Another Attempt to Rehabilitate the Reputation of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

By Dave Andrusko

We’ve run two keenly insightful posts by bioethicist Wesley Smith, including one today, on the fiasco that is the Geron corporation’s decision last week to “pull the plug” (as the Los Angeles Times put it) on its research into the use of embryonic stem cells. The area where there was the most hype was stem cell treatment for acute spinal cord injury, which was always more speed than altitude.

Wesley’s primary point, one that we’ve made in this space many times, is that the Establishment Media touts every inkling that there might be progress using stem cells from human embryos yet studiously ignores the undeniable evidence that adult stem cells are already helping patients all over the world.

Well, the Times today did talk about Geron’s decision to focus on cancer drugs, and managed in its account to almost completely avoid the elephant in the room: there has not been sufficient progress using embryonic stem cells to convince investors to pour good money after bad. Eryn Brown managed to argue:

* “Industry watchers say the science of stem cell medicine remains sound. It’s just the economics that are shaky.” The latter is true because the former is false.

* “The emergence of an alternative type of flexible cell that isn’t made from embryos may have diverted funding and attention from trials like Geron’s.” Well, yes!  Why wouldn’t funding be “diverted” if “over 50,000 people around the globe are treated each year with adult stem cells,” according to Dr. David Prentice. “The diseases and conditions successfully treated by adult stem cells, as shown by published scientific evidence, continue to expand, with published success for numerous cancers, spinal cord injury, heart damage, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell anemia, and many others.”

* “Some pointed to other challenges: Perhaps reversing spinal cord injuries was an overambitious goal for medicine’s first embryonic stem cell therapy,” Brown writes. “’They selected something at the beginning that may have been very sexy — making Christopher Reeve walk — but the problem is, you have to take reality into account,’ said Dr. Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer for Santa Monica-based Advanced Cell Technology, the only other company with a clinical trial of a therapy based on embryonic stem cells.”

But it was precisely because of the exaggerated hype that ethical objections to scavenging human embryos for their stem cells were overcome. Nothing short of mindless hype about making Reeve walk would suffice to minimize and trivialize and mock the objections of critics. “Reality” had nothing to do with it.

Geron may be down and out—at least on embryonic stem cell research—but rest assure somebody else will come along, counting on the “promise” of embryonic cells to snooker investors.

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