Spinal Confusion

...an attempt to clarify confusing and innacurate information in science articles

Sunday, August 14, 2005

"We need to educate the public that science takes a long time."

Browsing through the Journal Science for articles on transdifferentiation yesterday, I came upon an article from June 2002 wherein Drs. Markus Grompe and James Thomson lamented the pervasive belief that not only can stem cells cure everything, but they can do so tomorrow:

"I think [therapies with transplanted stem cells] will eventually work," says Grompe. But "we've raised a lot of false hopes for quick fixes, and that's not going to happen." He and others say a closer comparison might be with gene therapy--greatly hyped 20 years ago but still without much to show for itself. James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who first isolated human ES cells back in 1998, agrees. "I'm not looking forward to the backlash 3 years from now when people say, 'What happened to stem cells?' " he says. What can scientists do about it? Says Thomson: "We need to educate the public that science takes a long time."
The last sentence remains true today. Three years later, Bush's policies have unwittingly saved researchers the backlash predicted by Thomson, but the backlash will come as long as people maintain unrealistic expectations.