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.