Monday, November 29, 2010

Ah yes - the other 'ESC' treatment!!

After Geron Corp and the non-ESC non-treatment trial in spine inury, I see that Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) has made its own bid for five minutes of fame, this time with a rare form of macular degeneration (Stargardt's macular dystrophy). Five minutes is all it takes for intelligent people to ask the same questions I posed re Geron:

1. Given that we can do all this with adult stem cells (for example, see HERE) why mess with embryos (with their inherent problems of tumours, and immune supression, let alone the ethical ugliness)?

2. Even if you really really really want to use tumorigenic pluripotent stem cells, why not spare the patient the need for immune suppressant drugs and use iPS cells (for example, see HERE) as a source of the transplatable cells - because they at least match the patient?

What mug would turn away from the obvious advantages using safe, genetically perfect ASCs and instead use dangerous pluripotent cells? And if only the latter "will do", what mug would use 'foreign' ESCells when he could use genetically matched iPS cells? For as the old song goes: "Anything 'e' can do, 'i' can do better" especially when it comes to matching the patient's immune system.

Still, if all your company's resources and IP is tied up with embryos, and the FDA is fool enough to grant your reckless and unjustified experiment on human subjects, and your legal liability is sufficient - then it is understandable (although still unjustifiable) that you would proceed with ESC-derived cells.

Hype-alert: as with Geron so with ACT, not a single ESC will ever be injected into a patient (despite the breathless headlines in the media) because, of course, you can never do that. Likewise, this ACT trial is not a treatment: is is just a phase 1 safety trial to see what harm the ESC-derived cells might do to the subjects. So while it is understandable for the CEO to talk up the company's trial, it is not as he puts it "a game changer for the medical community". The only game changer will be when steady minds and smart investment finally expose this embryo-tinkering for the redundant stunt that it is. Then we can divert our energies to the two fertile fields of stem cell research: ASC for safe direct therapies and iPS for ethically uncontentious genetic research and drug development.