There is a rather salty piece of correspondence in the new Nature Neuroscience from one Maureen Condic regarding Nature’s editorial position on the likelihood of development of ES cell-based therapies anytime soon. Apparently, Condic has a skeptical take on the issue and Nature had some disparaging words.
The issues of immune rejection, tumor formation and hESC differentiation raised in my article are not distortions or mere polemic; they are matters of scientific fact. These same concerns have been raised in the scientific literature and voiced by leading scientists in the stem cell field. James Thomson cautioned that “major roadblocks” must be overcome before hESC-derivatives could be safely transplanted into patients, and concluded that surmounting these roadblocks will be “likely to take a long time”. Similarly, Robert Lanza noted that immune rejection is a significant problem, and warned that creating hESC lines to match most patients “could require millions of discarded embryos from IVF clinics”. Although the editors dismiss as “tenuous” the connection between therapeutic use of hESCs and the genetic/epigenetic abnormalities introduced during cloning, this same concern was raised by Jose Cibelli’s recent article in Science.
I think it is important to hear about these obstacles and be realistic about what ES cells could provide. There are other uses of ES cells besides implantation type therapy, of course. For instance, they aid the understanding of basic cell differentiation and cell cycle regulation, topics that are important in cancer research.
The problem for me is that I find the ‘moral’ objections ridiculous. So if ES cells have any therapeutic or just plain scientific potential at all, then I’m all for it. Am I living in naive bliss thinking that most average people wouldn’t give a damn after they really understood what a blastocyst is? Right now, I’m thinking that this is one of a few scientific areas where you could educate the public and actually impact policy in a positive way.
There appears to be a semi-lively debate underway over at the Nature Neuro news blog: Action Potential.