An interesting article in the New York Times today about stem cells and Hans Keirstead one of the stem cell researchers behind the proposition recently passed in California to fund stem cell research.
Hans S. Keirstead might be the Pied Piper of stem cells - and not just because he makes rats walk. He also helped lure Californians to the polls last fall to approve spending $3 billion of the state's money on embryonic stem cell research over the next decade. But he has critics who worry that he may be leading their new field too far, too soon into uncharted territory
Sounds like he has fascinating, but preliminary data using stem cells to help mice with nerve injuries. Stem cells are differentiated into oligodendrocytes, a type of cell that is found in brain and nerve tissue where it acts to help "support," for lack of a better word, the actual neurons or nerve cells. The article doesn't make clear how the mice were injured, so it is hard to know how applicable this model might be to human spinal cord injuries.
It does seem a bit suspicious that he has been showing a video of a mice that can walk after treatment for three years, but hasn't got around to publishing the results. Maybe he doesn't want to disclose how he differentiates the oligodendrocytes, but that would go against the general drift of his supporters that he only cares about patients, not himself.
In general my belief is that the decision to move into clinical trials should weigh risks and benefits. In the case of spinal cord injury, it would seem the possible benefits of treatment would far outweigh any risks. On the other hand, it also seems that animal data should be published and replicated by other groups before moving on to human studies.