Stem Cells on the Medical Frontier

On Respectful Insolence, Orac examines the dangers posed by experimental stem cell treatments, which are often offered outside the United States in order to avoid regulatory oversight. Orac writes that stem cell therapy is “moving from cutting edge science to applied science” but treatments are not yet refined to the point of being safe and effective. In the case of Jim Gass, a stroke patient who sought stem cell therapy at clinics around the world, the intervention proved to be disastrous, as cells injected into his lower back grew into a cancer-like mass that left him paralyzed from the neck down. On Life Lines, Dr. Dolittle reports new findings about the long-lived naked mole rat. Induced pluripotent stem cells from naked mole rats have an active gene that suppresses tumor growth, while in mice and humans the gene is not active. Dr. Dolittle concludes, “The hope is that this exciting research will lead to advancements in stem cell therapy that will make the process safer.”

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Another Nail in Nuclear’s Coffin

The decision by PG&E to mothball the last operating nuclear reactors in California has some people cheering—and other pounding their fists. On Significant Figures, Peter Gleick writes that the closure of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant “rankles those who see all non-carbon energy sources as critical in the fight against the real threat of climate change.” Yet Gleick argues that with the pitfalls of nuclear energy and the high costs of retrofitting the plant, it is appropriate to shut it down and focus on developing wind and solar capacity. Meanwhile, Greg Laden considers the risk a major earthquake poses to the plant, which was built in the vicinity of four fault lines including the San Andreas. Diablo Canyon was upgraded to withstand a 7.5 magnitude quake, and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates that during a given year there is a 1 in 23,810 chance of an earthquake causing core damage to the reactors. They will continue operating until their licenses expire, in 2024 and 2025.