Recommended reads: 3 infected in Mexico, stem cell hype, hearing restoration

Stem cell hype is a big problem these days. It’s been going on for decades. Even some generally good citizens of the stem cell and regenerative medicine arena engage in it at times. Maybe a few of them don’t even realize what they are doing. I think a few journalists occasionally fall into the hype trap too.

Let’s start with an article that has a headline that arguably goes too far.

muscle stem cell hype
A conception of muscle stem cell hype.

Muscling in on stem cell hype

Toward Ageless Muscles: The Stem Cell Solution, Forbes. When I first saw this headline, I thought “uh oh.” Is this another case of stem cell hype? For sure, the headline is bad.


We don’t know that there’s any stem cell solution to muscle aging. It’s bad enough when stem cell clinics claim that things like IV bone marrow, fat, or perinatal stem cells can somehow magically help customers’ muscles and overall aging. We don’t need the media pushing this kind of glossy narrative too.

Yes, there is interesting research in this space, but a headline like that without even a question mark on the solution part? The whole idea of “ageless muscles” may be bunk.

On the more positive side, the article itself, by former Harvard professor William Haseltine, is solid. It’s interesting and balanced in tone.

Compare the hopeful but mostly cautious last sentence, “This sets the foundation for future muscle-regenerative therapies in humans” to the falsely definitive title.

Why do editors, and it is often the editors who pick the headlines, so often go for the click-bait?

Other recommended reads

  • 3 Colorado patients infected from stem-cell treatments in Mexico, Fox31. These can be extremely serious infections. The news makes me wonder how widespread mycobacteria infections could be in stem cell clinic patients more generally including here in the US. Clinics keep on with the stem cell hype and sometimes say there are almost no risks. Here is the CDC report on the infections from going to Mexico stem cell clinics.
  • Deaf baby hears for the first time after ‘groundbreaking’ gene therapy trial, WaPo. So exciting. This comes from biotech Regeneron. 
  • Meet the scientist sending tumors into space, STAT. This interview with stem cell and cancer biologist Catriona Jamieson is really interesting. Unfortunately, what they are finding when they send stem cells and cancer cells into space is worrisome. There are likely to be higher risks of cancer and other problems for astronauts from extended periods in space. For example, pre-existing pre-cancerous cells may move on to become cancer much more quickly in space.
  • First Patient Begins Newly Approved Sickle Cell Gene Therapy, NYT. My best to the 12-year-old getting this, Kendric Cromer.  The modified stem cell therapy, Lyfgenia from Bluebird Bio, had been given to clinical trial participants before. The FDA is requiring a black box warning on the therapy because of some risk of blood cancers. A similar approach to sickle cell, Casgevy, was also recently approved. These are very intensive therapies with around $2-3 million price tags. Together these two new therapies are likely to be limited to just a few hundred patients a year. Still, they provide concrete hope and a foundation for a better situation in the future when they or next-generation similar types of approaches might be given to a lot more people. Hopefully with lower cost.
  • APOE4 homozygozity represents a distinct genetic form of Alzheimer’s disease, Nat. Med. Cool article. Bummer on the typo in the title with two Z’s in homozygosity.

1 thought on “Recommended reads: 3 infected in Mexico, stem cell hype, hearing restoration”

  1. I don’t see any way a muscle cell “stem cell” transplant is going to be a breakthrough, but I am watching with interest the recent study where mitochondrial injections (in vitro studies and in mice), even with inactive mitochondria, rejuvenate ATP production. This seems like a more likely solution.

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