The times are a-changin' when the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), the peak-lobby-group that was scolded in Nature magazine for its disgusting deceit about cloned embryos not really being embryos (let's call them something different, so the public does not take their moral status too seriously), now tells us something close to the truth about stem cell science.
Watch and learn: cynical spin is subsiding in the face of scientific reality, and received opinion is starting to catch up with what we, at this site, have been saying for years.
The ISSCR has launched this month a useful site called "A closer look at stem cell treatments" – ostensibly directed at countering the claptrap about alleged stem cell therapies being flogged on the Internet and in dodgy Indian clinics. This aims to protect the public, who cannot readily judge scientific claims.
If only the ISSCR's own stem cell scientists and media enablers had been as principled about countering earlier claptrap during the embryo stem cell and cloning debates, and about protecting the public from dodgy scientific claims. Then it seemed fine for politicised scientists like Alan Trounson to parade grossly misleading videos about paralysed rats in order to persuade MPs to vote for embryo research, or for science reporters / cheerleaders like Elizabeth Finkel to drool about 'biological gold' flowing from the (fraudulent) experiments of Dr Hwang, or for the cloning lobby's PR machine to hype mercilessly about the miracle cures that would flow if only MPs would permit us to create and destroy human embryos.
Cloning, as it turns out, is dead in the water, and the value of this ISSCR site is the tacit acceptance that the future of stem cell science lies elsewhere.
Take this bit of straight-talking from the page 'Top 10 things to know about stem cell treatments' – in case any reader has doubted the validity of this site's repeated reminder about the non-usability of embryonic stem cells:
"However, embryonic stem cells themselves cannot directly be used for therapies as they would likely cause tumors and are unlikely to become the cells needed to regenerate a tissue on their own. They would first need to be coaxed to develop into specialized cell types before transplantation."
Any journalist who ever again says that 'embryonic stem cells are going to be given to patients' needs their nose rubbed in that ISSCR paragraph. It is official: ESCs cause tumours, or even tumors, and are unusable in humans. Get that? As this site has so patiently instructed readers, the only semi-safe ESC is not an ESC, but a mature cell like the 'terminally differentiated' nerve cells Geron Corp plans to use in its spinal transplants. However, even these 'terminally differentiated' cells may not be so safely finalised – they may still revert to those accursed little ESCs and cause tumours. That fact of stem cell nature is why the Geron trial has still not been approved, after all these false dawns over a decade.
One sign of the residual spin from the ISSCR is that they still feel obliged to talk up the Geron-type trial, with no acknowledgement that the FDA still does not consider it safe, and it is a standing joke about this trial being "due to start next summer" – see "Geron and on and on…". How lame, at the end of the "Top 10 things to know about stem cell treatments", after understating the genuine adult stem cell breakthroughs, they have to genuflect to Geron's embryonic junk science:
"The first embryonic stem cell-based treatment for acute spinal cord injury is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and will hopefully move into clinical trials soon."
Ah, yes, "hopefully soon"… You can fool some of the people all of the time…
Also strange is the ISSCR's petulant refusal to acknowledge the proven plasticity of adult stem cells for research and treatment – their long-established multipotent ability to transform into stem cells of entirely different tissues. Thus a patient of mine with Parkinson's has his olfactory plate (nasal) stem cells sampled in a quick biopsy, which are then transformed at Brisbane's National Adult Stem Cell Centre into other types of stem cells, capable of creating the cells of one's choice – say liver cells, or cardiac muscle cells, besides the obvious application of creating neural cells for Parkinson's research.
Still the ISSCR 'Top 10 things' page, under 'point 1: there are different types of stem cells' comments disingenuously:
"A neural stem cell won't spontaneously make a blood cell and likewise a hematopoietic stem cell won't spontaneously make a brain cell. Thus, it is unlikely that a single cell type could be used to treat a multitude of unrelated diseases that involve different tissues or organs."
Of course it does not happen 'spontaneously' – but it can happen in a predictable, safe way under the careful guidance of a stem cell scientist - which is the entire goal of stem cell therapy! This, again, is the standard negative spin of the ISSCR – trying to downplay adult stem cell plasticity and usefulness, in order to leave the embryonic alternative looking less shabby by contrast.
Finally, it is worth a look at more of the page on 'types of stem cells' – although the same spin applies re downplaying proven adult stem cell progress. Nevertheless, the ISSCR is straightforwardly acknowledging the non-usability of ESCs unless they are NOT an ESC any more:
"Furthermore, embryonic stem cells carry the risk of transforming into cancerous tissue after transplantation. To be used in cell transplant treatments the cells will most likely need to be directed into a more mature cell type… there are currently no treatments using embryonic stem cells."
On the great iPS breakthrough, there is some fudging – proposing that there are relevant 'differences' from ESCs, without pointing out that all those differences are to the practical benefit of iPS cells versus ESCs as tools for research – and also waffling about the need to refine iPS before they can be used for safe therapies: we argue that iPS cannot be used for therapies any more than ESCs, because they all cause tumours, and it is better to spell that out plainly.
At this authoritative site of the arch-lobbyists for embryonic exploitation, we witness the spin on cloning slowing to a stop, because the science of cloning has lost its bogus momentum; we see the embryonic hype withering on the vine because only adult stem cells are producing the goods with therapy and only iPS cells have achieved the goal of patient-specific pluripotent stem cells for research and drug development.
In as far as this site represents a face-saving move of the 'official' position on stem cell science towards our position, it is cause for celebration.