Friday, November 17, 2006

Good Times at the OHRI Stem Cell Symposium

Yesterday's field trip of the official press corps to the OHRI stem cell symposium was definitely awesome. The Sprott Stem Cell Centre features a sweet A/V set-up with a big-ass projector screen, an HD-ready LCD TV, and a fully wired sound system. (Would be a great set-up for a movie night or maybe a hockey game)...Anways, it's also great for science talks. High marks also awarded for copious amounts of delicious sweets, coffee, lunch and the wine and cheese. Definitely the highlight of the day for me was the talk from Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute. The first to make a transgenic mouse in the 70s, Jaenisch now works on somatic cell nuclear transfer. He strongly argues that somatic cell nuclear transfer is absolutely necessary if stem cell therapy is ever to become a reality, since it is the only way to get a truly pluripotent, autologous, embryonic stem cell that would be immunologically matched to each patient. Although non-embryonic adult stem cells could also provide a source of autologous cells, he seems quite unconvinced that they have any real regenerative value. On the other hand, he feels that the other application of nuclear transfer, cloning organisms, is pretty useless because it doesn't work. He cites that nuclear transfer never has nor will give rise to a normal, healthy animal as they invariably suffer from severe epigeneitc defects. Therefore his lab is now mostly focused on developing methods to use nuclear transfer to generate blastocysts from which it is possible to derive ES cells for therapeutic use, but that cannot implant in the uterus and therefore could never possibly give rise to an embryo. This would sidestep any concern that the derivation of human ES cells is killing potential embryonic life or fetuses etc. and open the door to nuclear transfer research using human materials to derive ES cells. So far, they have succeeded in using donor nuclei expressing a cdx2 shRNA to yield a recipient blastocyst incapable of implantation.

Overall bayblab rating: 10e45/10. Cutting-edge biology approached from a big-picture/philosophical point of view. Very political with cutting anti-Bush cartoons (+10 bayblab points), criticizing him for protecting the rights of ES cells while caring less about killing thousands of humans in Iraq, and suggesting that ES cell research would advance unimpeded if scientists simply found a way to derive oil or biofuels from them. Good usage of high- complexity Venn diagrams. Penalty of -1 bayblab point for spreading the idea that "male imprints cause cancer".