Selling the stem-cell promise

Los Angeles Times reports the potential of stem cells’ curative powers has spawned the creation of private tissue banks. But marketing is outpacing the medicine.

As stem-cell research has gathered momentum in recent years, these microscopic powerhouses have come to spark at least as much hope as they have controversy. And they have spawned new businesses eager to cater to this blossoming of public optimism. Private tissue banks, which offer to harvest and store adult stem cells for a client’s future personal use, are among the most visible of these. And they are springing up across the country.

The result is an industry marked by hype, high cost and only a limited chance that the cells extracted and stored will be of use when the fog of scientific inquiry — still very much underway — clears.

These banks draw, in part, upon the excitement generated by embryonic stem cells. But the cells they glean are not the same. Adult stem cells exist in the blood and organs after a human has emerged from the womb, and remain there, hiding in a crowd of more specialized cells. They do not bear the same ethical baggage as their embryonic counterparts, because they can be harvested without creating or destroying new life. But scientists also believe they probably lack the wide-ranging curative potential that embryonic cells have.

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