CIRM announced recently the funding of a number of exciting new studies.
ViaCyte received additional funding to support its development of its hESC-based pancreatic progenitor cell product PEC-Direct clinic trials. This work is very promising. CIRM also funded additional diabetes-related research by Humacyte on engineering blood vessels for use in dialysis, which is very creative.
I was happy to see that my colleague here at UC Davis School of Medicine, Professor David Segal, received funding for a cutting edge grant on using gene editing for Angolan Syndrome. The grant is entitled, “MSC delivery of an artificial transcription factor to the brain as a treatment for Angelman Syndrome”.
This funding along with a new grant for Jeanne Loring on stem cells for Parkinson’s came via CIRM’s new basic biology type of funding mechanism. A number of other cool projects got funded via this RFA including one by David Schaeffer at Berkeley on stem cell-produced oligodendrocyte precursor cells to treat neurological injury.
This all is very good news for the stem cell field.
Does the new gene editing method NgAgo work or not? If not, what happened? The answers to both questions seem to depend on who you ask and what you read.
As much as CRISPR has been the revolutionary in the genetic modification technology arena over past methods, could CRISPR itself in the next few years become obsolete having been replaced by other new technologies such as the upstart NgAgo? I doubt it.
“A war of word broke out on the reproducibility of Han’s work these days, especially on the Mitbbs website. The doubters, represented by Zhouzi Fang, said that no labs have repeated Han’s work, especially the Figure 4 results. The supporters claimed that 20 labs in China already repeated Han’s work, yet no data have been shown to support the claim. The doubters suspect that this is another STAP cell incident for China. To be fair, we should probably give more time for labs around the world to repeat Han’s work, which was trumpeted in the Chinese media to be a Nobel prize worthy scientific breakthrough. Let’s just hope that this will not go down the same path as the STAP cells.”
The Zhouzi Fang mentioned seems to most likely be Fang Shimin (方是民), pictured above, who has a Wikipedia page here that mentions his role as a popular science writer who campaigns against pseudoscience and fraud. It also discusses a number of controversies in which he has been involved. I wonder if he might be like Japan’s juuichijigen who played a key role in uncovering STAP. I don’t know.
I’m hoping to learn more about this NgAgo situation so that we all can better judge what the status of NgAgo research might be. The notion that this could be another STAP-like situation would be very unfortunate, but it seems there’s not enough information now to judge and that’s a serious thing to assert. I agree with the commenter that more time is needed before we can be sure what’s what here.
So what is out there on discussions over NgAgo as to whether it works or not?
I did find this page on an “NgAgo” search onMitbbs (which when Google crudely translates it) seems to fit with what the commenter says about a war of words, but I have no idea if that page is reliable.
I also found this Chinese-language science news site reporting on the NgAgo controversy.
This Google group page on NgAgo also has some researchers reporting it doesn’t work for them, but others said it did work.
Overall, I’d say the jury is out, but it’s clear there are strong opinions both ways on NgAgo.
The local stem cell clinic here in Sacramento, Nervana Stem Cell Centers, continues to advertise treatments in The Sacramento Bee and there continue to be big questions about this situation. I’ve blogged about Nervana before and you can see the archived posts here.
Nervana must be spending big money on advertising because they have run many full-page ads in the Sac Bee in 2016. Those aren’t cheap. You can see the latest ad above in this morning’s paper.
The focus lately seems to be on marketing stem cells to treat neuropathy. One of the questions I have is whether there is evidence that using stem cells to treat neuropathy and other conditions such as arthritis is safe.
Is there any data showing it is effective?
Are consumers getting their money’s worth? These are expensive experimental treatments and stem cell treatment cost is a big issue in this arena today.
Is this OK with the FDA?
The fine print. As to that last question at least one past ad for this group seemed to suggest FDA compliance. However, in the fine print on today’s ad it says amongst other things, “the use of stem cells is not FDA approved for the treatment of the conditions that we treat and their use is investigational.” Some caution there from the clinic.
The word “investigational” there is also an interesting one as it raises the question again about whether the use of stem cells in this way would constitute the use of an “investigational drug” as the FDA would put it. If the answer is “yes”, then clinics should be getting FDA approval in advance.
It also says in an aspirational tone in the fine print, “However, we do believe in the healing power of stem cells and offer them to you in advance of any potential scientific discoveries that may prove their efficacy.”
Biomedical treatments should be, in my opinion, based on more than belief and should not be sold prior to proof.
Within my new book GMO Sapiens on CRISPR and human genetic modification, I’ve hidden a scientific Easter egg.
There’s more Easter egg info over here including the rules.
If you are the first one to find and properly explain this egg to me after buying the book, you win $250. I had originally limited it to the print edition, but e-version purchase is fine too.
So far no one has gotten the hidden egg right.
To give people a better chance, today in this post I’m giving a hint.
The clue is: crack the Easter egg code.