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