Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

A View from David Appell

Stem Cell Exaggeration?

Yesterday, I criticized some of the support for California’s Proposition 71 on stem cell research because it implied a potential cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Fellow TR blogger Erika Jonietz countered with a post of her own, writing that “singling out…

  • September 21, 2004

Yesterday, I criticized some of the support for California’s Proposition 71 on stem cell research because it implied a potential cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Fellow TR blogger Erika Jonietz countered with a post of her own, writing that “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.”

I’m in favor of more research instead of less. It’s my understanding (such as from Rick Weiss’s Washington Post article) that many of the possible approaches to a better biological understanding of Alzheimer’s disease would require “not just stem cells from spare embryos donated by fertility clinicsit would also require the creation of cloned human embryos made from cells taken from Alzheimer’s patients.” That seems to be an ethical line that most are unwilling to cross anytime soon.

Public perception matters too. Science scholar Daniel Sarewitz has written,

Little has been learned, it appears, from the promise of nuclear energy “too cheap to meter,” elusive miracle of gene therapies, and genetically modified foods that will end hunger. Under the guise of rationality, and through appeals to the compassion of voters, advocates of Proposition 71 advance their own fundamentalism about science, and in the process have sought and will likely gain a special exemption from the rigors of democracy. But history is very clear on this point: such exemptions are bound to breed abuse and backlash.

It would be just as easy to leave Alzheimer’s disease off the list of potential diseases that can be approached with stem cells, or perhaps tack it on to the end; there’s still an impressive list to be had, with Parkinson’s, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, etc. But Cures for California, the main support group for Prop 71, lists Alzheimer’s near the top. People take these claims seriously. Is it fair to offer false or exaggerated hopes?

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.