April 23, 2024

The forgotten debate fizzles out

Hi there,

I must admit that I have never been a fan of using human embryonic stem cells. I have serious ethical reservations and from what I understand of the science, they are incredibly hard to handle. So I wasn’t surprised at our lead story this week, the news that Geron, one of the few companies in the world working with these cells, had  thrown in the towel.

What did surprise me was how small a splash it made. Amazingly, an article in New Scientist, ever an enthusiastic booster of embryo research, blandly declared, never mind, there has been amazing progress with adult stem cells.

Treatments based on adult stem cells are undoubtedly in the lead, with some very encouraging results this year… So at the moment, adult cells are leading the way clinically? Absolutely. For instance, there are almost 200 trials under way globally using mesenchymal stem cells extracted from bone marrow. In terms of sheer numbers and commercial potential, they are way in front.”

Perhaps the journalist was too young to remember the fierce debates across the world six or seven years ago. Some scientists and journalists were ridiculed and ostracised for saying much the same thing. I wonder if journals like Science, Nature and New Scientist are drafting mea culpas. Somehow I doubt it. 

There’s more in this week’s newsletter: Canada’s euthanasia debate is getting warmer; a surprising celebrity surrogacy in the UK; the European Court of Human Rights upholds Austria’s ban on sperm donation — and more.


Michael Cook