March 3, 2024

Leading stem cell scientist quietly drops embryonic work

What was all the ethical fuss about?

George Q. Daley Amongst scientists who promoted the use of
human embryonic stem cells five years ago, in the middle of passionate debates
in the US, Australia and elsewhere, few were more influential in shaping the
ethical debate than Harvard’s George Q. Daley. “We must support the vitally
important applications of embryonic stem cells to medical research,” he testified to a
Congressional committee in 2005

He contended that work on hESCs was so
important that it could not be delayed. It was needed for cures, drug
development and genetic research. The fact that years had passed without
results made no difference. “The field of human embryonic stem cell research is
a mere 7 years old, so it is premature to expect successful cell therapies to
have already been delivered to patients.”

Now, he has transferred the same sense of
urgency and excitement to an ethical non-controversial alternative to hESC
research which he dismissed before the committee – induced pluripotent stem
cells (iPS cells). At the time, he said, “Although
this strategy is worth pursuing, it is extremely high-risk, and may take years
to perfect, and may never work as well as nuclear transfer, which we know we
can practice today.”

However, in 2007 iPS cells were developed
by Shinya Yamanaka. Professor Daley immediately stopped campaigning for hESCs. In
an interview with Nature Medicine, he says, “Once Yamanaka solved the problem,
I turned around virtually my entire program to take advantage of that

In language remarkably similar to his 2005
testimony, he now promotes iPS cells: “There’s no reason in my mind to think
that we’re not going to have iPS cells that function as well as embryonic stem
cells.” Why haven’t there been any cures yet? “You can’t hold the field to too
high a standard. It’s only been two years, and a lot of this stuff is in the
pipeline.” ~ Nature
Medicine, June

Michael Cook
stem cells