Stem Cell Encounters of the Adult Kind

The text within the “Stem Cell Hopes and Hype” graphic on the front page of the Oct. 24-30 issue could be misleading to readers. The graphic showed injuries and diseases that doctors are already treating using adult stem cells. This research is not only “hoped” for, and not “only being done on animals,” as the text stated. Ongoing treatments and clinical trials in humans are benefiting thousands and thousands of people right now.

Adult-nerve stem cells from the nasal passages are being transplanted into the spinal cords of paraplegics and helping them to regain movement in their limbs. Adult bone-marrow stem cells are being transplanted into damaged hearts, regenerating healthy heart tissue. And adult stem cells from the umbilical cords of newborn babies are being used to successfully treat leukemia, anemia and other blood-based diseases.

If the Register intended to say that scientists hope to repair these injuries and diseases using embryonic stem cells, and that embryonic stem-cell research is currently being done only on animals, it would have been accurate. Indeed, the box contained within the graphic was accurate in this regard.

We need to be very careful about the language we use in this complex area of research and medicine. Using the stand-alone term “stem cells,” as the mainstream media often does, just doesn't cut it. It confuses, rather than illuminates, the issue. The modifiers are essential in distinguishing between the ethical and the unethical, between what's working and what's not.


Albany, New York

Editor's note: Find the graphic fixed above.