Scientist: Could Take Decades for Embryonic Stem Cell Research to Help

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 23, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scientist: Could Take Decades for Embryonic Stem Cell Research to Help Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 23, 2005

Washington, DC ( — A scientist who is a member of the South Korean team which cloned human embryos to destroy them for their stem cells says it could take decades for embryonic stem cells to ever help human beings.

Ahn Curie, a doctor of transplantation medicine at Seoul National University Hospital, and a member of Hwang’s team, told the Associated Press Monday that patients should be very patient before expecting miracle cures from the controversial cells.

"Some foreign researchers have said three to five decades, some have said in just several years," Curie said. "We will work hard, but we don’t want to raise false expectations."

He’s not the only scientist to issue such a warning.

Another leading researcher says lobbyists for public funding of embryonic stem cell research have been misleading the public.

"To start with, people need a fairy tale," Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem cell researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told Washington Post science writer Rick Weiss.

"Maybe that’s unfair, but they need a story line that’s relatively simple to understand," Dr. McKay said.

"There is too much hype about embryonic stems and at this point there is no data that cures are imminent," says Dr. Micheline Mathews-Roth, a researcher at Harvard.

Robert Hoffman, of the American medical research company AntiCancer Inc., agrees and says adult stem cells are more effective and avoid the political controversy.

"You don’t have any political problems … like you would using embryonic stem cells," Hoffman said.

Meanwhile, the cells used by South Korean scientists are still nowhere close to being able to help treat diseases. While adult stem cells have already produced dozens of treatments and cures, even the new embryonic stem cells are far away from ever being useful.

The new embryonic stem cells display some of the characteristics of the diseases they are intended to cure. Dr. Gerald Schatten, a University of Pittsburgh scientist who worked with the South Korean team, admitted that they may will likely need to be manipulated further before they could be used.

Though the new cells don’t rely on mouse feeder cells to grow, since they are obtained from cloned humans, they still had animal cell components injected into them.

"Scientists must also find a way to remove the remaining animal components from the laboratory procedures," they said in a report on their discovery scheduled to be printed in the journal Science on Friday.

Even leading South Korean research Hwang Woo-suk admitted "we have to open so many doors before human trials.”