Monday, July 29, 2002
A promising development: Today's San Diego Union-Tribune reports on a stem cell success story at La Jolla's Scripps Research Institute. (The story on the Web site is missing the lede -- I've typed it in from the paper itself.)
Growth of abnormal blood vessels deep inside the eye slowly degrades the retina, impairing vision for nearly 6 million diabetics in the United States.
But working with laboratory mice, a physician-scientist at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla and his team may have found a way to stop that process, called diabetic retinopathy.
Dr. Martin Friedlander and colleagues have discovered that a certain type of stem cells found in bone marrow of mice – cells destined to make blood vessels rather than blood – can zero in on damaged veins, repair them and prevent further damage.
While using a similar technique on humans is still several years off, it once again demonstrates the superior promise of adult stem cell research over that of fetal stem cell research. To get the stem cells to do the treatment, researchers report that "patients will have to have bone marrow extracted, usually with a fine-point needle inserted into the pelvic bone or breast bone, which can be painful."
It's interesting to contrast the straightforward report in the Union-Tribune to the Associated Press report that appears on the Baltimore Sun Web site, which includes the following paragraph:
Stem cells are a type of cell that can differentiate into many different cells depending on what is needed. They form in the embryo and are also found in adult bone marrow.
Instead of addressing the definition of "stem cells" to the details that are specific to this story -- that adult stem cells were used. The AP gives a broader, though accurate, definition to include embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cell research has become a cause celebre for the media and for some researchers. Any success with adult stem cells seemingly has to be somehow connected to embryonic stem cell research -- which has experienced failure after failure with few successes.
I'll be curious to see how many newspapers and Web sites report on this development. A google search turns up only the Sun and a Yahoo! News article -- depending on your search terms.
I have a feeling that had the research been successful using embryonic stem cells that the media coverage would be much more expansive.
The debate over adult vs. embryonic stem cell research is not about the science. It's about research money. We should be doing research where there is promise and we get results. By that measure embryonic stem cell research is tantamount throwing good money after bad. The successes have been in the adult stem cell research arena -- and the media should be doing a better job of informing the American people about those accomplishments.