Friday, September 17, 2004

Stem cell research 

Today, The Straits Times reported that a Singapore-based company will be creating new stem cell colonies to develop treatments for diabetes and heart disease.

Singapore company ES Cell International (ESI) has announced ambitious plans to create up to 10 new stem cell colonies that make the grade for human treatments, to fulfil its goal of helping diabetics throw away their needles, or giving heart failure victims a new lease of life. It aims to start clinical trials in two years and hopes to make such treatments widely available by 2010, said its chief executive officer, Mr Robert Klupacs, yesterday...

[T]he Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International...is funding ESI’s bid to produce islet cells on a large scale for type 1 diabetes sufferers the world over. Said the foundation’s executive vice-president of research, Dr Richard Insel: “We chose ESI as one of our first industry partners because it is leading the charge in the development of human embryonic stem cell-derived islets that perform the function that a diabetic patient’s pancreas cannot.”
Embryonic stem cell research, however, is controversial. It involves the destruction of human embryos and thus raises ethical issues. Some readers of The Straits Times have also pointed out recently that the use of embryonic stem cells carries no advantage over that of adult stem cells.

For example, a letter published in yesterday’s edition of The Straits Times said: “Contrary to the claims of many, there is no scientific evidence to suggest embryonic stem-cell research has more potential to lead to viable treatments for various diseases than non-embryonic stem cells.”

Indeed, this issue has been hotly debated in the United States (see “Beyond the mirage of cell science”).

Then there is also the rejoinder from Stanford University pathologist Dr. Irving Weissman: “If you have to prove ahead of time that something has to work before you will fund it, then stop funding all NIH research,” he said. “Medical research is about discovery.” See Murky partisan politics mar stem-cell debate.

More specifically, medical research is about discovery that concerns life. Which is precisely what makes embryonic stem cell research so promising and yet so controversial.


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