The Niche

Stem cell therapies, ready for success?

Stem cell researchers have a new worry. What happens if the cell-based therapies actually work? “We could have a cure, but there might be a backlash, because we aren’t ready to the economic impact of that ability.” That’s the question that John Wagner asked the 900 or so attendees at a stem cell meeting in Madison, Wisconsin.

It’s a problem that I’d heard before, but from social equality activists who did not feed cells or treat patients. Now, that worry is being posed by practicing scientists. The argument that the World Stem Cell Summit is about research advocacy and infrastructure simply doesn’t hold. The topic came just last week at a meeting designed for scientists to address other scientists.

I hadn’t seen it coming. I was moderating a panel of prominent scientists (Alan Trounson, Arnold Kriegstein, Christine Mummery, Larry Goldstein), and as a soft-ball final question I asked what issues the field would have to address in the future. How society could pay for therapies came up again and again.

I’m puzzled. Is this a sign that scientists and social activists are interacting in new ways. Funding from patient advocacy groups is now essential for many scientists to run their own labs. Is this a sign that researchers believe the therapies can work? Certainly the hurdles are getting more and more detailed, and we’re hearing more emphasis on more-immediate applications of stem cells, such as disease modeling and patient screening.

It’s becoming a truism that for stem cell therapies to work, there will need to be more collaboration between academics, clinicians, patients, regulators, and industry. Now, health care payers and activists may get added to that list.

Here are all three blogs from the conference

Companies have company

Stem cell trials balancing hope and harm

Stem cell therapies, ready for success?

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