The Magazine

Science by Press Release

More hype from stem cell entrepreneurs.

Sep 4, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 47 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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For several pages, the article lauded the scientists at ACT, only to reveal that "all hopes for developing an experimental cure for Trevor were dashed" when the boy developed early symptoms of his disease, and his parents were forced to turn to traditional treatments. In reality, of course, there was never any hope of treating Trevor with cloned embryonic stem cells. Even if a cloned embryo had been created from Trevor's DNA, and stem cells had been derived from this cloned embryo--a feat still to this day beyond the reach of science--injecting the cells into the boy would have been blatantly unethical because of grave safety concerns. It might even have amounted to illegal human experimentation.

In January 2004, ACT again was the subject of laudatory international headlines when Wired magazine carried a breathless report by Wendy Goldman Rohm to the effect that Lanza had successfully grown cloned human embryos to the 16-cell stage. This would have been big news--if it had been verified. But it never was. To my knowledge, Lanza never subjected his work to peer review or published a report of it in a respected science journal. Moreover, ACT president Michael West refused to confirm to the Economist that the company had created a 16-cell cloned human embryo.

So now, it's déjà vu all over again, with ACT lionized by a media stampede over a purported research breakthrough that the company did not actually achieve. This is not to say, of course, that deriving embryonic stem cell lines from a procedure that allows the embryo to survive is impossible--only that it hasn't been done. Lanza's experiment does demonstrate that stem cell lines can be obtained earlier than previously thought. But that wasn't good enough for ACT's pub licity office or the lazy reporters who regurgitated the press release. The failure to report this story accurately amounts to massive journalistic malpractice--and once again ACT is laughing all the way to the bank.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His current book is Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World.