Human Exceptionalism

Pro ESCR Advocates Try to Walk Back Stem Cell Hype

The New York Times is totally in the thrall of Big Biotech. On its news and editorial pages, it has served loyally as a cheer leader for ESCR and human cloning. Toward this end, it has repeatedly ignored significant adult stem cell research advances while often hyping the potential of ESCR to cure almost any disease known to man. (I know. That is hyperbole, but only slightly so.)

Now, having hyped ES cells to the hilt, apparently Big Biotech is trying to walk its way back from the brink. According to this Times story, stem cells as modalities for therapies are not their most likely benefit, but rather, the promotion of basic research.

After years of stating that stem cells will turn into any cell in the body and thereby cure Parkinson’s and other diseases, scientists are beginning to admit, in Ira Gershwin’s immortal words, “It ain’t necessarily so.” This quote from the story is a real hoot: “Many researchers now see human embryonic stem cells as part of a long-term research program, with any sort of cell therapy being at least 5 or 10 years off. That projection shows a gap between scientists’ views and those of the public and of people for whom the overriding purpose of research with human embryonic stem cells is to generate cells that can restore damaged tissues.”

That “gap” was created intentionally by ESCR propagandists to win a political debate. It played on the desperate desires of people for “cures.” It was shameless politicization of science.

And what about the continual assertion that ES cells are superior to adult stem cells because “they can become any cell in the body.” That assertion has not been scientifically substantiated, as this quote from the story admits: “Making the embryonic stem cells convert in the laboratory into specialized types–like liver or heart cells–is not straightforward or predictable. Cells that look and behave like human muscle–activating neurons can be generated with just a couple of chemical signals. But some cells, like the insulin-making cells of the pancreas, have proved extremely hard to grow.”

But what about the pure research potential? Sure, it is there. But is it enough to overcome the profound ethical problem with destroying human life and transforming it into a mere natural resource ripe for the harvest? After all, the potential for near-term cures was what convinced many people to set aside their qualms over destroying embryos.

This story tells a far more balanced story and good for Nicolas Wade for writing it and the NYT for publishing it. But I will bet that within a day or two the Times and other papers (think Kansas City Star!) go right back to repeating the same old ESCR mantras.

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