Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) are derived from human biological samples, such as blood, skin or hair. Under the proper conditions, they can be reprogrammed to return the stem cell state. At that point, scientists can direct the cell differentiation process into various lineages — including heart cells — in order to study human disease.
Watch iPS heart cells beating:
Ron Winslow calls the annual JPMorgan Healthcare Conference “the biopharmaceutical industry’s annual beginning-of-the-year mating ritual.”
This year is no different.
With the announcement of a research pact between Sanofi-Aventis and the University of California, San Francisco, 2011′s budding relationships seem to be a new breed that unites big pharma and academic research centers.
The language surrounding these new relationships has a lot to do with partnership, collaboration and innovation. True innovation, it has generally been argued, only happens in research institutions where money is given purely for the benefit of human knowledge and discovery. Science focused on financial returns is much more risk-averse, and, as such, limits the creativity of big pharma laboratories.
The Sanofi/UCSF pact specifically runs on two tracks: the first is novel idease and research incubation, and the second focuses on target and drug discovery for cancer and other specific disease spaces.
Elias Zerhouni, Sanofi’s new president of global research and development, further explains the reasoning behind this collaboration in a comment to the WSJ Health Blog, “We have to get close to human biology to understand medicine more than we have in the past.”
Biological inquiry and medical therapy are now closer than they have ever been before.
Fluorescent E. coli samples at GenSpace in Brooklyn (Michael Nagle for The New York Times)
Scientific inquiry is no longer reserved for the lab spaces of large universities and small biotech companies.
A new trend has emerged among groups of amateur scientists – called “garage biologists” – that has nuclear reactors being built in Brooklyn artist studio spaces and DNA being spliced in Park Slope kitchens.
According to a recent article in The New York Times, the primary goal of one group, called GenSpace, is to “promote science as a viable hobby for children and adults” in the hope that education will help the public to understand more complex research like “stem cells and genetically modified organisms”.
Of course, issues of safety are important, so if you are planning to begin your own “garage biology space,” the Times recommends that you, “reach out to [your] local Weapons of Mass Destruction coordinator.” Seriously.
But, there is something about this new movement that suggests we have reached the time for the walls of the laboratory become more fluid and allowing more people to participate in exciting fields of scientific discovery. The more projects like this emerge, the greater scientific fluency the public will have and the more important scientific communication will be.