Now that I’ve had a moment to breathe (and get some laundry into the washing machine), I thought I should clarify a couple conclusions from my final post on stem cell research. When I stated that human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) are not likely to be the “great therapeutic hope they have been pumped up to be,” I was not expressing my own best judgment from the 10 day NIH training course. This statement was based on collective scientific opinions and on one opinion in particular. The source has been a strong proponent of hESC research and a significant player in the field. There may be other uses for hESCs, but this expert says the carcinogenic/immunological combination creates an “insurmountable” obstacle to therapy.
When I said that the best hope for therapies lies with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that originate in one’s own body, it may have sounded simplistic. This statement, however, also emanated from both collective wisdom and the expressed opinion of a respected “off-the-record” source.
When I said that adult stem cells from donor sources pose significant risks, I did not mean to suggest they are not useful for therapy. They are. A family member has benefited from them. A friend suffered miserably from the graph vs. host disease that is sometimes a side effect of such treatment. She was desperately ill with the cancer that eventually killed her when she was injected with stem cells from cord blood.
Medical researchers talk in terms of risk/benefit analysis. Obviously someone dying of a deadly disease doesn’t have much to lose if hESC therapies prove to be carcinogenic or if adult source therapies require ongoing immunosuppression. The quadriplegic or diabetic does.
Finally, I should note (for what little credibility it provides) that I did significant course work in anatomy, biology and chemistry before I settled on journalism as a college major.