Monday, February 03, 2014

A Question of Orthodoxy: Would California Have Funded Vacanti?

As UC Davis stem cell scientist Paul Knoepfler points out, it was a blockbuster story that grabbed attention around the world.

Not only within the professional stem cell community, but outside it as well because of the promise that the use of human embryonic stem cells could be avoided.

Charles Vacanti
So Knoepfler wangled an interview for his blog with Charles Vacanti, the man of the hour. He is head of the anethesiology department at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He is also a “virtual outsider to the highly competitive and fast-moving stem cell field,” says Carolyn Y. Johnson in a piece in the Boston Globe.

But it was Vacanti and his people who made the discovery that a simple acid bath could be used to generate pluripotent stem cells.

Sometimes people who catapult into the news as Vacanti did, especially in a controversial area, shy away from close questioning. Asked about how the interview came about, Knoepfler replied,
“I simply asked and amazingly he said 'yes' and was nice enough to answer 10 fairly tough questions.”
You can read the Q&A with Vacanti on Knoepfler's blog as they explore the science and the techniques. Knoepfler also has conducted a poll on whether people believe in Vacanti's stem cells. As of the latest voting, 25 percent are “not sure but leaning slightly towards they are real.”

One thing is fairly certain based on the Johnson's Globe piece on Vacanti, which was headlined,  “Ignorance led to invention of stem cell technique.”  Vacanti's research would not likely have been funded by California's $3 billion stem cell agency.

Its grant review process is dominated by persons who also dominate the current thinking in the stem cell arena. And Vacanti represents a departure from orthodoxy. He also would have been found lacking on a host of grounds, ranging from his professional background to his earlier research.

As Johnson reported in her story,
“'In science, the prevailing opinion is called dogma. And dogma is often right, and often wrong,' said Arnold Caplan, a biology professor at Case Western Reserve University and friend who has acted as a sounding board for some of Vacanti’s ideas.”
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