes. Total of 516 iPS lines underway. By contrast, of course, to exactly zero stem cell lines (in fact nary a stem cell) derived from that quaint and so pre-November-2007 science of SCNT cloning... see document at:

For an update on all publications in iPS, both animal and human (with human highlighted) since Yamanaka first started the Revolution, see the document at:

Friday, April 24, 2009

More excitement over genetically ‘pure’ iPS cell technique

Another fine piece of science – and a great read - released today US time, giving an even 'cleaner' method of obtaining perfectly-matched embryonic-type stem cells (iPS cells) without ever creating or destroying an embryo. Once again we see that the furphy used by lobbyist-scientists in South Australia to distort the cloning debate there - namely that iPS cells are dubious because of 'genetic manipulation / viral integration' - is shown to be spurious. iPS cells are genetically as pure and safe (or unsafe) as anything made from embryos, and have the overwhelming advantage of matching the actual patient.


Note the final paragraph of the report below, confirming yet again that iPS cells (from our own skin) are functionally indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells, yet have the major technical advantages of genetic/immune compatibility and lab simplicity (and no ethical stress).


Hence the obvious question: what justification remains for using embryos, and of course, what possible place for manufacturing embryos by cloning?


The relevant paragraph reads: "The scientists found that those reprogrammed embryonic-like cells (dubbed "protein-induced pluripotent stem cells" or "piPS cells") from fibroblasts behave indistinguishably from classic embryonic stem cells in their molecular and functional features, including differentiation into various cell types, such as beating cardiac muscle cells, neurons, and pancreatic cells."


Here is today's press statement of the iPS paper in Cell Stem Cell:


A major breakthrough in generating safer, therapeutic stem cells from adult cells: Scientists completely avoid problems of genetic manipulation by instead using chemical programming

Public release date: 23-Apr-2009


"The new technique solves one of the most challenging safety hurdles associated with personalized stem cell-based medicine because for the first time it enables scientists to make stem cells in the laboratory from adult cells without genetically altering them. This discovery has the potential to spark the development of many new types of therapies for humans, for diseases that range from Type 1 diabetes to Parkinson's disease.


The study was published in an advance, online issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell on April 23, 2009.


"We are very excited about this breakthrough in generating embryonic-like cells from fibroblasts [cells that gives rise to connective tissue] without using any genetic material," says Scripps Research Associate Professor Sheng Ding, who led the research.

"Scientists have been dreaming about this for years."


Normally, cells develop from stem cells into a myriad of increasingly more specialized cell types during early development and throughout a lifetime. In humans and other mammals, these developmental events are irreversible. This means that when tissues are damaged or cells are lost, there is usually no source from which to replenish them. Having a source of the most primitive stem cells available would be useful in many medical situations because these cells are "pluripotent," having the ability to become any of the body's cell types-potentially providing doctors with the ability to repair damaged tissues throughout the body.


However bright this promise, the use of stem cells in medicine has faced many hurdles. One strategy has been to work towards a therapy where doctors could take a patient's own adult cells and "reprogram"

them into stem cells. This not only avoids potential ethical problems associated with the use of human embryonic stem cells, it also addresses concerns about compatibility and immune rejection that plague therapies such as organ transplantation.


A few years ago, a team of researchers in Japan made a breakthrough in this general approach by converting mouse skin cells into mouse stem cells. The Japanese team accomplished this remarkable transformation by inserting a set of four genes into these skin cells. While the study was a powerful proof-of-principle, the therapeutic potential of genetically reprogrammed cells is limited because of safety issues. One obvious problem is that the four required genes and their associated foreign DNA sequences permanently reside in the cells when transplanted. Moreover, the specific genes in question are problematic because, in living tissue, they are linked to the development of cancerous tumors.


Many scientists have been trying to find safer ways to generate stem cells from adult cells -- developing methods that require fewer genes, or techniques that can put genes in and then take them out. However, to date all of these have still harbored significant safety concerns due to the nature of the genetic manipulations. Ding and his team previously reported the discovery of drug-like small molecules to replace some of those genes, but have also hoped to go even further and find ways to reprogram adult cells into stem cells without using any genes or genetic manipulations at all.


The team of scientists accomplished this extraordinarily challenging feat by engineering and using recombinant proteins, that is proteins made from the recombination of fragments of DNA from different organisms. Many different recombinant proteins have been therapeutically and routinely used to treat human diseases. Instead of inserting the four genes into the cells they wanted to reprogram, the scientists added the purified engineered proteins and experimen ted with the chemically defined conditions without any genetic materials involved until they found the exact mix that allowed them to gradually reprogram the cells.


The scientists found that those reprogrammed embryonic-like cells (dubbed "protein-induced pluripotent stem cells" or "piPS cells") from fibroblasts behave indistinguishably from classic embryonic stem cells in their molecular and functional features, including differentiation into various cell types, such as beating cardiac muscle cells, neurons, and pancreatic cells." ENDS.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

11 reasons why we no longer need Embryos for Stem Cell Science – neurobiology Prof

Excellent, brief, argument by a leading neuroscientist, as to why embryos (let alone cloned embryos) are no longer required for Stem Cell Science:


Does Research Really Need Human Embryos and Cloning?

by Dr. Maureen L. Condic

April 16th 2009.

Neurobiologist Maureen L. Condic investigates 11 common arguments in favor of embryonic stem-cell research, and explains why science may not need the controversial technique, after all.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

ESCs, iPS or ASCs for macular degeneration: a no-brainer.

Yes, you read it in The Australian, that "an (embryonic) stem cell therapy to cure the most common cause of blindness has been developed. Surgeons predict it will become a routine one-hour procedure that will be generally available within seven years."


To the experienced eye, this is clearly another calculated bubble of hype – but for sake of argument, let's pretend this speculation actually might come to pass 'within seven years'. Then, in order to gently deflate this – or any – ESC bubble, let us ask the two key questions that any reasonable person must always ask:


  1. Why use embryonic stem cells (ESC) when you can use induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS)? We know the two types are indentical in their properties, but there is one huge clinical difference: iPS cells match the patient, and ESCs do not. ESCs are foreign cells from a foreign individual, and require immune suppressants even in animal studies, to prevent rejection – just like with an organ transplant. Which would you, the patient, prefer?
  2. For that matter, why use either ESC or iPS when you can use adult stem cells (ASC)? We already have reports of the capacity of ASCs to generate the same retinal cells generated by ESCs in this 'breaking news'. Again, there is not one but TWO huge clinical differences. ASCs, like iPS cells, match the patient – but ESCs are foreign. Further, ASCs alone are free from the tumour risk inherent in ESC / iPS cells. Which type of cell would you, the patient, prefer to have in the back of your eye?

In one example of ASCs used to generate retinal photorececeptor cells – published in the journal Stem Cells last year – the principal researcher comments on both the immune-rejection and ethical advantages:

Dr. Ahmad's research team recently published its findings in the journal Stem Cells. Their findings demonstrated that corneal stem cells could be converted into photoreceptors, he said, which suggests that they also could be used for repairing retinal damage. "This gives us hope that we may be able to manipulate these cells to treat retinal degeneration and restore sight," he said. "By using a person's own Muller adult stem cells, problems associated with immune rejection as well as the controversy surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells would be eliminated."


No, even if reckless authorities in the UK were to approve this proposed ESC trial, and risk tumours and immune rejection in the delicate ocular tissues of volunteers, sensible 'customer demand' will have the final say. No reasonable person will prefer ESCs – with all their ethical ugliness and need for innume suppressant drugs – over the simple and clean technique of iPS. Further, this reasonable person would not let either ESCs or iPS cells within a metre of my retina, when I could use ASCs instead and have no concern over tumours.


And finally, only ASCs are on track to treat the other aspect of macular degeneration – abnormal blood vessels in the retina.


For example, see Nature journal in 2002 – reviewed here. The researchers comment:

"Abnormal angiogenesis is the cause of visual loss in age-related macular degeneration, where new blood vessels grow under the retina.In the ocular disease models, the (adult) stem cells differentiated into endothelial cells and proliferated, forming new blood vessels. This actually rescued and stabilized the retinal vessels when they would otherwise be degenerated."


Or peruse the full article in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2004:

"In this study we demonstrate that whenever a fraction of mouse or human adult bone marrow–derived stem cells rescues retinal blood vessels that would ordinarily completely degenerate, a dramatic neurotrophic rescue effect is also observed."


Memo: whenever a claim for ESC therapy is made, always ask the two question: Why not use iPS and get a perfect genetic match? Why not use ASC and avoid the tumour question?


Never forgetting the one question that overarches this whole debate: Why not get this good science in an ethically uncontentious way, using a method that dose not exploit human embryos?


Sunday, April 19, 2009

First Oprah, now Al Gore… realism is breaking out all over

It has long been clear that smart private money is fleeing cloning and embryo experimentation in favour of iPS, while only dumb public money - as promised by Obama - will prop up that redundant science. In order, it seems, to prop up the cultural triumph over Bush and his obscurantist ilk.


Forgetting the inconvenient truth that it was Bush whose ethically-targeted funding made this magnificent iPS discovery possible, Al Gore, of hanging chad and Supreme court appeal fame, is now standing to profit from Bush's smart move. And all the best to him. But there has been no more satisfying demonstration of the true future of stem cell science than this week's announcement that the former vice-President is putting $20 million into the "hot area of 'induced pluripotent' stem cells."


"I think", says Gore, "this is one of those good news stories that comes along every once in a while… It's a very important breakthrough that is filled with promise and hope."


Journalists are intelligently stating the ethical, as well as scientific, advantage of iPS: "Human embryonic stem cells are controversial because their creation requires the destruction of early-stage embryos. Induced cells do not."


Interestingly, cloning of embryos to get matched stem cells is rarely getting a mention in reports on stem cell science these days; again, smart money can see no justification in pursuing the never-achieved and expensive goal of cloning yourself into a twin embryo in order to extract (still-imperfectly-matched) ES cells, when any corner lab can get the exact same (and perfectly matched) cells from a speck of your skin.


In this report, Robert Lanza is quoted as having 'cloned embryonic stem cells'. He did not. Nobody has got a cloned embryo to that advanced stage yet. Not a single ES cell from all of cloning's millions of dollars and incalculable abuses of human life. By contrast, iPS is "one of those good news stories" both scientifically and socially – and Lanza wryly remarks: "It's great that Al Gore supports iPS reseach, but who doesn't? Even the pope and the Catholic Church are on board." Apparently that odious company is not enough to deter fellow traveller Gore, and AESCR is very glad to have him – and Oprah – and all reasonable people – on board.


Article at