February 29, 2024

Was stem cell research oversold in California?

In the wake of jubilation over California’s new US$3 billion stem cell institute, the media is beginning to do a reality check on the potential of embryonic stem cells for “miracle cures”. Writing in the Sacramento Bee, Stuart Leavenworth says that “most scientists say it will take years, and possibly decades, before embryonic stem cell treatments are proven and made widely available”. Arthur Caplan, the most widely-quoted bioethicist in the US media, and a supporter of embryo research, acknowledges that nothing will happen quickly. “No one knows if you can control embryonic stem cells. It is like trying to argue right after the Orville and Wilbur Wright flight whether we could have a Mars mission.”

Leavenworth is not an opponent of stem cell research, but observes that it may have been oversold. “California taxpayers didn’t vote for Proposition 71 so they could help build a foundation of general biological knowledge. They were sold on the idea of quickly funding cures, a prospect that may be wildly optimistic.”