August 12, 2005
Success Predicted For Cellular Dedifferentiation Efforts

Cellular dedifferentiation means turning a cell from a specialized state (e.g. muscle cell or liver cell) into an unspecialized cell that has the ability to become other cell types. At the most extreme dedifferentiated state embryonic stem cells are so dedifferentiated that they have the ability to become all more specialized cell types. This extreme state is called pluripotency. Ethical opposition to the use of cells harvested from human embryos to create pluripotent cell lines has led scientists to look for other ways to create pluripotent stem cells. A major figure in stem cell research says a number of labs are getting close to announcing successful techinques for dedifferentiating cells.

"Just a few years ago, it was beyond the reach of the existing science at the time ... almost like alchemy, where you're trying to turn lead into gold," said Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development at Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology.

But today, new tools have changed the landscape: "Our group, and I know at least two or three others, are playing with different techniques, and it's very clear that something is going on here. We're definitely getting reprogramming," Lanza said.

The article cites a number of experimental approaches being pursued to cause dedifferentiation. However, I expect better methods which provide more precise control and more consistent outcomes to eventually replace some of the earlier techniques.

Success may come soon. Lanza says look for research reports on dedifferentiation in the next year.

What's more, researchers are hinting that yet more dramatic studies will be coming out in the weeks and months ahead.

"You'll start seeing publications in the next year," Advanced Cell Technology's Lanza said.

I've long argued that dedifferentiation is a solvable problem and that it would not take decades to solve. Plus, solving it will provide a great deal of information with many practical uses. W

Lanza is a very credible source for such an optimistic assertion as Lanza and ACT colleagues were the first to clone a human embryo in 2001. In other words, he's an accomplished stem cell researcher and has a major human embryonic stem cell research achievement to his credit.

Even if you resent or disagree with the religious folks who morally oppose the harvesting of embryonic stem cells from human embryos you should see Lanza's latest claim as good news. If fully pluripotent stem cells (i.e. capable of becoming all cell types) can be created without destroying embryos then a larger fraction of the populations of Western countries will support research into uses of pluripotent stem cells. Increases in public support for stem cell research of any type are beneficial to the cause of developing rejuvenating therapies and disease cures.

US President George W. Bush's chief bioethicist Leon Kass is even willing to accept removal of a single cell from an embryo to create pluripotent stem cell lines of the technique can be demonstrated to pose no risk to the eventual baby that could develop from such an embryo.

The next alternative is to use a biopsy, that is, cell removal from still-living embryos, presumably in ways that will not do damage to that embryo. We now practice, at least on a small scale, whatís called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, where couples are at risk of a child with a genetic disease known to run in the family. At the roughly eight-cell stage, one or even two cells are taken out for genetic testing. And maybe 10,000 babies have already been born, more or less healthy, following this procedure. ... If you take out a couple of cells and you test them, and the embryo is shown not to carry the genetic disease of concern, that embryo is then transferred to a woman, and if all goes well, nine months later youíve got a baby free of the disease. The thought is that maybe you biopsy these embryos, and you take out the individual cells, not for genetic testing, but to try to produce stem cell lines from them.

No one has yet converted a single blastomere from an eight-cell embryo into a stem cell line. Thatís a scientific challenge. But the council was quite concerned about the ethics of this. We didnít think that one could justify putting a child-to-be at additional risk, not for its own benefit. Until it could be proved by animal studies, or by much longer studies of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, that embryo biopsy is really risk-free to the child who results from all of this, the council is unprepared to pronounce this particular approach as ethically acceptable at this time.

While that techinque may turn out to be useful it still involves going down a path of fertilizing an egg from a woman with a sperm from a man to start a pregnancy in order to get a pluripotent stem cell line. But that cell line does not genetically match any single existing person's DNA sequence. What we really need most of all is the ability to turn our own cells into more flexible and youthful cells so that we can create fully immunologically compatible cells. Plus, if I'm going to have neural stem cells injected to help rejuvenate my brain I don't want someone else's stem cells which have different characteristics due to genetic differences and which therefore might gradually alter my personality.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 August 12 09:18 AM  Biotech Stem Cells

toot said at August 12, 2005 11:53 AM:

Possibly some aspects of your personality would be affected by the characteristics of individual neural cells, e.g., the speed at which action potentials are transmitted, but I would think that most of what you regard as being your personality is determined by inter-neuron connectivity. If so, then it seems to me that if you want to preserve your personality, you wouldn't want to go injecting new neurons into your brain at all.

Of course, the inter-neuron connectivity (i.e., synapse weightings) are changing all the time as the result of development, maturing/aging, experience/education and deterioration/forgetting. Thus, your "personality" would seem to be a constantly evolving thing and to freeze it in some one of its transient states would be highly abnormal. In short, I think you need to be giving a great deal more thought as to what you may be wishing for.

Randall Parker said at August 12, 2005 12:57 PM:


I've been thinking about this since I was a kid. When I was about 11 or 12 I became obsessed with the idea that who I am is constantly dying and a different person is taking his place. This bothered me (or the successive me's) a great deal. But I finally made peace with the fact that I could do nothing about it.

As for the personality changing: Not so much. Yes, the mind changes. But some characteristics are remarkably stable. e.g. Extroverts stay extroverted. Introverts stay introverted.

Some stuff would remain the same even if new neural stem cells were added. Some existing higher level structures would provide a context that the added stem cells would fit themselves into. But some other stuff would change. I don't know what would change and what would be stable. But I'd rather replace my neural stem cells with newer versions using my own genome rather than someone else's.

Brett Bellmore said at August 12, 2005 2:29 PM:

The problem here, as I see it, is that the anti-cloning folks are committed to defending the "rights" of any cell that achieves pluripotent status. After all, you're just turning a ordinary bodily cell into what amounts to a fertilized egg, right?

Randall Parker said at August 12, 2005 2:33 PM:


Leon Kass and some other hESC opponents are okay with pluripotency as long as it is achieved without destroying an embryo. Perhaps some as you suggest would oppose creation of pluripotency by any method. But substantial and perhaps majority portion of the hESC opponents are okay with pluripotency achieved by other means.

toot said at August 12, 2005 2:43 PM:


Not at all. A fertilized egg is more than a pluripotent cell. It has been affected by what might be regarded as boundary conditions that are imposed by ambient cells in the ovary, and these are necessary for establishing the orientation of various axes of development, including the division of the multiplying cells into those that become the fetus and those that form part of the auxiliary structures, such as the placenta. If you would take the time to read the various essays of the Kass committee you would see that you are mocking is a strawman position that, while easy to defeat, is very simplistic when compared to a serious discussion of the matter.

toot said at August 12, 2005 5:07 PM:


You seem to be arguing that the addition of new neural cells would have no pronounced effects and that they would assume roles in the brain consistent with the already existing structure. Have you considered the possibility that they might introduce or alter feedback controlling various mental processes or that they might introduce association of mental events that there is no valid reason to associate, thereby having a profound effect? I can buy into the idea that a controlled introduction of new neurons might be useful to repairing damage, such as the neurons in a broken spinal cord, but to simply add them in the expectation that they will somehow make an existent mental structure better seems a bit over-optimistic.

Brock said at August 12, 2005 5:45 PM:

Dear "The current" Randall,

It's a pleasure to meet you. Previous iterations of myself have always enjoyed speaking with the Randall's of those present moments. I think they would be proud of how you've kept up the fine FuturePundit tradition. ;-)

Anyway, reading this post and the previous one together seems exponentially more interesting than either of them alone. Wouldn't it be possible then to take a collections any old cells, de-differentiate them, test & compare their DNA for mutations, fix one of them up, and then re-differentiate it into any of the ASC's required to rejevenate a particular organ or tissue?


PS - Ever noticed the similarity between being really tired and slightly drunk?

Brock said at August 12, 2005 5:47 PM:

Just thought I'd add that I'm really tired, not drunk.

Randall Parker said at August 12, 2005 6:34 PM:


First off, our brains already have stem cells in them and of at least two types. We already get new neurons and probably new glial cells formed as a result.

In fact, taking of SSRI anti-depressants (e.g. Prozac, Paxil) causes stem cell replication to increase after a few weeks and that, perhaps not coincidentally, is how long it takes anti-depressants to start producing mood-lifting benefits.

The goal of putting younger neural stem cells into a brain are a few fold:

1) They'd outcompete older stem cells that are at greater risk of going cancerous.

2) They'd be used to supply replacement cells where damage has occurred.

3) They'd probably participate in new memory formation.

Marvin said at August 12, 2005 7:05 PM:

Robert Becker has been experimenting with de-differentiating cells in bone marrow for over 30 years. He lacked the precision at the time to determine if he was actually de-differentiating and re-differentiating cells or if he was triggering the multiplication of undetected stem cells in the marrow. The healing of difficult fractures he induced was quite impressive at the time. The concept has been around for a long time.

I understand that some right wing neuroscientists are experimenting with the implantation of neural stem cells from right wing oriented embryos, into left wing individuals, leading to left-to-right wing chimeras. This is politically dangerous, to say the least, and ethical watchdogs should certainly be notified promptly.

apocalypse said at August 12, 2005 7:06 PM:

"Not at all. A fertilized egg is more than a pluripotent cell. It has been affected by what might be regarded as boundary conditions that are imposed by ambient cells in the ovary, and these are necessary for establishing the orientation of various axes of development, including the division of the multiplying cells into those that become the fetus and those that form part of the auxiliary structures, such as the placenta. If you would take the time to read the various essays of the Kass committee you would see that you are mocking is a strawman position that, while easy to defeat, is very simplistic when compared to a serious discussion of the matter."- toot

Interesting challenge, but it's very likely it's possible to confer, via gen mods, the ability to develop into a full organism provided adequate nutrients and an oxygen/CO2 exchange protective membrane. After all many animals already do this, there are even mammals that do so. I wonder how they'd respond to that?

An even more interesting challenge would be to make it so it can develop even without a protective exchange membrane and the provision of plenty of easy to use nutrients. I think you'd need to confer agelessness, metabolic slowdown or even halting mechanisms, and some form of defense mechanisms to fend off and outcompete other abundant lifeforms at the different scales. It'd go from a single cell to a minute multicellular organism and later on into a very large one.

It's still sad that these people consider the destruction of an embryo in an attempt to save a life wrong, yet consider it right to do so in an attempt to reproduce.

toot said at August 12, 2005 9:32 PM:


You seem to be saying that there are mammals such that one can take just a pluripotent cell and regenerate an entire organism by merely providing "adequate nutrients and an oxygen/CO2 exchange" mechanism. You gave no examples, so I am not sure what you are talking about. The cloning one hears about starts with an egg that already has the orientation signals impressed upon it by the ovary from which it has come. These signals do not come from the transferred nucleus. Now one presumes that the orientation signals are chemical ones that could be introduced artificially, as has been done with a mouse, by the Japanese, I think. However, unless some rather exact precautions are taken, the multiplying cells will differentiate in an unintegrated fashion, and a teratoma will result.

Brett Bellmore said at August 13, 2005 6:25 AM:

Toot, he didn't say there were such, he said that you could create such by genetic engineering. Which will probably be true, once it gets advanced enough.

As for Kass, I might be wrong about the details of why he'd oppose it, but I've read enough of his writings to be aware that he'd oppose any use of stem cells for life extension.

toot said at August 13, 2005 8:34 AM:


"As for Kass, I might be wrong about the details of why he'd oppose it, but I've read enough of his writings to be aware that he'd oppose any use of stem cells for life extension."

You might want to go a bit more into the details if that is the limit of your awareness, especially if your going to make public comments. If your "awareness" were correct, how do you account for his support for research on adult stem cells? With regard to the comment by apocalypse:

"After all many animals already do this, there are even mammals that do so. I wonder how they'd respond to that?"

It sure sounds like he is claiming that it has already happened, but perhaps I'm going too much into the "details" of what he wrote.

Fly said at August 13, 2005 9:26 AM:

Toot: ďIf your "awareness" were correct, how do you account for his support for research on adult stem cells?Ē

Iíve read enough Kass to believe that Brett is correctly interpreting Kassís views. Kass has made statements to the effect that the disability, pain, and general negativity of aging help prepare humans for death. From Kassís religious perspective that is good.

ďhow do you account for his support for research on adult stem cells?Ē

I canít know Kassís motives. My guess is that he is willing to support research that cures specific diseases as long as the ďnaturalĒ aging process isnít affected.

More cynically, I guess that his ďsupportĒ for adult stem cell research is only because a more restrictive approach would be totally unacceptable to the general population.

I donít doubt that Kass is a good, well-meaning man. I just disagree with his desire to rush me off to heaven.

I share some of Kassís doubts concerning how new technologies will affect human society. The next decades will be a wild ride.

toot said at August 13, 2005 9:56 AM:


Much of medical science is driven by the proposition that it is better to live longer. As long as there seemed to be little hope of achieving perpetual life, there was little reason to question that proposition. However, with our developing ability to manipulate life at the molecular level, what at one time seemed only a fantasy now appears to be possible. Before undertaking such a momentous change in human life, it seems to me to be not unreasonable to reexamine our premisses, and that is what Kass has done. I believe he has raised some good points, although for my taste he has placed too much emphasis on matters of expediency.

What I find troubling about the prospect is that what results is a population that no longer quite fits the definition of "life". The best term that I can think of to describe the result would be "active fossils". Of course, on threads such as this one, there will be those that will claim that the evolutionary process will be replaced by one in which deliberate changes are introduced by various engineering techniques for the improvement of the species, in which case what we would have are "artifacts" that result from "intelligent design". In any event, the prospect of such a change makes global warming seem like pretty small potatoes.

Randall Parker said at August 13, 2005 10:27 AM:

For anyone interested you can read reports from The President's Council on Bioethics.


I think Kass has run into a problem that has perhaps changed his thinking. The problem which I suspect he recognizes is this: There's not much difference down at the molecular level between disease and aging. They both amount to things no longer working right. Perhaps that is why he's now supportive of finding ways to make pluripotent stem cells. Either that or he still opposes stopping the aging process but realizes that he's never going to convince the majority of his viewpoint.

From a March 6, 2003 meeting of that council entitled "Beyond Therapy: Ageless Bodies" with Kass running the meeting there was an exchange on that very question:

PROF. GEORGE: In the paper, right. So I'm wondering about the distinction between the biological processes of aging and disease in order to evaluate whether we can conceive the biological processes of aging on a par with disease. What I have in mind is a sort of -- can be expressed in a kind of simple flat-footed way.

WE go to grandma's house for Thanksgiving. She greets us at the door. How are you, grandma? Oh, I'm okay. What do you mean you're okay? Something is wrong? Oh, nothing. It's just old age. Right. Now when she's saying that, she's referring to some biological processes, but she probably has various things, various symptoms that are diseases, aren't they? Or things are breaking down, things aren't going right. It could be anything. It could be Gout, it could be -- well, all the things that happen to us as we get older. Now is there some distinction between the biological processes of aging and just that collection of things that grandma has in mind?

PROF. SANDEL: Well, does anybody ever really die of old age?

PROF. BLACKBURN: I think they do. I think there's a very real -- if we take, you know, reduce it to the humble nematode worm, you know, referred to by Steve Austad in a session where he presented, it's very clear that you see these worms that have absolutely everything supplied to them, and yet they will have a trajectory of decline which you can, as we heard, alter by very simple, sometimes single nucleotide changes in their genomes. And there's a clear process. Right.

Now we don't like it and so we call it disease, but I think it's a very real process, and can be quite distinguished. And the fact that it manifests itself in a series of definable symptoms and definable tissue states, I think doesn't -- changes the real biology. I think that's what's being learned, that there is something real there. Now your question is, can you treat each of these tissue issues as a disease and treat them all, and that's, I think, a good question.

PROF. GEORGE: Have we exhausted it? I mean, at that point, have we exhausted everything there is that counts as old age? I mean, I think we probably in every case if grandma listed them, we'd say oh, yeah, we want the doctor to take care of that. Yeah, we want you to go to the doctor for that. Don't sit around. Yeah, we want you to go to the doctor and have him take care of that, but then after we've exhausted all that would we then say but look, there's no point in going to the doctor just to fight old age.

Well, I do not personally see a difference between aging and disease. You might be able to draw a distinction between aging and infectious disease since the pathogens are not of our bodies. But for most disease it looks an awful lot like aging of specific tissues. Or aging of specific tissues eventually causes enough changes to be recognizable as some disease that has a name for it.

But some of the guys on the panel want to draw a distinction based on the argument that aging is a "natural process".

CHAIRMAN KASS: Let's leave aside the question of whether anybody actually dies of old age. That seems to be a sidepoint. That there is some kind of process of gradual loss of function that is separate from specific diseases, everybody in this room ought to be able to give personal testimony to, that there is this kind of underlying process which wears us down. And the question is, should we come to regard that like a disease against which we should bring the powers of medicine to bear. Charles, are you going to take that one on or not?

DR. KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I would just offer, to be as provocative as I can in answer and to provoke discussion from that, would be that disease implies some defect in biology, some error, some deviation from the normal trajectory. It was hard to see how philosophically you could call aging a disease if it is the 100 percent norm for all organisms, so from that perspective, a biological perspective, I would say that I find it hard to call it a disease, it being such an intrinsically natural, if you like, process.

From the human psychological perspective, it's a disease in the sense that it creates problems which we want to fix, and that -- and we regard -- it sort of ranks psychologically as a disease in that sense, but I'm not so sure how much applying the word helps us in deciding what to do about it, but that's what I would offer as an answer to is it a disease? Biologically, philosophically, no. Psychologically, it feels like it; therefore, we treat it as one.

I realize Charles Krauthammer is an M.D. and therefore knows lots of facts about diseases. But I think he's wrong on this point. Bubonic plague is a natural process. What of it? Granted the plague genome is not part of our own genomes.

Look, by his definition genetic defects that make people sick are not diseases. After all, they are part of the natural programming for each person who gets them. Or is an auto-immune disorder a disease? After all, the genome for the immune system is probably just following its genetic instructions.

Are kidney failure, congestive heart failure, and liver failure diseases? If a liver fails due to an infection is that a disease whereas if it fails due to a many decade exposure to and handling of environmental toxins is that not a disease?

toot said at August 13, 2005 12:34 PM:


The term "natural process" is a little too general to be useful in this discussion. After all, a gun shot is a process that obeys "natural processes" of physics and chemistry, but we would be going astray to refer to death by gunshot as natural. Likewise with bubonic plague. Taking the view of an evolutionist, we have not evolved immortality because immortality is inconsistent with evolution. So, in that sense, aging and death are quite natural. Now if I understand the point that you are making, whatever the cause of death, it can ultimately be described in terms of biology, chemistry and physics in more elementary terms that it would seem possible to thwart by some suitably chosen countermeasures that would also be natural biological, chemical or physical processes. You make this argument at the level of an organism, but why not make it at the level of the cell? Perhaps the life of every cell could be extended perpetually. But would that be beneficial to the organism that comprises the cells, for whom apoptosis is a natural part of development? It seems to me there is a like problem at the species level, i.e., would perpetuating the lives of organisms be beneficial to the species that comprises them?

Randall Parker said at August 13, 2005 12:48 PM:


But we haven't evolved a total resistance to bubonic plague because it too is evolving. Ditto for lots of other pathogens. Death from infection is fully natural because pathogens are products of evolution - just as aging is a product of evolution. Both types of death are natural results of evolution.

Also, death from gunshot wounds is a product of evolution. First, aggressivity of males is a product of evolution. Second, the level of intelligence that allows some humans to design and devise means to make guns makes death from gunshot wounds possible.

Perpetual life of a cell: Well, I certainly want to accomplish this outcome for neurons.

Why is species benefit the preferred moral perspective?

Also, if you allow death then eventually the species that we know as homo sapiens will be replaced by other species through a series of mutations and natural selection. If species survival is paramount then we actually should want to stop natural selection by stopping death.

As for the term "natural process": It is introduced by people trying to argue for their preferred policies. The argument goes along the lines of "X is natural and therefore we should preserve X and prevent Y since Y is not natural". I think this sort of argument is wrong for two reasons. First, it assumes the naturalistic fallacy that whatever is true must be good. Second, the line drawn between what is natural and what is artificial seems arbitrary and designed simply to support the ethical standard that someone prefers.

toot said at August 13, 2005 1:27 PM:


Normally I would agree that decisions should be made for the benefit of the individual, rather than of the others, i.e., the group. However, in practice this is not always the way that we naturally respond. Consider a case in which there is only a single space left in a life boat. Who gets to go in, you or your son? Nature has provided us with a certain kind of calculus for dealing with such situations that is protective of our progeny. Is nature always right? Well, how is right to be determined? There are many ethical theories that have been proposed. However, it seems to be an empirical fact, as well as theoretically plausible, that continuity of our kind, our genome, seems to be a powerful concern that has evolved in us. One might conclude that right is the course that leads to the greater happiness, or rather in the case of humans, the greater eudaimonia, and what this comes down to in the end are such things as the perpetuation of the family in the first instance, and of the species in the second.

Rereading what I have written, I notice an overlooked point. In the brave new world of perpetual life it would be pointless for the father the sacrifice himself for the son, if a son were even to exist. This strikes me as another instance of how greatly we would be changed.

Randall Parker said at August 13, 2005 1:46 PM:


Fathers sacrifice themselves for their progeny precisely because the net effect of natural selection makes that into a reproductively more fit choice. But that is because the father is older and less able to have more progeny than their younger offspring. Technology changes that calculus.

Yes, we will be greatly changed. But compare ourselves to other primates. We were once far more like them. We are the product of great changes.

K said at August 13, 2005 2:47 PM:

Fathers sacrifice themselves................

I think cultural pressure - men are trained to risk all when needed - not natural selection makes this happen. Protection doesn't happen in all cases or equally among all peoples. Women protecting the young seem to be quite another story.

Animals have various behavior - some males will eat the young, some are totally indifferent, and some protective. Mothers seem more concerned but, as far as I know, mothers that protect their young do not favor females. It seems they would if natural selection was at work, few males are needed to keep all the females mated.

toot said at August 13, 2005 3:25 PM:


The kind of cultural pressures that you mention are, I think, the basis for Aristotle's distinction between happiness and eudaimonia. Yet the tendency to succumb to cultural pressures would itself be an evolved trait.

With regard to females not favoring females, the evolutionary explanation here is that survival of a female provides greater probability of a limited number of progeny, but the survival of the male has the possibility, albeit less probable, of a large number of progeny. That kind of reasoning wouldn't work so well in present day China.

With regard to parents eating their young, that would seem to be another luxury we will be able to afford in Randall's Brave New World, at least with respect to being released from evolutionary constraints. In China during its famine, parents were purported to have traded daughters. I am not aware of any reports that sons were so traded.

Randall Parker said at August 13, 2005 3:55 PM:


No, the tendency to sacrifice for progeny is there due to natural selection. The influence of culture is much overrated.

No, natural should not cause mothers or fathers to favor protecting young in all cases. What matters is reproductive fitness of offspring. Fewer males than females manage to reproduce in most species. But those males that reproduce leave more progeny than the females that do. So if you invest in your male offspring you might totally miss out in leaving progeny. But your male offspring might manage to impregnate multiple females.

More likely if the male and female offspring look sickly there'd be a tendency to favor the female since she'll still be desirable to potential mates. But if both male and female offspring look really healthy the tendency would be to invest more in the male since he'd have excellent chances of knocking up multiple females.

apocalypse said at August 13, 2005 5:07 PM:

What I've said is that given there are species where a single cell is seen to develop into an adult organism provided a heat source, protective exchange membrane, and nutrients in a different way from the placental mammals, that is by laying their eggs(single-celled zygotes can usually develop provided the above.). That bestowing such an ability to any one cell, should most likely be possible using future advanced tools and knowledge which would allow for more complex genetic modifications, more precise coaxing/guiding into reaching such a stage, and for providing the heat source, protective exchange membrane and nutrients.

AA2 said at August 13, 2005 11:16 PM:

I think whether aging is a disease or not is just semantics. We know younger people are better at healing with diseases. So making people younger would be part of the treatment for diseases. And for those without disease it would be a precautionary measure.

However I think we can't really rely on the government to provide these solutions. We've already seen in most of Europe the governments there being much more against cloning even for therapuetic reasons then in America. Even though allegedly it is the right wing christians holding back progress in America.

The only thing that matters to me is will people pay for these treatments of aging. And without a shadow of a doubt 99.9% will, even if the sociological overlords think it is a bad idea for 'society'.

Randall Parker said at August 14, 2005 9:01 AM:


Yes, it has been far too little remarked upon that many European countries have stricter stem cell research laws than the United States. Even supposedly highly secular Germany has much stronger restrictions against human embryonic stem cell research than the United States.

I'm not worried about the amount of money going to human embryonic stem cell research as an obstacle to rejuvenation therapy development. My take on it is that we should be way more concerned with the total number of dollars spent on all stem cell research. On that score the US government (according to an article I read on The Scientist a few months ago, but sorry, no URL) spends about $565 million on all stem cell research with about $25 million going to human embryonic. That "all" figure includes animals too. Well, I'd be happy to keep the human embryonic spending where it is if we could increase the total to some really big number. How about $5 billion? Why not $10 billion? It is only going to save our lives. Why not $20 billion?

We can reprogram around the hESC limitations. We could do it faster if we spent more on dedifferentiation techniques. How about $1 billion per year just for dedifferentiation?

toot said at August 14, 2005 10:30 AM:

How easy it is to write bigger and bigger numbers to express our support for a particular line of research. So Randall proposes to increase stem cell research by a forty-fold factor. Do we really have the research biologists to sustain such an effort? It sounds to me that you are proposing to give every undergraduate biology student his or her own research lab.

What would be the effect of drawing researchers from other areas of activity? Should those working on improving food crops by genetic modification be enticed to switch over to stem cell research? Should those doing neurobiology be so enticed? Should even those working on silicon-based systems be drawn in to the great effort? Or have we perhaps lost a bit of our perspective here?

Randall Parker said at August 14, 2005 1:30 PM:


We can't increase the level of spending on stem cells by 40 fold next year. But we could do it over 5 or 10 years. Certainly we could double or triple it pretty easily. Competition for grants is stiff. Plenty of labs are underfunded. Lots of labs could shift their emphasis from other areas to stem cells and get much better funding.

As for pulling people away from other areas: You are missing the point when you cite neuroscience research as an example. We need treatments for neurological diseases. We need tools. Far too much spending goes into just accumulating more knowledge about specific diseases. We know the genetic causes of lots of diseases but can little with that information.

Regardless of whether your liver is failing from alcohol abuse, toxin exposures, hep C, hep B, or a dozen other causes the solution is a new liver. Regardless of whether you ate too much fatty foods or didn't exercise enough or had bad genes if your heart is failing you need a new heart or stem cells that can repair the existing heart. We need to take a more engineering approach to disease. Make parts. Fix parts.

A lot of the stem cell money would end up going to basic science for cellular growth regulation. So a lot of basic science would get done, more in fact since I'm proposing this additional money to increase the total level of funding for biomedical research and development.

I also favor an additional couple billion dollars a year spent on instrumentation including DNA sequencing, nanosensors, and microfluidics. Again, we need better tools.

I also favor a big increase in funding for gene therapy. I'd spend at least $2 billion per year just on development of better gene therapy delivery vectors.

Look, these are still small amounts of money compared to peak spending of R&D money in the US Defense Department in the Cold War as measured by percentage of GDP. NIH's budget is stll under $30 billion, $28.4 billion last I checked. 1% of GDP (similar to the NASA moon program at its peak) would be about $110 billion. Well, those of us who are not opposed to treatments for the diseases of aging would get a lot more out of a rapid acceleration of stem cell research than we got from the Apollo program.

AA2 said at August 14, 2005 3:32 PM:

I agree that the total amount spent is the thing to look at. Although it does seem a way to pressure conservatives is to push for embryonic research, and then as a compromise raise the spending on adult stem cell research.

I think the total amount the US is spending on stem cells is starting to look good. 565 million at the federal level, 300 million in California coming up, and probably close to another 100 million across the other states. Then private funding, including the businesses which is probably tens of millions. Its early on for the businesses as it will take time for treatments to come to the market. As the regeneration medicine gets closer to the market, I think more companies and more money will come to them. And its in the companies that I expect to see most of the treatments coming from.

The other couple things is hopefully around the world there will be funding into the research. Even if the smaller oecd nations put in like 10 million, it adds up. And of course their own companies. Which is the next point that I wonder how the patent system works for stem cells? I believe in the pharmacuetical business for example that patents could even be extended for their length of time. I dont' even know how long stem cell patents last though.

And last point, is on the total amount to spend as you said in the billions. I could see it, and I believe it is one of those things, that if you build it they will come. If there is lots of money flowing around, students for example will be more compelled to enter that field. And universities will guide students towards those programs. Other students that might have stopped at the Masters or Bachelor level, will be encouraged to move up. And of course there is always outsourcing.

Lyle said at August 22, 2005 6:47 PM:

Here may be one of those first articles:
Researchers devise new technique for creating human stem cells

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