Giving thanks to my blog community

ThanksgivingAs a scientist blogger, I have a lot to be thankful for as Thanksgiving approaches.

First, I want to thank the readers of this blog who make it a reality. If no one reads a blog, then pretty much it doesn’t exist for all intents and purposes.

Second, I want to thank the commenters on this blog.

They enrich the dialogue and often teach me and others important things. They sometimes also point out where I screwed up and as much as that’s not fun, it is important an helpful. They link to helpful resources. And a whole lot more. I want to single out in particular a few more active & helpful commenters for special thanks including the prolific Brian Sanderson, Jeanne Loring, Bob Geller, Shinsakan, Amy Price, msemporda, and Hank.

I also want to thank my friends who often act as ad hoc advisors or mentors to me including not only the many who must remain anonymous for various reasons, but also specifically Kelly Hills, Jeanne Loring, Meri Firpo, and Leigh Turner. These folks deserve a huge hat tip.

Finally, I want to give a big thank you to the guest bloggers who made this blog more diverse in its content.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Shirtgate / Shirtstorm poll results point to a polar community

Shirtgate shirtstorm poll resultsAfter about a week of polling on views of shirtgate (also known as shirtstorm), the results are in and there are some pretty clear findings.

The poll sought to measure people’s views of Dr. Matt Taylor’s wearing of a shirt covered in depictions of scantily clad woman including some with guns during a TV interview on the Rosetta comet landing project.

The two most polar possible choices got by far the most answers indicating intense feelings on this topic.

By almost a 2:1 margin (52% versus 27%), the more than 2,500 respondents indicated that they viewed the wearing of the shirt as a non-event that was blown out of proportion.

There were responses from 69 countries to the poll and  in almost every country of the world the view that the wearing of the shirt was a non-event blown out of proportion won out. However, the reponses did vary relatively speaking in some interesting ways between countries.

In Taylor’s home of the UK, responses were relatively one-sided. In the UK, 63% of responses were that the wearing of the shirt was a non-event and the reaction to it was the problem, while 4-fold fewer (15.6%) viewed the actual wearing of the shirt as a problem. About 2% said either “scientists should wear whatever they want” or that it was a mistake for Taylor to have worn the shirt.

In the US, the numbers were relatively far closer together. While 43% said the wearing of the shirt was a non-event and the reaction to it was the problem, 35% viewed the wearing of the shirt as problematic. In addition, in the US 13% felt “it was a mistake to have worn it”, while 7.5% said “scientists should wear whatever they want”. Therefore, if you add up the total of the two responses viewing the wearing of the shirt as a problem or mistake, and those two opposite responses viewing the wearing of the shirt as not a big deal, they were roughly equal, but clearly more people felt more intensely that there was an overreaction to the wearing of the shirt. Still these numbers are far closer together than in the UK and in most other countries of the world.

Only 4 countries of the 69 total went against the trend of the others and outright chose “The shirt is part of a bigger problem with STEM and women and warranted a discussion” as the top answer:

  • New Zealand (10 responses that way, 8 other spread amongst other answers)
  • Italy (4 responses that way and 4 other responses spread out amongst other answers),
  • Estonia (2 responses that way, 1 that the shirt was a non-event)
  • Luxembourg (2 responses that way and no others).

These countries had relatively few total respondents though so it is difficult to say whether these trends would have held up with larger numbers of answers from those countries.

Some countries were relatively one-sided the other way viewing the reaction to the wearing as more of a problem than the actual wearing of the shirt by the indicated ratios: France (>7:1), Canada (~2.5:1), Australia (2:1), Germany (>3.0:1), Greece (6:1), Netherlands (2:1).

What are your thoughts on these poll results?

Note that this poll is an Internet poll so the trends can be skewed by various factors and potential biases including how the poll was disseminated on social media. The poll could have been designed in different ways as well that may have yielded distinct results.

Best analogies for stem cells for public outreach

I’m often asked, “How can I help people ‘get’ stem cells with an analogy?”

What are the best stem cell analogies? Here are the ones I’ve thought up that resonated most powerfully in my public outreach including with kids.

Stem cells as Transformers.Transformers

They are cool.

They can transform into all different kinds of things.

They are exciting.

They are mighty.

They can do positive or negative.


Stem cells as blank tiles in Scrabble.

They can literally be what you want them to be if you use them properly.

They are extremely powerful.stem cells scrabble

They can make things happen.

They can change things up.


Stem cells as a tree or tree trunk.

Stem Cell Symbol

They can grow.

They can branch out.

They can bear fruit.

They are a symbol of hope.

In Portuguese, “stem cells” is “células tronco”, which literally translated means “trunk cells”.

Loring Open Letter to CIRM: Continuing Shared Labs Will Keep California’s Stem Cell Edge

Jeanne LoringBy Jeanne Loring

As the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) celebrates its successes on its 10th anniversary, there is coincidentally a less happy CIRM-related event. One of CIRM’s first investments in stem cell research was a network of dedicated stem cell laboratories throughout California. This program, called “shared labs” has been cancelled.

The shared lab idea originated as a means for California researchers to work on human embryonic stem cells without compromising their funding from the NIH. CIRM invested a million dollars for each of 17 institutions to purchase equipment for a laboratory that would have the sole purpose of supporting human stem cell research, development, and training. They provided a modest stipend for support staff and instructors.

As with every bold idea, there were unexpected consequences. In this case, CIRM did not anticipate that the shared labs would have such an enormous impact beyond their original intention. Over the last 6 years they have existed, the labs have provided the infrastructure upon which California’s reputation as the center of the stem cell universe was built.

Unwittingly, CIRM’s shared lab program jump-started human stem cell research in California, sending it on a trajectory that has led to stem cell clinical trials in just 6 years. Far beyond being havens for embryonic stem cell research, the labs became the places where new technologies were developed and shared, where clinical projects were born, and where scientists carried out the necessary lab work for bringing a stem cell therapy to the clinic.

CIRM did not expect that there would be interaction among the labs that would make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. The network of shared labs became our means to communicate and share ideas. It sparked new partnerships between institutions throughout the state, and became a conduit for trainees to move from CIRM’s Bridges internships to graduate school. One scientist described the shared labs as “the beating heart of California’s stem cell program”.

Why would CIRM discontinue such a remarkably successful program with so many unexpected benefits?

The decision was made in 2013, and predates “CIRM 2.0″, the optimistic restructuring that recently breathed new life into the institute. It is being implemented by Randy Mills, who became CIRM’s president just a few months ago.

A year ago, CIRM’s future looked bleak. In December 2013, Alan Trounson was CIRM’s president, and he expected that CIRM would run out of money by 2017, if not sooner. At that month’s meeting of CIRM’s governing committee, called the ICOC (Independent Citizens Oversight Committee), all of the discussion was focused on the end game- how they would spend the last hundreds of millions left in their coffers.

Anticipating an attack on the shared lab program, scientists from 11 of the dedicated CIRM-supported stem cell labs traveled to that ICOC meeting in LA to plead the case for continued support of stem cell infrastructure. We were asking for a chance to reapply for stipend funds for the labs, which would cost CIRM about $350,000 per year for each lab. The transcript of that ICOC meeting is here (jump to page 205) and the blog I wrote about the meeting is here.

Some of the ICOC members found the scientists’ requests compelling, and understood the scientists’ concern that loss of the infrastructure would have negative impact on all aspects of CIRM’s mission, from training young scientists to supporting development of clinical applications for stem cells.

But, money was the main concern, and the decision came down to this: did CIRM want to retain the laboratory infrastructure or did it want to dismantle it and disperse the money to other projects?

The answer was clear to the researchers in the audience and the fact that we were all there was living proof that the shared laboratories had made us into a cohesive group throughout California. In addition, CIRM had already invested nearly $20 million just in the equipment for the labs, and millions more in training the personnel who run them.

One irony is that the NIH now funds a broader range of human embryonic stem cell research, so the original purpose of the labs no longer applies. But the NIH and other funders don’t pay for maintaining labs like these. That idea belongs to CIRM, which remains the only agency that fortuitously created a network of stem cell scientists.

A second irony is that having existing stem cell labs has been a boon for California. Institutions were able to attract an estimated $240 million from granting agencies and philanthropy for research based on the existence of the dedicated stem cell labs. This represents a tenfold return on CIRM’s investment.

In spite of our testimony, we lost. Alan Trounson didn’t pay attention to anything we said, and instead told us that the labs were a luxury that CIRM couldn’t afford, and that we should find other sources of money to pay our staff, perhaps turning the labs into for-profit service centers. We explained that we all had been trying to raise alternative funds for our laboratories for years, but there is concrete evidence that facilities like these just don’t exist in the US without subsidies from a granting agency.

Because of potential conflicts of interest, only 6 members of the 29-member ICOC could vote. Two of them (Art Torres and Diane Winoker) abstained; the other 4 voted to close the program.

What will happen now? One or two labs will be able to support their staff with other grant money and be able to keep their labs, although they will no longer be shared. Some will lose everything: the lab space, the highly trained personnel, and CIRM’s equipment.

The third irony in this story is that the ICOC voted in October 2014 to continue the Bridges internship program for another year, unaware, apparently, that closing the shared labs means there will be no labs in which to teach the interns and no trained personnel to teach them.

I know I speak for the majority of my colleagues when I say that the dedicated stem cell laboratory program was the key to establishing the rapid pace of stem cell research in California. Loss of the labs and their trained personnel will lose us the edge that made California uniquely qualified for stem cell success.

What can we do? We have a very specific request. We ask that CIRM consider one of the ideas raised by an ICOC member at the fateful December meeting: open a new request for applications to allow the shared lab directors to reapply for a competitive award. Since CIRM has already paid for the equipment, we need only to pay for upkeep and for our personnel who run the labs and teach courses to Bridges interns.

I’ve shared this letter with other lab directors; those listed below express their support for this letter.

Dennis Clegg

Peter Donovan

Susan Fisher

Linda Giudice

Arnold Kriegstein

Andrew McMahon

David Schaffer

Evan Snyder

Alice Tarantal

David Warburton

Karl Willert

The nonsensical list of stem cell journals

Stem Cell EnquirerThe list of stem cell journals seems to grow longer every day.

In fact, the list is so long and some of the names kind of funny that it inspires coming up with a slew of satirical and nonsensical stem cell journals.

I’m betting that some of these (the ones listed first) may be thought up independently by people to try to turn into real journals.

Some of these pseudo-journals have popped unjust  in 2014, which are shown in green.


The Nonsensical Stem Cell Journals List

  • Could be real someday?
  • PLoS Stem Cells
  • Stem Cell Sports Medicine
  • Stem Cells Digest
  • IPSC
  • Stem Cell Cosmetics (or Stem Cell Cosmetic Surgery)
  • De-Extinction
  • Steminess
  • Pluripotency
  • Potency
  • Stemomics
  • The Stem Cell
  • Super Silly
  • The Closed Journal of Stem Cells (by invitation only)
  • Stem Cell Fortune
  • Stem Cell Retractions (published weekly)
  • Stem Cell Practice of Medicine (no experiments or research here!)
  • Consumer Stem Cell Reports
  • Stem Cells Illustrated
  • Law and Order: SVF
  • Better Homes and Stem Cells
  • The Journal of Stem Cell Journals
  • The Journal of Stem Cell Duplicated Images
  • Stem Sells
  • Stem Cell High Impact Journal
  • Stem Cels (stem cells in animation)
  • Stem Cell Irreproducible Results
  • Costempolitan (focusing on hottest stem cell treatments of the famous)
  • Good Stem Cell Keeping (stem cell protocols that actually work)
  • Dancing with the Stem Cells
  • Stem Cell Shades of Grey (the sex lives of those ‘enhanced’ by stem cells)
  • Nature Stem Cells
  • Glamour Journal of Stem Cells
  • Cell Cell Cell
  • Stem Cell Data Already Published Elsewhere
  • The Beverly Hills Journal of Stem Cells
  • The Hot Journal of Stem Cells
  • Taste of Stem Cells (journal on stem cell-produced food recipes like burgers)
  • Stem Cells in the Hood
  • Sexy Stem Cells
  • Stem Cell Assays, Therapies, Reports, Studies, Reviews, and Essays
  • Self-Renewal (caution: the journal subscription always renews automatically)
  • Stem Cells Breaking Bad (the effects of drugs on stem cells)
  • American Journal of Stem Cells & Bioethics
  • Stem Cell Media & Medium (how to both grow stem cells and predict the future)
  • Cellular Deprogramming (from cultures to cults)
  • Stem Cell Irreproducible Protocols (reprints of published methods that won’t work)
  • iStem (only available on iPhone with proprietary Apple cable required)
  • Stem Cell Protocols and Recipes
  • Stem Cell Star
  • Stem Cells & Daughter Cells
  • Stem Cell Stem Cell
  • Stem Cellar (vintage collection of fine stem cell stories)
  • Stem Cells & Sons
  • Vatican Journal of Stem Cells
  • The Immortal Journal of Stem Cells
  • The New Immortal Journal of Stem Cells
  • Journal of Stem Cell Clinics
  • As the Stem Cell World Turns
  • People’s Journal of Stem Cells
  • Cloning Encounters of the Good Kind
  • Stem Cell Enquirer