MIT Prof: Embryonic Stem Cell Research Nowhere Close to Helping Patients

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 10, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 10
, 2006

Canberra, Australia ( — An MIT professor says that embryonic stem cell research is nowhere close to helping patients. He said that’s because scientists haven’t yet figured out how to stop embryonic stem cells from causing tumors when injected into patients.

Professor James Sherley, a stem cell researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was in Australia to talk with lawmakers about why they should resist backing legislation promoting human cloning.

Sherley said that embryonic stem cells cause tumors and cancers when injected into human tissue and, as a result, they can’t be used to treat patients with various diseases. He said the tumors form because embryonic stem cells have the potential to turn into various other kinds of tissues — including the wrong ones.

“When you put them in an environment where they can grow and develop, they make lots of different kind of tissues,” Sherley said, according to a Courier Mail newspaper report.

Sherley said that the "tumor formation property is an inherent feature of the cells" and warned that the possibility of overcoming it is likely very far into the future.

"And although some might say we can solve the tumor problem down the road, that’s equivalent to saying we can solve the cancer problem and we may, but that’s a long time coming," he explained.

According to the Courier Mail, the MIT professor said that the tumors embryonic stem cells cause are mostly benign but they could metastasize or produce chemicals that can adversely affect parts of the body.

Sherley also said that numerous American scientists agree with his view that embryonic stem cells cause problems and are a very long way off from helping patients but that they have been reluctant to speak out due to the highly political nature of the debate and worries over losing funding for their research.

He said adult stem cells have been successful in treating patients because they don’t cause tumors when injected.

University of Melbourne Emeritus Professor of Medicine Thomas Martin agreed with Sherley’s concerns and told lawmakers that a previous review of the science undertaken by the Lockhart panel failed to consider the tumors issue when issuing its report.

Martin said he did not think that embryonic stem cell research would even lead to cures for major diseases such as diabetes or Parkinson’s.

Martin, an internationally recognized Fellow of the Royal Society, said the embryonic stem cells produced from human cloning would have the same problems.