Saturday, November 25, 2006

Stem Cell Lies and Misinformation

I randomly came across a site called "LifeSite" by a group lobbying the public and the Canadian government to place a moratorium on human stem cell research. I was horrified to read their "scientific" arguments as to why this should be done, all basically just wrong:
  • Embryonic stem cells appear to be subject to random and uncontrollable growth. On the other hand, adult stem cells seem to be more predictable in responding to the growth factors and hormones that function to re-direct their development.
The Facts: ES cell growth is not "random". For example, mouse ES cells when injected into a host blastocyst in a surrogate mother, are able to give rise to embryonic tissue and undergo the tightly regulated developmental process to form a perfectly normal adult animal. One of the main reasons it's so important to do ES cell research is to learn how to manipulate them in the dish to form whatever tissue one might need, and scientists can do this pretty well already.
  • Embryonic stem cells have been known to grow into the wrong type of cells, in some cases such as hair and teeth growing in the brain of treated patients.
The Facts: ES cells haven't even been used in human therapy yet so of course there has never been any evidence of hair and teeth growing because no patients have been treated. Again the point of researching human ES cells in the lab is to learn how to control their differentiation (what type of cell they become) so that this sort of thing would never happen when they are actually used for therapy, just like drugs are tested on animals to minimize the risk of side effects when used in people.
  • Perhaps the greatest clinical problem with implanted embryonic stem cells is that the body flags them as foreign material. Consequently, they are subject to rejection by the patient's immune system.
The Facts: Any cell, embryonic or not, can be rejected by the immune system if its genes do not match the recipient patient. Therefore it is important to use autologous cells (from the same patient) for regenerative therapy, but whether the cells are adult or embryonic is of no consequence as far immune rejection goes. In fact, customized autologous ES cells generated by nuclear transfer or harvested pre-natally are probably the most promising potential source of cells for future therapies. There is a huge need for autologous cells, since they are often difficult to obtain once a patient already has a deadly diseases like leukemia, multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy.

The fools running this site push research into the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells, claiming they are just as useful or even more useful than embryonic stem cells. Also untrue. This goes way beyond simple ignorance to deliberately twisting scientific knowledge to misinform people and it's pretty sad. All the more reason for real scientists to get on the ball in educating the public.


Anonymous Coward said...

Quackwatch is full of other examples like that of fact distortions and scams, like stem cell clinics, magic bracelets and crystals. They have an exhaustive list of the scammers.

Anonymous Coward said...

They have the seven signs of bogus science:
1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
6. The discoverer has worked in isolation.
7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.