Friday, June 3, 2011

Marius Wernig on why we need many stem cell approaches to new therapies

Last week we blogged about work by Marius Wernig of Stanford University, who has successfully converted human skin into nerves, skipping the step of first converting the cells into embryonic-like iPS cells.

Wernig is quoted in a Nature news story talking about whether the work could replace induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells or embryonic stem cells:
"I would say that both approaches should be actively pursued because you never know for which cases and specific applications one or the other may be more suitable."
I think the best example of why we need many approaches to treating disease came from patient advocate Rodney Paul, who spoke to an external review committee last year about CIRM. Here's what we wrote in our Best. Analogy. Ever. blog entry on October 13, 2010:
He pointed out that on this day the world saw awe-inspiring images of the first of 33 miners rising out of the Chilean mine where they’d been trapped — and that those miners were rescued through one of three shafts that had been dug as part of the rescue mission.

The shaft in question was dubbed “Plan B”. Drilling on plans A and C didn’t go as smoothly as hoped. That’s why on an important mission where time is limited and lives are at stake it’s important not to pin all hopes on one strategy.
With embryonic, adult, iPS and cancer stem cells plus the new direct conversion techniques CIRM is drilling a series of shafts all leading toward possible disease therapies.

We have a list of all our grants online. You can use the filters to see how many awards we're funding using different types of cells. Right now, the numbers are:
  • Embryonic: 215
  • iPS: 78
  • Adult: 47
  • Cancer: 10
Those numbers are updated whenever we fund new awards.



  1. Marius Wernig once showed up for a lecture clad in a tux-- and tennis shoes. Personally I hope he does it again.

    On a more serious note, science absolutely wants every tool in the toolbox, never limiting itself to a single approach.

    The California stem cell program is fighting for cures, and that means creativity and open minds.

  2. Meanwhile the patients are waiting...keep dragging your feet and making sure 10 years from now none of us with limited time have to worry about side effects..(unlike all the drugs that don't work but are on the market!)

    1. Then criticize the public and the media, for the massive backlash that occurs every time something ineffective or overly toxic gets past the FDA.

      In most cases it is very difficult, and indeed does take many years, to show that a treatment is effective (and furthermore that the side effects are not so severe that the net effect of the treatment is to *shorten* lifespan, for example). We actually *cannot* be certain whether any particular treatment actually benefits patients until that time.