If Wishes Were Fishes, We’d All Be Oceans

Promising sick people more than can actually be delivered is, in the long run, a poor strategy. For decades now, companies and scientists looking for funding have been fervently prompting the idea that genetic and stem cell research is “the Future of Medicine.” Politicians and funding institutions alike have been major supporters of these ideas and the public has been expecting miracle therapies.

Fact is that reality has not worked out so neatly and many are disappointed, including the big pharmaceutical companies and researches who have gambled heavily on genetic and stem cell therapies that so far have not arrived.

Here is a link to an article in Slate by Emily Yoffe on this area.

…Parkinson’s disease was long held out as the model for new knowledge and technologies eradicating illnesses. Instead, it has become the model for its unforeseen consequences.

Langston, head of the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center, explains that scientists believed the damage to patients took place in a discrete part of the brain, the substantia nigra. “It was a small target. All we’d have to do was replace the missing cells, do it once, and that would cure the disease,” Langston says. “We were wrong about that. This disease hits many other areas of the brain. You can’t just put transplants here and there. The brain is not a pincushion.”

Parkinson’s patients in the 1980s were guinea pigs, getting fetal tissue transplants—a precursor of stem-cell therapy—in their brains. After reports of dramatic improvement, it seemed like a new era had begun. But to make sure the results were real, in the 1990s a group of patients agreed to undergo a double-blind study: Half would get brain surgery with the fetal tissue, half would get holes drilled in their heads and no transplant. (Yes, there are patients willing to have useless holes drilled in their heads for the sake of advancing science.)

It was a huge disappointment when the two groups showed only a marginal difference in disease manifestation—the previous benefits, it turned out, were largely placebo effect. Then, horrifyingly, a year after the surgery, a major difference appeared. Fifteen percent of the patients who received the fetal tissue developed “tragic, catastrophic” uncontrollable movements….

much much more via Medical Revolution: Where are the Cures?


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