Saturday, February 24, 2007

Media Bias on Display: Attacking Adult Stem Cell Research

I am sure many of you saw the story that Dr. Catherine Verfaillie's study--indicating that a type of bone marrow stem cell might be pluripotent--had flaws. (Can't you hear "the scientists" cheering?) The flaws were not in the conclusion of her research, but in the process of identifying the cells. Never mind. The media have jumped to blow this story into a bigger deal than it is as a way of generally tarring adult stem cell research.

And get this quote from the Seattle Times:"Her study had concluded adult stem cells taken from the bone marrow of mice could grow into an array of biological tissues, including brain, heart, lung and liver. So far, only embryonic stem cells, which are commonly retrieved by destroying embryos at an early stage of development, are known to hold such regenerative promise."

Garbage. ES cells have not shown such regenerative promise. In theory, they might. But it hasn't been actually done yet. Usually ES cells morph into many different types of cells in the Petri dish, and moreover, it might be their potential pluripotency that leads to their propensity to cause tumors. Beyond this, other types of adult stem cells have demonstrated multipotency, that is the potential to be developed into several different types of tissues. For example, a paper was recently published demonstrating this capacity in stem cells found in fat.

In fact, Verfaillie's study in mice has little to do with the tremendous gains being made in adult/umbilical cord blood stem cell research which is progressing in many areas into early human trials. That the media decided to highlight this arcane story, (page 4 in the SF Chronicle), which may or may not have scientific significance, far beyond the barely reported peer reviewed paper showing adult stem cells restoring feelings in human patients paralyzed with spinal cord injury, vividly illustrates the game that is being played.



At February 25, 2007 , Blogger Don Nelson said...

What do you mean "... the process of identifying the cells?"

At February 27, 2007 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

She apparently repeated the exact same data in describing how she derived the cells in different papers and may have misdescribed the process. This was a mistake but it may have led people to use the wrong process in trying to replicate her work.


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