Human Exceptionalism

Advanced Cell Technology in the News Again with ESCR

“Embryonic Stem Cells Can Repair Eyes,” is the headline. But the Reuters story, byline Maggie Fox, about an experiment announced by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), doesn’t actually demonstrate this. From the story:

Writing in the journal Nature Methods, [Robert]Lanza’s team said they found a way to grow and differentiate human embryonic stem cells without using culture. They directed the stem cells into becoming what they believe are hemangioblasts, the blood vessel precursor cells, although other teams will have to replicate this for it to be accepted.

“When injected into the bloodstream, they homed to the other side of the body and repaired damaged vasculature within 24 to 48 hours,” Lanza said. “For example, we injected the cells into mice with damaged retinas due to diabetes or other eye injury. The cells (labeled green) migrated to the injured eye, and incorporated and lit-up the entire damaged vasculature. The cells are really smart, and amazingly, knew not to do anything in uninjured eyes.”
The researchers killed the mice to check the cells’ progress, so they do not know the long-term effects.”

Oh. So, they infer that vision would have improved, not that it actually did. Killing the animals early also means that there is no way to tell whether the mice would have developed tumors from the cells, a significant problem in embryonic stem cell research.

And here’s the money part–literally–that always seem to find its way into stories about ACT’s announced research successes:

William Caldwell, chairman and chief executive officer of Advanced Cell Technology, said the company wanted to test the cells in people and had asked the Food and Drug Administration for permission to do so by the end of next year. “We also have studies underway indicating that the cells can also considerably accelerate wound healing, repair lung damage, and can even generate unlimited amounts of red blood cells for transfusion,” Lanza said.

Translation: INVESTORS, SEND US THE MONEY!

ACT has a history of, shall we say, puffing its research successes. And a request for FDA approval is by no means a guarantee of a receiving FDA approval. Nor should what appears to be a proof of principle experiment be confused with actually accomplishing the deed–in this case restoring vision. People may wish to invest and hope it all works out, of course. Still, prospective investors would be well advised to exercise due diligence. Or as a famous man once said, trust but verify.

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