March 5, 2024

ACT acting up again

Hi there,

This week the FDA approved the second human
clinical trial of embryonic stem cells. Advanced Cell Technology, one of the
few companies which is working with hESCs, plans to treat 12 patients who have
Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy, a rare degenerative disease which leads
inexorably to blindness. The company foresees a possible US$25 billion-$30
billion global market – if the experiment succeeds.

After nearly 10 years of debate over the
ethical and safety aspects of human embryonic stem cell treatments, the FDA has
only approved two trials. In the meantime, as we report in this week’s
newsletter, induced pluripotent stem cells – which have almost none of the
ethical baggage of embryonic stem cells — are showing immense promise.
Harvard’s Kevin Eggan told Science, “it’s hard not to be pretty pleased with
the progress that’s been made in a few short years.”

It makes me, at any rate, wonder what
exactly is the point of persisting with embryonic stem cells. Many leading stem
cell scientists have abandoned hESCs and are working on iPS cells. Could it be intellectual
inertia, an inability to change tracks in the light of new knowledge? Is it
easier to raise finance for the glamorous and controversial embryonic stem

Any ideas?

Michael Cook