October 1, 2022

HAS EMBRYONIC STEM CELL SCIENCE BEEN OVERSOLD?

In the wake of overblown claims by the company Advanced Cell Technology that it had found an ethical way of deriving embryonic stem cells, journalists should be more cautious about broadcasting news of “breakthroughs”, according to a writer for Scientific American. Sally Lehman says that “Scientists in many fields have sometimes exaggerated the importance of their work. But stem cell researchers seem uniquely inclined toward dramatic claims.”

Their enthusiasm is understandable, she says, “but pumping up the science to overcome moral and ethical objections is the wrong sales strategy”. Some prominent researchers now feel that clinical applications of embryonic stem cells may be as far away as 15 to 20 years and that they may never even be used as therapies. Rather, they might be useful largely as a path to cheaper, more efficient methods. Most Americans support this research, writes Ms Lehman. But by telling tall tales about imminent cures, embryonic stem cell researchers squander their credibility. Why risk losing the public trust? The basic science is thrilling enough.”