Spinal Confusion

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

Monday, February 27, 2006

60 Minutes, Amended

I emailed my piece to 60 Minutes last night while being extremely annoyed at the horrible job they did at correctly articulating the therapy Geron hopes to begin trials on in early 2007. In so doing, I neglected to provide specific instances of why 60 Minutes' reference bothered me so.

To clarify, I thought that the story was, overall, a good one; I am always happy to see cure-focused research get positive exposure. Dr. Keirstead is a very charismatic speaker and a brilliant researcher. Suzanne Short gave a good performance, explaining that, for a high level quadriplegic, something as simple as the ability to transfer oneself to and from bed would dramatically improve her level of independence and quality of life.

But, there's that one part that grated on my nerves. And it happened early.
Pending FDA approval, correspondent Ed Bradley reports that would make him the first scientist in the United States to transplant embryonic stem cells into humans.
First, and I must make this clear: No sane scientist would ever transplant embryonic stem cells into a human being. They would form tumors.

Which brings me to my second point: Why do religious types who oppose embryonic stem cell research always tout the fact that embryonic stem cells will form tumors as some "dirty little secret" that ESC proponents avoid talking about?

I'm going to pick on Paul A. Long here, as he was the lucky author of a recent piece from the Detroit Free Press that Google News introduced me to.
More alarming is that embryonic stem cells are highly prone to uncontrollable growth and tumor formation when placed in animals.
I am going to be very mature in my response: Duh.

No offense to Mr. Long, of course. I'm sure he is a nice guy and all, and that we agree on a number of issues and such.

And since he's such a nice guy, I am going to let him in on a secret: Proponents of embryonic stem cell research do not discuss the risk of tumor formation because nobody is considering transplanting embryonic stem cells into people.

Why this myth continues to get perpetuated, I have no clue. Stories like those that appeared on 60 Minutes are probably one reason.

That, my friends, is why the story annoyed me so much. Their erroneous reporting that Geron will be transplanting embryonic stem cells into humans perpetuates this myth.

If Paul A. Long wants to discuss a realistic risk of tumors as a result of embryonic stem cell transplants, feel free to talk about the possibility that any cultured derivations of cells from embryonic stem cells that will be transplanted may not be 100% free of embryonic stem cells and that because of this potential error, there is a risk of tumor formation.

Or, since his concerns are centered on the moral impropriety of destroying embryos to obtain these stem cells, discuss the need to find alternative, embryo friendly methods of deriving embryonic stem cells.

Just, please, disagree with the research all you want. But do so in a fashion that moves the debate forward on all fronts. It will one day be possible to go to the doctor's office and have a skin biopsy sent off to a lab to generate a perfectly immune compatable set of embryonic stem cells -- all without creating or destroying an embryo.

I want that day to arrive, and sooner, rather than later.