Reproduced below, with the permission of the author Dr David van Gend from Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research, is a media release setting the record straight on recent reporting of stem cell treatments on ABC Radio's AM program. The 'breakthrough' was also reported in The Age newspaper.

AUSTRALIANS FOR ETHICAL STEM CELL RESEARCH

http://www.cloning.org.au/

CONTACT: DR DAVID VAN GEND, 0417 007066; 07 46329377   vangend@machousemedical.com.au


Wednesday 13th October, 2010.

GERON’S FUTILE FIDDLING WITH EMBRYOS – A REALITY CHECK FOR THE MEDIA

“The media, true to form, have accepted uncritically whatever is spun at them by the embryo-research PR team, and that is true of the breaking news of the ‘milestone in giving embryonic stem cells to human patients’ by Geron Corp,” said Dr David van Gend, national Director of Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research.

“False. This experiment does NOT give anybody even a single embryonic stem cell – which would be a negligent act - and this experiment is NOT pretending to be a treatment. What about some basic accuracy, as opposed to conning the public with yet more hype? Has the media not kept up with the science, and not learnt to be skeptical and restrained after its humiliating overstatements on cloning in 2006?” Dr van Gend said.

“Consider these errors reported by the media, and the facts:

  1. “doctors have injected embryonic stem cells into a patient's damaged spinal cord.” (ABC Radio AM, 12/10)No, they have not. No ES cell (whether from IVF embryos or from cloning - and for that matter no iPS cell) can be put into a human being, because they form teratoma tumours in animals. For ‘authoritative confirmation’ of this fact, see the statement on the International Society for Stem Cell Research web site (‘Top 10 Things to Know about Stem Cell Treatments’ at point 2):


“embryonic stem cells themselves cannot directly be used for therapies as they would likely cause tumors”.

See http://www.closerlookatstemcells.org/Top_10_Stem_Cell_Treatment_Facts.htm

Only adult stem cells can be put into humans, and have been in large numbers, because they alone are stable and safe in vivo.

Correct reporting would be that the Geron Corp ES cell trial in spine injury does NOT put a single ES cell into any patient; it merely uses ES cells (from IVF embryos) to generate “mature” (but genetically foreign) nerve progenitor cells for transplant. But here are the obvious questions:

* Since the same nerve cells could be readily generated from induced pluripotent stem cells ( iPS cells), with the huge advantage that they would exactly match the patient – and therefore not require immune suppressant drugs - why use embryos at all?

* Since scientists have already published trials using a patient’s own adult stem cells in spinal injury, with no tumours formed, and without requiring immune suppression drugs which the Geron study does require – why use embryos at all? [i]

2. “… to treat human patients with spinal cord injury”.

False. This trial is not even pretending to be a ‘treatment’ – it is only a Phase 1 safety trial to see if tumours occur. It is an uncertain experiment which has got even proponents of embryonic stem cell research worried that it could all be a rash miscalculation and, by in fact harming the patients (either with the immune suppression drugs required to induce tolerance of the foreign embryonic cells, or by the ‘precursor cells’ reverting to EScells and causing tumours) it could harm the whole field of stem cell science.

3. Geron's president and CEO, Thomas Okarma, describes this trial as a, quote, "milestone for the field of human embryonic stem cell based therapies".

Well he would say that… But what use is a milestone in a dead-end street? Cells from embryos are redundant in the era of direct reprogramming / iPS technology. Anything an ESCell can do, an iPS cell can do – and only the iPS exactly matches the patient. ESCs are foreign to the patient, and are therefore of limited use even for research. iPS cells are easy to obtain, and ethically uncomplicated, whereas the Geron cells are only obtained from stripmining embryos.

As to actual human treatments, there are currently 2002 trials using adult stem cells in diseases like diabetes and MS, and thousands of patients already treated for conditions ranging from heart damage to bone disease to auto-immune disorders. Exactly none using ES cells.

This media hoopla is merely the latest episode in the comical history of Geron announcing its ‘milestones’, usually corresponding to a temporary rise in their share price... (see http://ethicalstemcellresearch.blogspot.com/2009/11/geron-and-on-and-on.html)

“Where is the balance and skeptical enquiry in science reporting?” asked Dr van Gend. “Journalists have become useful idiots for Big Biotech and their reporting of spin over substance impairs the public’s ability to form a sound judgment on crucial issues like embryo research and cloning.”

“Cloning as a serious science died in November 2007 with the advent of the ethical alternative, Yamanaka’s ‘direct reprogramming’ / iPS technology. Embryo research is naturally withering on the vine, for purely scientific reasons. It is time for journalists to report the science, not commercial spin”, Dr van Gend concluded.

CONTACT: DR DAVID VAN GEND, 0417 007066; 07 46329377   vangend@machousemedical.com.au


Wednesday 13th October, 2010.

[i] Link to Adult Stem Cell Spinal Cord Trials:
http://www.nature.com/sc/journal/v47/n10/abs/sc200924a.html and http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/cog/ct/2008/00000017/00000012/art00001?token=0057156e9168a7e442f20672148766c777b492b45427a63687627504541676249266d656c185ee1dce5572d and http://www.media.wayne.edu/2009/10/16/study-shows-adult-stem-cell-grafts-increased