Here are some stem cell stories that caught our eye this past week. Some are groundbreaking science, others are of personal interest to us, and still others are just fun.
Putting cloning into perspective. There has been much written the past few days about the first ever creation of embryonic stem cells from a cloned embryo. Perhaps too much. One of the best pieces I have seen comparing these new stem cells to other types of stem cells was written by one of my colleagues here. There has been much gnashing of teeth about this research being just one step away from cloning a human baby. It’s not even close. Another colleague discusses that issue here. USA Today had one of the best lay level discussions of the work. And if you want a little more science detail, the news section of Nature did a nice job here.
Let’s duplicate feat of alligator teeth. Alligators can regrow their 80 teeth as many as 50 times during their lifetime. If we can figure out how their bodies accomplish this trick, we could save a lot of human patients considerable pain and money compared to much restorative dentistry today. A team at the University of Southern California has made significant strides in understanding the wily critter’s dental prowess. While CIRM funds considerable work at USC, this project moved forward with federal funding.
It’s location, location, location. So, what does this old real estate adage have to do with stem cells. We are increasingly finding out that in order to drive stem cells to become the desired adult cell we have to pay close attention to the location where we ask them to grow, divide and mature. Stem cells take cues from the environment to decide what they are going to be when they grow up. Now a team at Harvard affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital has shown that they can get stem cells to consistently mature into bone if they embed them in a silica matrix similar to clay. (I wonder if the diner in the Brigham across from my old office at the med school still serves those wonderfully unhealthy burgers that felt a little like clay after about an hour in the stomach?)
Patient advocates’ role in research. We at CIRM work closely with the patient advocate community, spending considerable time listening to them, to their hopes and expectations, and to their perceptions of risk in potential therapies. An unexpected outlet, Chemical and Engineering News, posted a very thoughtful and detailed account of families that do more than just fund raise through walks. It focuses on Jill Wood, her son Jonah, and her work to jump start research into his rare condition, Sanfilippo Syndrome. My second job after college was down the hall from C&EN, starting one of the first consumer science magazines in the country SciQuest, which got swallowed by Discover, after three years. C&EN was not stepping out of its comfort zone like this back then. Glad they are covering this powerful trend.
Picture tells sad funding story. If a picture is worth a thousand words, and if you believe in the importance of research funding to the future of the American economy and our society, then this is one sad picture. We do not look good compared to our global competitors.
Science as art. As the instrumentation that powers science gets increasingly sophisticated one added benefit is we often get images that are quite lovely pieces of art. After the downer on funding, I have to end with these stunning images, which you can see here.