Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Is 'Stem Cell' Concept Holding Back Biology?

Date:
October 2, 2009
Source:
BioMed Central
Summary:
Chemists used to explain combustion as the release of a mysterious substance, which they named "phlogiston." Only when it came to pinning down the distinctive physical properties of phlogiston did it become clear that no such thing exists. Now one expert argues that the idea of stem cells is running into similar troubles as investigators try to pin it down to a set of distinctive molecular characteristics.

Before it was learned that matter burns by taking up oxygen, most chemists sought to explain combustion as the release of a mysterious substance, which they named "phlogiston". Phlogiston theory was a conceptual breakthrough that helped chemists conduct experiments and share ideas. Only when it came to pinning down the distinctive physical properties of phlogiston did it become clear that no such thing exists.

Now an opinion piece by Arthur Lander, published in BioMed Central's open access Journal of Biology, argues that the idea of stem cells -- a major conceptual breakthrough in biology -- is running into similar troubles as investigators try to pin it down to a set of distinctive molecular characteristics.

Professor Lander, Director of the Center for Complex Biological Systems at the University of California, Irvine, USA, argues that neither of the two properties that define 'stem cells' as they are popularly discussed, potency and self-renewal, can be ascribed an exclusive molecular basis, and that both are seen in cell types not usually described as stem cells.

He said: "It is curious that, after 45 years, we are unable to place the notion of 'stemness' on a purely molecular footing. Of course, the fact that a goal has not been achieved after a long time does not mean that the answer is not around the corner. But it does give one cause to wonder whether something we are doing needs to change, either in the question we are asking or the way we are approaching it."

Lander writes that 'stemness' should be considered a property of systems, rather than individual cells, describing how a system with stemness is one that can achieve a controlled size, maintain itself homeostatically, and regenerate when necessary. He argues that such behaviors naturally emerge as a consequence of basic engineering principles of feedback control. This is more than a minor semantic quibble -- just one practical consequence of an inaccurate understanding of the precise nature of stem cells may be the assumption that specific chemotherapeutic targeting of 'cancer stem cells' will necessarily stop tumors in their tracks.

As Lander writes, "If feedback and lineage progression continue to take place in cancerous tissues, we might observe that under different conditions - different stages of tumorigensis, different parts of a tumor, different amounts of tumor cells - that different cell types will assume the role of cancer stem cell."

He concludes: "Like phlogiston, the term 'stem cell' is a scientific concept. Just as investigating the concept of phlogiston allowed the discovery of oxygen and the process of oxidation, it may be that by refashioning our thinking about stem cells – with systems relationships and dynamics taking the place of molecular signatures and simple gene regulatory circuits - the concept of stemness will continue to light the path toward understanding."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by BioMed Central. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Arthur D Lander. The 'stem cell' concept: is it holding us back? Journal of Biology, 2009; 8:70 DOI: 10.1186/jbiol177

Cite This Page:

BioMed Central. "Is 'Stem Cell' Concept Holding Back Biology?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 October 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090921134821.htm>.
BioMed Central. (2009, October 2). Is 'Stem Cell' Concept Holding Back Biology?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090921134821.htm
BioMed Central. "Is 'Stem Cell' Concept Holding Back Biology?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090921134821.htm (accessed April 24, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Big Pharma Braces for M&A Wave

Big Pharma Braces for M&A Wave

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 22, 2014) Big pharma on the move as Novartis boss, Joe Jimenez, tells Reuters about plans to transform his company via an asset exchange with GSK, and Astra Zeneca shares surge on speculation that Pfizer is looking for a takeover. Joanna Partridge reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Study Says Most Crime Not Linked To Mental Illness

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) A new study finds most crimes committed by people with mental illness are not caused by symptoms of their illness or disorder. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hagel Gets Preview of New High-Tech Projects

Hagel Gets Preview of New High-Tech Projects

AP (Apr. 22, 2014) Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is given hands-on demonstrations Tuesday of some of the newest research from DARPA _ the military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program. (April 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

How Smaller Plates And Cutlery Could Make You Feel Fuller

Newsy (Apr. 22, 2014) NBC's "Today" conducted an experiment to see if changing the size of plates and utensils affects the amount individuals eat. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins