January 18, 2021

The Niche

Trusted stem cell blog & resources

The Anti-Stem Cell Propaganda Machine

Someone once said that in any war there is going to be propaganda.

The same seems to be true for war that extreme right-wing conservatives are waging against stem cell research and researchers.

A prime example is an article today in the National Review by David Klinghoffer entitled “The Stem-Cell War”.  I would call it propaganda.

Klinghoffer starts his article by identifying the name of the first patient in a clinical trial for spinal cord injury. It’s unclear if this patient voluntarily released his identity to the media or was “out-ed” by the Washington Post without permission.  Klinghoffer uses this patient to make the point that this is the first patient being treated using human embryonic stem cells. In contrast, he says, gazillions of people have been treated using adult cells. His conclusion is that embryonic stem cell research must be flawed.

One problem here with this logic is that adult stem cell research has been around for decades, while human embryonic stem (ES) cells were only discovered about a decade ago. Klinghoffer gets his facts totally wrong when he says that human ES cell research has been ongoing for 30 years and been “lavished” with funded.  That is a totally bogus statement.  Mouse ES cells were discovered much earlier than human ES cells, but they of course are not the same thing. In addition, by no stretch of the imagination has human ES cell research been “lavished” with funded. What a loaded word to use.

The only scientist that Mr. Klinghoffer quotes, surprise-surprise, is Dr. Theresa Deisher, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the federal government to shut down federal funding of ES cell research.

Why no quotes from any other scientists? Perhaps Klinghoffer couldn’t find another scientist who would say what he wanted to quote in his article?

In any technological field, there are going to be advances along the way. Human embryonic stem cells represent such a new advance that has come along decades after adult stem cell research began with bone marrow transplantation studies around 5 decades ago. Human embryonic stem cells are relatively so new that there simply has not been time for them to advance as far as adult research. The milestones of the first clinic trials using human ES cells beginning in 2010 are exciting developments and in their limited number do not reflect anything more than the newness of the field. In any new technological field should new technologies be abandoned simply because they are new and hence do not have as much of a track record yet? Of course not.

Most stem cell scientists study both adult stem cells and ES cells. Many, like my lab, study those as well as iPS cells too. Our goal is to advance research on all possible fronts to help millions of actual living human beings who are suffering from serious illnesses that doctors today do not have the tools to cure. Many of these are simply not treatable by adult stem cells. The reality is that we have many questions to answer about stem cell research because which types of stem cell types are best for which diseases. Do we shut the door on any of the three most powerful tools (adult, ES, and IPS cells) without knowing the answers?  In so doing we would eliminate the hope of millions of people. Foes of ES cell research such as Klinghoffer, don’t want us to have the funding to get the answers we need because all they are interested in is a political agenda.


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