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.
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.