Lessons learned from a failed stem cell study, the brave new world of mitochondrial replacement and a look at the FDA nominee. This week in Abstract Science.

Post-Mortem on the STAP Cell Fiasco

(Science, 9/23/15, Gretchen Vogel)

About 18 months ago, Japanese researchers claimed to have reprogrammed cells to adopt a pluripotent state by simply exposing them to an acid bath. The data turned out to be faulty, though, and the papers describing the work retracted about a month later. The scientist who led the study, Haruko Obokata, resigned and her supervisor and co-author of the paper committed suicide. Now, researchers from seven different labs who tried unsuccessfully to replicate the findings have published their findings in two separate papers in Nature, found here and here, and their conclusion is that the revolutionary way of inducing adult stem cells never existed. All report observations that might have misled scientists from RIKEN who conducted the discredited research, including cells that glow, faintly, under key wavelengths of light. One of the scientists who conducted the post-mortem of the STAP fiasco said more cautious researchers would have realized they were on the wrong track.

Mitochondrial Replacement

(Nature, 9/23/2015, Garry Hamilton)

A growing body of evidence suggests that mitochondria do not just produce energy, but also influence a wide range of cellular processes, from cell death to immune responses, and that the variations in the organelle matter very much. Variants in mitochondrial DNA are now linked to many common human conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases, cancer and aging. What might this mean for mitochondrial replacement therapy, a technique that would allow a woman with a mitochondrial disorder to give birth to healthy children by pairing her nuclear DNA with the healthy mitochondria from a donor’s egg?

The FDA Nominee

(GEN, 9/23/15, Alex Philippidis)

Dr. Robert Califf, President Obama’s nominee to lead the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), wants to streamline clinical trials, promote patient engagement and involve the agency in human phenotyping efforts. Other priorities of the FDA include meeting goals of the Precision Medicine Initiative.  But his main priority if he is confirmed, which appears likely, will be getting the FDA to catch up to an environment where business is moving faster than science.  Califf says he is mindful of the fact how little evidence there is for most of what we do in medicine. “When the evidence is in, you can have arguments, but they’re a whole different type of argument than the argument you have when no one knows the right answer,” he said recently.

—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery