June 25, 2005

Stem Cells in the News

A couple new bits of information about stem cells came out this week, but it doesn't seem to be big enough to make the major news channels. First, according to an NPR story it seems some embryonic stem cell lines are generating genetic defects. Some of the genes are starting to go haywire, and that's bad news for those counting on developing treatments. Some scientists are now saying we need to do more studies to figure out why the genetic abnormalities are happening, and how they may or may not get transferred to patients before we ever consider human therapies. Sounds reasonable to me.

Second, Catholic News Service reports that there is a new experimental technique for creating pluripotent stem cells without the use of embryos. That's good news, and some Catholic bishops and priests have signed on to endorse the research.

I don't think anyone really wants to see people suffer when stem cell therapies could bring relief or cures. But this is a sticky area of ethics and morality, and it deserves some caution and careful consideration. With stem cell research and development driven by big pharma, the emotions of those who could benefit from treatment, and governments who don't want to be 'left behind,' it's hard to get the societal strength for such cautious and careful consideration. Maybe these two recent events will now give people some extra incentive for such consideration.