Since the first award was handed out in 1901, the Nobel Prize has become globally regarded as the most prestigious recognition of intellectual achievement.…
Since the first award was handed out in 1901, the Nobel Prize has become globally regarded as the most prestigious recognition of intellectual achievement. What’s amazing, however, is how often the Nobel committee has glaringly overlooked researchers behind outstanding discoveries that changed the practice of medicine.
Pioneers of Medicine Without a Nobel Prize, just published by the United Kingdom’s Imperial College Press, tells the stories of giants in medical science who somehow never won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.
Among the 15 featured scientists are:
• heart transplant pioneers Drs. Christiaan Barnard and Norman Shumway;
• Dr. Richard Doll, who made the link between smoking and lung cancer;
• Drs. Inge Edler and Carl Helmuth Hertz, who developed ultrasound technology; and
• Dr. Akira Endo, the discoverer of statins.
One chapter of the book, written by the Foundation’s Joe Sornberger, is dedicated to Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, the “fathers of stem cell research.” The two Canadians proved the existence of stem cells in the early 1960s at the Ontario Cancer Institute, while working on the sensitivity of bone marrow cells to radiation in mice.
Dr. Till still remembers the “Eureka” moment, when his partner Dr. McCulloch showed him a piece of graph paper on which he had illustrated that the more marrow cells were transplanted, the more bumps on the spleens appeared. After two years of work, Till and McCulloch showed that the bumps were formed by individual transplanted cells, which had proliferated and given rise to blood-forming cells.
That Dr. Till & McCulloch were somehow overlooked for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is inexplicable to many. As a previous post explained, there was some thought that Dr. Till would be handed his long overdue Nobel Laureate’s wreath two years ago alongside Japan’s Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who discovered induced pluripotent stem cells. (Dr. McCulloch died in 2011, making him ineligible). Canada has not brought home a Nobel in this category in over 90 years — not since Dr. Frederick Banting, discoverer of insulin, won in 1923.
Then again, when amazing giants such as Drs. Willem Kolff and Belding Scribner, who developed the Renal Haemodialysis, are left off the Nobel list, Drs. Till & McCulloch are in brilliant company.
For those who would like the full story of this amazing Canadian success story, you can purchase a copy of Mr. Sornberger’s book, Dreams & Due Diligence, published by University of Toronto Press, here.
The news this week that a Japanese researcher who claimed to have discovered a much simpler way to create stem cells has been found guilty of misconduct has sent a shock wave through the international stem cell community.…
The news this week that a Japanese researcher who claimed to have discovered a much simpler way to create stem cells has been found guilty of misconduct has sent a shock wave through the international stem cell community.
More importantly, it has everyone wondering: does this revolutionary new method of making stem cells work?
In January, NewsDesk reported on the excitement generated by reports that researchers at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, working with a team in the Boston, had transformed blood cells from newborn mice into pluripotent cells called STAP cells.
The STAP (stimulus-triggered activation of pluripotency) process stresses the cells by exposing them to trauma, low oxygen levels or mildly acidic solutions so that they revert to an embryonic-stem-cell-like state. Lead author Dr. Haruko Obokata (pictured at right) of the RIKEN Center said work was already underway to replicate the technique with human cells.
Until now there have only been two basic ways of making stem cells: harvesting them from embryos (embryonic stem cells), or genetically reprogramming adult cells to function like embryonic stem cells (induced pluripotent stem cells). To put the impact of Dr. Obokata’s discovery in context, the 2006 discovery of induced pluripotent cells earned her countryman Dr. Shinya Yamanaka the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012.
However, on Tuesday, a RIKEN-led committee investigating six problems with the STAP findings, which were published in the high-prestige journal Nature, ruled that in two instances Dr. Obokata had intentionally manipulated data. Both dealt with images of the cells used to support the findings.
CTV carried an Associated Press report in which RIKEN Institute President Dr. Ryoji Noyori said that, after allowing for an appeal, “disciplinary action would be taken, including calling for retraction of the suspect paper.” Nature, meanwhile, is conducting its own investigation.
For her part, Dr. Obokata has vigorously denied doing anything wrong and is appealing the decision, calling it “a misunderstanding.”
The fracas follows concerns over the use of several duplicated images in the findings as well as reports that scientists working in other labs have been unable to reproduce the same results by using the STAP process. The latter is not entirely surprising: it can take time to get a new process exactly right — especially one that is a revolutionary as what Dr. Obokata’s team came up with.
In fact, the RIKEN investigators haven’t said if STAP is scientifically valid. Nature News reported that the committee “repeatedly fended off questions about whether the technology works and, thus, whether STAP cells actually exist,” quoting one investigator as saying, “That is beyond the scope of our investigation.”
Dr. Janet Rossant, Chief of Research and Senior Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto urges caution before passing judgment.
“The team in RIKEN is still continuing to believe in the basic finding and will surely be working to revalidate the findings,” Dr. Rossant wrote to NewsDesk in an email. “We await new reports from the lab in Japan and, critically, reports from other labs worldwide as to whether this finding can be readily and robustly replicated.”
So, while the storm around the misrepresented data rages, the scientific world waits to see if STAP stands up to the test of time.
Japan is moving forward with its plans to fast-track the use of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to treat diseases — and revitalize its economy.…
Japan is moving forward with its plans to fast-track the use of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to treat diseases — and revitalize its economy.
According to the Japan Times, the country last week officially passed a law “to promote safe and swift treatment using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and other stem cells.” The legislation had previously received lower-house parliamentary approval.
As touched upon in an earlier post, Japanese scientists are now conducting world’s first human tests using iPS cells to treat age-related macular degeneration – the leading cause of vision loss in people over 50.
It’s no surprise they are first. Japan’s Dr. Shinya Yamanaka demonstrated how to create human iPs cells six years ago, inducing adult skin cells to become pluripotent (capable of differentiating into any cell the body needs). These cells function much like human embryonic stem cells but come without any controversy over destroying embryos to create them. The downside to iPS cells is a safety concern that the reprogrammed cells could potentially cause tumours to form. Researchers in Canada and around the world have been working on solutions to that.
Dr. Yamanaka won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his efforts. Throwing their support behind his work, Japan’s government recently announced it would invest more than $1 billion over the next 10 years in researching and developing iPS cells.
There is much more than national pride at stake, however. According to Bloomberg News, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sees cellular regeneration as a key element of economic regeneration. His government, the report says, “estimates that stem cells’ potential to rejuvenate worn-out body parts or reverse degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s may yield $380 billion in sales by 2050.”
The macular degeneration trial involves just six patients using iPS cells generated from their own skin. It is a tiny study by any measure. But it represents a big step in the country’s efforts to develop a stake in that potential mega-billion-dollar market.