More embryonic stem cell hype?

What should we make of the news that embryonic stem cell therapy may have helped improve vision in two patients?

Click here for WashPost coverage and here for NY Times coverage.

First, it’s not at all clear that the embryonic stem cells were related to the vision improvements.

The WashPost reports:

The researchers initially weren’t sure whether her improvement was attributable to the operation or a placebo effect. They couldn’t see clear evidence of new cells in their examination, and she said vision in both eyes was better. Further testing, however, has convinced the team that Freeman’s sight is better.

Sight may have improved, but it was not attributed to the embryonic stem cell therapy.

The NYTimes reported:

Thomas A. Reh, a professor at the University of Washington who works on retinal regeneration but was not involved in the study, said the results looked encouraging, though the patients needed to be followed for a longer time.

“It definitely looks like the cells are at least sticking around and not causing any trouble,” he said.

In that excerpt, the therapy isn’t hurting, but there’s no claim that it’s helping either.

Keep in mind that news comes from Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology.

We covered a Lanza shenanigan previously in “It Might Not Have Been a Clone” — and as it turned out, it wasn’t.

The NYTimes reports,

Still, it is hard to judge much from only two patients, especially when there was no control group.

Indeed, Dr. Schwartz said that the improvement in vision of one of the women might be a placebo effect.

Advanced Cell Technology, which paid for the study, has been criticized in the past for overstating results, in part because it has been desperate to raise money to stay in business.

The company’s stock rose 3.4 cents, or 23 percent, to 18 cents on Monday.

Dr. Schwartz conceded that it was “extremely unusual” for researchers to publish a study after treating only two patients out of a planned 24.

So in addition to the morality of embryonic stem cell research, we have our doubts as to merits of these claimed results.

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6 responses to “More embryonic stem cell hype?

  1. It is important to note that the search for any instance of embryonic stem cell success is likely to be conflated with justification for liberal outrage at the decision to not permit expansion of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. It is doubly important to note that the decision was not anti-science, did not remove that type of research or even restrict it in the private sector, would fund research with federal funds using embryonic cells already available, and was based on uncontroverted evidence of the limited use of embryonic cells. It is triply important to note that scientists have subsequently found methods to mimic embryonic cells using adult cells, that the search for embryonic stem success has still so far produced no promise of a significant area of treatment, and that there is no moral conundrum if you can achieve results in another way.
    The article in the Post seems to confirm that the result was an accident. The experiment was to see if an embryonic stem cell would be rejected if placed in the eye? Why then inject cells in the eyes of people with bad sight? If that were not an accident, you were testing the wrong thing? Would adult stems produce the same “placebo” effect? There still seems to be something missing in the story of this experiment. Maybe it’s the journalistic coverage, maybe it’s the research. I think it’s probably good that private funds be used on a project like this.

  2. We have absolutely no idea if Embryonic Stem Cells will end up being more or less useful than adult stem cells. So it would be a good idea for government to fund both types of research until a clear winner is found. ESC was held back by 8 years of George W. Bush stupidity, so I would expect Adult Stem Cell research to currently be far ahead of ESC. But they aren’t as far ahead as I would have expected. Private funding for Stem Cell Research is much more difficult to get because we are in the infancy of the research, and the financial risks are too high for most investors. Let’s support both areas and not be “afraid” of which version will win. Whichever side “wins” will be a victory for humanity.

    • Hey, doublespeak, you are totally WRONG that Bush “held back” ESC research. Bush limited FEDERAL funds – taxpayers’ money, that is – to existing lines. Bush did absolutely nothing that blocked independent research, nor did he block any other country from wasting their money on ESC “research”. Sane investors won’t touch ESC “research” because it’s a dead-end, literally and figuratively.

  3. Human life is NOT stupidity. It is unconcionable to kill one person to help(?) another. There have been numerous claims about ESC’s for decades, but little evidence that they are any better than ASC’s. At least adult stem cells don’t require the death of another person, however small, for research.

  4. To better grasp this issue; it needs to be placed back in context; saving lives. Though some of these opposing views are not without merit, it is evident that the benefits outweigh the ethical concerns. If there is a potential avenue for curing a disease, it must be pursued; with zero limitations. Though there will be situations where this process will be used in pure-vanity, e.g., facial make-up, as addressed “Scientists who favor stem cell research are upset by the promotion of these injections.”[v] However, one must not base one’s argument on such narcissistic- vanity. The dilemma arising from Stem Cell Research is social, legal, scientific, and for those that really need it; psychological. So what are the prospects of stem cell research? It is claimed that it might help cure Spinal cord injury, Diabetes, Heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Arthritis, Sickle anemia, Organ failure and not to mention HIV. If that’s the case, why interfere and obstruct a research that will possibly eradicate these diseases? We live in an utilitarian system where what is better for the whole should always prevail; take all the diseases that could be cured on the advocate’s side and weigh it against what is presented on the con-side; it is without logic that one arrives at the notion that saving lives in non-ethical. What is non-ethical; is denying treatment to those that will benefit from the fruits of the research. Who benefits from the fruits of stem cell research? Mankind. Who benefits from ‘No stem cell research arguments and legislation?’ Nobody. I found this article to offer the most on this topic http://www.newsonhealthcare.com/stem-cell-research-it-must-be-funded-no-it-must-not/ I hope that helped some more.

  5. “benefits outweigh the ethical concerns” Never! If we start down that slippery slope, where do we stop?
    Do you want to be alive over the body of someone else, I don’t. I am not talking about organ donor’s as I am one. That is voluntary on the donor’s part, not on the part of another.

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