Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Stem Cell Hype: The Latest Warning from Researchers

The Scientist journal last week carried a cautionary note concerning iPS cell therapies, particularly a recent, "exciting" announcement concerning their use for treatment of spinal paralysis.

"Ethical Challenges in Using iPS Cells to Treat Paralysis," was the headline on the opinion piece. It carried a subheading that said,
"Uncertainties about the cells’ risk profiles and the potential for hyping unproven therapies mean scientists and the media must tread carefully."
The article dealt primarily with what it termed "exciting" news about an experiment in Japan. But the article has broader implications for the entire field including in California, where the state stem cell agency is currently helping to fund 46 research projects involving iPS, induced pluripotent stem cells. 

The piece was written by John D. Loike, a professor of biology at Touro College and University Systems in Brooklyn and who has a regular column on bioethics in The Scientist, and Martin Grumet, a professor of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers.

Writing about the Japanese research, they said, 
"Caution is warranted here, for at least three reasons: the uncertainty of the stem cell type to be used in their clinical trial, the safety of transplanting stem cells into humans, and the responsibility of scientists and the press to communicate clearly the benefits and risks of the stem cell treatments, especially to desperate patients who would seek such unproven treatments."
They continued.
"The excitement of the press release may be misinterpreted by patients, who may think that now is the time to treat human spinal cord injury with stem cell transplants. With difficulties getting admitted to legitimate sub-clinical trials, could this hype for hope lead poorly informed patients to seek out other “stem cells” to treat their spinal cord injuries or other conditions? We must avoid anything that may promote “medical tourism” to unapproved interventions.

"The fact that there are more than 700 'stem cell clinics' advertised in the United States alone highlights the desperation of so many patients with terminal illnesses seeking unapproved or unproven therapies. There are no studies documenting the therapeutic successes of these clinics and some of their patients have developed serious side effects. Scientists and the press must ensure an ethical and realistic presentation and communication of new and potentially exciting discoveries and caution readers about the realities of initial clinical trials.

1 comment:

  1. Jeanne Loring9:50 AM

    Just to be clear- there are no safety issues with iPSCs that are different from those with hESCs. There are safety issues with transplanting cells that carry cancer-associated mutations, no matter what the source, and with transplanting dividing cells. When cells divide, they acquire changes in their genomes...most of these changes are benign, but a mutation in a cancer driver gene or sequence leads to enhanced survival of the mutated cells, and uncontrolled growth.


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