The Houston Chronicle (free registration required) has an excellent “Q & A” interview by Todd Ackerman with Paul Simmons, Ph.D, until recently, one of the most prominent researchers in adult hematopoietic stem cell from Melbourne, Australia.
Mr. Ackerman’s questions and Dr. Simmon’s answers were much more clear and concise than those we normally see in the popular press. Although Dr. Simmon is a strong proponent of “relaxed” destructive human embryonic stem cell research, he is very enthusiastic about adult stem cell research potential.
Q: What do you think is the future of embryonic stem cell research in the aftermath of the Korean scandal (in which a researcher admitted to falsifying breakthrough results)?
A: I think it’s extremely bright. It’s sad to say, but the field of stem cell biology is hardly the only one in which there’s been evidence of wrongdoing on the part of scientists. It’s a speed bump on the way, but progress in the field is really undiminished. And it really challenges me to maintain high standards in my own research and those of my colleagues.
Q: How much promise is there for adult stem cells? You keep hearing how embryonic stem cells have all the potential, but it seems there are lots of breakthroughs with adult stem cells these days.
A: I could talk about that for a half-hour. I think adult stem cells’ potential as therapeutic application is huge. I’m frequently at pains trying to explain to people that the concept of stem cells could use stem cells from adult tissue as a way to repair and regenerate those tissues was really an obvious step forward.
Q: From where do you plan to recruit stem cell scientists to UT-Houston? A lot from
outside the United States?
A: I’ll be recruiting from outside the U.S., that’s for sure, but I’ll also be recruiting heavily within the U.S. Having had the good fortune to train and work in the UK, Canada, the U.S. and Australia, I have extensive contacts here and internationally.
Q: Do top-flight stem cell scientists still want to come to the United States, given the current constraints on research?
A: Absolutely. While the current U.S. policy on embryonic stem cell research may be problematic to them, it certainly wouldn’t deter those interested in adult stem cell biology. The U.S. has been and always will be the No. 1 draw for biomedical research.
Q: What are your realistic goals for UT-Houston’s center? Can it compete with better-known Baylor College of Medicine?
A: My major intention for the center is to establish it as a major center of excellence, not just for the Houston area but within the U.S. and internationally. … I also hope to collaborate extensively with some of the experts from Baylor. … In the end, I’d like the center to be seen not only as a center of excellence but as a reference center for people interested in questions of stem cell biology, a place where they can come and get objective insights and information about stem cells.
The Center for Stem Cell Research is part of the the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Disease at UTHSCHouston. It is the result of a $230 Million private fund-raising effort in Houston. Evidently, State and Federal funds aren’t all that necessary. Or, if like the founders of the IMM, if there’s enough desire to do research that is not eligible for tax funding, there will be enough private money to do so.
I do hope that Dr. Simmons will make it a point to focus on hiring Texas physicians and researchers for the new Center for Stem Cell Research at . It seems that we keep hearing about the “brain drain” if Federal and State funding are not adequate, but here is an example of Texas research money (even if most is from private donations) used to import professionals from other countries.