Stem Cell Controversies #2, #3, and #4: Some Careers (But Not All) Seem to Be Immortal

Posted by Pete Shanks October 18, 2012
Biopolitical Times
Michael West

The world of stem cell research is full of colorful characters. Here's a quick update on a couple we have been following for years, and one shooting star who seems to heading back to obscurity.

Since the abrupt abandonment in November 2011 of its once highly touted clinical trial using a treatment based on embryonic stem cells (ESCs), Geron has been casting around for someone to take over its stem-cell business. Now, a really surprising candidate has emerged: BioTime, which was founded by Michael West, who founded Geron. West, who became notorious for the clone-your-own-spare-parts theory of stem-cell research, was ousted from Geron and moved on to Advanced Cell Technology, which finally let him go not long before starting clinical trials of embryonic stem-cell therapies. At his latest venture, he recently hired Thomas Okarma, who ran Geron until he in turn was pushed out, shortly before the company abandoned clinical trials on ESCs. There has been no response yet from Geron.

Meanwhile, Glenn McGee, the peripatetic bioethicist last seen resigning from CellTex in controversial circumstances, after resigning as editor of the American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB) in controversial circumstances, appears to be in Berlin. There are reports (based on a plausible-looking letter in German) that he took a job with RNL Europe, based in Germany, at a salary of 400,000 Euros. This letter was briefly posted at Lee Buckler's Cell Therapy Blog, but was taken down, apparently because Buckley couldn't find confirmation and McGee didn't reply to tweets. So maybe it's not true, or premature, or contingent on work permits, or something. However, speculation is not dampened by the news that McGee's wife, Summer Johnson, has resigned her position as co-editor of AJOB, and severed all connection with Bioethics.net and its ancillary enterprises.

Finally, it seems that the career of Japanese stem-cell researcher Hisashi Moriguchi has hit the headlines and then the skids in record time. Last week, his claims to have used induced pluripotent stem cells to successfully treat heart-failure patients ran on the front page of Yomiri Shimbun, Japan's biggest daily newspaper, with a circulation of about 10 million. But he had not done anything of the sort, as was discovered within days. Moreover, Moriguchi also claimed, as he has before, that he acted with approval from a Harvard IRB. No, he had not. Paul Knoepfler's Stem Cell Blog deserves a lot of credit for exposing this fraud, as does Nature's David Cyranoski. But Moriguchi is undoubtedly right when he admits that his "career as a researcher is probably over."

Previously on Biopolitical Times: