Stem Cell Discovery- Has Anything Really Changed?

Some of you (like Mr.Bortz) may have read the big news story last week about how Dr. Jamie Thomson and Dr. Yamanaka in Wisconsin and Japan showed they could mimic the creation of embryonic stem cells by subjecting skin cells to certain viruses and genes. If embryonic like stem cells can be created this way, an embryo would not have to be destroyed in the process, and there would be no controversy.

I had an opportunity to speak to Don Margolis, the founder of Theravitae, an adult stem cell company that specializes in treating heart patients with their Vescell stem cell therapy, about this subject.

Don weighs in-

While this is fine and dandy and my hat is off to Dr. Thomson and Dr. Yamanaka for this discovery, frequent readers of my writings and rants may know that Theravitae, doesn’t have a take on the political/religious/moral issues associated with embryonic stem cells. Our take has always been “they don’t help anyone and they are decades away from helping anyone, this is the reason scientists have to beg the taxpayer for funds rather than rely on private investments.” While this discovery may have ended the big controversy, not much really has changed. The big question is now “Who is this going to help?”

The major talking point about embryonic stem cells is they can theoretically turn into any kind of cell. The problem is, the cells, no matter how well “trained” they are to solve a specific problem, too-frequently do what they are supposed to do, then, apparently bored once they have succeeded, they look around and say “What can we do for an encore?” The answer, too often, is: “Kill the patient!”

For example, the greatest embryonic experiment in history (I believe) was a fantastic success in significantly reducing Parkinsons in ten out of ten rats about 15 months ago at the University of Rochester. But Dr. Steven Goldman, a rare honest embryonic researcher, waited and refused to release the information prematurely. He was right. All ten developed tumors. Despite all the hoopla, the embryonic stem cell lobby NEVER mention the word “tumors” while telling us that their cells can do everything while ASC really can’t do much.

Here is an excerpt from a news story on Dr. Goldman’s study-

The new study, published in Nature Medicine,*describes a high-yield method for inducing human embryonic stem cells to become dopaminergic neurons. When those neurons were implanted into the striatum of rats with a condition similar to PD, the rats ultimately recovered their full motor functions. Disturbingly, however, a small fraction of the implanted cells formed tumors.

“The cells were on their way to becoming neurons, but kept dividing after we transplanted them,” explained Steven Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s senior author and a neurologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. He is hopeful that the rogue cells can be culled away prior to transplantation.

Ok- back to the discovery- let me take a small paragraph from the New York Times article on this discovery-
“But they (the new stem cells) would be ideal for the sort of studies that many researchers say are the real promise of this endeavor — studying the causes and treatments of complex diseases.”

What a relief for Theravitae! We were so worried that this latest miracle would cut into our business, but now we see we have nothing to worry about! The scientists are still light years away from helping anyone.

So the ethical issue on embryonic stem cells may have ended, but who is that going to help? Until adult stem cells are given the attention they deserve, millions of patients will still suffer needlessly.

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