Now don’t get me wrong. If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to choose between an embryonic stem cell therapy and an adult stem cell therapy in an experimental attempt to cure a bone disease which I may suffer, I would, hands down, choose adult stem cell therapy. Adult stem cell therapy, by all probability, would be safer.
But remember, I had a gun to my head. If I had a free choice, I most likely would turn, high tail it quickly toward the nearest exit, choosing neither option, unless a sound clinical trial had been performed and I had access to the results of such trial.
But back to the gun at my head….
Adult stem cell therapy is generally considered to be safer than embryonic stem cell therapy since it does not have the potential to create a teratoma, infamous for embryonic stem cell therapy gone wild, gone wrong. Teratomas are the ying of the embryonic stem cell potential, the yang being pleuropotency, the potential to form any cell in the body.
But this decreased risk using the adult stem cell does not necessarily indicate that adult stem cell therapy is safe, free of dangers. Even if the adult stem cells are harvested from one’s own body, serious problems and dangers can present if those cells are not handled safely, appropriately controlled or have undergone any chemical or genetic manipulated while in culture.
In vitro (i.e. in culture) manipulation of adult stem cells can lead to dangerous and unpredictable changes within the adult stem cell or lead to a contamination that could cause great harm to a patient, even death. Adult stem cell therapies should be regulated with GMP standards. Scientific technicians should be certified and trained to do this work. Well, at least that is what I would demand.
The other danger with using any stem cell treatment (that being adult or embryonic) is what I call “positional effects”. That is, where the stem cell is placed back in the body of the patient could negatively impact safety of the patient. Try shooting a syringe full of adult stem cell osteoblasts inside a human brain and let’s see how safe that will be. Not on me you won't.
Adult stem cell therapies can be used to potentially treat a variety of diseases in different ways in different forms. To ensure patient safety and enhance scientific discovery, much research is still needed to understand the science behind adult stem cell therapy and how, what, where and why it will be used. This requires formal clinical trials. Period.
A sudden pool of pro-adult stem cell proponents (most likely linked to the industry of “physicians gone biotech” and their ties to desperate patient advocacy groups) have entered the blogosphere recently in numerous numbers, vocally advocating with resounding stomping of feet, that adult stem cells are proven safe and should not be regulated. This is another ploy by the scientific community to mislead the public in order to avoid any type of regulation within the biological research sciences. It is getting to be absurd and truly is dangerous. It exploits the public, especially those with serious debilitating illness, leading many to sign up for dangerous unregulated clinical trials. It’s bad science.
The FDA is on the prowl and not happy about this. I don’t blame them. The FDA is not perfect. But this time they are right in their argument. Adult stem cell therapy should be regulated. It has not been proven safe.
Just because adult stem cell therapies are offered in other parts of the world doesn’t prove that they are safe or effective. Adult stem cell therapy offers a safer and better ethical alternative than embryonic stem cell therapy. But adult stem cell therapies are used in many different ways, requiring oversight to ensure patient safety and do good science.