Professor Robert Winston, president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA), believes that experiments with embryonic stem cells are important and could eventually lead to ground-breaking advances in medicine and biology. However, he's concerned that embryonic stems cells have been hyped for political reasons, and that there will be a backlash against ES research when it fails to provide new treatments.
(...) If we run at this too hard and start saying weíre going to have cures for diabetes, Parkinsonís, Alzheimerís, thereís going to be an almighty backlash, not least from pro-life groups that will perceive the chink in our armour.ĒRemarkably, Winston is not the first embryonic stem cell proponent to admit the technology has been oversold (more here and here).
(...) There has been hype in the field, but it has not been the scientists who have been responsible for it. None of us is claiming that therapies are going to be with us tomorrow, and I think itís irresponsible to say everything is driven by hype.
(...) It is true that Alzheimerís is not a promising candidate for stem-cell therapies, but it was not scientists who suggested it was ó that was all politics in the US driven by Nancy Reagan.
"Many of the technologies we hyped to the general public haven't worked yet," Celgene Corp. president Alan Lewis said at a biotechnology trade show in Philadelphia earlier this year.
James Thomson, the Wisconsin biologist who was the first to isolate embryonic stem cells also admits they have been oversold. "I'm very hopeful that there will be some transplantation applications for this technology, but they're going to be very challenging," he told MSNBC. "And it's been so hyped in the press that people expect it to come the day after tomorrow."
Thomson conceded that embryonic stem cell cures may not be available until "ten to twenty years from now."
At an international meeting of cloners and stem cell in San Francisco last Summer, even the most outspoken proponents of the technology concede they are years away from actual drugs based on stem cells.
"I think the chance of doing repairs to Alzheimer's brains by putting in stem cells is small," the Washinton Post attributed to stem cell researcher Michael Shelanski, co-director of the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York.
Why the hype? "To start with, people need a fairy tale," the Washington Post quoted Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem cell researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke [source]. "Maybe that's unfair, but they need a story line that's relatively simple to understand."
At the same time that ESC receives fairy tale status in the media, adult and umbilical cord stem cell research and therapy continues forward, relatively unnoticed despite many documented treatments (note: there are no ESC treatments to date).
Most importantly, current embryonic stem cell research is unethical. It requires the destruction of a human life to harvest the necessary stem cells. Umbilical cord and adult stem cell therapies have no such requirement or ethical shortfall.
Why not focus on technologies, such as adult stem cells, that are consistent with the sanctity of human life and are providing cures today and promise for tomorrow?
Update: Check out Sierra Faith