Portraying sci-fi about stem cells and aging as reality: unhelpful hype

I believe that stem cells may at some point allow people to live slightly longer, maybe a couple years on average. However, I think they have the potential to dramatically increase the quality of life during the time we are alive.  My colleague Amy Adams over at the CIRM research blog had a great post on this that I highly recommend and quoted CIRM President Alan Trounson that research may help us learn “how to keep those stem cells more lively during a person’s golden years”, which makes a lot of sense to me. These people are serious scientists and policy makers.

In contrast, what does not make much sense is a story out today that is getting enormous attention via Reuters (and then picked up by Yahoo) arguing that stem cells might make humans live 150 years or even 1000 years.  The Reuters story has already been recommended by almost 1000 people on FB and has hundreds of comments on Yahoo.

The article quotes “gerontology theoretician” Aubrey de Grey and takes most of what he says without careful analysis. Why not include a quote from a stem cell scientist with a different opinion? That would have been far better journalism.

de Grey is head of a foundation called SENS Foundation. An article from EMBO Reports by 28 scientists strongly questioned the ideas promoted by SENS.

Maybe the SENS folks know something I do not, but the story today about aging quoting de Grey is very counterproductive to serious stem cell science in my opinion. One might even call it non-SENS-e.

Telling millions of people that stem cells will some day “cure aging” or even make people live dramatically longer lives discredits the field.

Already, when I give talks to students and others about real stem cell science, they mention that this very real, present day published science sounds like science fiction to them. When you start mixing in actual sci-fi into the news on stem cells and say it is real science, it just makes the situation worse and provides ammunition to the opponents of stem cell research.

A SENS research center is located here in Northern California in Mountain View less than 2 hours from my lab, but the stuff they are putting out there seems more like stuff that is light years away.


2 thoughts on “Portraying sci-fi about stem cells and aging as reality: unhelpful hype”

  1. Hi Alex,
    No, I read the article and got what de Grey meant.

    He mentions some things that are legit such as what you quoted, but especially in the lead-in paragraph, he is quoted as talking about curing aging and people living 150 or 1000 years. If you look at the article, even the title, is says de Grey is indeed talking about curing aging.

    That’s pure hype.

    Maybe the writer misquoted him, but I don’t think so.


  2. You don’t seem to be fully comprehending what de Grey claimed:

    “Stem cell therapy is a big part of this. It’s designed to reverse one type of damage, namely the loss of cells when cells die and are not automatically replaced, and it’s already in clinical trials (in humans),” he said.

    Stem cell therapies are currently being trialed in people with spinal cord injuries, and de Grey and others say they may one day be used to find ways to repair disease-damaged brains and hearts.

    His only claim is that stem cells could be used to help repair disease-damaged brains and hearts, not “cure aging”.

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