Wednesday, July 29, 2009

ESCs – again a redundant dud

Look at this pitifully muddled headline from the US News & World Report earlier this month:

Embryonic Stem Cells—and Other Stem Cells—Promise to Advance Treatments

Adult stem cells may reach patients first, and induced pluripotent stem cells have greatest potential

Do you spot the incoherence? That media tart, the embryonic stem cell, gets star billing in the main headline – but in the subheading and in the substance of the article, is shown (again) to be redundant.

How long will it be before there is some straight talk by scientists and journalists?

Yes indeed, adult stem cells 'may' reach patients first (correction: 'have reached' thousands of patients already, including over 2000 patients with heart disease alone) because only ASCs can be used in humans safely (i.e. they don't form tumours and don't require immune suppressive drugs). And yes indeed, iPS cells 'have greatest potential' (since in every possible measure of potential, iPS match or exceed the usefulness of ESC – again, because they are simpler to make, ethically innocent, and exactly match the patient to be studied).

Why then keep the artificial life-support on ESCs in every headline, every article ('ESCs are still the gold-standard' and other nonsense) when iPS has left it for dead? Just look at the clear statement of the superiority of iPS in this article:

"And because the (embryonic) cells are biologically foreign—like a transplanted organ—recipients will need to take powerful immunity-suppressing drugs, which have a host of side effects, to prevent rejection. It's that latter problem that makes scientists particularly excited about iPS cells, which would have the clinical potential of embryonic cells but can be created from a patient's own cells. Reprogramming an adult cell into an embryo-like, more malleable state sidesteps the issue of immune rejection, not to mention the moral debate."

And because both of these pluripotent cells naturally cause tumours, they are both inferior to ASCs for actual trials in human patients.

Ill-informed ESC puffing remains a trial of human patience, nothing more.