January 15, 2015

Why Gordie Howe's Stem Cell Miracle Is Bad News

Much has been made about Gordie Howe's "miraculous" recovery from his devastating stroke thanks to a experimental stem cell procedure. Not only has it comforted us the Mr. Hockey and his whole family are far more comfortable at this time, but it has made us all more comfortable to know such great medical advancements are being achieved.

Or are they?

That's the focus of Elizabeth Payne's article in the Ottawa Citizen. She warns us that despite such publicly celebrated success stories such "Stem Cell tourism," as she calls it, creates false hopes, and worse could harm the future of stem cell research.

Tim Caulfield, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, explores the tension between celebrity and science in his book Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? He says stem-cell tourism contributes to public cynicism about science and medicine and promotes the false belief by some that viable treatments exist but are being withheld from the public.

With some exceptions, much of the promising new research into stem-cell therapies are still at the experimental stage and will likely be for some time. But it still will be years before the game-changing therapy is available as clinical treatment for patients, something that is hard for many members of the public to understand.

Furthermore, Payne adds,

The technology has huge potential, he said, but it will take a long period of refinement and testing to get to that point.

“We are not there yet. It is going to take many years.”

Stem-cell tourism creates unrealistic expectations that could “deflate the whole field,” Stewart said, leading companies to pull money out of stem-cell development because the results are not what they expected.

Caulfield, meanwhile, said there is a real anger among patients who wrongly believe the technology exists to cure them but isn’t being made available.

Payne's article on Stem Cell tourism is an interesting read.

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