Friday, January 31, 2014

Damn You Science!

Abenomics is getting the stuffing kicked out of it this week. The Nikkei plunged 500 points yesterday, finishing the day down 376 points (-2.43%), adding to the losses since January 9. The yen has been on a mild strengthening trend, threatening earnings reporting of the big exporters. U.S. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid's rejection of a request for fast-track trade authority has put the Trans Pacific Partnership on hold.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's plans for reviving Japan's economy received another blow, this time from a bubbly 30-year old girl geek in pearl earrings.
Stem cell 'major discovery' claimed
BBC News

Scientists in Japan showed stem cells can now be made quickly just by dipping blood cells into acid.

Stem cells can transform into any tissue and are already being trialled for healing the eye, heart and brain.

The latest development, published in the journal Nature, could make the technology cheaper, faster and safer.

The human body is built of cells with a specific role - nerve cells, liver cells, muscle cells - and that role is fixed.

However, stem cells can become any other type of cell, and they have become a major field of research in medicine for their potential to regenerate the body.

Embryos are one, ethically charged, source of stem cells. Nobel prize winning research also showed that skin cells could be "genetically reprogrammed" to become stem cells (termed induced pluripotent stem cells).

Acid bath

Now a study shows that shocking blood cells with acid could also trigger the transformation into stem cells - this time termed STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cells.

Dr Haruko Obokata, from the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Japan, said she was "really surprised" that cells could respond to their environment in this way.

She added: "It's exciting to think about the new possibilities these findings offer us, not only in regenerative medicine, but cancer as well."


Dr. Obokata's paper was published in Nature, whose account of the discovery (Link) fails to mention that it rejected her original paper. According to last night's NHK report, the reviewer told her that her results, if true, would contradict 100 years of research into cellular biology.

The coverage of Dr. Obokata's new pathway to stem cells has been lavish and fawning (Link - J video) -- which is rather inconvenient for Prime Minister Abe. He already has his stem cell hero, Nobel laureate Yamanaka Shinya. They have a mutually beneficial relationship, Mr. Abe plying Dr. Yamanaka with honors (Link) and cash (Link). Dr. Yamanaka's patented induced pluripotent pathway to stem cells was supposed to be the nucleus of a bio-engineering revolution, a showcase of Japanese prowess in technological and business development -- and Mr. Abe was going to be its munificent and enthusiastic patron.

Now here comes this lacrosse-playing, turtle-keeping, media darling young lab rat with a method of creating stem cells that is cheaper, more efficient, faster and with fewer potential complications than Dr. Yamanaka's.

It must all seem so unfair.

Original image courtesy: BBC


Anonymous said...

"It must all seem so unfair."

That's the least Abe deserves, really.

Abe himself had basically made full use of the unfair advantage of how the electoral districts were originally drawn up in the LDP's favour. With the DPJ strategist Ozawa completely neutered, all it took was wait for the DPJ to implode, which it did, and Abe was all good to become the de facto undisputed Shogun of the Realm.

The (non Communist) Left in Japan is more or less politically dead for at least 3 election cycles (~10-12 years) for all intents and purposes. You can bet Abe will get re-elected in the next election, with a reduced but still significantly commanding majorities in both houses. (At least his dream of amending the constitution will become further from reality)

Ἀντισθένης said...

Plot got thicker, didn't it? Was hoping for your take on the attacks on her. Here's mine.

MTC said...

Ἀντισθένης -

Sorry but cannot agree with your assessment. Obokata has not offered proof of her claim to have created STAP cells over 200 times. Riken carefully included women staff scientists on the investigation committee to lessen the chance of discrimination based upon sex. Data manipulation clearly took place. As yet one can replicate Obokata's results (an HK researcher did find unusually pluripotency in a batch of celle but without the acid bath she prescribes).

Obokata is seeing things no one else sees. Unfortunately, she is a scientist. If a she were, for example, a politician or a pastor, seeing things of a peculiar, unproven nature would not be an impediment to success.

Ἀντισθένης said...

That may be as, but I find the volume of attack suspicious. I'll wait for offshore confirmation, following offshore replication of the experiments.