Huge stem cell hype from Telegraph on new Stanford paper

There is so much stem cell hype out there that sometimes it seems like almost daily up comes a headline that is so full of hype that it could be harmful, but a new piece from The Telegraph really takes the cake.

It is entitled, “Hope of cure for arthritis, MS and diabetes as Stanford makes stem cell transplants safe”.

Just that title alone mentioning cures for a number of major diseases and the blanket statement, “makes stem cell transplants safe” is a big red flag, but the text of The Telegraph article immediately makes things worse:

“Hundreds of thousands of people could be cured of autoimmune diseases like arthritis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and lupus after scientists discovered how to make stem cell transplants safe.”

Really? Now all stem cell transplants in humans will be safe and kajillions of people cured?

The research paper itself is quite interesting, but overselling it doesn’t help anyone. For instance this paper entitled “Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in immunocompetent hosts without radiation or chemotherapy” was only done in mice so it’s a big jump to assume it’ll work in humans. See summary from the paper below.

stem cell transplant

The nifty idea is to be able to do HSC transplant without first exposing the patients to extreme radiation or chemo. The team used a designer immunotherapy to wipe out the mouse’s resident HSC to “make a home” for the transplanted cells. There’s some exciting data here, but the road to the clinic would long and extremely difficult.

The stem cell hype about this paper grossly raises expectations and misleads the public about the reality of promising stem cell therapies in development that take a very long time and often do not provide outright cures. More care and conditional/contextual words need to be used in discussing this kind of exciting, but early stem cell science in an animal model.

4 thoughts on “Huge stem cell hype from Telegraph on new Stanford paper”

  1. If this does pan out in human trials it will be pretty huge. They will have basically developed a much more non toxic way of resetting the immune system.

    As a layperson I don’t understand how it will help with organ transplants though? Surely the patient’s thymus will still only conduct negative selection for their own proteins and not those of the donor organ?

  2. Hmm, tangentially: the headline is likely in relation to the therapeutic effect of autologous HSCT in autoimmune diseases, whose use is restricted because of the inherent toxicity of conditioning regimes.

    However: as far as I know said effect is reliant on the drug’s cytotoxicity and subsequent immune reconstitution, . Maybe a better bet for potential future applications would be in (further) reduced intensity conditioning allogeneic HSCT and non-oncological hematological disorders like aplastic anemia?

  3. Yes indeed but this seems to be a generic issue as the science daily article also rather over sells too. As the science daily states verbatim from Irv Weissman “There is almost no category of disease or organ transplant that is not impacted by this research,” said Irving Weissman, MD, a co-author of the research and professor of pathology and of developmental biology at Stanford. A paper describing the technique will be published Aug. 10 in Science Translational Medicine.

    I totally agree and I am very tired if giving folk false hope!!! As this is a mouse model and mice are not small furry humans!

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