Another Stem Cell “First”-Well not so much…

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fat stem cells

Today’s press release stating that fat stem cells were turned to bone and heralding this as the greatest discovery since Penicillin is yet another example of the constant barrage by corporate interests to draw attention to a commercialization process without any real scientific meat behind the discovery. In this case, from reading the story, you would believe that nobody in the history of scientific research has ever gotten an adult stem cell to turn into bone and that this represents some sort of scientific miracle equivalent to the blind seeing and the crippled walking. Not so much. As an example, there are 2,284 research articles indexed in the US National Library of Medicine on mesenchymal stem cells and bone formation. This feat is so commonly accomplished that there are many commercial assays to turn stem cells into bone (meaning kits sold by scientific supply companies). The average university cell biology graduate student learns to do this as part of his or her training in stem cells. So this is not even close to a first, but instead an interesting study where the researchers found a small sub population of cells in fat that will turn to bone more readily, something fat cells aren’t designed to do. In this case, they still need to be hit over the head with the biochemical equivalent of a sledgehammer to make this happen. The upshot? This isn’t a scientific first, or second, or third, or even a 50th. Yet we still see many of these press releases come out claiming something really exciting in stem cells that’s actually really mundane. Why? We’re in a 24 hour news cycle, as a result of the pace of life today we all have incredibly short attention spans, and journalists need to keep the stories pumping to keep your eyeballs focused…

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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