Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The 'Overstated' Stem Cell Debate: A Perspective from the California Stem Cell Agency

The statement came like an unpleasant dose of plain-speaking about stem cell therapies, which sometimes seem to have been hailed as a panacea for all that ails the human race.

Not only that, the statment came from a Nobel Prize-winning stem cell scientist, Shinya Yamanaka of Japan who was quoted in the New York Times on Monday as saying,
"We can help just a small portion of patients by stem cell therapy."
Yamanaka said that only about 10 diseases would benefit directly from stem cell therapies: Parkinson's, retinal and corneal diseases, heart and liver failure, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, joint and some blood disorders. 

"But maybe that's all," he said, "The number of human diseases is enormous."

California's $3 billion stem cell agency took a crack yesterday at putting the statement in perspective on its fine blog, The Stem Cellar where Karen Ring wrote about the Times piece. She is the social media guru for the agency and has been a regenerative medicine researcher herself with a Ph.D. in biomedical science from UC San Francisco.
Karen Ring, Linked In photo

She had the advantage of hearing Yamanaka, who also has a lab at the Gladstone Institute in San Francisco, speak last fall. Ring wrote,
"At the World Alliance Forum in November, Yamanaka revealed that generating a single patient iPS cell line can cost up to one million dollars which isn’t feasible for the 1000’s of patients who need them. He admitted that the fate of personalized stem cell medicine, which once seemed so promising, now seems unrealistic because it’s time consuming and costly."
Ring predicted that a "larger conversation" will emerge from Yamanaka's comments. But Ring said, that she has heard Yamanaka speak many times and that the Times' edited interview failed to capture his optimism that current obstacles can be overcome with sufficient time and money. She wrote,
"Which brings me to my point, I don’t believe the promise of stem cells has been overstated. I think that it has yet to be realized, and it will take more research and more time to get there. As a community, we need to be understanding, patient, and supportive....
"What I took from Yamanaka’s comments is that stem cell treatments can help a small number of patients with specific diseases right now. That’s not to say that stem cell research won’t produce promising treatments for other diseases in the future."
Ring cited the emotional success stories related last month at the agency's board meeting and predicted more of those in the next decade. She concluded with a quote from Hank Greely, director Law and the Biosciences at Stanford, one that he recently made to the California Stem Cell Report.
“The next few years should determine just how good California’s investment has been. It is encouraging to see CIRM supporting so many clinical trials; it will be much more exciting when – and I do expect ‘when’ and not ‘if’ – one of those trials leads to an approved treatment.”
We recommend Ring's perspective and the Yamanaka piece. 

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