Stem cell spin

Sometimes, the best scientific argument over a controversial bioethical issue is just dry and uninteresting to anyone but the science and medical comunity.

So Dr. Gerard Nadal does this thought experiment.

Imagine one is dining in a family restaurant and there are three different families, each with five children. Family A has children who are engaged in a food fight, screaming and jumping about.

Family B has children who are generally very well behaved but are given to bouts of restlessness and need to be spoken to by their parents.

Family C has children who are models of decorum, and who on their own have even taken it upon themselves to quietly clean up some of the mess left by other patrons.

That’s the stem cell war in a nutshell.

Clever. He explains how the analogy works in each case.

Now, back to our analogy. Imagine a reporter comes to the restaurant looking to do a story on children’s manners in restaurants but spends 90% of her time interviewing the father of Family A. He makes not one mention of his children’s recklessness and destructiveness, not one mention of the exemplary behavior of the children in Family C, but instead he holds forth on the dire future of the children in Family B, whose behavior is merely in need of periodic tweaking.

If that sounds unbalanced and bizarre, that’s the essential structure and trajectory of a recent Reuters article by Julie Steenhuysen, entitled “Imperfections mar hopes for reprogrammed stem cells.”

The core of the article is built around the father of Family A, Dr. George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

In other words, intellectally dishonest and obviously tendentious.

…Dr. Daley makes no mention at all of Family C, the adult stem cells, which have over one hundred therapeutic applications. In so doing, he fails to grasp the essential reason why induced pluripotent stem cells were sought after. It’s because biologically, embryonic stem cells are wild and untamable, while adult stem cells have gone through the process of cellular maturation naturally and are remarkably stable. They are also expensive to isolate, which is an economic limitation to their widespread use. Also, as embryonic stem cells come from another person, there is the issue of tissue rejection by the recipient.

And that’s happening, time and again. But we aren’t hearing that from the proponents of embryonic stem cells, because they’re too invested in the biotech industry that relies those unruly cells.

That famous line from Jurassic Park comes to mind again. Life finds a way.