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Little Cells, Lotsa Noise


The New York Times weighs in on the stem cell debate with a group of stories that are pretty cool and some photos that are way cooler. This is one of the things The Times does best: talking about the science and the politics, hammering nicely on the economics and competitive consequences along the way. So go read ‘em.
The whole issue is generating a fair amount of mail in this little corner of the web.

One reader has supplied an (admitted skewed) map of stem cell research sites. After reading the Times piece from the U.K., you still don’t think this is a jobs issue — the pointer is to a Univeristy of Minnesota med school site — this is worth a look.
And another warns, in a nice conjuction with the Times pieces about the effects that fetal cells can have on women who bear children, that embryonic stem cell research is over-done.
Dr. Peter Hollands – who worked in the U.K. on in vitro fertilization – sounds this warning:
You should also bear in mind that despite the hype by the science community and the media and ‘celebrities’ no one has ever been treated with embryonic stem cells. We do not know if it is even possible or safe to transplant embryonic stem cells. One great concern is that embryonic stem cells can easily form a cancer called a teratocarcinoma on transplantation judging by animal studies.
In contrast umbilical cord blood stem cells have been used over 3000 times worldwide to treat 45 different diseases. These stem cells are tried and tested. The diseases treated are currently the leukaemias, related blood disorders, and following chemotherapy for cancer. Current research is looking at using umbilical cord blood stem cells to repair all tissues in the body with the most recent advances in the treatment of heart attack and spinal damage.

The problem with politics parading as science and science parading as politics – make no mistake, that’s what going on here, on both sides – is that the issue get fogged. Hollands, who is now affiliated with Cells for Life, an umbilical cord blood bank with a shrewd PR team, is undoubtedly right about the hype surrounding the use of embryonic cells. But so what?
His argument, which is for his business, only goes so far. This isn’t really about what we need or don’t need to do. It’s about what we want to do. Returning again to the idea that outsourcing and California’s stem cell initiative are related in the minds of many supporters and it seems like anything that juices more research and more thinking in this part of the world isn’t a bad idea. The federal government used to do fund this sort of work. They don’t any more. And that’s going to have profound consequences, economic and otherwise, in a very short time. So, bearing James Lick and his wonderful telescope in mind, looking that the close drive from his observatory on Mt. Hamilton overlooking San Jose to the NASA Ames Research Center on the flats of Palo Alto, makes it hard to argue that research and exploration – as much as possible, in as many areas as possible – is more important than we can ever realize.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 1:32 PM | Permalink

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