TGIF links to tip-top weekend science reading

Some stuff to read, think about, and do.

3rd Annual Berkeley SSSCR Stem Cell Conference Oct. 17: Culturing a Stem Cell Community

By Student Society for Stem Cell Research at Berkeley

UC Berkeley’s Student Society for Stem Cell Research (SSSCR) is proud to present its 3rd Annual Stem Cell Conference: “Culturing a Stem Cell Community” on Saturday October 17th from 9AM-5PM at the Li Ka Shing Center on the Berkeley Campus.

This single-day Bay Area event is open to the public and geared towards all interested in the latest advances in stem cell research and regenerative medicine, including professionals, students, general public, and patient advocates. The program features a keynote address from internationally renowned scientist Dr. Irv Weissman, a networking lunch, and poster session. The theme behind this year’s “Culturing a Stem Cell Community” is progress in translational medicine where speakers will discuss topics such as genomics, bioengineering, cellular tracking, patent law, and advocacy.SSSCR Conference- flyer- digital

The Annual Culturing a Stem Cell Community conference is the largest student organized event promoting community education of stem cell research. The aim behind Culturing a Stem Cell Community is to create a forum for the diverse groups that are required to advance the field and to increase the stem cell community’s appreciation of our role in educating the public on regenerative medicine.

“It is awe-inspiring to see students take such initiative to educate the public, interact with patients, and present their vision for the field of regenerative medicine,” says Marion Riggs, Founder of SSSCR-International.

“We are thrilled by the level of community support that we have received to hold our 3rd Annual Berkeley Stem Conference and are looking forward to helping report back to the public on the clinical progress of stem cell research. Funds from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine have led to 26 clinical trials with 3 more trials planned in the next 6 months,” says Umeet Sajjan, Cal-SSSCR Chapter President.

The list of speakers are: Irv Weissman, Shyni Varghese, Antoinette F. Konski, Patrick Goodwill, Fyodor Urnov, Laurel Barchas, Don Gibbons, Shyam Patel, Mark Walters, and Mary Bass.

We are appreciative of the supporting organizations and corporate sponsors that have helped make this conference possible.

Supporting Organizations:

  • Americans for Cures
  • Berkeley Stem Cell Center
  • California Institute for Regenerative Medicine
  • Genetics Policy Institute
  • Regenerative Medicine Foundation
  • Student Society for Stem Cell Research

Corporate Sponsors:

  • Genetica DNA Laboratories| LabCorp Brand
  • PeproTech, Inc.
  • Primorigen Biosciences
  • StemCells, Inc.

General Admission is $7 and you can register online.

For more information on the conference, visit the conference website.

About SSSCR.

The Student Society for Stem Cell Research, founded in 2003, is a U.S. based international network dedicated to advancing scientific research for cures. SSSCR has a network spanning over 5,000 members and has started over 35 university-based chapters. SSSCR is a member organization of the Stem Cell Action Coalition and the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine.

Stem cell treatment cost 2.0: legit therapy

stem cells costWe hear so much about exciting potential stem cell therapies. Some of these are rigorously evaluated ones in the FDA clinical trial pipeline and others are available right now mainly through predatory stem cell clinics. Earlier this year I posted about the cost of the offerings of dubious stem cell clinics.

In this post, I address the cost of a future, legitimate, FDA-approved stem cell therapy. How high will that be?

This is a critical question because if many patients cannot afford a stem cell therapy then the impact of that therapy is reduced. Cost is inversely related to access. On the other hand, stem cell biotechs must make some profit or they will go out of business. Investors, who are often enthusiastic boosters of the stem cell field, will lose large sums of money and confidence in the field too in that scenario if stem cell treatments are priced “too low”. What is the “right” price?

There is likely to be increasing pressure on biologics drug prices as well from the federal government. Witness Hillary Clinton’s recent tweet on this topic below that sent people into a tizzy.

At the state level, such as here in California, the question of stem cell treatment cost is also becoming more pressing including for our state stem cell agency, CIRM. As CIRM-funded clinical trials advance, which is a wonderful thing, at the same time we get closer to where someone will have to decide on stem cell price tags.

We can look at what other cellular drugs have cost as guidance for the price tag range for stem cell treatments. For instance, Prochymal (its old name under Osiris) that is now rebranded as TEMCELL from Mesoblast/JCR likely will cost about $200K for a full treatment for GVHD (HT to Alexey). Provenge, the cellular prostate cancer drug from the controversial biotech Dendreon had (has?) a price tag of $93K. The most expensive drug in history, the gene therapy med Glybera will cost around $1.5 million per patient.

Realistically, a typical legit stem cell therapy could easily be $100K per patient. A personalized cellular medicine such as an autologous stem cell-based therapy could easily run into the hundreds of thousands per patient. Some therapies could go as high as $500,000 (see this helpful piece by David Jensen) or even into the millions.

Irv Arons

Irv Arons (@iarons) has come up with a great table of cost estimates focused in the area of vision therapy (free registration required). Thanks to Irv for permission to use it here (above).

How will patients afford such expensive therapies?

Will such therapies be covered by governmental agencies or insurance companies? They should.

We should also be keeping in mind the current costs of treating today’s patients with major and sometimes chronic diseases. These costs run into the hundreds of billions or above a trillion dollars each year in the US alone. That’s important context and rightly indicates that the costs of stem cell therapies to society may be appropriate even if at an individual level they seem high.

How does this compare to stem cell treatments at predatory clinics?

Such “treatments” range from $5,000-$20,000 each and most patients with whom I have talked either received or were pitched at least two such treatments, amplifying the total cost. The cost to the clinic of the treatment itself can be as low as $500-$1,000. Some clinics claim to have treated thousands of patients suggesting they are making millions in profits.

Why are stem cell clinic offerings typically relatively cheaper than legit treatments? Frankly, it is because they don’t follow the rules or do the necessary studies to prove safety and efficacy. Ten thousand dollars is still a lot to pay for something that doesn’t work and could even be harmful.

Even so some consumers may perceive dubious stem cell treatments as the way to go because of the lower cost, particularly if the legitimate stem cell field fails to do a good job at educational outreach and the FDA continues to effectively do nothing about the stem cell clinic problem.

The bottom line remains a question. Where’s the stem cell price sweet spot where we can help the most patients, but also generate a needed profit for the biotechs?

We need to find an answer to this question soon.

Surprising top 20 stem cell videos on YouTube

What are the top stem cell videos on YouTube?

They are not at all what I thought they would be, at least the top 20 as ranked by view count.stem cell videos

Check the top 20 out here.

The topics include a stem cell skin gun (see video above), Michael J. Fox, Parkinson’s Disease and stem cells, Suzanne Somers and stem cell breast augmentation, stem cells for baldness, stem cell cosmetic procedures, Peyton and Eli Manning with stem cells, and more.

At least some of the videos were purely educational so that’s something.

I expected more promotional stem cell videos from clinics to be in the top, but there are a few and I bet in a couple of years that more of such will break into the top-tier unfortunately.

What do you think is the best stem cell video and why?

Congrats to #stemcell image contest winner: Tina Zimmerman

I’ve been running a stem cell image contest here on the blog with the prize being $100. In the past I’ve done similar contests, but the response to this one was really impressive with 24 entries.

I also ran a stem cell video contest last year. The winning video, which is stem cell claymation and that you can find at that link, is downright hilarious.

My thanks to everyone who entered and shared their cool images of stem cells this year. As one entrant put it, stem cells are so pretty! I definitely agree. I made a montage (pasted at the bottom of the post) of all the entries.

So how to pick just one winner? It wasn’t easy.

Tina Zimmerman embryoid body

The winner is graduate student Tina Zimmerman, who submitted the above image of a differentiated embryoid body made from mouse embryonic stem cells. Tina is a student at University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany. She stained the cells for nestin (blue) and doublecortin (DCX; red), and the cells have a CAG-GFP reporter. We can see neural stem cells, neural precursors, and maybe some residual embryonic stem cells too or at least some GFP expression.

Here is the montage of all the entries.

stem cell contest