20 posts categorized "Commentary"

May 16, 2012

We've got a new niche!

SignalsThe SCN Blog has a new name and a new home: http://www.signalsblog.ca

After nearly four years and 207 blog posts, we finally outgrew our dish, so to speak. Late last year, we began planning with the newly-formed Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, who indicated an interest to begin blogging in the sphere. (Perhaps you'll recall our name contest?) Why have two blogs competing when one can do the job? The result is Signals Blog (the new name came from an SCN staff member who sadly was not eligible for a prize), which will continue to bring the same level of insight, commentary and research news you've found on the SCN Blog, but will add new perspectives and news on biomaterials, regenerative medicine and commercialization.

We think it's a great partnership that will provide a more comprehensive view of the world of stem cells and regenerative medicine. 

To ease the transition for readers, all archived posts from the SCN Blog have been moved to their new home and RSS feeds will be updated to the new address. Comments will be closed on this site, but we'll keep a copy of the archives here for the short term. 

This is our final post on this site: please update your links and check out our new niche at www.signalsblog.ca!

January 17, 2012

Trading on hope: A look at what motivates stem cell tourists and what happens when it goes wrong


In recent years, the research community has been quite outspoken in its condemnation of rogue stem cell clinics operating in many countries across the globe. Indeed, through announcements made by health and related ministries in China, India and the US, it appears the message is beginning to be heard.  

On the heels of a recent 60 Minutes newscast in the US, a similar exposé aired on January 14 here in Canada. In it, Stem Cell Network Scientific Director Michael Rudnicki spoke with Global TV’s Carolyn Jarvis, condemning stem cell tourism and the agencies that offer them as “despicable” (view the entire Global TV 16x9 segment here). His interview was just a small part of the broadcast, in which the news team looked at the unproven and unapproved therapies offered by a clinic operating in Mexico and a Canadian-based travel operator that offers packages to help people access the services.

Along with Rudnicki, the program profiles several patients, one of whom was successfully treated in an FDA-approved clinical trial for MS, another who was unsuccessfully treated in a Mexican clinic, and a set of parents raising funds to seek treatment in China for their five-year-old son. Each of the struggle to balance the pain of dealing with their ailments, the hope that stem cells could help them, and the risks involved in these experimental therapies.

December 21, 2011

Whose life is it anyway? Building patient needs and goals into stem cell clinical trials

by Lisa Willemse

IStock_000018269221XSmallIn a traditional view of medical research, advances tend to be measured against the overarching goal of cure. Noble as this might be, research is rarely such a black and white affair -- if we have learned anything, it’s that there are innumerable shades of grey.

Even the goal itself can be questioned, especially when achieving it could be 50 years into the future.

Continue reading "Whose life is it anyway? Building patient needs and goals into stem cell clinical trials" »

November 15, 2011

New York loves stem cells

by Lisa Willemse

CaulfieldsmArt shows are not exactly routine activities for those who work in research, let alone in the field of stem cells. So when an art exhibit that examines our perceptions of biotechnology and stem cell research opens in New York, it's something of an occasion. Even more so if New York embraces the show right back, which certainly appeared to be the case of the crowd in attendance, as well as some of the other activities planned around the exhibit.

We've blogged about the Perceptions of Promise exhibit before - the inaugurual exhibit in Calgary early in 2011 garnered a fair bit of attention from critics and the popular press, but the show's presence at the Chelsea Art Museum (running until November 19) somehow underscores the importance of this endeavour. 

MillssmMaybe it's because having a show in a trendy New York gallery is a proud achievment for any artist. Maybe it's that all-too-Canadian need to be recognized outside our own country. I'd like to think it has more to do with the importance of the topic itself, which we have so often seen can be polarized and clouded with hype as well as legal, political, economic and religious overtones.

Ingram_smPersonally -- and I'm not alone in this sentiment -- I think there needs to be more thoughtful and informed discsussion about biotechnology in atypical locations -- not in labs, but in coffee joints, at dinner parties, on the street, in schools. And if shows such as this one help achieve this, by asking people to think about what it means to them and to stimulate interest and greater understanding, so much the better.

Read full news release

Images all from Perceptions of Promise at the Chelsea Art Museum, NY. Top artwork by Sean Caulfield, centre by Royden Mills, bottom by Liz Ingram and Bernd Hildebrandt

October 05, 2011

Unconstrained thinking: the link between computer chips and clinical trials

by Drew Lyall

The World Stem Cell Summit taking place this week in Pasadena, California, occupies a unique place in the stem cell calendar. The summit brings together patient advocates, policy makers, industry and scientists from around the world to take stock of progress in the field; to discuss common political, regulatory, financial and scientific barriers to therapies reaching the clinic; and, to actively collaborate on moving efforts forward.

One of the joys of this meeting is that is usually includes a thought-provoking keynote talk from an icon outside of the field, but with a deep personal interest in its success. This year's keynote came from Andy Grove, who founded Intel Corporation in 1968, and in various roles including Chief Scientist, President & CEO and Chairman grew the company to the multi-billion dollar behemoth it is today, ranking right along side alongside Microsoft, Google, Apple and now Facebook as one of the giants of the Information Age.

In 1999, Grove was also diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

Continue reading "Unconstrained thinking: the link between computer chips and clinical trials" »

August 10, 2011

Stem cells and the modern Prometheus

This content has moved!

Please read it on its new home, Signals BlogStem cells and the modern Prometheus

July 28, 2011

Cord blood - $27.80 per click!

This content has moved!

Please read this article on its new home, Signals BlogCord blood - $27.80 per click!

June 30, 2011

Entrepreneurial scientists: Moving from being outliers to everyday researchers

by Paul Krzyzanowski

Success in a research career is solely defined by ones ability to churn out great academic papers, right?

Don’t be so sure.

It’s true that successful research careers can be launched with a Science or Nature paper, but many skills other than purely academic ones are increasingly being recognized as important.

On this blog, David Kent recently discussed the requirement for scientists to be aware of governmental policies, clinical trials, and therapies outside of their own research, while Ben Paylor explained how important mastering science communications and the web are, particularly to engage the public.

In a world where a glut of university graduates exists, the standard package of courses and experience in many programs no longer places people on a fixed career path. Even alumni of law and medical schools are not immune to the challenging job market, reports Nature, and there are no longer any guarantees of employment upon graduation:

Continue reading "Entrepreneurial scientists: Moving from being outliers to everyday researchers" »

June 14, 2011

Fifty years

In the scientific world, 50 years can be an eternity. Consider the fruit fly or certain cells – organisms whose lifespan is counted in hours or days. Or, it can be the blink of an eye when compared to the progression of an ice flow, for instance.

In the field of stem cells, 50 years marks a milestone worthy of celebration. Though the existence of a master cell had been posited for much longer, it was just 50 years ago that these cells and their characteristics were identified. It happened here in Canada, in Toronto, in the lab of Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with our pride and respect for Till and McCulloch. Until now, we had not formally written about the 50th anniversary of their discovery and with the arrival of close to 4000 delegates to the International Society for Stem Cell Research this week in Toronto, we thought now was as fitting a time as ever.

But, we’re not the first to write or talk about this critical moment in the history of stem cells (nor are we likely to be the last). Others have done it far more eloquently and imaginatively, and others still will be speaking in the days to come. Here’s a list of things to read, view or attend in honour of two of the most important people this field has yet to see:

  • With the recent passing of Dr. McCulloch, a pair of noteworthy obituaries by former students Ron Worton and Norman Iscove.
  • A symposium in honour of Dr. McCulloch will be held on June 15 starting at 9:00am at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, in association with the ISSCR annual meeting (meeting registration required).
  • Recorded at the StemCellTalks event in 2010, here’s Jim Till talking to Janet Rossant about his early work with Dr. McCulloch.
  • Jim Till’s mini video, created by the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation
  • A sneak peek at the Stem Cell Network’s annual report, which features a story about the Canadian legacy of Till and McCulloch.
  • For something a little bit different, the Super Cells: The Wonder of Stem Cells exhibition is running at the Ontario Science Centre through September 2011. The exhibit features artwork inspired by stem cells, including fashion pieces made in tribute to Till and McCulloch.

Finally, worth noting is the pending publication of a book about Till and McCulloch, which will be released this fall by the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation and the University of Toronto Press. A limited number of autographed copies can be pre-ordered. We’re excited about the arrival of this book, which tells the story not just of stem cells, but of the remarkable men behind it.


June 08, 2011

Science communications: everybody's doing it

By Ben Paylor, University of British Columbia

Science and the way it is distributed are changing. One of the principle forces driving this change is the very media through which you read these words. The Internet. Not only can you find an answer to almost any simple question you post, now there are thousands of people pushing their thoughts and preferences on any possible topic in your direction. This means that a traditionally type-cast incommunicable group (scientists) has extremely accessible and powerful tools at their fingertips which don’t require them to choose every word precisely, navigate publication politics and jump through editors flaming rings. Instead they are able to spill whatever it is that is on their minds.

A recent article in Nature entitled “Of Course Scientists Can Communicate” tackled the myth that scientists are poor communicators. Scientists are trained to write in a certain way for a certain audience, namely the scientist community through peer-reviewed journals, and the change in tone, language and focus required to communicate with the public is often ignored. To provide evidence against the notion that scientists don’t have silver-tongues, examples of Carl Sagan, Humphry Davy and Jacob Bronowski are invoked. Notable exceptions indeed, but interesting to note that none of these inspired science communicators had the Internet at their fingertips. Science communication has moved from the mouths of a select high-profile few, to everyone who has learned that communicating what we do is not only important, but also incredibly easy and fun to do. This phenomenon is certainly present in the stem-cell community with myriad of public outreach programs having emerged around the world to promote understanding to both the general public and fellow scientists alike. Given the elevated level of attention surrounding stem cell research, it is clear that communicating the current state of this field to the public is very important. So who is taking up the task?

One doesn’t have to search very hard to access a wealth of engaging, educational and, perhaps most importantly, free material for this purpose. The University of Utah’s “Teach Genetics” page has been providing high quality educational resources to teachers for a number of years; the site includes a “Stem Cell” page. With numerous animations and activities designed for the classroom, resources such as these make teaching stem cell science an accessible and fun choice for teachers. Apart from institutional efforts, we can also find inspiration in the blogosphere. One of several notable examples, Ed Yong’s blog Not Exactly Rocket Science, recently featured an excellent post utilizing a dipity timeline to chart the progress of iPS research to the current day. By combining new Web 2.0 resources with thorough background research and excellent communication skills, Ed Yong gives us a powerful example of what happens when talented and interested individuals take science communication into their own hands.


Stepping away from the Internet, another approach to stem cell outreach has been to engage young students before they get to the University level. In California, Laurel Barchas, a graduate of Berkeley, designed a number of stem cell based high-school curriculum modules for the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine. CIRM then pitched the initiatives to state education committees and these modules are now available state-wide with plans to expand the program nationally. The free curriculum resources, which address numerous science education elements through  integration of stem cell based educational material, were highly attractive to high school science teachers, who are keen to adopt new and relevant material.

If you read this blog extensively then you should be no stranger to another success story, which has emerged from the stem cell community in Canada, StemCellTalks. Originally conceived and implemented in Toronto by Paul Cassar, Angela MacDonald and David Grant, StemCellTalks promotes engagement of talented young high school students, enthusiastic grad students and leading researchers during a day-long symposium which addresses current scientific and ethical topics surrounding stem cell research. The annual project is now in its sophomore year in Toronto and has expanded to numerous institutes nationwide; satellite symposia have been held in both Vancouver and Ottawa with numerous others planned events for 2012 (Halifax, Calgary, Hamilton). This “trickle-up” approach of engaging and educating high school students is clearly one that works.

The upcoming ISSCR conference in Toronto has provided an excellent stage for stem cell researchers to pause and take note of stem cell outreach initiatives occurring around the globe. “An Informed Society – How to participate in public science education and why it matters”, a satellite symposium taking place on June 15th at 9am, aims to bring together people involved with stem cell outreach from around the globe. The goal of the event is not only to educate the participants on the process of stem cell outreach, but also to provide a framework around which individuals involved in public science education from around the world can network and collaborate. If you are attending the ISSCR and are interested in the topic, I recommend you stop by.

But be warned, with all the information out there today, it’s easy to get so predisposed to listening that you stop thinking that you have something to say yourself.