Geron conducted research into the use of human stem cells for use in spinal cord injuries. What we at the CCS would like to spend our days doing is conducting research into research. Measuring the measurements. We would love to learn everything we could about stem cell research. That is to say, we want to research the research. A prime target of our research would be the Roslin Institue and Geron.
The curiosity of Keith Campbells departure prior to the Roslin Institute selling their cloning technology to Geron followed by the failure of Geron to reproduce the work needs to be understood. Why couldn't Geron scientists do what Campbell could do? Campbell left the Roslin Institue in 1997. In 1998 Campbell in collaboration with PPL (Pharmaceutical Proteins Limited) created another sheep named 'Polly'. She was made from genetically altered skin cells containing a human gene. In 2000, after joining PPL Ltd, Campbell and his PPL team (based in North America) were successful in producing the world's first piglets by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), the cloning technique. The PPL teams based in Roslin, Scotland and Blacksburg (USA) also used the technique to produce the first gene targeted domestic animals as well as a range of animals producing human therapeutic proteins in their milk.
Geron finally called it quits last month. What went wrong? That is the research question is ask. What were there success stories and how did it all lead to nothing? My hypothesis is that scientists and businessmen do not think the same way. Both groups of thinkers wish to hold the title of scientist. The former adopt the title to help others identify their chosen profession. The latter want to make others think they are like the former.
Ultimately I am trying to get at the understanding of the thinking that separates a scientist from the rest of the human race. An example of scientific thinking comes from a comment given on the link to Gerons decision to hang up the stem cell research.
This company would not walk away from this trial in the absence of an unexpected complication or safety concern, if there was any evidence that it was working," said Dr. Daniel Salomon, associate professor in the department of molecular and experimental medicine at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. "The assumption has to be that they designed a study with a purposeful plan to complete it to a certain benchmark of efficacy and that they had the funds for that effort in hand.
Then comes a concept straight out of the Cargo Cult Science speech.
Without seeing the data, one cannot be certain that there was not a clinical reason for stopping the trial," said Dr. Robertson Parkman, professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California.
Indeed in the research of the research, the data must be seen. We must present all of the data, not just the stuff we want people to see. How could a researcher of research gain access to the data? Who would pay such a person to conduct such research?
The data is piled high but in that pile is Dr. Campbell and his successes. Geron scientists couldn't pull out what was necessary to reproduce the work. The executives steered the research into a profit driven R&D project that failed. The connection between cloning an animal and using stem cells for regenerating human tissue, organs and whole beings is there. That is a separate research project. What I am interested in is how we miss that connection and veer off into the cargo cults.
Like Poldermans 500 papers, the quantity of research is great. The quality is suspect. Stem cell research was and is overhyped. "Embryonic stem cells are not ready for 'prime-time,'" said Dr. Bryon Petersen, professor in the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. "There are too many variables about these cells that we just don't know about." How do we get to "know about" the variables? Certainly not by starting a biotech company and hoping to make drugs out of the cells. Science conducted honestly will eventually spit out a useful medical application. Pursuing a useful (profitable) medical application will most often not produce anything resembling science.