Commenting on California’s Prop 71 to fund stem cell research, my blogging colleague David Appell makes an excellent point about stem cells and Alzheimer’s, but he may be overstating the case a bit. An increasingly frequent–and legitimate–criticism of proponents of embryonic stem cell research is their tendency to link the cells with a treatment for Alzheimer’s (and tie such research to a legacy for President Reagan). However, as researchers point out, even if stem cells do not pan out as a therapy for Alzheimer’s, studies using the cells will still help patients by increasing our understanding of the disease. Such research could even lead to a new drug or other treatment that doesn’t use ES cells.
Singling out the tenuous Alzheimer’s link as a tactic being used to “sell” California voters on stem cells strikes me as a bit disingenuous. As David notes, there are at least 70 diseases, many of them common, such as diabetes and heart disease, that might be treated with stem cells. And there are countless others, such as Alzheimer’s and almost any form of cancer, that could be better understood through research using embryonic stem cells (as well as adult stem cells). It is indeed better to be up front with voters–about both the limits and the incredible potential of research on all types of stem cells.