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
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).
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