Hot on the heels of my Pubmed MSC roundup, Nature Reports has a Stem Cell Edition out, and because, you know, they’re a huge multinational publishing company staffed with professional journalists, it contains some fascinating stuff, while covering most of the recent research-related news as well.
Items of note:
- An American scientist in Tehran
- Scientific definition by political request
- The Dark Side of Mesenchymal Stem Cells
- Alternative Energy for Embryonic Stem Cell Research
- Mesenchymal stem cells in the womb
You’ve got to read Rudy Jaenisch’s report on the conference he attended in Iran. They have more freedom to research stem cells than we do in the U.S. In his short article, Dr. Jaenisch portrays Iranian scientists as no different than their Western counterparts and attempts to dispel the notion that an American scientist would be at risk traveling to Iran. He encourages his colleagues to engage in collaborations, if for no other reason than to help present a image of Americans as the intelligent, tolerant, and enlightened folk I know we are.
Monya Baker also has a good overview of the goings-on with the “Stem cell registry formerly known as Embryonic”. The critical point is that the registry is now for “Pluripotent” cells, but no one knows exactly what that means. The best available tests are the ones that involve in vivo tissue formation by the candidate cells, but even that blurs the distinction of the pluripotency phenotype being either a characteristic of a group of cells of individually different differentiation capacity or a characteristic of a single cell that can give rise to various tissue types. In the HSC field, Krause et al. Cell. 2001 May 4; 105(3): 369-77 did serial transplantation experiments, where they took a single HSC and reconstituted the hematopoietic system of an animal, and then isolated cells from that animal and repeated the experiment. Although I have heard some doubts expressed about these experiments, they’re undoubtedly the real gold standard to which a pluripotency assay should aspire.
Given that a tumor can be considered “a wound that never heals”, one should have expected that MSCs would invade tumors. The unexpected thing is that MSCs actually promote metastasis of the tumor.
Markus Grompe, who I’ve heard at conferences, and who I remember seemed really sharp, has a tediously long and boring column wherein he cites Aristotle and Aquinas before going on to argue that the Yamanaka paper now means that we don’t need ESCs. Look, I am not a defender of ESCs as a potential therapy. I have serious reservations about whether they’ll ever be useful therapeutically, as do most of my colleagues, but that’s missing the point. The point is that person X’s religious belief shouldn’t have any bearing on the research person Y is allowed to perform. They’re doing ESC research in freakin’ Iran, so it’s not like it’s some kind of universally understood moral truth that a blastocyst has a magic spiritual essence that comes from neither the sperm nor the egg, but somehow results from their uniting. Not a Watson-level gaffe, but still I have to wonder what he’s thinking when he wrote it, and what Nature was thinking for publishing it.
Another paper that purports to have isolated MSC-like cells. That’s great, but there’s still no MSC bio-equivalence assay, so there’s no way to compare them to any other MSC-like cell.