Uncertainties about the cells’ risk profiles and the potential for hyping unproven therapies mean scientists and the media must tread carefully.
On February 18, 2019, The Asahi Shimbun reported, “Ministry [of Health, Labor and Welfare in Japan] OKs 1st iPS [induced pluripotent stem] cell therapy for spinal cord injuries.” This announcement disseminated at a press conference has been viewed as an exciting clinical trial on the use of stem cells to treat spinal cord injury. However, caution is warranted here, for at least three reasons: the uncertainty of the stem cell type to be used in their clinical trial, the safety of transplanting stem cells into humans, and the responsibility of scientists and the press to communicate clearly the benefits and risks of the stem cell treatments, especially to desperate patients who would seek such unproven treatments.
John D. Loike, a professor of biology at Touro College and University Systems, writes a regular column on bioethics for The Scientist. Martin Grumet is a professor of Cell Biology & Neuroscience, associate director of WM Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience, and director of the Stem Cell Research Center at Rutgers.