90 posts categorized "News"

October 20, 2011

EU stem cell patent ruling: too early to predict impact

by Ubaka Ogbogu

The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) ruled this week that scientific research patents cannot be granted for human embryonic stem cell products under European Union (EU) law. The patent in issue, held by Dr. Oliver Brüstle, Director of the Institute of Reconstructive Neurobiology at the University of Bonn, concerns isolated and purified neural precursor cells derived from human embryonic stem cells, their derivation process, and use for treatment of neural defects. Soon after the patents were granted in 1997, Greenpeace Germany filed a successful challenge annulling the patents in the German Federal Patent Court. Dr. Brüstle appealed to the German Federal Court of Justice, which then referred the case to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling on the legal questions raised by the case. 

EU law prohibits the patenting of uses of human embryos for industrial or commercial applications. The main question before the ECJ was whether this prohibition extends to patents on uses of human embryos for scientific research purposes. The Court answered yes, noting that while the aims of scientific research differs from industrial or commercial pursuits, the “grant of a patent implies, in principle, its industrial or commercial application.” In answering the other questions posed in the case, the ECJ also ruled that the meaning of human embryo includes a fertilized human ovum, a non-fertilized human ovum into which the nucleus of a human somatic cell has been transplanted, a non-fertilized human ovum whose further development is stimulated by parthenogenesis, and stem cells derived from human blastocysts. According to the court, the crucial consideration in classifying an entity as a human embryo is whether the technique used to create it (fertilization, parthenogenesis, nuclear transfer, derivation, etc.) commences the process of development of a human being.

The ruling effectively excludes any human embryonic stem cell inventions or products from being patented for any purpose. Without the incentives and protections of the patent system, some are speculating that the ruling will cast a chill on stem cell research in the EU, and may cause researchers to either turn to iPS research or migrate to jurisdictions with more permissive patent regimes. While I agree that the ruling will have some impact on research conduct and progress, I think it is too early to assess what that impact might be. The role that intellectual property (IP), especially patents, play in the context of biotechnology is nuanced, and there is currently no strong evidence to suggest that IP actually promotes the benefits associated with it in the biotech context. So claims that this would affect collaboration, cause brain drain, impact funding, research translation, etc., depend on the assumption that patents play a significant role in all these areas, a view that is much contested.

The ruling, though preliminary, it is binding on all national courts and tribunals in EU member states.  


October 14, 2011

Canadian organization wins Genetics Policy Institute Education Award for stem cell education


Every year at the World Stem Cell Summit, the Genetics Policy Institute (GPI) hands out a number of Stem Cell Action Awards to recognize organizations and individuals who have positively impacted the stem cell community. This year in Pasadena, California, GPI awarded the Canadian science education organization Let’s Talk Science with the 2011 Stem Cell Action Award for Education.

GPI noted the multi-pronged approach of Let’s Talk Science in helping high school teachers and students approach the dynamic study of stem cells. In particular, Let’s Talk Science supported StemCellTalks symposia across Canada and, from those symposia, developed a stem cell feature on their CurioCity student forum.

Continue reading "Canadian organization wins Genetics Policy Institute Education Award for stem cell education" »

October 12, 2011

Help rename the Stem Cell Network Blog

We're changing! We've added some new factors (contributions from the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine) and now we're differentiating into something new! The new blog will keep your favourite bloggers, but will add more comprehensive coverage of issues pertaining to stem cells and regenerative medicine.

To celebrate this growth, the blog needs a new name -- and you can help. Send your ideas to media@stemcellnetwork.ca We're offering a CAD $100 prize pack if your suggestion is chosen. Deadline is October 21. 

October 06, 2011

Human somatic cell nuclear transfer: Three genomes is the charm

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Please read this article on its new home, Signals BlogHuman somatic cell nuclear transfer: Three genomes is the charm

September 21, 2011

Should the fight against bogus stem cell therapies be turned back to the lab?

by Lisa Willemse

This morning's news scan turned up yet another sad tale about the dangers of unproven stem cell therapies and a warning to consumers to once again be skeptical of the claims made by the many unscrupulous clinics operating abroad. For the most part, the article echoes repeated calls made on this blog and numerous other sources, including the ISSCR's Closer Look at Stem Cells, to draw more attention to the issue of "stem cell tourism" in hopes of reducing the numbers of patients paying for such potentially harmful treatments.

Interestingly, I also had an email in my inbox today that contained a recently published paper in EMBO reports that addresses the same topic, albeit in a very different fashion. The authors of the paper, Zubin Master and David Resnik, argue that stem cell scientists could do more to curb stem cell tourism in the face of the questionable success gained from such public education initiatives such as Closer Look at Stem Cells. In fact, the authors suggest that in the case of stem cell tourism, a successful strategy requires the active involvement of scientists.

Continue reading "Should the fight against bogus stem cell therapies be turned back to the lab?" »

September 14, 2011

The quest for eternal youth: Atwood v. Smith

by David Kent

A prize-winning author sits down in an Edinburgh pub across from a world famous stem cell biologist. Together they begin to ponder mankind’s desire for eternal youth. Though it may sound like the first lines of a joke, it is the opening scene of a documentary film, supported by the UK’s Wellcome Trust. Oddly enough, this film represented a collision of my seemingly polar worlds.

As many of my readers know, I hold a Genetics/English degree, and this opening scene was a bizarre blending of both -– Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood vs. Cambridge stem cell biologist Austin Smith. As their conversation progresses throughout the film, one cannot help but become acutely aware of the highly relevant casting choices -– Atwood often writes about the potential consequences of science/technology (e.g.: Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood) and Smith is at the very leading edge of some of the most exciting advances in pluripotent stem cell biology. 

This full length feature, entitled Stem Cell Revolutions:
A Vision of the Future, is a snapshot of the current state of stem cell technologies and offers some insight into how we arrived here and where the field might take us. It was created by science producer Clare Blackburn and Director/Producer Amy Hardie, the same filmmakers that created the acclaimed Eurostemcell short films: A stem cell story, Conversations: ethics, science, stem cells, Cell Culture, Dolly and beyond.

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September 02, 2011

Lasting memories of a pancreatic beta cell

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Please read this article on its new home, Signals BlogLasting memories of a pancreatic beta cell

June 21, 2011

View from the floor: ISSCR final day

By Ben Paylor

The final day of the 9th annual ISSCR meeting was truly a memorable one, with several excellent talks and touching moments. An incredibly moving presentation by Charles Sabine in the morning stands out, and I fear my description will not do it justice. For many, I expect his talk was the highlight of the entire symposium, as his eloquence and gripping human story brought tears to the eyes of many of the audience members. An Emmy winning news-anchor who broadcasted with NBC for 26 years, Charles has reported from the front lines of some of the most chilling humanitarian crises around the world. But his presence at the ISSCR was due to a condition more terrifying than the plethora of horrible events he has witnessed. A sufferer and patient advocate for Huntington’s disease, Charles described how the disease had taken the life of the his father, crippled his brother, and will one day leave his body a mere shadow of what it is today, a fact he learned six years ago after being tested for the disorder. His story was terrifying indeed, but his talk focused on a principle human emotion: hope. His overall message was one of promise and gratitude, thanking the members of the ISSCR for working on a field of medical research that will one day provide answers for the debilitating disease he suffers from. The talk was truly a unique experience, and one that will stay with many of the conference attendees as they travel back to their respective homes.

His story was not the only touching personal moment on the last day. Shinya Yamanaka and his student Kazutoshi Takahashi received the McEwen Centre Award for Innovation, providing numerous humorous anecdotes in their reception speeches, such as Dr. Takahashi noting that numerous factors had “fully reprogrammed his life”. It was again an emotional experience with the pair expressing heartfelt gratitude as they offered a brief glimpse into their incredibly fascinating and successful story. The day held numerous interesting talks as well, such as Christine Mummery’s description of the applications of iPS-derived cardiomyocytes for cardiac safety pharmacology, Li Qian’s report on in vivo reprogramming of cardiac fibroblasts into cardiomyocytes and Peter Coffey presenting his work on regenerative therapies for use in treating macular degeneration (a talk quite similar to the one he gave at the 2010 SCN Scientific Meeting last fall). The conference was closed with the 4th Annual Anne McLaren Memorial lecture given by Nicole Le Douarin. Her talk focused on a somewhat historical evaluation of the multipotent nature of stem cells from the neural crest and their highly invasive behavior during development.

The ISSCR is an incredible event to attend -- both the quantity and the quality of the scientific data presented at the conference are extremely high. The focus is principally on basic science, with limited clinical work being presented, but the names on all the biggest papers you’ve been reading each day at work are there to see and speak with. Contrasting it with the SCN Scientific Meeting, ISSCR is certainly less personal and open, a fact that makes one appreciate the incredible stem cell community that we have here in Canada. With the 2012 ISSCR being held in Yokohama, Japan next summer I can only hope to have the opportunity to participate in such a thought provoking and educational experience. 


June 18, 2011

View from the floor: ISSCR day 3

By Ben Paylor

Shinya Yamanaka, vice president of the ISSCR, soon-to-be McEwen Centre Award for Innovation recipient, and a leader in the field of iPS cell generation, opened day three of the 2011 ISSCR conference with a presentation titled “Induction of Pluripotency by Defined Factors”. The main hall was surprisingly crowded at 9:00 am given the somewhat rowdy Junior Investigator Night Club Party at This is London the night before, perhaps a testament to the significance of his work. Dr. Yamanaka addressed recent reports describing some troubling differences between iPS and hES cells. Data from his lab in Japan showed that these differences are not as dramatic as others might think, with a high degree of similarity in regards to DNA methylation, gene expression, capacity for differentiation and immunogenicity. Of interest if this new and exciting cell type is going to be clinically relevant, autologous iPS transplantation was tolerated far better than allograft ES transplantation, highlighting one of the many important aspects of iPS cells. A second story he told was about Glis1, a transcription factor which is highly expressed in unfertilized eggs and rapidly down-regulated following fertilization, and he described its ability to promote the generation of iPS cells. Using the allegory of a ball rolling from an undifferentiated state down a steep slope to a mature differentiated state, Dr. Yamanaka explained that perhaps this slope is not as steep as we have previously thought and the genetic changes required for cells to move towards a pluripotent state not as dramatic as some might think. He ended by encouraging all ISSCR members to attend the 10th annual ISSCR meeting next year in Yokohama, and added a warming personal note by thanking the international community for its tremendous support following the recent disasters in Japan.

In the afternoon, a plenary session on “Stem Cell Metabolism and Aging” featured talks by Irina Conboy and Amy Wagers on our current understanding of how age regulates stem cell function, focusing on their work in skeletal muscle. Both presentations were well done and made reference to previous work by Dr. Conboy in which young and old mice were parabiosed together, leading to a restoration of satellite cell function in the old partner. Dr. Wagers has followed up on these reports using similar experiments to investigate age-dependent regulation of stem cell function in other tissues, and reported that similar trends were found in models of cardiac hypertrophy as well as remyelination studies. TGFß was reported to have a central role in this phenomenon, but the contribution of additional cytokines, as well as accessory inflammatory cells and metabolic regulators remains to be completely elucidated. Dr. Wagers' data on the changes in satellite cell function in different dietary conditions led smoothly into a closing joke about taking caution in one's indulgence during the reception that evening. The talks, “Modifying Regenerative Potential and Cell Fate Within Myogenic Lineage” by Dr. Conboy and “Modulators of Stem Cell Regenerative Function in Skeletal Muscle” by Dr. Wagers were very complementary and worked well to give a detailed overview of their research and its potential.

June 17, 2011

View from the floor: ISSCR day 2

By Ben Paylor

Although elsewhere in Canada there are some very troubling consequences arising from a group not living up to their potential (I refer to the rioting hooligans and not the Canucks), the realization of potential happening here at the ISSCR couldn’t be more different. There is a great sense of excitement and buzz surrounding the wide variety of presentations, which cover the entire breadth of stem cell research being conducted worldwide, With over 4,000 members in attendance, the ISSCR is the largest stem cell conference in the world and we are lucky to have it here this year. A quick glance at the 1,400 poster abstracts and one finds 270 categorized as embryonic stem cells, 180 on mesenchymal stem cells (a term Irv Weissman yesterday suggested should be used with more scrutiny), 200 on inducible pluripotent stem cells and reprogramming, 150 on stem cell technology and tissue engineering, and nearly 350 on a menagerie of tissue-specific stem cells. The sheer quantity of talks and posters can be a little bit daunting, but the opportunity for learning, networking, and collaboration makes the stakes too high for one to be overwhelmed.

Screen shot 2011-06-16 at 9.12.22 PM Hans Clevers, the director of the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht, closed the morning plenary session, “Tissue Stem Cell Origins”. His talk on a population of stem cells labeled by LRG5 was excellent, aided by numerous colorful and understandable CGI animations of the data they were generating. Following the observation that LRG5 labels a specific progenitor cell population in the intestinal crypts, his group employed a number of lineage tracing strategies to elegantly show how a single group of stem cells can continually divide and differentiate in order to repopulate this organ which continually regenerates through mammalian life. The use of the Rainbow reporter strain to this effect produced some very revealing (and colorful) data demonstrating how this repopulation occurred. The ability of a single LRG5+ cell from the crypt to generate clonal structures he termed as “miniguts” was remarkable, with this effect being improved if the cells were isolated as doublets with their paracrine partners, paneth cells. By combining CGI animation with elegant data, his talk provided a very clear and comprehensive overview of some of the work being done at the Hubrecht Institute.

In the afternoon, the main auditorium was stirred up somewhat by Thea Tlsty’s presentation describing the isolation and characterization of pluripotent stem cells from adult mammary tissue. The time available for questions was very limited, and a number of members of the audience, myself included, wish there had been a little more time to discuss the results and their significance. Later in the afternoon, the inaugural Ernest McCulloch Memorial Lecture was given by John Dick on the genetic diversity of leukemia initiating cells. It was a captivating and detailed presentation outlining the need for standardization of experimental design in the field of cancer stem cells, as well as a comprehensive update on characterization of HSC developmental hierarchy. Controversy surrounding the concept of cancer stem cells is well known in the field, and Dr. Dick argued that perhaps competing theories need not be considered to be mutually exclusive. He conceptually outlined how clonal evolution and cancer stem cell hypothesis are perhaps more complementary than some might think, and presented some data from an acute lymphoblastoma leukemia model which supports this theory. It was an excellent end to day 2 of the conference.

Photo: LRG5 labelled cells in intestinal crypts, Hans Clevers lab