“Will Embryonic Stem Cells Ever Cure Anything?” is a sceptical headline which you would expect to read in a conservative journal like the National Review or the Weekly Standard. However, it is a bit surprising to find it in the MIT Technology Review, in a profile of Douglas Melton, a Harvard stem cell scientist.
… no field of biotechnology has promised more and delivered less in the way of treatments than embryonic stem cells. Only a handful of human studies has ever been carried out, without significant results. The cells, culled from IVF embryos, are capable of developing into any other tissue type in the body, and therefore promise an unlimited supply of replacement tissue. Sounds simple, but it hasn’t been.Melton’s specialty is diabetes. Because this is a complex and widespread disease, governments and companies are willing to spend huge amounts of money to find a cure. They will continue to fund embryonic stem cell research – but whether it succeeds is still unknown.
The death of Ivo Pitanguy in Rio this week was the intersection of bioethics and the Olympics. The world’s best-known cosmetic surgeon and a celebrity in his native Brazil, he carried the Olympic flame on the day before he died of a heart attack at the age of 93.
A member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, Pitanguy thought deeply about his specialty. “My operations are not just for my patients’ bodies. They are for their souls,” he wrote. He regarded beauty as a human right and he made cosmetic surgery as popular among the poor as among glittering celebrities.
However, his poetic vision of his specialty clashes with the scepticism of some bioethicists. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, in the UK, is currently conducting an inquiry into cosmetic procedures, in response to concerns that patients are being victimized and that the industry is sustained by sexist stereotypes. Its discussion paper is particularly interesting. We hope to cover this area in more depth in the future.
|This week in BioEdge|
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BioEdge: Have embryonic stem cells hit the wall?