Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Stem Cell Promises Give Way to Abuses

By Peter Bowditch

Stem cell tourism employs the same tactics as the cancer quackery industry to exploit the hopes of people desperate for cures of serious medical conditions.

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Occasionally something comes along in medicine that changes how things are done or thought about. Some examples are the discovery of the structure of DNA, vaccination and antibiotics. I can remember the first successful heart transplant.

A technique being researched today that could have enormous benefit in the treatment of seemingly intractable conditions is stem cell transplantation. Some conditions can already be treated in this way, but they generally rely on the transplant of specific types of stem cells.

As an example, someone I care about has multiple myeloma, and one treatment for this is to take stem cells from the patient, wipe out the immune system using chemotherapy and then restore it by using that person’s own stem cells to rebuild the immune system and the way that blood components are made in the body.

Unfortunately there are some objections to the use of one source of stem cells for reasons that have nothing to do with science. Possibly the most productive stem cells that can be used to treat a multitude of conditions are those derived from blastocysts, the small clusters of cells that develop 5–6 days after fertilisation. Objections have been raised on religious grounds, ethical grounds, and by politicians simply pandering to potential voters.

This is not the place to discuss religious objections, but the ethical situation...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.