Well, I can’t say I’m suprised. After being one of the most vocal advocates for overturning the ban on federally funded stem-cell research, Scientific American now admits that actual therapies derived from ESCR would still be years away and that adult stem cells might still be more effective in the long run:

Practicable ESC-based therapies are years away. The upcoming tests of Geron’s paralysis treatment, for example, will look only at how safely it is tolerated by patients; tests of its effectiveness are further off. The therapeutic cells helped mice to partially recover from spinal injuries, but in humans they might fail to do the same or, worse, might induce tumors. It will take time to find out. New drugs often take five to nine years to progress from phase I testing to market.

Moreover, many if not most of those future therapies based on ESC research may not actually involve ESCs. Patients, after all, will not be able to supply embryonic cells directly from their own body. Therapeutic ESCs would either have to come from immunologically matched stockpiles (the equivalent of blood banks) or be cloned for each patient individually. Both solutions would involve technological and legal headaches. Using adult stem cells or others reprogrammed for versatility from a patient’s own tissues may therefore prove much easier. (Adult stem cells are indeed already used to treat some blood-related and orthopedic disorders.)

Haven’t opponents of ESCR been saying this all along? Adult stem cells are already being used to treat disorders. Embryonic stem-cell treatments could take 5 to 9 years to even hit the market. There are risks of tumors. ESCR proponents can’t even promise that it will work. The editors at Scientific American know this and counter:

Opponents of ESC research may howl that these facts only vindicate their long-standing position that it would be better simply to concentrate on adult stem cell therapies. But the hard-fought campaign against restricting ESC research was well worth it: ESCs will most likely be essential for developing sophisticated stem cell therapies of any kind because they offer the best clues to how the body naturally grows, repairs and regenerates demandingly intricate tissues.

Now that ESCR proponents have won federal funding, they are content with saying that the research “will most likely be essential” and that it “offers the best clues”—vague notions of progress and betterment. No longer do they have to promise the miracles and satisfy the hopes. Instead, they have convinced much of the American public that a science with limits is not science at all. Now that that’s the case, they have to convince us of little else.

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