The Niche

Independent film-makers for stem cells

A documentary chronicling stem-cell research advocacy is screening at theaters around the United States this week. Actually, the film is a story of how a family coping with tragedy begins to explore what it takes to turn scientific ideas into medical procedures. For a schedule of screenings in various cities, you can go to the film’s website.


According to the website, “The Accidental Advocate is a wheelchair odyssey of a father and daughter who track down the thinkers, the politicians, the crusaders and the naysayers in an effort to understand the promise of the science and why a political quagmire is stalling a cure.”

I have not yet seen the movie, so I can’t vouch for the film itself. On the one hand, the website’s explanation of why scientists believe that adult stem cells cannot be used to do the things that embryonic stem cells might do is among the clearest I’ve read.

On the other hand, the film’s summary leaves out that there is much more than politics stalling a cure. The science is novel, complicated, and slow. The only thing we know about the preclinical work necessary to bring novel stem-cell treatments to people are 1) that it will take a long time and 2) results of preclinical testing are no guarantee for what will happen in people.

My favorite explanation of the barriers comes from Marie Csete, the scientific director of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine. (Prepping stem cells for the clinic ). Readers may also want to read accounts of the FDA debating the matter, as well as my article “Being patient” which profiles two stem-cell researchers struggling to move basic science to applications.)

Geron is still seeking approval to start the first trail using embryonic stem cells, which is summarized this week in an article from the Chicago Tribune.

Back to the film: As far as I can tell from a few minutes of web research, the film is an interesting product from a new director, and the fil-makers seem more interested with film-making than advocacy. (In other words, my best guess is that film-goers would be in for narrative, not propaganda.) At least some funds came from the Women in Film foundation to make a documentary that sounds much like The Accidental Advocate, but has the title Travels with my Dad. The Accidental Advocate’s website asks for donations to the Center for Science and the Media to help spread the word. (This non-profit has received NSF funds for its efforts but has been criticized for links to a for-profit media company.)

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