Virtual Voices

Follow the stem cell money

Science

Earlier this month, Grove City College biology professors Dr. Jan Dudt and Dr. Durwood Ray attended the World Stem Cell Summit held in Detroit. I asked them about the summit and their observations.

WISHING: What is the World Stem Cell Summit?

DUDT: The World Stem Cell Summit is one of a number of annual gatherings of scientists and others working in the stem cell field. This one is not to be confused with another summit called the Stem Cell Summit.

WISHING: How would you describe the difference between the two groups?

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DUDT: In simple terms, I'd say the Stem Cell Summit is investor-oriented with a focus on advances in adult stem cell research while the World Stem Cell Summit is researcher-oriented with a primary focus on embryonic stem cell research. Biotech investors do attend the World Stem Cell Summit, and this summit does touch on adult stem cell advances. As its name implies, the World Stem Cell Summit attracts people from all over the world. More than 1,000 people were in attendance this year.

WISHING: What stood out to you?

DUDT: There's a growing gap between embryonic and adult stem cell research. The NFL is to adult stem cell research as peewee football is to embryonic stem cell research. Adult stem cell research is making tremendous advances while embryonic research seems to be still in the, well, embryonic phase. And the gap appears to be widening.

RAY: Not only is the gap widening, but it's widening in multiple areas such as muscle and tendon therapy, mammary cell research, pancreatic cell research, heart cell therapy, brain cell therapy, and much more.

WISHING: What does this mean in practical terms?

RAY: I get the clear sense that the scientific advancements in the adult stem cell area are so far outpacing those in the embryonic stem cell field that those of us concerned about the ethics of embryonic research will simply shift our arguments to highlighting the superior efficacy of adult stem cell therapy. Moreover, private investment/R&D money seems to be breaking toward adult stem cell research because that arena is demonstrating superior profit potential. Embryonic researchers at the summit appeared to be worried that federal government money is beginning to shift to adult stem cell research as well.

WISHING: Can you give us an example of the government's interest in adult stem cell research?

RAY: Sure. The U.S. military's Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine was a summit presenter. They are focusing on developing adult stem cell therapies as a way to accelerate healing for wounded soldiers. Their work is showing remarkable progress and promise.

DUDT: My guess is that the sports medicine industry will catch on to this and begin to use adult stem cell therapy to heal high-priced professional athletes. If that happens, I think the public will begin to understand the promise of adult stem cells over embryonic stem cells.

WISHING: Has there been any notable embryonic stem cell progress?

RAY: The Food and Drug Administration recently authorized the Geron Corporation to begin treating a few patients for spinal cord injuries. But this advancement pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of therapeutic treatments performed using adult stem cells-excluding marrow transplants. And embryonic therapy is still considered to be very risky compared to adult stem cell therapy.

WISHING: Would you say the bottom line might provide some comfort to those of us who are opposed to embryonic stem cell research for ethical reasons?

DUDT and RAY: Yes.

Lee Wishing
Lee Wishing

Lee is the administrative director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

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