Adult stem cells: why I’m really excited, but don’t favor shortcuts

I’m a big fan of stem cells.

I’m a researcher, but also a patient advocate and educator.

I’m someone who favors researching adult, embryonic, and induced pluripotent stem cells (aka iPS cells). They all are worth pursuing and in my opinion have the future potential to be an ethical-basis for helping millions of patients who are suffering. My own lab studies all of them.

For more background on stem cells, the different kinds, and the key things to keep in mind when thinking about stem cells as medicine, see my concise tutorial here and also my fun post The Stem Cell Olympics that helps clarify what the different kinds of stem cells can and can’t do.

Today in this post I wanted to specifically talk about adult stem cells.

Sometimes the message might get lost in the shuffle, but I think adult stem cells are amazingly exciting.

I believe that someone can be pro-embryonic stem cells and pro-adult stem cells at the same time.

Surprising? Not really. The two types of research are complimentary.

I am convinced that what is good for adult stem cell research is also good for embryonic stem cell research. And vice versa.

I don’t buy into the myth that somehow adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells are some kind of enemies or something. I also do not like the idea that supporters of these two different types of stem cells have to fight each other.

Adult stem cells are exciting for a number of reasons.

They’ve shown great promise for a very large number of diseases. Hundreds of clinic trials are ongoing. For more on stem cell-based clinical trials see my easy-to-use guide here where you can click on the disease of interest to you.

Realistically, adult stem cells are not a panacea as there are some diseases I just don’t think they are going to work for, but still on the whole adult stem cells are amazingly important and exciting.

On the plus side, relatively speaking, adult stem cells are likely on average to be safer than ES cell-based therapies. Adult stem cells are also more readily available. In addition we know more about adult stem cells simply because they’ve been around in human form a heckuva lot longer than ES cells.

On the other hand, ES cells sure seem to be intrinsically far better than adult stem cells at building actually tissues, particularly those with multiple cell types. ES cells are also pluripotent whereas adult stem cells are multipotent, which means more simply that ES cells can generate a much wider variety of cell types when they differentiate whereas adult stem cells are far more limited in that regard.

I also think iPS cells are very intriguing and have a lot of potential. Still, I don’t think they are quite ready yet to be used in patients, but give them another 5-10 years.

Adult stem cells have rightly generated great excitement in the world as the basis for new kinds of medicine. But taking shortcuts in medicine or rushing new technologies to patients without proper scientific and regulatory oversight is unwise and dangerous.

Most stem cell researchers rightly believe that adult stem cell therapies should be subjected to regulatory oversight and vetting PRIOR to their use in patients, particularly if the adult stem cells are grown in culture or other wise significantly modified before transplant.

It just makes good sense from a safety perspective. The same applies to iPS cells and ES cells too.

Bottom line: adult stem cells have a tremendous amount to offer medicine. Let’s go about using them carefully and wisely, and I think ultimately many patients will be helped with a wide spectrum of illnesses.

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