A major clinical trial using embryonic stem cells was suddenly halted this week.  Meanwhile, trials with adult stem cells are steamrolling ahead.  Why the difference?

Geron calls it quits:  Not long ago, scientists were thrilled that Geron, a California-based company, was conducting the first U.S. clinical trial using embryonic stem cells (see 1/01/2011).  According to the BBC News, “Its submission to the US Food and Drug Administration to conduct the first trial in patients of human embryonic stem cells was the largest and most complex ever submitted.”  Suddenly it is getting out of the ESC business.  The turnaround after a “huge investment of time and resources” seems extraordinary, the article said.  Geron claims they made the decision for purely financial reasons.  In the “current environment of capital scarcity and uncertain economic conditions,” it has decided to focus on cancer treatments; “by stopping its stem cell programme it will cut its workforce by more than a third and save millions of dollars.”  The story was also carried by New Scientist and Medical Xpress.

Patient groups hoping for miracle cures from embryonic stem cells (ESC’s) were disgusted that the decision was made for financial reasons.  Competitors thought Geron’s clinical study was flawed.  But an ethicist was glad: “At long last after 10 years of unremitting hype, reality has caught up with embryonic stem cell claims,” Josephine Quintavalle from Comment on Reproductive Ethics said.  “If Geron is abandoning this project it is because it is simply not working, despite the millions of dollars and hot air that has been invested in the promotion of this research.”  Left begging was the question of whether ethically-clouded research should continue even if it did work and was profitable.

Adult and Embryonic Overlap:  Medical Xpress reported  “Researchers grow pituitary glands from embryonic stem cells.”  This seems to announce a victory for ESC research, but it was actually a tie: “While these pituitary glands were created with embryonic stem cells, the researchers believe they can use the same process successfully with stem cells taken from adults and avoid possible ethical concerns with the use of embryonic stem cells.”  Such statements indicate that researchers and reporters have a twinge of conscience about using ESC’s.

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