Better late than never, a reality-check from a senior scientist who can see how embryonic-stem-cell hype serves no good end.
James Wilson has published "A History Lesson for Stem Cells" in the journal Science yesterday, drawing on his experience of the similar hype and hysteria that surrounded his field of gene therapy. His diagnosis is precise of the forces that distort the public perception of embryo research / cloning – and so derail the votes of our politicians.
For example... "A large and vocal population of patients suffering from a wide variety of ailments is pressing for stem cell-based therapies. Disease-specific stem cell research groups are more politically sophisticated than ever, in some cases employing congressional lobbyists. Unrealistic expectations have been fueled by relentless media coverage..."
That is exactly what we condemned on the header of our previous Blog, 'Conscience versus Con-Science': An effective strategy whereby scientists, via a gullible media, peddle false hope and disgraceful hype to desperate patients, who then beat down the door of MPs demanding liberal legislation on cloning.
After reading this article, I think anyone would have a more sober sense of the true shape of stem cell science, and the forces driving the hype and false claims about cloning and embryonic-stem-cell research.
(Remembering that the humble fellow-traveller, adult stem cells, have none of the problems of immune rejection or tumour formation identified in this article - they are safe and proven to be effective - but not as 'sexy' as messing with embryos, for some reason...)
Ah, yes, the truth will out, however belatedly! Unnecessary and unethical science will die by its own internal corruption; that is what this Blog will have the wry pleasure of documenting, re cloning and embryo experimentation, over coming years.
Excerpts from Science below:
A History Lesson for Stem Cells
James M. Wilson
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA; Science 8 May 2009:Vol. 324. no. 5928, pp. 727 – 728 DOI: 10.1126/science.1174935
"...Unfortunately, some stakeholders in hESC research have failed to exhibit the same restraint, effectively promising cures for Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, macular degeneration, and hearing loss, to name a few.
"...It is difficult to avoid getting caught up in the unabashed enthusiasm that attends the emergence of a novel, but untested, therapeutic technology platform, as I myself experienced. Still, January's media coverage of the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of a hESC-related clinical trial-an experiment sponsored by Geron Corporation of Menlo Park, California, aimed at spinal cord injuries-was surprising for its lack of restraint. News reports characterized Geron's mere gaining of federal permission to test the cells in patients as a "breakthrough" (10). And in a highly questionable move, Good Morning America accompanied its news report with faux video footage depicting the paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve getting out of his wheel chair and walking again (10).
"...Despite advances, our understanding of the biology of hESCs and iPS cells remains thin with regard to clinical safety and utility. Controlled incorporation of transplanted stem cells into host tissues and organs remains a major challenge. Questions about engraftment, rejection, and toxicity abound. Steps involved in transformation of hESCs, iPS cells, or their derivatives into tumor cells (and strategies to ablate any tumors that might arise) need further investigation. In February, researchers in Israel reported that a 13-year-old boy with ataxia telangiectasia who had received injections of human fetal neural stem cells into his brain as part of an experimental treatment performed in a Russian clinic developed brain tumors apparently derived from the injected stem cells (11).
"...I encourage hESC and iPS researchers to remember the Orkin-Motulsky report's central theme: that no one is served by bypassing the hard work of basic research and experiments in animal models."