CIRM is doing a fun, positive challenge to the stem cell community to post stem cell resolutions for the new year. You can read more about it here.
Be sure if you post yours on Twitter to include the #StemCellResolution hashtag. Have fun!
Below is my resolution in video form.
The FDA held a historic public meeting on stem cells a few months ago. Many people have been eagerly awaiting the video archive.
My memory from watching most of it live was that there was quite a bit of really interesting material at the meeting from the diverse presentations.
STAP is back?
No, I don’t believe so, but there’s an interesting development and twist on the STAP cell front.
Just a few days ago on January 4, 2017 Dr. Charles Vacanti, the originator of the STAP cells concept, submitted a declaration to the USPTO affirming the belief that STAP cells are real and requesting that the patent office allow the rejected STAP patent application to be reconsidered.
I find a number of aspects of this development notable:
- The declaration says they have generated new data supporting STAP, but the two figures shown are in my opinion unconvincing. More specifically, just showing some floating spheres and an image of a single cell (not even stained for a marker) doesn’t really prove anything. You can see a snapshot of Figure 1 above. Note that in May 2016 an Obokata-associated website posted some supposed STAP validation data as well, but in my view it too wasn’t at all convincing.
- qPCR results on induced expression of pluripotency genes are mentioned, but I didn’t see that actual data in the document or other related documents so as far as I can tell it can’t be evaluated at this point. Update: I’m still searching to see if I can find a patent document that shows the new qPCR and it may be in there somewhere. Stay tuned. BTW, you can look at the patent documents directly yourself at this USPTO website. Plug in patent application #14/397,080 and click on the tab at the top that reads “Image File Wrapper”. I’m not a patent expert so there may be other useful tabs at the top as well where for instance the qPCR data could be found or other information.
- The declaration expresses concern with how Nature handled the STAP cell situation with the retractions, indicating that in the view of some of the authors there should have been an indication that the authors believed the concept was real.
- Why do some of the STAP authors believe in it still but many others in the stem cell field don’t? Apparently, according to the declaration, the other labs who tried the STAP method just didn’t use the proper technique. I have doubts about that explanation. For instance, Vacanti’s own Harvard/B&W’s colleague George Daley and other top stem cell scientists published two BCA pieces in Nature refuting the existence of STAP. Reportedly they even did some of this work in Vacanti’s own lab with someone who was an author on the STAP papers.
- The STAP cell patent application has been transferred to a private company called Vcell Therapeutics, Inc., which seems somewhat obscure. A Japanese blog has dug into this situation and mentions a J. Kelly Ganjei, a name I’m not familiar with, as a leader of Vcell. There’s even some speculation that Vcell may be short for “Vacanti cell”, but I don’t know about that. Given the sound of the company’s name I can’t help but think of VSELs, another controversial kind of stem cell, when reading the word “Vcell”.
Patient advocate Ted Harada is the recipient of this year’s Stem Cell Person of the Year Award.
Congrats also to the runner-up, HD patient advocate Judy Roberson. The three of us together are pictured at left.
Very sadly, as many of you know, Ted passed away just a few months ago from a brain tumor so I am giving him this award posthumously. Accepting the award on his behalf is his wife Michelle. Ted and I shared a deep commitment to our families. You can see a picture of Ted, Michelle, and their kids below. What a great family!
You can see a video of Ted talking about Right To Try below.
Each year that I’ve done the Stem Cell Person of the Year Award, I’ve been faced with the wonderful, but difficult challenge of picking one winner out of a group of outstanding finalists and this year was no different.
With this award that includes a $2,000 prize, I’m looking for an outside-the-box risk taker who has made a positive impact in the world of stem cells. Ted fit the bill perfectly.
Ted was a clinical trial participant for a new stem cell therapy for ALS in a trial run by the biotech Neuralstem. As such, Ted put himself at risk (transplanted cells have risks, immunosuppression has risks, etc.). He did this for the benefit of the field and for other patients. However, Ted went well beyond that. He was also a tireless patient advocate and educator who inspired countless people.
Ted respected other’s opinions and was a true class act. For instance, although Ted and I didn’t see entirely eye-to-eye on some things like Right to Try, that wasn’t a wedge. He served as a bridge between different parts of the community. Here at UC Davis we run an annual symposium on stem cell ethics and one year Ted was an invited speaker. He made a big, positive impact at our meeting.
Overall, Ted left the world including the stem cell and regenerative medicine arena a far better place. You can read my tribute to Ted after his death here. I only wish I could have given him this award in person.