Monday, May 9, 2016

By salamander, drake, and the power that was undine: Stem-sell edition

"Hmm," said absolutely no-one, "I wonder which researchers publish through BioAccent Journals -- noted for their unorthodox style of spamming for submissions, which stresses their lack of recognition and consequent lack of standards. Also for a logo that was inspired by 1950s designs for space stations."

Wonder no longer, convenient sockpuppet, for we found this paper stuck in the Stupid Filter, on account of the title, which appears to have stuttered:
Co-Electroporation? Frog eggs?
Xenopus after co-electroporation
Now many ways have been advanced for transforming human tissue cells back into stem cells, tabula-rasing their epigenetic memories of specialising into a single niche. Obokata stressed cells with weak citric acid [we were unable to replicate this with lemon juice and oysters]. Schneider introduced a stress technique of dropping the cells out a fifth-storey window. But this plan, from Sergei Baylian of the start-up Bioquark, is especially cunning... it is to subject the cells to electroshock therapy, in close propinquity to frog spawn.
What could go wrong?
For the pluripotency of the frog eggs is transferable. Their capacity and eagerness to divide and differentiate into all those specialised roles that collaborate in being a frog, it is embodied, as a kind of protoplasmic hormone, which leaks out of the oocytes when the ECT turns their membranes permeable; then leaking into the equally-permeable human cells nearby. This is some serious Mad Sciencing and here at the Mad Scientist Anti-Defamation League we are nodding our heads in cautious approval.
Excessive exposure to Spawn is
known to cause bad costuming, yellow
eyes, and a skull mask for a groin
Baylian has a patent on this process, and another for using frog squeezin's to cure cancers and regenerate organs or limbs in the manner of a salamander. And from there it is a short slide down the slippery slope to the current ReAnima Project -- a joint venture between Bioquark and Revita Life Sciences in India -- which is the plan to regenerate whole brains after disease or misadventure turns them into mashed potato. You might have opted to start with growing something less ambitious like a new foreskin, but that is why you are not a Mad Scientist, all Hubris* and castle-dungeon laboratory and theremin music on the soundtrack and the headlines and the generous cheques from investors. "Toujours l'audace!" quoth Danton, meaning "Always drive an Audi".

This is naturally of interest to us at Riddled Research Laboratory, with our extensive experience in vat-growing giant brains. The way the project is described in the Indian Clinical Trials registry, Revita Life Sciences is the majority partner. It will supply the heart-beating but brain-dead cadavers for revival (for Dr Himanshu Bansal has access to his own research facility charity hospital for poor masses, with its own IRB). Bioquark will stem-cellify the mesenchymal tissue samples, for injection into the spine (in the hope that the implanted cells will find their way to the half-empty skull, recognise their surroundings, and transform into axons and substantia nigra and microcolumns and astroglial and microglial support cells; and not into teeth, say, or new foreskins). Also for spinal-tap injection, Bioquark will supply Bioquantine-A, which is to say the rejuvenating memory-wiping "bioactive peptides" or frog squeezin's concentrate. Because what could go wrong?

But that is not all, for Revita will also supply lasers for Brain Coloured-Light Stimulation and Median-Nerve Stimulation,* with no pressing rationale, except that the lasers were already sitting out in the corridor getting in the way, so they might as well be included in the Multimodality Protocol:
  • 1. Bioactive peptides (Bioquantine 5 percent solution via intrathecal pump
  • 2. Intrathecal stem cells
  • 3. Median nerve stimulation (MNS)
  • 4. Intravenous and transcranial laser stimulation
Further examination reveals that Revita pimp a broad spectrum of the Scammocopoeia -- hyperbaric oxygen, Naturopathy, Healing Electromagnetic Pulses, and griftolicious Ayurvedic Piffle. It is possible that their methods are unsound.

The ReAnima team opted to ditto the details of the clinical trial into the US registry. This led people to infer that the trial has US National Institute of Health sanction... some people who should have known better, but also Sarah Knapton, Science Writer for the Daily Torygraph:
The ReAnima Project has just received approach from an Institutional Review Board at the National Institutes of Health in the US and in India, and the team plans to start recruiting patients immediately.
The ReAnima Project has just received approval from the National Institutes of Health in the US and plans to start recruiting patients immediately.
First link is to the Wayback Archive, as Knapton's mistake went down the memory hole as soon as it was called to her attention; second is to her syndicated version.

Naturally the NIH-approval fabrication was baked into the story when other churnalists recycled it for their own human-centipede news-spigots, in the approved one-paragraph-per-sentence style. But that is not to say that they are all lazy unthinking mimeograph machines. They vary in the pop-culture comparison used to ease the readership into unfamiliar intellectual territory.
We know what you’re thinking: “Great – zombies.”
From Lazarus to Mary Shelley’s monster to George A. Romero’s hordes,
It sounds like the logline from the recent sci-fi horror movie, The Lazarus Effect.
Knapton herself is more highbrow and upmarket:
It sounds straight out of Game of Thrones.
There are more obvious and relevant cultural artifacts that you could be using, people.

* When working for mad scientists, Hubris are only ever present in groups, like Oompa-Loompas. You never encounter a single Hubri. No-one knows why.

** The idea of stimulating the median nerve in the wrist as a cure for central brain injury appears to arise from chiropractic. Originally it involved electric stimulation, but lasers are more theatrical and sciencey, with more spooky theremin music.

Revita's clinical priorities are informative and indicative:


UPDATE: Bonus Obsequious Interview with Ira Pastor -- Bioquark CEO and ReAnima Executive Director (from a website catering to hi-tech celebrity fans and specialising in obsequuy).
"All the experimentation will be conducted on Indian patients at the Anupam Hospital in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand India, where ICU costs are only a fraction of what they are in the U.S."
That has to be good, right?

"Lasers as well as nerve stimulation, which is typically used on coma patients, will complete the combination therapy intended to jumpstart the hyper-complex system of epimorphic regeneration, or basically the same kind of regeneration a salamander uses to regrow an entire arm."
See, it's a perfectly natural capability, just needing a jump-start. 

"So far, nature has set a record of nine months to grow a complete human brain (the time it takes for a baby to develop in the womb) — the ReAnima project may soon be in the territory to beat nature at its own game."
Well, yes, ReAnima might save time by recycling an existing body to house the new-grown brain but it's still a new person. Do these mooks have any idea about the amount of remodelling that goes on in brain development, with neuroblasts migrating from one end to the other along the radial glial-fibre scaffolding like San Francisco drivers looking for an empty carpark?

The old-fashioned way of growing brains may be slower but at least it has pleasurable aspects... Ah, Pastor appears to believe in reincarnation, so perhaps it is plausible to him that the destroyed memories and personality will find their way back into the reoccupied skull.

Pastor's CV:
Served as VP, Business Development for drug development company Phytomedics Inc., raising $40 million of private equity, consummating over $50 million of licensing deals, and bringing lead drug candidate from discovery stage to Phase III development.
Phytomedics sent out its last optimistic press release years ago before disappearing from the scene; the Chinese-medicine-based botanical extracts it was bringing to market went nowhere; but what Pastor considers it important for Bioquark investors to know is that he persuaded people to give them $40 million.
June 1 Update:
Indian media find the whole story hilarious. They note that as well as the savings on ICU expenses, the Anupam clinic can operate unfettered by pesky issues of "consent" or "ethics", another big advantage for mad-sciencing. Once Dr Bansal has certified someone to be brain-dead he can do what he likes to the corpus:

At the heart of the trial is a massive regulatory gap, one which Dr. Bansal has masterfully exploited. India currently has no laws for clinical trials on ‘living cadaver’ or brain dead patients.[...]
The ‘permissions’ were granted by an Institutional Review Board (IRB), an independent ethics committee, which in this case was made of a motley group of local doctors from private hospitals in Rudrapur, a senior official from Pantnagar University and a retired bureaucrat from the Uttar Pradesh health department.
Usually, IRBs are approached for permissions after approval from the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI); in this case, Dr. Bansal says they were not required since the trial subjects are already dead.

The Riddled House of Travel advises tourists and residents to avoid fainting in Rudrapur, or suffering concussion, for fear of falling into Bansal's hands and waking up full of tubes. Those movies never end well.

Indian media are too polite (and lawyer-averse) to use words like 'charlatan', preferring 'confidence' to 'con-man'. Maarten Keulemans is less constrained, gleefully pointing out the prevalence of fraudulent credentials in Bansal's CV, and the convenient proximity of his clinic to an ATM.

Sarah Knapton from the Torygraph evidently remains content in her role as mouthpiece for Revita’s press releases.
Thx Neuroskeptic, MKeulemans


H. Rumbold, Master Barber said...

In other Research News: The banana and coconut theramin. News from the Center for Alternative Coconut Research:
"Bananas work even better as capacitive sensors than coconuts!"

OBS said...

This post could definitely use a soundtrack