Scotland week honors Scottish stem cell scientists

April 3 — 10 is Scotland Week in the U.S. and Canada, reaching its apex on April 6 with Tartan Day. That gives us all one day to dig up a kilt to honor any Scottish heritage we may have.

In celebration of the week, the Scottish Stem Cell Network is posting a series of profiles featuring Scottish stem cell scientists working in the U.S. and Canada, or international collaborations featuring Scottish scientists.

Scottish scientists played a pivotal role in the stem cell field: It was a team at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh that cloned dolly the sheep. That breakthrough — the first cloned mammal-demonstrated that it was possible to reprogram an adult nucleus back to an embryonic state. In the case of dolly and other cloned mammals, the reprogrammed nucleus went on to form an embryo that was then implanted into a mother.

In stem cell science, the embryo formation step can be used to create new embryonic stem cell lines. Rather than implanting the embryo, scientists remove the inner cells, which go on to form stem cells with DNA identical to the animal that donated the cell nucleus. The technique hasn’t worked yet in humans, but is carried out widely in other animals. (It’s that first step, called nuclear transfer or SCNT that some Minnesota lawmakers are trying to ban in humans, rather than banning the implantation of the embryo as California has done.)

Today’s update from the Scottish Stem Cell Network is particularly interesting. They chronicle the life of a tissue sample in a clinical trial. I know, it doesn’t sound like a real page-turner, but you’d be surprised how many steps there are in simply collecting samples to find out if a clinical trial is working. At CIRM we are frequently asked why science takes so long to produce cures. Reading the SSCN piece you realize how carefully each step of a clinical trial must be carried out.

We’ve also produced a video by CIRM grantee at UC Irvine Hans Keirstead talking about hurdles that have to be overcome in developing new cures.

One thing that speeds the path to new cures is when the best scientists from around the world work together to make progress. SSCN has encouraged those collaborations through the International Consortium of Stem Cell Networks, and CIRM has agreements with 13 governmental agencies to work together toward new cures. So, whether or not you wear a kilt on Wednesday, you can take a minute to celebrate international efforts to develop new stem cell-based cures.

– A.A.