Mark Noble (Univesrity of Rochester, Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Institute) was the first speaker in a panel that followed the keynote (Dr. Capecchi). Dr. Nobel talked about what is it about stem cells and sem cell research that we should include in our biology teaching. He suggests that it is critical that we teach the difference between evidence-based thinking and belief-based thinking. The difference between science and not-science.
He sees the biology of stem cells as the greatest opportunity for teaching about evolution.He referred to a very disconcerting Scientific American map, rating the evolution treatment in state public school science standards.
Tissue specific stem cells give rise to the cells of a single tissue by first generating restricted progenitor cells that only can generate some of the cell types in any given tissue. Important to remember that its the progenitor cells that are the real work horses of developmental biology – and this, says Dr. Noble, is a medical revolution. He pointed out some interesting medical applications you don’t hear much about. For instance, a succesful tracheal replacement with stem cells, grown on trachael-shaped biomaterials, and a similar procedure for bladder reconstruction.
Another teaching opporutnity – stem cells and cancer. Dr. Nobel reminds us that cancer uses the same tricks as developmental biology. Every therapy we have is targetted at removing the tumor – but if you leave the cancer stem cells, the tumor grows back. Now our treatments are focused on killing the cancer stem cells.
Another teaching opportunity with stem cells – toxicology. The World Health Organization estimates that 30 -40% of the burden of disesae is due to environmental factors. Dr. Nobel explains that there are 80-150k registered chemcials relesased into the environment for which we have no information (an assumption of safety). We have 100′s of these chemiscals in our bodies. But stem cell science helps us to figure out what these chemicals do. For instance lead inhibits frature repiar by inhiting mesenchymal stem cell fucntion. Other toxicants alter development of the nervous system or are risk factors for disbetes or alzheimer’s.
Dr. Nobel suggests that questions about the beginnings of “human-ness” are at the heart of the controversy over stem cell research. There are differeing scientific perspectives on the beginnings of human-ness – conception, 40-days post conception, 120-days post conception. Do iPS and reprogramming technologies offer us a way to side-step these controversies? Ethics exist along a temporal continuim. For instance, what should happen to blastocysts, frozen in IVF clinics, that are currently targeted for destruction?
Dr. Nobel also suggests including the exmination of false claims in our biology teaching. For instance, “Adult-derived cells have successfully treated more than 70 diseases.” But if you spend time with the list of diseases, most of them are bone marrow trasnplants. So that is a false claim and its interesting to investigate the claim with students to watch them get at exactly why that claim is wrong.