London Times Touts Embryonic Stem Cell Blindness Cure That Hasn’t Been Used

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 20, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

London Times Touts Embryonic Stem Cell Blindness Cure That Hasn’t Been Used

by Steven Ertelt Editor
April 20
, 2009

London, England ( — Engaged in media bias and misreporting, the London Times featured a headline on Sunday claiming "Blind to be cured with stem cells." Reading further, embryonic stem cell research has reportedly yielded a cure for blindness, never mind that it has never been tried on humans yet.

"British scientists have developed the world’s first stem cell therapy to cure the most common cause of blindness," the Times story, which has received significant Internet attention, heralds.

The story claims scientists say the macular degeneration treatment, which involves replacing a layer of degenerated cells in the eye with new ones created from embryonic stem cells, will eventually be available in six or seven years.

Researchers from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and Moorfields eye hospital were involved in the research that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer plans to finance further.

The scientists say they successfully treated rats and pigs with the condition, yet embryonic stem cell treatments have never even been tried in humans because of major problems. They include the development of tumors after injection and rejection issues associated with a potential patient’s immune system — neither of which are seen with the usage of adult stem cells.

Wesley J. Smith, an American bioethicist, points out the problem with the Times’ "reporting."

"The headline of this story from the Times of London is really putting the cart before the horse–it hasn’t even been tried yet, after all. But such hype is par for the course," he said.

Smith says such prognostication in the media is nothing new, but he is surprised that a large drug company is getting involved.

"We have seen such stories planted in media before. But I think this one is notable because private money is being put into the development of the treatment," the author and attorney said.

Smith says "venture capital has been, heretofore, notably scarce in embryonic stem cell research" because the research was not seen as viable in terms of actually being able to help patients any time soon.

While embryonic stem cells have yet to cure patients or even help their conditions, adult stem cells are already doing that.

Born two years ago with severe eye problems, Dakota Clarke could not even see well enough to recognize her own mother and father. In March, the parents of the little girl, who is registered blind, say she can make out their faces for the first time after pioneering stem cell treatment.

The couple gave up work to raise well over $40,000 to fly their daughter to China for the treatment, which remains at the experimental level in Britain — because the nation has been too preoccupied with embryonic stem cells and human cloning.

They returned home this week convinced that Dakota can now see colors, lights and objects around her as a result. They hope further therapy will give her a lifetime of sight.

"It’s nothing short of a miracle for us," said Mr Clarke, a former engineer. "She can see the world for the first time."

In Dakota’s case, cells were administered intravenously through her hairline and reportedly traveled towards her optic nerve, repairing the damaged area. The stem cells came from umbilical cords donated by Chinese mothers.

Despite the obvious success, some doctors are talking down the results simply because the treatments aren’t approved in England. Pro-life advocates say the results are yet another showing of how adult stem cells outpace their embryonic cousins both ethically and when used in treatments.

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