Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nobel Prize, Stem Cells and WARF

Some of the reports earlier this week on the Nobel prize in medicine did not highlight its key link to human embryonic stem cell research or, indeed, how it plays into the WARF stem cell patent challenge.

The connection was something that initially eluded this sometimes science-challenged writer. But we asked Jeanne Loring of the Burnham Institute (soon to be of the neighboring Scripps Institute) to elucidate.

She said it was "a spectacular day" for embryonic stem cell researchers.
"The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to three pioneers in embryonic stem cell research. Dr. Martin Evans and his colleagues accomplished a scientific coup in 1981, creating the first embryonic stem (ES) cell lines. Dr. Mario Capecchi and Dr. Oliver Smithies developed a way to alter genes in the ES cells, and for the last 20 years, scientists have used these scientific procedures to create hundreds of valuable new strains of laboratory mice. Some of these mice contain human disease-causing mutations, and are used all over the world for research on cancers, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, and dozens of other diseases. These mouse 'models' of human disease are invaluable for pharmaceutical development and have had a dramatic effect on accelerating the pace of new drug development."
Loring is one those challenging WARF's patents on stem cells, a matter that has troubled some in the research community, including the incoming president of the California stem cell agency, Alan Trounson.

In April, Loring wrote an op-ed piece in the Wisconsin State Journal, commenting on the justification for the challenge and the early negative findings by the federal government.

She said,
"WARF's executives are understandably unhappy about the patent office's decision because they think they will lose money.

"But they could save an enormous amount of money, and gain a great deal of good will, by quietly dropping their claims to human embryonic stem cells and allowing the judgment of the patent office to stand. If they did this, they could be seen as a supporter, not an exploiter, of scientific research.

"If Sir Martin Evans of Scotland, who was one of those who first made embryonic stem cells in 1981, were to be awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery, as is expected, WARF could gracefully take credit for helping scientists build on his landmark research."
(For unknown reasons, Loring's piece does not appear in a routine search of the Wisconsin newspaper. If you would like a copy, please send an email to

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