Embryonic Stem Cell Research "Overhyped" British Expert Says

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 5, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Embryonic Stem Cell Research "Overhyped" British Expert Says Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
September 5, 2005

London, England (LifeNews.com) — A British expert on stem cell research says the promises of cures from embryonic stem cells has been "overhyped." Lord Winston a famous science broadcaster and expert on reproductive technology in the U.K. warns any cures are a long way off.

"Of course, the study of stem cells is one of the most exciting areas in biology but I think that it is unlikely that embryonic stem cells are likely to be useful in health care for a long time," he said.

Speaking on the eve of this year’s British Association Festival of Science, Lord Winston criticized the "hype" over embryonic stem cells. Scientists were taking "grave risks" in raising expectations too high.

"[S]ometimes there’s a risk that we may have raised expectations too much, too quickly," he said.

"Of course if you make claims which can’t then be justified, or if people perceive that claims have been made which can’t be justified, then of course that mistrust grows and I think that that would be very bad for science, very bad for education and very bad really indeed for the way Britain is going and leading in some of these areas," Lord Winston said.

Winston said he believed there was a good chance stem cell research would be able to help patients afflicted with Parkinson’s but "a very poor chance for Alzheimer’s."

Winston says there are many problems with embryonic stem cell research and believes part of the reason the work may be hyped by scientists is so they can convince politicians to introduce less restrictive laws in order to source more embryos for their research.

Winston is the Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College, London, and an award winning science broadcaster for his BBC television programs.

Professor Peter Rathjen, dean of the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Adelaide, agrees.

"The timeframe in which it might be realized is a matter for conjecture, and some people probably have been a little bit too ambitious in saying when they think the first cures might be available," he told the Australian Broadcasting Network.

Rathjen said embryonic stem cells give rise to two significant problems.

"[T]he embryonic stem cells themselves are carcinogenic," he said. "That is, if you transplant them, you give rise to a particular kind of cancer."

He also said embryonic stem cells continue to be rejected into patients that receive them.

"[T]his is probably the greatest single hurdle," he said. "[W]e need to find a way to overcome the immuno-rejection barrier, that is if you transplant cells into someone’s body, then most of the time they’re going to reject those cells as foreign."

Pro-life groups oppose the use of embryonic stem cell research because unborn children must be destroyed to obtain the stem cells. They favor the use of adult stem cells, which come from non-controversial sources such as bone marrow and umbilical cord blood. Such cells have already yielded dozens of treatments for various diseases.