I am grateful for any mainstream media coverage of adult stem cell therapies. I’m thrilled that the journal, Nature, is giving space to research on treatments that are ethical. I understand that the new research (Abstract is here) not only reports benefits from the injection of specific populations of stem cells that have been isolated and multiplied in the laboratory rather than risky bone marrow stem cell transplants. Cossu and his colleagues in Italy have achieved several breakthroughs.
The Italian-French team not only identified the stem cells called mesangioblasts that move about the body carrying the treatment, but they have managed to correct the genetic defect the function of a gene, “dystrophin”in the cells of dogs with Muscular Dystrophy using gene therapy and a viral vector. The reesarchers then used these repaired (autologous) cells from the diseased dogs by injecting them back into the original donor dogs.
But I don’t understand why the news articles on the study in dogs do not report that adult stem cells are already being used to treat patients with several forms of Muscular Dystrophy. Instead, as in this article from the UK Medical News Today website on-line and this one in Scientific American online the treatment is presented as speculative and treatment of humans as “some day.”
Professor George Dickson of Royal Holloway, University of London tells the British paper, the Telegraph, that the results are “a very significant advance, perhaps even a breakthrough.”
Science Magazine reviewed the early research by this team in 1998. A March of Dimes article from 2002 mentioned that the news that bone marrow transplants could treat muscle disorders was 3 years old, citing Dr. Louis Kunkel and his work in the US. In 2002, there was a report about a little boy who had had a bone marrow stem cell transplant to treat his “bubble boy” immune deficiency or X-linked Severe Combined Immune Disorder and who was later discovered to also have a “Intriguingly” mild form of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Doctors found that his muscle cells contained mesenchymal stem cells from the marrow transplant donor.
At that point Weinberg got in touch with Louis Kunkel, Ph.D., chief of the Division of Genetics at Children’s Hospital Boston and professor of pediatrics and genetics at Harvard Medical School. Over the past five years, Kunkel’s group has shown that stem cells in bone marrow transplanted into mice with DMD can restore the function of the dystrophin gene in the mice.
It seems that about all I write on anymore is reporting bias. However, when the coverage of a report on a successful retroviral gene therapy, the identification of a specific population of stem cells, and the apparent cures in animal models of a devastating genetic disease using these discoveries downplays or dismisses the importance of the (yes) breakthroughs achieved by the scientists and ignores the history and previous research, I believe that the reporting becomes a story in itself.