Monday, December 09, 2013

The Elusive Stem Cell and the Power of Hope

It was, you might say, the best of times and the worst of times last week for the stem cell community, particularly in California. At least based on a spate of headlines and news stories.

Largely ebullient rhetoric rolled out of San Diego, only to be tempered or contradicted elsewhere. The World Stem Cell Summit was underway in Southern California, generating a small wave of coverage.

On Tuesday, Bradley Fikes of the San Diego UT reported,
“Stem cell research has already yielded historic breakthroughs against incurable diseases, a panel of top stem cell researchers said at a public forum Tuesday evening. And that's just the start....”
On Wednesday, the $3 billion California stem cell agency carried on with the theme and blogged about “breakthroughs.”

On Thursday, GEN News quoted Bernard Siegel, the major domo of the summit, as saying,
 "The field is a true scientific revolution and reflects the transformative power of hope...."
But then there was this midweek story, also by Fikes,
“Stem cell research faces a budget crunch -- The cash-strapped federal government’s ability to fund stem cell research has become severely limited....”
On Saturday, Bloomberg headlined a discouraging story about research based in Boston,
“HIV Returns in Two Men Thought Cured After Stem Cell Transplant."
And earlier in the week, a consultant to the $3 billion California stem cell agency made it clear that after 2017, it will no longer be handing out $300 million a year in research grants. His report also noted that it would take 10 years or so for stem cell research to emerge from early clinical trials to become real, commercial therapies.

The diverging stories and comments reflect the ebb and flow of a young technology. They also reflect the inveterate optimism of many researchers and patient advocates, who publicly see few barriers to stem cell therapies. Catriona Jamieson, a scientist at UC San Diego who appears to be enjoying remarkable success in her work, last week commented,
"The biggest barrier is nihilism."
Cash is short, however, not only in the federal government and at the California agency, but also in the private sector, which has basically stiff-armed stem cell research for the last several years or longer.

Despite some recent, promising signs of interest from some companies, Siegel's comment may be the most on the money about the current state of affairs: The stem cell field continues to reflect the “transformative power of hope.” And widely available, safe, effective and reasonably priced stem cell therapies remain elusive. Sphere: Related Content

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