Commentary: Why I Want to March for Science
Science is not a partisan issue. If your son or daughter brings home a report card with A’s in math and science, you are a proud parent regardless of whether you are a small business owner from Omaha or an entrepreneur from Silicon Valley. Likewise, if you are struggling with a serious illness, you want medical decisions to be made based on the best knowledge available, regardless of your political persuasion.

By Jonathan Sebat, PhD
San Diego Lab Creates Partially Human Pig Embryos
In a recently published study, researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla report using stem cells to create pig embryos partially made up of human cells. The human elements of the embryos were limited, but experts say this study represents a significant first step toward the goal of one day growing human organs in animals.

UC San Diego stem cell scientist Alysson Muotri said via email that he was impressed with the paper's efforts to lay the groundwork for new ways of potentially helping patients in the future.

"This manuscript is a good first step towards the identification of the best procedures for a future production of human organs in large animals," Muotri wrote.
CIRM Approves New Funding to UC San Diego Researchers Fighting Zika Virus and Cancer
​The Independent Citizens Oversight Committee of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has approved a pair of $2 million awards to University of California San Diego School of Medicine researchers to advance studies of new treatments for Zika virus infections and the use of stem cell-derived natural killer (NK) cells to target ovarian cancer and other malignancies.

While there is an on-going, accelerated international effort to develop a preventive Zika vaccine, researchers say the need is critical, too for pharmacological treatments of already infected individuals, including pregnant women for whom prevention is no longer an option.

“There is urgent need to move as quickly as we can into clinical trials and, hopefully, find an effective treatment,” said Alysson R. Muotri, PhD, professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine departments of Pediatrics and Cellular and Molecular Medicine and director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program.

In an oversight committee vote yesterday, Muotri and colleagues received a $2.1 million award to investigate anti-viral drugs developed for other infectious diseases that might also work against a Zika infection. The team already reports promising results, suggesting that some FDA-approved drugs may indeed be effective against the virus.
Mini-brains made from teeth help reveal what makes us sociable
Balls of brain tissue generated from stem cells are enabling us to understand the underlying differences between people who struggle to be sociable and those who have difficulty reining themselves in.

Alysson Muotri at the University of California, San Diego, and his team created the mini-brains by exposing stem cells taken from the pulp of children’s milk teeth to cocktails of growth factors that help them mature.

The team found that mini-brains grown using stem cells from children with autism form fewer neural connections, while those from Williams syndrome children have an abnormally high number. When cells from the teeth of children with none of these conditions were used, the resulting mini-brains were somewhere in between these two extremes.
U.S. Scientists Fear New Restrictions on Fetal Tissue Research
A special panel of the US House of Representatives recently concluded the US government should restrict or eliminate support for research with human fetal tissue obtained from abortions because it is of little use to medicine.

The panel said that the US National Institute of Health (NIH) should develop a system to determine whether fetal tissue is “the most appropriate model” for projects seeking government funding. The panel also urged Congress to commission studies on the feasibility of using tissue from stillborn and preterm infants.

The recommendations released by panel Republicans come after an extensive probe of the practice of distributing human fetal tissue for research. Scientists reacted strongly to the report. “Fetal tissue research is scientifically important and it should continue to be pursued,” says Larry Goldstein, a neuroscientist at the University of California in San Diego. “This report is wrong and wrongheaded. It’s driven by ideology, not science.”
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