Sunday, June 19, 2011

Right Medicine for CIRM: Front Page Paean to Stem Cell Research

The California stem cell agency scored another PR plus a couple of days ago with a glowing, front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle that basically left readers thinking stem cells are the fountain of youth.

It is the type of coverage that the agency needs to persuade California voters to borrow another $3 billion to $5 billion and place it the hands of the small band at CIRM HQ on King Street in San Francisco to give to researchers.

The story had all the earmarks of being generated by CIRM. If it wasn't, it should have been. It was a nifty paean to the virtues of all manner of stem cell research. It included a solid quote from CIRM President Alan Trounson. And all four of the researchers named in the article are recipients of CIRM grants.

Written by Chronicle reporter Erin Allday, the article's first paragraph said,
 "It may not be as sexy as curing cancer or repairing devastating spinal cord injuries, but the science of aging — and what researchers might be able to do to slow down or even reverse some of the worst effects of getting older — is taking off in the stem cell industry."
The piece cited research by Thomas Rando of Stanford and said,
Stanford's Thomas Rando -- stitching old and young together
"Even if stem cells don’t add decades to human life, they might give people many more productive years in their 70s, 80s and beyond, Rando and other scientists say. 'With aging, there are a lot of systems that start to become less efficient or break down or be more inclined to diseases. We may work out ways to provide stem cells that would enable people to remain vigorous,' said Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. "
The story continued,
"'The idea has always been there, the fountain of youth you could get at if you were constantly replacing old cells with new cells,' said Dr. Deepak Srivastava, head of cardiovascular and stem cell research at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco."
This paragraph caught our eye and conjured up an amazing image when we thought about its direct application to humans.
"In 2005, (Rando) stitched together two mice — one young, one old — to join their circulatory systems. After awhile, the stem cells in the old mouse were healthier and more active, leading scientists to believe that the younger blood and tissue from the young mouse were invigorating the stem cells in the old one."
In 2008, Amy Adams, then of the Stanford PR staff but now with CIRM, also wrote about the implications of Rando's research in a piece in Stanford Medicine magazine. She explored more of the scientific implications and limitations about sharing blood via stitching or otherwise. A sidebar to her main piece said,
"A lack of scientific grounding won't thwart anti-aging hucksters, says David Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics. 'I can easily imagine a company starting up in another country based on Rando's findings,' Magnus says."
In fact, dubious stem cell marketing pitches are already well underway. We encountered one advertising on Google while doing research for this story. It was from a company in the Phillipines that offers treatments for breast augmentation and erectile dysfunction.  Our readers may even find ads like that on this blog, placed there by Google's automated system.

One downside to the impact of Chronicle story: It is behind a paywall and hasn't shown up in ordinary Google searches or alerts. We are in debt to Wesley J. Smith, whose blog post on the Chronicle story called it to our attention.

Smith, an attorney and author, is no friend of CIRM. His item yesterday described the $3 billion agency as "arrogantly managed and wildly expensive." Smith wrote,
"I suspect that the CIRM and its supporters are gearing up for a very expensive–pull out all the stops–PR drive to resell stem cells as the  cure all, as the once Golden State turns to pyrite.  Since they don’t have any real cures to point to, they plan to seduce with vaguely timed promises that stem cells will allow us to run marathons when we are eighty and make love at 90 like we were 25 and hormonal–the old quest for a fountain of youth updated for the scientific age."
Nonetheless, stories like one in the Chronicle are the right medicine for CIRM if it wants to live to a ripe old age.

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