October 20, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Is it fair to tell a patient to be patient? Can we develop cures at warp speed?

When I talk to people about stem cell science and the timeline for turning data into treatments and cures, their reactions completely depend on whom they are.

Scientists are patient, perhaps too patient….perhaps too understanding of the many years that we are told that science takes to get something to the clinic.

Patients and patient advocates are understandably less patient.

I think on both sides, patients and scientists, we have things to teach each other about the importance of time.

As both a scientist and a cancer patient/survivor, I kind of have one foot in each boat as the old expression goes. I can see both sides.

From the scientist’s perspective, we think we have no choice but to be patient. The current reality dictates that pre-clinical studies and clinical trials together take many years or decades. We are taught that his reality and that to try to speed this up would inevitably mean taking shortcuts that compromise safety. Is that the only reality?

From a patient’s perspective, time is totally different. For many, time is not on their side and they cannot wait many years or decades. When I was first diagnosed with prostate cancer, everyone was grim based on the histology of the biopsy. Although I am doing great and in remission for almost 2 years now, I know that could change and it could come back. Especially in the first months after my diagnosis, my research found that there are essentially no treatments for advanced prostate cancer.  I don’t have that form of the disease at this point (and hopefully never will) but that is a disturbing reality that no treatments exist and that making new ones could take longer time than I might have.

Scientists can help patients understand the temporal nature of science is measured in years and why.

Patients can help teach scientists the urgency needed to move as fast as we safely can and to balance risk with reward.

High risk or life altering medical conditions justify higher risk forms of advancing clinical trials more rapidly.

If a hypothetical patient has only about 1 year to live or even 5 years to live, that patient’s perspective time is radically different than everyone else including his/her physicians and the scientists working on research that might provide a treatment or cure. Their perception of risk is also very understandably different.

When I was a kid I was a big Star Trek fan and I loved it when the Enterprise went into warp speed, seemingly defying the laws of physics to go faster than the speed of light and explore space.

I would ask is there some we can warp the timeline of developing cures without compromising safety?

What do you think?

We need to think about such reality challenging questions, particularly in light of the coming explosion in stem cell tourism.


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