The best books on stem cells from a scientist who studies them

Jonathan Slack Author Of Stem Cells: A Very Short Introduction
By Jonathan Slack

Who am I?

I spent my career in developmental biology: the science of how embryos develop. My main discovery was the discovery of one of the signals that controls development, called the fibroblast growth factor. Stem cell biology grew up on the basis of previous discoveries in developmental biology, and now, every day, people around the world use fibroblast growth factor among other substances to control the development of their stem cells. From 2007-2012 I was Director of the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Minnesota, so I got a good inside view of the whole field.

I wrote...

Stem Cells: A Very Short Introduction

By Jonathan Slack,

Book cover of Stem Cells: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

The topic of stem cells has a high profile in the media. We've made important advances in scientific understanding, but despite this, the clinical applications of stem cells are still in their infancy and most real stem cell therapy carried out today is some form of bone marrow transplantation. In this Very Short Introduction, I introduce stem cells, explore what they are, and what scientists do with them.

Introducing both embryonic and tissue-specific stem cells, I explain how they can be used to treat diseases such as retinal degeneration, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and spinal trauma. I also warn against fake stem cell treatments and discuss how to distinguish real from fake treatments.

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The books I picked & why

Stem Cells For Dummies

By Lawrence S. B. Goldstein,

Book cover of Stem Cells For Dummies

Why did I love this book?

This book is much better than it looks at first sight. Although the “for dummies” theme might be off-putting to some, it is a serious account of stem cells with good scientific content. With 360 pages it has space to cover many topics and deals with the legal and ethical side of the field as well as the science and medicine. To me, it is perhaps a little too credulous about “miracle cells” that can turn into anything but is a lot less credulous than many other sources.

By Lawrence S. B. Goldstein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stem Cells For Dummies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first authoritative yet accessible guide to this controversial topic Stem Cell Research For Dummies offers a balanced, plain-English look at this politically charged topic, cutting away the hype and presenting the facts clearly for you, free from debate. It explains what stem cells are and what they do, the legalities of harvesting them and using them in research, the latest research findings from the U.S. and abroad, and the prospects for medical stem cell therapies in the short and long term. Explains the differences between adult stem cells and embryonic/umbilical cord stem cells Provides both sides of the political…

Stem Cells: Scientific Facts and Fiction

By Christine L. Mummery, Anja Van de Stolpe, Bernard Roelen, Hans Clevers

Book cover of Stem Cells: Scientific Facts and Fiction

Why did I love this book?

This is a beautiful book written by a great team from Utrecht in the Netherlands. It starts with a potted introduction to cell and developmental biology. I like this because, as a developmental biologist myself, I know that it is the basic science underpinning stem cell biology. It explains embryonic stem cells and cloning. Before covering transplantation therapy it explains about immune rejection of grafts and how this is dealt with. Unlike most books on stem cells, it covers non-therapeutic applications such as the study of human development or the use of stem cell-derived cells for safety testing of drugs.

The first and second editions had fabulous colour pictures all the way through. Sadly the 3rd edition has been downgraded to black and white.

By Christine L. Mummery, Anja Van de Stolpe, Bernard Roelen, Hans Clevers

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stem Cells as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stem Cells: Scientific Facts and Fiction, Third Edition, provides a state-of-the-art overview on the field of stem cells and their current applications. The book incorporates the history and firsthand commentaries in the field from clinical and research leaders, covering interesting topics of note, including the first clinical trials to treat Parkinson disease, macular degeneration, and corneal replacement, the cloning of monkeys, the organoid field, and CRISPR-edited genomics. In addition, coverage of adult, embryonic stem cells and iPS cells is included. This new edition distinguishes itself from the multiplicity of websites about stem cells with a broad view of the field.

Book cover of The Stem Cell Dilemma: Beacons of Hope or Harbingers of Doom?

Why did I love this book?

This is a popular book, focusing on human interest but still scientifically reputable. Its main theme is the ethics, law, and politics of stem cells, mostly from a US perspective. It describes the debate in the USA about embryonic stem cells and how it polarized the nation. It covers many examples of political maneuvering to establish rules and regulations. It also has an international dimension and describes the legal position in countries around the world. I like it because I was in the USA during many of these debates and feel the book nicely captures the atmosphere of the controversy.

By Leo Furcht, William Hoffman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Stem Cell Dilemma as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Today's scientists are showing us how stem cells create and repair the human body. Unlocking these secrets has become the new Holy Grail of biomedical research. But behind that search lies a sharp divide, one that has continued for years. Stem cells offer the hope of creating or repairing tissues lost to age, disease, and injury. Yet, because of this ability, stem cells also hold the potential to incite an international biological arms race.

The Stem Cell Dilemma illuminates everything you need to know about stem cells, and in this new edition the authors have included up-to-date information on scientific…

Book cover of Cancer Stem Cells: Philosophy and Therapies

Why did I love this book?

You don’t often get philosophers delving into the biomedical sciences. They mostly prefer physics and cosmology. But there are great pickings in the other sciences too! 

Laplane considers the various proposed attributes of stem cells and classifies these as categorical, dispositional, relational, and system-based. She concludes that stem cells do comprise a "natural kind" i.e. a real thing, out there, not just a figment of our imagination. What emerges from this critical evaluation is that we should think not about stem cells as such but about stem-type behaviors that may be shown by various cell populations in specific circumstances. Defining stem cells is slippery and difficult, but defining stem cell behavior is relatively easy, and stem cell behavior is real and important.

By Lucie Laplane,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cancer Stem Cells as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An innovative theory proposes a new therapeutic strategy to break the stalemate in the war on cancer. It is called cancer stem cell (CSC) theory, and Lucie Laplane offers a comprehensive analysis, based on an original interdisciplinary approach that combines biology, biomedical history, and philosophy.

Rather than treat cancer by aggressively trying to eliminate all cancerous cells-with harmful side effects for patients-CSC theory suggests the possibility of targeting the CSCs, a small fraction of cells that lie at the root of cancers. CSCs are cancer cells that also have the defining properties of stem cells-the abilities to self-renew and to…

Book cover of Therapy with Cultured Cells

Why did I love this book?

A little-known gem! Howard Green was a pioneer of research with stem cells from the skin. Back in the 1970s, he developed methods to grow them in vitro He went on to use this technology to enable treatment for very severe burns which covered too much of the body to make grafting feasible. The text is rather terse but this is a remarkable laboratory and clinical vignette from one who was there. 

By Howard Green,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Therapy with Cultured Cells as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this book the author describes the discoveries in his laboratory that led to therapy with cultured cells. The first cultured cell type used for therapy was the keratinocyte of the epidermis, for the treatment of burns. Subsequent developments led to the use of cultured cells for the treatment of diseases of the eye, of the joints and of other diseases. Cultured cells for therapy are now being prepared by industries in the US, Japan and Korea and are used in the aforesaid countries, as well as in France, Sweden and Greece, for the treatment of disease.

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