Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cloning Review at last! If you didn't laugh, you'd cry

This is part disgrace, part farce. A Review that is only announced a few days after the final date at which the statutory report was meant to be completed and tabled (i.e. within four years of the date of Royal Assent which was 12th December 2006); a Government Minister who does not appear to know the effect or subsequent history of the legislation to be reviewed; a new Committee of Review featuring the architect and chief activist of the last Review! What a display of government amateurishness, and what a shamefully cynical process for conducting a new Review on such a contentious matter.

Here is the release from the Federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, and the poor bloke can't get much right. Take this, for instance:
The Acts, passed by the Australian Parliament in 2002 and followed by complementary state and territory legislation, banned human cloning...

No, Minister. For the record, the Acts from 2006 were not followed by complementary state legislation, at least in Western Australia, because that enlightened State (early 2008) rejected the federal laws in the light of the recent Yamanaka breakthrough in 'direct reprogramming' (in Nov 2007) that rendered cloning redundant. And let's cut the weasel words that the Acts "banned human cloning". The whole point is that they allowed human cloning - go ahead and create as many embryonic humans as you like, just do not let the cloned human embryo be brought to birth. Hence the title "Prohibition of Human Reproductive Cloning", i.e. live-birth cloning. There is no prohibition on cloning, provided the embryo is destroyed in research prior to 14 days of age. Create, but be sure to kill, or you will have broken the law under this Act. Nice, that.

As to the makeup of this committee: shame, shame, shame... As mentioned, Prof Loane Skene, Chair of the last Review (the Lockhart Committee) and a leading lobbyist for cloning, gets a guernsey again: how sweet to get to review her own handiwork, since the 2006 legislation is almost verbatim the recommendations of her Committee. And not only that - she has gone into print as recently as October this year, in the peer-reviewed journal of public affairs, Viewpoint, stating that the current cloning laws are not needing any changes. How prejudiced can a review Committee member possibly be!

Well, a close second for publicly-stated prejudice is the sole scientist on the Review Committee, Prof Ian Frazer. He has been an outspoken activist in favour of cloning, and used the full authority of his role as "Australian of the Year" in 2006 to lobby MPs and Senators. He wrote an influential and, in my view, gravely misleading letter on that letterhead to MPs and Senators on the eve of the vote in 2006 on the current legislation. His letter systematically rebutted the case our association had put to the Parliament (including a full page national newspaper ad only days earlier) as to the superiority of adult stem cells and the hype over embryonic stem cells and cloning.

Most outrageous was his claim in the letter that the problem of tumour formation (which in truth is the fatal flaw in embryonic stem cell / cloning science and not a clinical problem at all with adult stem cells) is really a problem with all stem cells! "Any potential for cancer formation would be inherent to stem cells from any source (adult or embryo)", he writes. So there! A pox on both their houses, says this authoritative scientist! Load of nonsense - the truth is that tumours in embryonic stem cell experiments are an accepted and expected problem, while adult stem cell experiments are notably free of tumours. Even the International Society for Stem Cell Research acknowledges (paragraph 2) that "embyonic stem cells themselves cannot directly be used for therapies as they would likely cause tumors" - but that problem does not apply to adult stem cells. Either Frazer does not understand this central, highly practical problem in embryonic stem cell science, or this was a deliberately misleading message sent to MPs and Senators on the eve of the vote - effectively countering our truthful argument that only adult stem cells could be safely used in direct treatment, as only adult stem cells were safe from the risk of tumours. And now he is on the Review Committee!

In our national newspaper ad we had stated, correctly: "Embryonic stem cells remain unproven in animals and unusable in humans - for reasons such as tumour formation - while our own adult stem cells are safely used in many human conditions." By way of rebuttal Prof Frazer claimed, astonishingly, that "there are no therapeutic uses of stem cells (whether embryonic, adult, or generated by nuclear transfer)". His claim set the B-S metre swinging wildly, given that by late 2006 we had hundreds of patients showing therapeutic benefits from adult stem cells - admittedly early and often small-scale, but certainly 'therapeutic uses' - in a wide range of conditions, including heart disease, wound repair, corneal repair, auto-immune disease. And of course exactly zero with embryonic stem cells. Again, a more truthful statement confirming that there are, and were, adult stem cell therapies, is found at the ISSCR site (paragraph 3) - referring to conditions and trials that were published before Frazer wrote his letter to Senators:
The range of diseases where stem cell treatments have been shown to be beneficial in responsibly conducted clinical trials is still extremely restricted. The best defined and most extensively used is blood stem cell transplantation to treat diseases and conditions of the blood and immune system, or to restore the blood system after treatments for specific cancers. Some bone, skin and corneal diseases or injuries can be treated with grafting of tissue that depends upon stem cells from these organs. These therapies are also generally accepted as safe and effective by the medical community.

But 'these therapies' were flatly denied by Frazer in his letter to Senators on the eve of the vote. Frazer's was a muddled as well as misleading claim about 'no therapeutic uses', given that later in his letter he acknowledged therapeutic uses for adult stem cells in bone-marrow transplants, but it was certainly effective in persuading our representatives that our side of the debate was wrong and they had better allow "all avenues of research" to proceed. On any honest comparison of the actual science versus what he gave our MPs to believe,  how is that intervention not an abuse of his authority as "Australian of the Year", in my view misleading our elected representatives on the very eve of the vote? And how then is such a politicised scientist considered suitable as the sole scientific member of this 'independent' Review Committee?

He concluded his "Australian of the Year" letter to MPs and Senators with as shameless a piece of emotional arm-twisting as I have seen, playing the 'sick child' card:

The decision you make... has the potential to impact on the quality of medical treatment our children receive. Will our children look back in 25 years and say "Our parliamentarians made the right decision, that gave us access to cures for diabetes, heart disease, and neurological disorders", or will they be forced to travel to the US, Europe and Asia to seek treaments?

I have no problem with a known cloning advocate like Frazer being on the committee, as long as his influence could be balanced on the committee by a scientist of equal standing, somebody who could challenge his dubious factual claims - but there is nobody. From Queensland we have an expert in the ethics of midwifery! What earthly use is she on a cloning review committee - unless she wants to upgrade the legislation to allow live-birth cloning so she can expound on the ethics thereof? In Queensland we have giants in the field of stem cell science, like Prof Alan Mackay-Sim or Prof Peter Silburn, so why not put them up there with Frazer? Aha! But they are likely to bring some rigour to bear on the actual facts of stem-cell science, especially post-Yamanaka, and at times have exhibited the personality disorder of 'cloning scepticism', and that would never do! In Victoria we have one of the most senior research scientists in the country, and an expert on stem cells where Frazer certainly is not - Prof TJ Martin - who would have been the obvious choice for this Review, if sound science was the true objective. But no, Victoria gives us the lawyer and serial committee activist, Skene.

This committee is, like its predecessor, another cynical exercise in getting the Report that the "just research everything and who gives a damn about human embryos" lobby desires. Good luck to the token Catholic ethicist on the Committee, but because he has no other scientist on the committee to challenge the well-established views and advocacy of Prof Frazer and Prof Skene, I suspect his voice will be drowned by the noise of the committee's big guns.

Or will Frazer and Skene astonish their critics and prove to be objective and balanced about the diminished place of cloning in the new era of stem cell science? Will they acknowledge that the one great argument for cloning in 2006 - that SCNT was the only way to obtain specialised pluripotent stem cells that exactly match the patient - is no longer a valid argument (post-Yamanaka, in the new era of iPS direct reprogramming)? Will they accept that, had we known in 2006 what we know now, no legislation on cloning would ever have been drafted, let alone passed on the floor of Parliament?

Therefore, will they have the grace to conclude that this divisive practice of cloning, which in the view of many desecrates human life and violates the profound meaning of human reproduction and relationships, is no longer justified and can now safely be repealed in favour of the non-contentious iPS alternative? Please, please, let it be so.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Giving the tale of two-dad-mice a miss

Just a bit of idle mutilation by scientists who were once little boys pulling wings off butterflies. This creepy step is not coming anytime soon (or distant) to a gay couple near you, for the same pesky reasons of human complexity that have foiled the cloners of men rather than mice.

Try the Wall St Journal for an outline of this "weird" experiment (to use the word of the principal mutilator); or get as much explanation as you would ever need from Dr David Prentice at his FRC blog.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ah yes - the other 'ESC' treatment!!

After Geron Corp and the non-ESC non-treatment trial in spine inury, I see that Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) has made its own bid for five minutes of fame, this time with a rare form of macular degeneration (Stargardt's macular dystrophy). Five minutes is all it takes for intelligent people to ask the same questions I posed re Geron:

1. Given that we can do all this with adult stem cells (for example, see HERE) why mess with embryos (with their inherent problems of tumours, and immune supression, let alone the ethical ugliness)?

2. Even if you really really really want to use tumorigenic pluripotent stem cells, why not spare the patient the need for immune suppressant drugs and use iPS cells (for example, see HERE) as a source of the transplatable cells - because they at least match the patient?

What mug would turn away from the obvious advantages using safe, genetically perfect ASCs and instead use dangerous pluripotent cells? And if only the latter "will do", what mug would use 'foreign' ESCells when he could use genetically matched iPS cells? For as the old song goes: "Anything 'e' can do, 'i' can do better" especially when it comes to matching the patient's immune system.

Still, if all your company's resources and IP is tied up with embryos, and the FDA is fool enough to grant your reckless and unjustified experiment on human subjects, and your legal liability is sufficient - then it is understandable (although still unjustifiable) that you would proceed with ESC-derived cells.

Hype-alert: as with Geron so with ACT, not a single ESC will ever be injected into a patient (despite the breathless headlines in the media) because, of course, you can never do that. Likewise, this ACT trial is not a treatment: is is just a phase 1 safety trial to see what harm the ESC-derived cells might do to the subjects. So while it is understandable for the CEO to talk up the company's trial, it is not as he puts it "a game changer for the medical community". The only game changer will be when steady minds and smart investment finally expose this embryo-tinkering for the redundant stunt that it is. Then we can divert our energies to the two fertile fields of stem cell research: ASC for safe direct therapies and iPS for ethically uncontentious genetic research and drug development.

My review article on the Death of Cloning

For a glossy summary of why cloning is a blighted science, and why our Parliaments can and must remove the legislation that underpins cloning, here is a link to my peer-reviewed article in the latest edition of 'Viewpoint'. This is a public-issues journal put out by the Australian Christian Lobby, and features a pair of opposing opinions - in this case the other side was put by Professor Loane Skene, former Chair of the Lockhart Review Committee which recommended cloning to the Federal Government back in 2005.

To read her article, and all the other valuable material in the October edition of Viewpoint, please buy one, or a dozen and give them to friends for Christmas, via

As for my article, feel free to circulate - but mention Viewpoint as the source, thanks.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Turn skin cells to buckets of blood cells – and forget embryos

Something funny happened on the way to reprogramming a patient’s skin cell to an iPS cell. An astute observer at McMaster’s University, Canada, noticed that some of the cells did not fully reprogram, and the half-baked cell had that donut-look of a red blood cell. Now they have learned to control this partial reprogramming, and the McMaster’s news release yesterday tells the story:

Making blood from skin does not require the middle step of changing a skin stem cell into a pluripotent stem
Hamilton, ON (November 7, 2010) – In an important breakthrough, scientists at McMaster University have discovered how to make human blood from adult human skin.
The discovery, published in the prestigious science journal Nature today, could mean that in the foreseeable future people needing blood for surgery, cancer treatment or treatment of other blood conditions like anemia will be able to have blood created from a patch of their own skin to provide transfusions. Clinical trials could begin as soon as 2012.

Mick Bhatia, scientific director of McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, and his team of researchers have also shown that the conversion is direct. Making blood from skin does not require the middle step of changing a skin stem cell into a pluripotent stem cell that could make many other types of human cells, then turning it into a blood stem cell.

Samuel Weiss, professor and director, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary, said: “This groundbreaking work from Mick Bhatia’s lab is both fascinating and important. It heralds a new age by discovering a role for ‘directed differentiation’ in the treatment of cancers and other disorders of the blood and immune system.”

Yet the ABC cannot help itself. Reporting on such a compelling breakthrough using our own adult cells, it still has to perform a wanton genuflection to those embryonic wannabes. Having established that the Canadian technique does indeed produce human blood cells that exactly match the patient – the authentic pot of gold at the end of the stem cell rainbow - and does it without messing with eggs, embryos or cloning, ABC reporter Jennifer Macey still has to get the token wet-blanket scientist to say that “unlike embryonic stem cells, which can produce millions of new cells, it's still unclear whether the adult skin cells will be able to produce enough blood.”

Yeah, right – show us a single embryonic stem cell that can produce even a single red blood cell that matches even a single human patient. There is none. Zero, zip. To achieve such a cell you first have to successfully clone the patient into her twin embryo, extract the embryonic stem cells, and then differentiate those ESCs into a blood cell. What utter folly. What an insult to our intelligence, pretending such a futile embryonic pursuit deserves equal billing with direct reprogramming of adult cells. It is time for pro-cloning scientists to get over their wounded pride in backing a dud science, stop wasting our hard-earned tax dollars, and stop pretending to ABC journalists and others that cloning is anything but an expensive and offensive failure.

Meantime, let the magnificent work on the near-alchemy of ‘directed differentiation’ proceed apace.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Time to con the pollies again: a cutting-edge cloning project!

And then there is the other story in the SMH today - License sought to make cloned human embryos

Passing strange that the chaps in Melbourne should wait until a month before the next federal legislative review is due, and then make their exciting announcement of a cloning trial. Just too caught up with other things since 2006? Bit busy; perhaps discouraged that their colleages in Sydney (and the rest of the word, for that matter) have not been able to get a single stem cell from their cloned embryos? Obviously nothing to do with fabricating a sense of significance around this redundant science in time to dupe the MPs yet again.

Fooled by hype and emotional blackmail ("how dare you stand in the way of a cure for my ...insert disease category.... child!") in 2003, browbeaten by emotional blackmail and hype in 2006 - yes, it is entirely possible that the MPs will again go supine before the solemn claims of scientists that "we really need to research everything" if we are to make the lame to walk and the blind to see.

No, for once, dear representatives, get clear that this science is not only a vile corruption of our humanity - intentionally creating embryonic human life for the sole purpose of destructive research - but is as dead and dated as Dolly. We are in a magnificent new era, the era of Yamanaka's iPS direct reprogramming, where the exact stem cells that cloning hoped to obtain, but never did, have now been obtained in spades by an ethically uncontentious method. Cloning has lost the only justification it ever had, and the one serious argument that got it past the Parliement in 2006.

Again, this article from the SMH's science reporter has some rigour in not dodging the nature of cloning - as the making a a living human embryo with the sole purpose of research . Note the correct description in the article:
In this procedure a person's DNA would be put into an egg to produce a days-old
cloned embryo from which embryonic stem cells could be extracted.

Some sound reporting on the Geron experiment

Deborah Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald is a specimen of that rare species: a well-researched science reporter. It says a lot about general reporting on stem cell science that an article like today’s, below, should come as a pleasant surprise for its sober and careful presentation - and not only because this association gets to put its case.

An informed reader could quibble re no mention of the published ASC alternatives for spinal treatment, and re inadequate explanation that ANY experiment conducted with Geron’s ESC derivatives could be more profitably conducted with iPS derivatives, and likewise fall about laughing at the Prof from another planet who calls this Geron-come-lately non-event "the dawn of the Stem Cell age" - but overall it meets the requirements for intelligent scientific/bioethical reporting.

A race from lab to patient
Date: October 16 2010
Deborah Smith

The first test of an embryonic stem cell therapy in humans has left even the fiercest advocates nervous, writes Deborah Smith.

''IT'S been a long time coming,'' says Joanna Knott, chairwoman of SpinalCure Australia, about the ''exciting'' news that the world's first clinical trial in people of a human embryonic stem cell therapy has finally begun in the US.

Professor Andrew Elefanty, a stem cell researcher at Monash University, disagrees. ''I think history will judge it has been very fast.''

It is only 12 years since human embryonic stem cells - the immortal, master cells that can be converted into 200 different types of tissue - were first extracted from donated IVF embryos. Now cells derived from them have been injected into a person with severe spinal injuries in Atlanta. From lab to patient in just over a decade is ''truly rapid progress'', Elefanty says.

Dr David van Gend, an opponent of embryo research, however, says the trial by US company Geron Corporation is unnecessary and dangerous. ''It is an uncertain experiment, which has got even proponents of embryonic stem cell research worried.''


Scientist re Geron: "My gut feeling is that it's a scam"

Now I think Michael Fumento, writing at AOL, is too kind to Geron – but here is his take “in the wake of Geron Corp.'s ballyhooed experiment, which, while it's unlikely to do much to advance health, could do a lot for Geron's financial prospects.”

Thumbs up to the neuroscientist quoted herein: "My gut feeling is that it's a scam," he said.

Read on at

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Geron's futile fiddling finally approved

So the FDA has blinked, and the first patient has finally been injected with Geron's dubious nerve cells derived from IVF embryos. The race is on to see whether the immune suppressive drugs (required to induce tolerance of the foreign embryo's cells) or the still-risky cells themselves cause greater harm to these poor desperate individuals.

The media, true to form, sit at the feet of the embryo-cell masters, and accept uncritically whatever is spun at them. So, in the premier current affairs programme in Australia, the ABC AM radio show this morning, journalist Kim Landers reports:

“At a hospital in Atlanta, doctors have injected embryonic stem cells into a patient's damaged spinal cord.”

No, they have not. No ES cell (whether from IVF embryos or from cloning - and for that matter no iPS cell) can be put into a human being, because they form teratoma tumours in animals. For ‘authoritative confirmation’ of this fact, see the statement on the ISSCR web site (‘Top 10 Things to Know about Stem Cell Treatments’ at point 2):

“embryonic stem cells themselves cannot directly be used for therapies as they would likely cause tumors”.

Only adult stem cells can be put into humans, and have been in large numbers, because they alone are stable and safe in vivo.

Correct reporting would be that the Geron Corp ES cell trial in spine injury would NOT put a single ES cell into any patient; it merely uses ES cells (from IVF embryos) to generate “mature” (but genetically foreign) nerve progenitor cells for transplant. But here are the obvious questions:

o Since the same nerve cells could be readily generated from induced pluripotent stem cells ( iPS cells), with the huge advantage that they would exactly match the patient – and therefore not require immune suppressant drugs - why use embryos at all?

o Since scientists have already published trials using a patient’s own adult stem cells in spinal injury, with no tumours formed, and without requiring immune suppression drugs which the Geron study does require – why use embryos at all? [i]

Surely that is worth asking .

Kim Landers continues: “In phase one of this trial, doctors will establish only whether the treatment is safe to use. Geron will need to do more trials in the coming years to assess whether the treatment is effective in repairing spinal cord injuries.”

Correct, but not enough said to debunk the unjustified hype from Geron. There is still a concern that the “mature” stem cells in this trial may revert to ES cell status and cause tumours – that is why the FDA has for years equivocated over the proposal. In fact Geron has already said they will have to monitor the patients for 15 years to assess the danger.

The trial is only a Stage 1 test to see if tumours occur. It is not even pretending to be a ‘treatment’ – it is an uncertain experiment which has got even proponents of embryonic stem cell research worried that it could all be a rash miscalculation and backfire terribly.

Kim Landers: “In a statement, Geron's president and CEO, Thomas Okarma, describes this trial as a, quote, "milestone for the field of human embryonic stem cell based therapies".

Well he would say that… But what use is a milestone in a dead-end street? Cells from embryos are redundant in the era of direct reprogramming - iPS technology. ESCs cannot be used directly in humans, unlike ASCs; ESCs are foreign to the patient, unlike iPS cells, and are therefore of limited use even for research; iPS cells are easy to obtain, and ethically uncomplicated, whereas the Geron cells are only obtained from stripmining embryos.

Finally, for your entertainment, revisit the comical history of Geron announcing its ‘milestones’, usually corresponding to a temporary rise in their share price...

What an investment!

[i] Link to Adult Stem Cell Spinal Cord Trials: and and

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Another cloning guru drops it for iPS

From this week’s Nature Medicine interview, with former cloning advocate Prof George Daley, my favourite passage is this:

“Q: Had you been working on cellular reprogramming before Shinya Yamanaka
reported the first mouse iPS cells in 2006?
A: Yes, I’d been thinking about reprogramming since the late 1990s, when I started to consider using embryonic stem cells to make customised cell therapies. That initially took the strategy of using cloning, though we never made human nuclear transfer effective… Once Yamanaka solved the problem, I turned around virtually my entire programme to take advantage of that breakthrough.”
Here is a fuller report on this revealing development, from Michael Cook’s BioEdge site – see

Leading stem cell scientist quietly drops embryonic work
by Michael Cook 3 Jul 2010

Amongst scientists who promoted the use of human embryonic stem cells five years ago, in the middle of passionate debates in the US, Australia and elsewhere, few were more influential in shaping the ethical debate than Harvard’s George Q. Daley. “We must support the vitally important applications of embryonic stem cells to medical research,” he testified to a Congressional committee in 2005.

He contended that work on hESCs was so important that it could not be delayed. It was needed for cures, drug development and genetic research. The fact that years had passed without results made no difference. “The field of human embryonic stem cell research is a mere 7 years old, so it is premature to expect successful cell therapies to have already been delivered to patients.”

Now, he has transferred the same sense of urgency and excitement to an ethical non-controversial alternative to hESC research which he dismissed before the committee – induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). At the time, he said, “Although this strategy is worth pursuing, it is extremely high-risk, and may take years to perfect, and may never work as well as nuclear transfer, which we know we can practice today.”

However, in 2007 iPS cells were developed by Shinya Yamanaka. Professor Daley immediately stopped campaigning for hESCs. In an interview with Nature Medicine, he says, “Once Yamanaka solved the problem, I turned around virtually my entire program to take advantage of that breakthrough.” In language remarkably similar to his 2005 testimony, he now promotes iPS cells: “There's no reason in my mind to think that we're not going to have iPS cells that function as well as embryonic stem cells.” Why haven’t there been any cures yet? “You can't hold the field to too high a standard. It's only been two years, and a lot of this stuff is in the pipeline.” ~ Nature Medicine, June

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Can it be?! The official ISSCR line on stem cell science moves nearer ours…

The times are a-changin' when the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), the peak-lobby-group that was scolded in Nature magazine for its disgusting deceit about cloned embryos not really being embryos (let's call them something different, so the public does not take their moral status too seriously), now tells us something close to the truth about stem cell science.


Watch and learn: cynical spin is subsiding in the face of scientific reality, and received opinion is starting to catch up with what we, at this site, have been saying for years.


The ISSCR has launched this month a useful site called "A closer look at stem cell treatments" – ostensibly directed at countering the claptrap about alleged stem cell therapies being flogged on the Internet and in dodgy Indian clinics. This aims to protect the public, who cannot readily judge scientific claims.

If only the ISSCR's own stem cell scientists and media enablers had been as principled about countering earlier claptrap during the embryo stem cell and cloning debates, and about protecting the public from dodgy scientific claims. Then it seemed fine for politicised scientists like Alan Trounson to parade grossly misleading videos about paralysed rats in order to persuade MPs to vote for embryo research, or for science reporters / cheerleaders like Elizabeth Finkel to drool about 'biological gold' flowing from the (fraudulent) experiments of Dr Hwang, or for the cloning lobby's PR machine to hype mercilessly about the miracle cures that would flow if only MPs would permit us to create and destroy human embryos.


Cloning, as it turns out, is dead in the water, and the value of this ISSCR site is the tacit acceptance that the future of stem cell science lies elsewhere.

Take this bit of straight-talking from the page 'Top 10 things to know about stem cell treatments' – in case any reader has doubted the validity of this site's repeated reminder about the non-usability of embryonic stem cells:

"However, embryonic stem cells themselves cannot directly be used for therapies as they would likely cause tumors and are unlikely to become the cells needed to regenerate a tissue on their own. They would first need to be coaxed to develop into specialized cell types before transplantation."

Any journalist who ever again says that 'embryonic stem cells are going to be given to patients' needs their nose rubbed in that ISSCR paragraph. It is official: ESCs cause tumours, or even tumors, and are unusable in humans. Get that? As this site has so patiently instructed readers, the only semi-safe ESC is not an ESC, but a mature cell like the 'terminally differentiated' nerve cells Geron Corp plans to use in its spinal transplants. However, even these 'terminally differentiated' cells may not be so safely finalised – they may still revert to those accursed little ESCs and cause tumours. That fact of stem cell nature is why the Geron trial has still not been approved, after all these false dawns over a decade.

One sign of the residual spin from the ISSCR is that they still feel obliged to talk up the Geron-type trial, with no acknowledgement that the FDA still does not consider it safe, and it is a standing joke about this trial being "due to start next summer" – see "Geron and on and on…". How lame, at the end of the "Top 10 things to know about stem cell treatments", after understating the genuine adult stem cell breakthroughs, they have to genuflect to Geron's embryonic junk science:

"The first embryonic stem cell-based treatment for acute spinal cord injury is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and will hopefully move into clinical trials soon."

Ah, yes, "hopefully soon"… You can fool some of the people all of the time…


Also strange is the ISSCR's petulant refusal to acknowledge the proven plasticity of adult stem cells for research and treatment – their long-established multipotent ability to transform into stem cells of entirely different tissues. Thus a patient of mine with Parkinson's has his olfactory plate (nasal) stem cells sampled in a quick biopsy, which are then transformed at Brisbane's National Adult Stem Cell Centre into other types of stem cells, capable of creating the cells of one's choice – say liver cells, or cardiac muscle cells, besides the obvious application of creating neural cells for Parkinson's research.

Still the ISSCR 'Top 10 things' page, under 'point 1: there are different types of stem cells' comments disingenuously:

"A neural stem cell won't spontaneously make a blood cell and likewise a hematopoietic stem cell won't spontaneously make a brain cell. Thus, it is unlikely that a single cell type could be used to treat a multitude of unrelated diseases that involve different tissues or organs."

Of course it does not happen 'spontaneously' – but it can happen in a predictable, safe way under the careful guidance of a stem cell scientist - which is the entire goal of stem cell therapy! This, again, is the standard negative spin of the ISSCR – trying to downplay adult stem cell plasticity and usefulness, in order to leave the embryonic alternative looking less shabby by contrast.


Finally, it is worth a look at more of the page on 'types of stem cells' – although the same spin applies re downplaying proven adult stem cell progress. Nevertheless, the ISSCR is straightforwardly acknowledging the non-usability of ESCs unless they are NOT an ESC any more:

"Furthermore, embryonic stem cells carry the risk of transforming into cancerous tissue after transplantation. To be used in cell transplant treatments the cells will most likely need to be directed into a more mature cell type… there are currently no treatments using embryonic stem cells."

On the great iPS breakthrough, there is some fudging – proposing that there are relevant 'differences' from ESCs, without pointing out that all those differences are to the practical benefit of iPS cells versus ESCs as tools for research – and also waffling about the need to refine iPS before they can be used for safe therapies: we argue that iPS cannot be used for therapies any more than ESCs, because they all cause tumours, and it is better to spell that out plainly.


At this authoritative site of the arch-lobbyists for embryonic exploitation, we witness the spin on cloning slowing to a stop, because the science of cloning has lost its bogus momentum; we see the embryonic hype withering on the vine because only adult stem cells are producing the goods with therapy and only iPS cells have achieved the goal of patient-specific pluripotent stem cells for research and drug development.

In as far as this site represents a face-saving move of the 'official' position on stem cell science towards our position, it is cause for celebration.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Sick Kidneys the latest to benefit from adult stem cells

It is almost embarrassingly simple: gather bone marrow stem cells (not difficult, and not expensive) and squirt them back into a vein – then let them seek out and repair the damaged bits.


And in case I have not mentioned it on this Blog, don't forget that your own adult stem cells do not form tumours, and do not (of course) get rejected by your immune system… Unlike certain dodgy cells culled from an IVF embryo. Which, of course, have not ever been used in humans, for the very reason of tumour formation and immune rejection. But perhaps I had already mentioned that…


Here, in this month's journal Circulation, human adult stem cells (aka HPSCs in this study) do good things to the damaged kidneys of mice: link at


"Conclusions – These studies advance human HSPCs as a promising therapeutic strategy for promoting renal repair after injury."


"Ah!" you say, "but didn't they find benefit for mice last year using embryonic stem cells too?" A sincere, if dull-witted question, but I will answer it: yes they did, but why bother? Certainly, in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology last October, injection of ASCs was found to repair kidney function in Alport's disease, and "Injection of mouse and human embryonic stem cells produced similar results." See Yes, both types of stem cell worked – but why even bother with those dangerous, and ethically ugly, embryo cells? Is it the tumour-forming powers of ESCs that you most want for your patients, or are you pleased that they would have to take dangerous immune-suppressant drugs?


Now… stay tuned to the new Phase 1 human trials using our own ASCs in kidney repair.





Thursday, May 13, 2010

Multiple Sclerosis: safety established – and an early hint of benefit - using adult stem cells

More solid work from Prof Neil Scolding of the UK, published last week in the Journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics (part of the Nature group or journals). Here is the link to the abstract:

It describes a phase I trial (that means establishing that it can be done safely, but not yet establishing effectiveness) of mobilising marrow stem cells from MS patients. Take the marrow sample, and reinject a mix of stem cells into the circulation, to home in on damaged MS plaques in the brain and do some good…


This phase I research should now lead to bigger trials, and refinement of the protocol to maximise benefit.


It does not quite justify the excitement of the newspaper report below, but is still a solid first step in establishing safety and a hint of benefit. And like ASC treatment in diabetes, the key appears to be catching the illness in the early stages, before most of the damage is done.




Stem cells raise hope for treatment for multiple sclerosis patients Thousands of MS sufferers could benefit from a revolutionary treatment that injects them with stem cells taken from their own bone marrow.

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent 05 May 2010



Researchers have long believed that the stem cells could halt and even reverse the effects of the disease by patching up the damaged parts of the brain and spinal cord.


Now British scientists carrying out one of the first ever trials into the procedure believe that they have proved that it works.


The research team, led by Professor Neil Scolding, at the University of Bristol and North Bristol NHS Trust, believe that the treatment has stabilised the condition and shown some "benefits".


"We are encouraged by the results of this early study," he said.


"We believe that stem cells mobilised from the marrow to the blood are responsible, and that they help improve disease in several ways."…


Researchers found that the patients suffered "no serious adverse effects" from the treatment and tests suggested the disease was stable and there had been improvement in the effectiveness of damaged nerve cells.


They showed that the damaged nerve pathways were able to carry electrical pulses more effectively after the treatment.


Now the researchers want to carry out a longer and larger study to see if the treatment can be improved and works consistently.


Professor Neil Scolding said: "The safety data are reassuring and the suggestion of benefit tantalising."


Dr Claire Rice, co-author, said: "The results are very encouraging. We would have expected these pathways to get worse but they have actually got better.


Bone marrow is known to contain stem cells capable of replacing cells in many types of tissues and organs – and so is of great interest to those working to develop new treatments for many diseases, including those affecting the nervous system.


An earlier study on 21 adults in the Lancet also showed that stem cells could halt the progress of the disease and even show some improvement.


The idea is that if caught early enough the stem cells could protect patients from the permanent damage caused to nerve cells and prevent disability.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

ESC ‘success’ in mice? Pity about the tumours

Is this finally some good news for ESCs? Last week we hear that scientists have "successfully used mouse embryonic stem cells to replace diseased retinal cells and restore sight in a mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa." Then reality strikes:

However, complications of benign tumors and retinal detachments were seen in some of the mice, so Dr. Tsang and colleagues will optimize techniques to decrease the incidence of these complications in human embryonic stem cells before testing in human patients can begin.


Yeah, right… Optimise those techniques, decrease those teratomas… Touching optimism by Dr Tsang, the triumph of hope over experience.

Reality check: the very nature of ESCs is to proliferate into tumours, and here we see ESCs acting according to their nature.


The same thwarted hope is there in abstract in the journal Transplantation - excited by the improved electrical response in some mice retinas, but then running aground on the tumours (and retinal detachment):

Although more than half of the mice were complicated with retinal detachments or tumor development, one fourth of the mice showed increased electroretinogram responses in the transplanted eyes.


The no-brainer is that if you want cells to treat human eyes, use human 'adult stem cell' derivatives – as noted earlier on this Blog, at the University of Nebraska for instance – which will not give you tumours.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Again the eyes have it… more success with our own ASCs

Only just noticed this one, although it was published in Stem Cells online last month.

Another beautiful demonstration of the healing power of our own stem cells – here, patients with limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD) had some residual limbal stem cells sampled, multiplied in a culture (that excluded any animal products) and reimplanted in sufficient numbers to help regenerate the patient's own damaged cornea. All patients gained better vision and reduced discomfort.

  • News report from the British NHS, "stem cells restore sight": here
  • And the full article from Stem Cells (while it remains available on the web): here