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From The CriticsReviewer: Bruce A. Fenderson, PhD(Thomas Jefferson University)
Description: The concept of stem cells seems simple, and yet the biological properties of these amazing cells are complex and many basic questions remain unanswered. For example, we assume that embryonic stem cells are equivalent to cells in the early embryo, but we don't know for sure, and we wonder how these cells are affected by growth in culture. Moreover, the moral and philosophical implications of totipotent stem cells are profound. Many issues are worthy of informed debate. This small book represents the contributions and discussions that took place at a recent Novartis Foundation Symposium in London on the topic of stem cells and nuclear reprogramming. The book includes 14 chapters on topics ranging from "what is a stem cell" to "ethical and political issues in research with human stem cells."
Purpose: According to the chair of this symposium, John Gearhart, the goals were to frame questions important to the field and synthesize some new ones. The evidence for proof-of-principle in cell engineering is critically evaluated. Obstacles to the development of safe and effective cell-based therapies are elaborated. An interesting example of a new question posed by the chair is: "will it be possible to manipulate [stem cells] in situ without taking them out and then grafting them back?"
Audience: The book is written for basic science researchers and clinicians at all levels of training who are interested in embryonic and adult stem cells, and the implications of nuclear reprogramming for tissue engineering. The book provides the reader with access to the inner thinking and honest reflections of many of the world's experts in this exciting field.
Features: This is an excellent introduction to stem cell research. Each chapter includes an abstract and list of essential references. The authors do not present new scientific data; rather, they address general (theoretical) concepts and summarize published literature. For this reason, the book includes very few tables and figures. Early chapters present a summary of information regarding the derivation and properties of stem cells. Evidence for transdifferentiation is debated. Potential problems associated with the lack of differentiation of stem cells following adoptive transfer are discussed. Differences between mouse and human embryonic stem cells are noted. The remarkable ability of egg cytoplasm to reprogram somatic cell nuclei is highlighted. The group discussions are perhaps the most exciting aspect of this book. Fascinating questions arise. For example, are embryonic stem cells immortal? How do you define pleuripotency? What percentage of stem cells in culture is aneuploid? Are there biological differences between embryo-derived and germ cell-derived stem cells? Is it morally acceptable to place human stem cells inside embryos or tissues derived from other species?
Assessment: This compact book is easy to read and the discussions that follow each contribution provide insights into the practice of science as a deeply human enterprise. I learned a great deal. For example, I learned that human and mouse embryonic (ES) cells have different patterns of spontaneous differentiation. Human ES cells transferred into experimental animals often fail to undergo terminal differentiation. Some human ES cell cultures fail to form teratomas in nude mice. The nuclei of differentiated olfactory neurons can be reprogrammed to totipotency by nuclear transfer. Some 20 percent to 80 percent of ES cells in culture are aneuploid. Stem cells with certain karyotypic abnormalities grow faster in culture. The topics are far ranging and thought provoking. I recommend this book for all students interested in learning more about stem cells and prospects for cell-based therapy for chronic diseases like diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, and Parkinson's disease.