Tuesday, October 11, 2005

It's dishonest to report on medical research and fail to mention international excitement surrounding umbilical cord banking, placental research and adult stem cell research

The media nearly always refer to stem cell research, even when they are talking exclusively about stem cells taken from embryos, and fail completely to mention the existence of adult and umbilical stem cell research. It was therefore disappointing, but not surprising to see the subtitle in the The Guardian's report on embryonic stem cells that "Members could force the EU to stop funding work on stem cells". For anyone who actually follows stem cell research (and I mean stem cell research, not embryonic stem cell research)
not only is it entirely reasonable on democratic principles for NO EU money to be spent on embryonic stem cell research, since many member states expressly prohibit embryo research, and therefore cannot morally be expected to fund (imagine if the UK was expected to fund some practice we prohibit!), but for anyone aware of the alternatives to embryo rsearch, it was also much less of a significant revelation. Non-embryonic sources of stem cells are proving immensely exciting (see for example the Boston Globe article only a few days before which drew attention to the quiet pioneering work of the Vacanti brothers into diabetes and spinal cord damage, and their point that adult stm cells are preferable technically to embryonic stem cells). It is a reasonable question to put that if the investment is in non-controversial sources of stem cells and the research can continue without the destruction of human embryos, why is that a bad thing?

But can the majority of the readers have been expected to know that the article only told half the story? Nowhere in the article was the existence of adult stem cell research even mentioned, nor the fact that stem cells obtained ethically from bone marrow, blood, fat, skin, hair, or umbilical cord blood, the placenta, or amniotic fluid around the baby are proving immensely promising, especially since umbilical cord blood and placenta make use of material that is otherwise wasted. Since the article was primarily about investment and Californian investment was referred to into embryonic stem cells, it would have been appropriate to mention that there are moves in the States and India to put serious investment into umbilical cord banking, see for example CORE: World's largest umbilical cord bank to be set up in India, to provide stem cells for transplant surgeons globally:

"The world's largest umbilical cord blood bank is to be set up in Mumbai, India through a $20 million investment from the South Korean biotech company, Histostem, and aims to provide stem cells for transplant surgeons globally. By creating similar banks in Mexico, Australia and Europe, and linking them, Histostem expects to offer histocompatibility leucocyte antigen matched stem cells for every patient around the world. The umbilical cord blood stem cells will also be used for research into treatments for diabetes and spinal cord repair."

Only the day before this article was in the Guardian, Japanese researchers were reported in The Japanese Times to have perfected a new technique to reproduce umbilical cord stem cells at a rate that is four times faster than previous techniques. (see also CORE)

According to recent research there are 300 million epithelial cells in each placenta. Where was the analysis of placental stem cell research and the work being done to make use of this immense source that is otherwise just thrown away, and may in any case provide a source of compatible tissue? CORE news: Major advances using placental stem cells

Linda Nordling in the Guardian concludes that: "In his budget speech last spring, Gordon Brown tasked an independent group with drawing up a 10-year plan to make the UK the world's best place to do, and capitalise on, stem cell research. Over the summer, things have been quiet. But the group's report is making its way to the Treasury in time for this autumn's pre-budget report as we speak. It sure smells like money. So while the stem cell debate rages on in Europe, researchers in this country should focus on one question this autumn. Not whether, or even when, but simply how much?"

Even a cursory examination of how much is ignored in this article suggests that a much better understanding and public debate has to begin about the different sources of stem cells before taxpayers money is flung irresponsibly into unethical, controversial and perhaps even pointless research, that could simply be done better using umbilical cord blood and other adult stem cells.


Blogger Cordbloodhub said...

Good point. There are however a few other things many people should be aware of. Most know that cord blood banks collect, process, test and store the donated umbilical cord blood for the public use, taking into account the great number of people who are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases each year. Therefore, cord blood banks look after expectant mothers, informing them about the importance of their umbilical cord blood and the possibility of helping some people who suffer from terrible diseases. Nevertheless, the information and sensitizing of the population is not fully achieved as in the case of simple blood donation. Cord blood stem cell transplants are considered in order to replace blood marrow transplants. The possibility of finding the match for the patients in need increases, as in 2001 the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies stated that roughly 20,000 American lives were saved through transplants of stem cells. I’ve covered some other aspects related to this topic on my website, Cord blood information - please let me know if you find them useful.


Michael Rad

10:34 AM  

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