Today in “A Stem Cell Report,” Rebecca Oas writes about yet another way in which we might be able to use ethically unproblematic stem cells‑in this case, from hair follicles‑for medical treatment. Again and again, it seems, scientists are finding actual cures that come from adult stem cells instead of undefined potential cures that come from destroyed embryos. The promise, it seems, lies more in adult stem cells than in embryonic ones.
Another indication of this, which few seem to have noted, is that two months ago, the Geron Corporation quietly ended the world’s first clinical trial using embryonic stem cells. The company did this citing costs as the primary reason. Apparently embryonic stem cell treatments would not be as lucrative as other projects. Not only that, the company’s stock had been dropping and has not recovered to what it was even last August. Though there is no way to tell, some doctors also speculate that there were clinical reasons for stopping the research. So said Dr. Daniel Salomon, associate professor in the department of molecular and experimental medicine at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego: “This company would not walk away from this trial in the absence of an unexpected complication or safety concern, if there was any evidence that it was working.”
Financially and possibly clinically, therefore, embryonic stem cell research makes less sense, regardless of the question of its morality. That’s not to discount the ethics involved, but it is significant that the major player in the field has abandoned ship while more ethical projects continue to sail smoothly.