Sep 2014

A Timely look at hope and halting progress

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Using stem cells to routinely treat disease “will take time, but when we look back 20 years from now, I think medicine and human health will be transformed by it.” 

Today in its Science pages, the New York Times provides an insightful overview of the fascinating advances and frustrating false-starts that have marked the emergence of stem cell research and development over the past 20 years.

Headlined The Trials of Stem Cell Therapy, the article, from which the quote above by Dr. David Scadden, a co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, is drawn, touches on exciting work being done in heart disease and ALS. It refers to the 4,500 clinical trials involving stem cells  underway in the United States to treat patients with heart disease, blindness, Parkinson’s, H.I.V., diabetes, blood cancers and spinal cord injuries, among other conditions.

The article also delves into the frustration over the slow rate of progress — something to be expected scientists meticulously determine “how to best use stem cells, what types to use and how to deliver them to the body.” It also warns against those clinics offering miracle cures without the science to back them up, noting there will always be those who take advantage of desperate people seeking life-saving treatments.

Setbacks are to be expected, says Dr. Scadden, looking back to make his case:“Progress comes in fits and starts,” he said, comparing the halting advances in the field to the “war on cancer” declared in 1971.



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