Saturday, January 07, 2006

Stem cell research and spinal cord injuries

After Hwang Woo Suk's 'research' was outed as an outright fraud, there were quite a few who thought it was a big setback for research on stem cells. It was also seen as a setback to those hoping for new treatments to emerge from stem cell research. As Steven Edwards writes in Wired:

The hopes of many quadriplegics (like me) and otherwise injured individuals have been dashed since Korean stem-cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk, who claimed to be on track for curing spinal cord injuries among other ailments, turned out to be an apparent fraud.

But, he adds, "I never hung all of my hopes on Hwang or stem-cell research." He then goes on to argue that "it won't be stem cells or any other single therapy that will cure paralysis." In other words, a combination therapy that brings together several different approaches is what is likely to work best. He outlines some of these approaches.

[Wise Young's] approach is a five-part combination strategy involving a bridging substrate, growth inhibitor blockers, remyelinating substances, molecules that guide axons to reconnect to their proper targets and something that would entice the axons to grow out of and beyond the bridging substrate.

Wise Young is a spinal cord injury researcher at Rutgers University, and runs CareCure, an online community devoted to “the art and science of managing therapies, routines, medication, supplies, equipment and everything else needed to maintain the spinal injured person in top health..”

Steven Edwards titled his article "Hwang Woo-Suk no great loss". That, I think, is the key message. Hwang's fraud is a great loss only if you had hyped up expectations; it is certainly not a set back for science and progress. Indeed, within weeks after l'affaire Hwang, other scientists have reported a 'critical gain' in stem cell research.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Hwang's fraud is not a setback to science but it is to korean science. Now the journal editors look at korean papers with hawk eye, woh damn this is from korea.