Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Future of Stem Cell Research: Rapid Progress

Stem cell research. Embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells - biotech company progress, stem cell investment, stem cell research results, should you invest in stem cell technology, stem cell organ repair and organ regeneration? Treatment using adult stem cells for people like the late Christopher Reeves, with recent spinal cord injuries - or stroke, or heart damage.

Every week there are new claims being made about embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells, what is the truth? President George Bush and John Kerry have fought an election with high-profile campaigns about embryonic stem cell research, and the scientific facts have often been lost in the media debate. The death of Superman hero Christopher Reeves has also focussed attention on stem cell research, and the urgent needs of those with spinal cord injury.

Here is a brief summary of important stem cell trends. You will also find on this site keynote presentations on stem cell research, speeches and powerpoint slides on the future of health care, the future of medicine, the future of the pharmaceutical industry, and the future of ageing - all of which are profoundly impacted by stem cell research.

There is no doubt that we are on the edge of a major stem cell breakthrough. Stem cells will one day provide effective low-cost treatment for diabetes, some forms of blindness, heart attack, stroke, spinal cord damage and many other health problems. Animal stem cell studies are already very promising and some clinical trials using stem cells have started (article written in September 2004).

As a physician and a futurist I have been monitoring the future of stem cells for over two decades, and advise corporations on these issues. Stem cell investment, research effort, and treatment focus is moving rapidly away from embryonic stem cells (ethical and technical challenges) to adult stem cells which are turning out to be far easier to convert into different tissues than we thought in 2000-2003.

I have met a number of leading researchers, and their progress in stem cell research is now astonishing, while over 2,000 new research papers on embryonic or adult stem cells are published in reputable scientific journals every year.

Stem cell technology is developing so fast that many stem cell scientists are unaware of important progress by others in their own or closely related fields. They are unable to keep up. The most interesting work is often unpublished, or waiting to be published. There is also of course commercial and reputational rivalry, which can on occaisions tempt scientists to downplay the significance of other people's results (or their claims)..

What exactly are stem cells? Will stem cells deliver? Should you invest in biotech companies that are developing stem cell technology? What should physicians, health care professionals, planners and health departments expect? What will be the impact of stem cell treatments on the pharmaceutical industry? How expensive will stem cell treatments be? What about the ban on embryonic stem cell research in many nations? Do embryonic stem cell treatments have a future or will they be overtaken by adult stem cell technology?


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