Despite exciting discoveries, stem cell research still has a long way to go



As someone with a long previous career in stem cell transplantation, I would like to provide some medical perspective on a recent series of “commentary” articles about stem cells in Current in Zionsville. Broadly speaking, there are two types of stem cell transplantation, autologous and allogeneic. The first is a process by which patients receive back their own stem cells, perhaps after some manipulation to enrich or expand them. The second is the process by which a patient receives someone else’s stem cells, which have been carefully determined to be a compatible “match” for the patient.

The last decade or so has seen some exciting discoveries in which scientists have found that our cells (even those that are committed to form a certain cell lineage like skin, muscle, etc.) can be manipulated in the lab to switch back to a stem cell that could then be manipulated to turn back into another type of cell. Of course, many challenges await these early studies, including how to grow enough of these to replace millions of damaged cells, and how do we make sure they get to where we want them to go. And in the case of foreign cells, how do we prevent rejection by the body or form a tumor in the recipient’s body?

With the explosion of online “information,” one is wise to keep one philosophical maxim in mind: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. So before believing that stem cells have seemingly magical properties to cure a plethora of diseases, we must demand that very careful, controlled studies have been performed to prove this, and that appropriate safety studies have been published. Hopefully, this perspective will assist readers in assessing the scientific validity of stem cell stories they may encounter online or in print.

Dr. Robert Ilaria, Jr., Zionsville