Scientists: Embryonic Stem Cell Research Promises Sometimes Oversold

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 16, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scientists: Embryonic Stem Cell Research Promises Sometimes Oversold Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 16, 2004

Salisbury Cove, ME ( — Some of the researchers gathered for a symposium in Maine on the issue of embryonic stem cell research are concerned that its promise is being oversold. They want people, especially non-scientists, to refrain from making claims that cures for diseases resulting from embryonic stem cell research are just around the corner.

"While there are plenty of people who want to speak out on this issue, they’re not scientists," Dr. Leonard I. Zon, a professor of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston said, according to a report in the Bangor Daily News.

Dr. Louis M. Kunkel, director of the Children’s Hospital’s genomics program reminded other researchers that cures from embryonic stem cell research, if they come about, could be decades away.

According to the News’ report, Kunkel reminded his colleagues about a major genetic breakthrough in muscular dystrophy research in 1990. He remembers telling associates that annual the annual telethon fundraiser would no longer be necessary.

"I can’t believe I ever said that," said Kunkel. "We really can’t mislead the public about where these things are and what it’s going to take. It’s going to take a long time."

Other researchers have argued that promised cures from the destructive research may be a long time coming, if at all.

Dr. D.G. McKay, a stem cell researcher at the National Institute for Neurological Diseases and Stroke, has called the promises of miracle cures from embryonic stem cells a "fairy tale."

Meanwhile, in July, two leading researchers, including a Johns Hopkins University scientist, said less controversial approaches are more likely to find a cure or reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s in the coming years. Using embryonic stem cells may not yield progress for decades, the researchers said.

No patients have yet shown any benefits as a result of the use of embryonic stem cells.

Pro-life advocates argue that embryonic stem cell research has not been as successful as research employing adult stem cells. They oppose embryonic stem cell research because unborn children in their earliest days must be destroyed to obtain the stem cells.

Last week was the third anniversary of President Bush’s August 2001 decision that prevented taxpayer funding of new embryonic stem cell research. The Bush administration has vigorously funded adult stem cell research to the tune of $190 million.

The Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and The Jackson Laboratory sponsored the symposium.