Embryonic vs Adult stem cells wars

by Alexey Bersenev on February 3, 2009 · 1 comment

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… a lot of the enthusiasm and emotion that has driven human embryonic stem cells is the idea that we’ll use this for transplantation and cure diseases like Parkinson, and while I think in limited cases that might be true, I think broadly it will prove extraordinarily challenging. And if you look at the field say 10 to 20 years from now, there’ll be some stellar successes in the transplantation realm, but there’ll be a lot of failures, and I think people are ill-prepared for the risks of a new technology like this.

James Thomson (University of Wisconsin)

I was asked many times my opinion about the future of therapy with embryonic stem cells. I’d like share some of my thoughts about it here.

Why wars? Why there is a contradiction between supporters of embryonic or adult stem cells?

Yes, there is an informational “war” facilitated by the mass-media. What is the common public opinion about embryonic stem cells? It’s approximately the following:

1. the term “stem cell” is automatically associated with “embryonic stem cells” and with destroying embryos = human life;
2. the whole point of embryonic stem cell research is the clinical hope for a cure to devastating diseases
3. the last 10 years of embryonic stem cell research didn’t bring them to the clinic, it was huge investment of money and time, now it’s getting frustrating.

OK let’s see what supporters of adult stem cells say:

1. .. while American politicians, scientists and religious leaders debate moral issues (of embryonic stem cells), the rest of the world uses adult stem cells to treat, and heal patients. (citation from Don Margolis blog)

2. embryonic stem cells will never go to clinic to cure diseases because they have high potential risk of producing tumors and immune rejection
3. and finally if adult stem cells are helping patients around the world every day, why waste money and time for embryonic stem cells?

Let’s see what supporters of embryonic stem cells say:
1. in future we can make embryonic stem cells or iPS safe
2. only from ESC you can get any tissue in any required volume
3. ESC is the only unique tool for drug screening and disease modeling

This is my opinion:

There is no debate in the scientific world about embryonic vs adult stem cell (here I cited James Thomson). For us it’s obvious that we need them both. But every type of stem cell will take its own niche in future practical applications.

Adult stem cells are definitely superior to embryonic for therapies of devastating human diseases. Many of them are in the clinic and some are selling like a commercial “cell product”, others are on the way to clinical trials.

Embryonic stem cells will be one of the incredible tools for drug screening and toxicology for developing of new therapies and also the best disease model in vitro. And we have some examples of commercialization in this area. It will be used widely as a research tool in developmental and cancer biology for understanding of gene and cellular mechanisms of embryo- and cancerogenesis. Less likely, ESC-based cell therapy will have some reasonable advantages compared with transplantation of adult stem cells in clinic in the next 5 years.

There is no debate in scientific world about “ethical source” and destroying human life, because IVF clinics and patients agreed to gift unwanted embryos (which is medical waste anyway) for stem cell research.

A ban of any type of stem cell research, public and religious discussions about ethical issues sounds stupid to me.

What is your opinion?

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must read: Sweating the Details: An Interview with Jamie Thomson (by PLoS Genetics)
also read: my opinion about iPS
How soon will human embryonic stem cells jump to the clinic?

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