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Xconomist of the Week: Evan Snyder—Stem Cell Reality Check

San Diego Xconomist Evan Snyder has been called a “stem cell revolutionary” and is regarded as a father in the field of stem cell research. When we talked in his office at San Diego’s Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, he told me he isolated the first neural stem cell in the mid-1980s, as well as the first human neural stem cell in 1998. Snyder’s team demonstrated the concept of stem cell pathotropism (the ability of stem cells to home in on injured or diseased regions of the brain) and helped to establish the concept that stem cells can be used to regenerate and repair diseased and damaged tissue.

He arrived in San Diego in 2003 to serve as a professor and director of the Stem Cells and Regenerative Biology Program at the Sanford-Burnham. He also is a scientific leader and researcher at San Diego’s new $127 million Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. While Snyder is focused primarily on basic research, he talked with me about the prospects for commercial development of stem cell technology—and how the much-publicized regenerative properties of stem cells, while holding tremendous long-term promise, will likely not be the focus of the first market successes. Our conversation, which I’ve condensed and edited, follows here.

Xconomy: My general impression is that much of the early promise and enthusiasm over stem cells has been dissipating.

Evan Snyder: I don’t think I would agree with that. I think there’s an enormous amount of promise.

X: I mean in terms of using stem cells in commercial applications.

ES: What the companies and the public thought was that it wouldn’t take any work, that you’d have a cell and you would sprinkle it with pixie dust and everything would get better. That was certainly unrealistic. It might have been fomented by scientists in the early days who were just totally enamored of the fact that you had cells that could read environmental cues and go down different pathways, and they seemed to do this based on their own intrinsic programming.

But the fine-tuning in the use of stem cells still comes down to really understanding the biology of the cell. That also entails understanding the biology of development, because … Next Page »

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