Saturday, June 11, 2005

Reality Check on a "Recipe for Trouble"

A Harvard stem cell researcher has weighed in with a reminder about the tedious nature of scientific research, especially regarding stem cells.

It stands in contrast to the contentions of officials from the California stem cell agency that their enterprise is a life-and-death matter. Certainly it is important to get on with stem cell research. But the time line on development of stem cell therapies is years, perhaps decades. And then there is the old saw about slowing down so you can go faster.

This is not to demean or diminish the needs of those living with diseases that may be alleviated with stem cell therapy.

David A. Shaywitz, an endocrinologist and stem-cell researcher at Harvard University, wrote in an article that appeared in the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Advocacy groups must ...level with their stakeholders and explain why treatments based on stem cells will take such a long time to materialize."

He added, "At the same time, these organizations must continue to push scientists to work harder and achieve results faster, encouraging investigators to keep in mind the patients in whose name the research is being conducted (and funded)."

Shaywitz addressed California specifically:

"The explicit expectation of rapid clinical progress -- a key component of California's stem-cell initiative, for example -- is a recipe for trouble. If embryonic stem cells are rushed into clinical trials before the solid science has been done, the resulting fiasco could easily doom the entire future of the field."

"The truth is that science -- good science -- can be maddeningly slow," the stem cell researcher said.

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