Friday, April 19, 2013

Stem cells make the big screen in "Errors of the Human Body"

Axolotl | By Orizatriz (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
Tonight, the movie Errors of the Human Body by director Eron Sheean opens in select theaters, featuring if not stem cells exactly, then at least regenerative properties that can be attributed to stem cells.

Those regenerative properties are transferred in the movie from an axolotl, which look like they were designed specifically as a science fiction prop, and are in fact studied by stem cell scientists trying to understand how the animals are able to regenerate limbs.

So, if the animal being studied is accurate, what about the rest of the movie? Thanks to a review by Jef Akst of The Scientist, here's what we know. The science is pretty realistic, including some not-dumbed-down conversations between the scientists. This could be because Sheean was artist-in-residence at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, Germany, where the movie was shot. He actually knows a thing or two about lab life.

As for the central premise--that a scientist could be bitten by a mouse carrying axolotl genes and pick up the alteration himself? Here's what University of Florida molecular virologist William Hauswirth wrote in an email to The Scientist:
“If the animal bite took place within a few days of vector treatment, the vector was made with minimal to no safety forethought, and the vector was delivered to an anatomical site that would allow spread to saliva, then yes it would be possible, but only theoretically by not very bright people.”
"Only theoretically by not very bright people" might be my favorite caveat ever. That aside, it sounds like stem cell fans could do worse than watching this somewhat amped up view of lab life.

Here's more about the movie and a cool trailer.

A.A.

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