View treatment in perspective

  • Letters
  • Friday, 03 Oct 2003

STEM cell transplantation holds enormous theoretical promise in salvaging many organs from end-stage diseases. 

This is by virtue of the multi-potential capability of the stem cells to differentiate into the various specialised cells in the respective organs and hence “replace” the diseased cells. 

In so doing, it is expected that the new cells will continue to maintain the functions of the organs. 

However, this purported link between the new structures and the expected physiological functions is still within the purview of research. 

In the years to come, even if researchers prove a good correlation between the new structures from the transplanted cells and the expected functions of the rejuvenated organs, there remains another scientific hurdle to prove the clinical efficacy of stem cell transplantation as a safe and viable mode of treatment against the current standard treatment or non-treatment.  

This method of comparing new treatment against the old method of treatment is called clinical trial. 

Only after the positive results obtained in clinical trials can we claim the new method of treatment is useful and can be offered to patients as a mode of treatment on a standard basis. 

Against the backdrop of the above spectrum of the translational research process, spanning basic investigations in the laboratory up to the clinical trials, stem cell transplantation in heart failures probably lies closer to the initial clinical trial stage at best. 

For all intents and purposes, this stage is still to be regarded as an experimental stage. A stage where the usefulness of a procedure is still under rigorous scientific evaluation. 

The outcome of this evaluation may be either positive or negative.  

Whatever results from these processes will have to be debated and deliberated by the scientific fraternity before any positive outcome is publicised and taken up as a new standard of practice. 

As such, the recent widely reported stem cell transplantation performed on a heart failure patient at the National Heart Institute is, perhaps, a bit premature for elaborate public consumption. 

It is hoped the public could view this potentially new treatment on the horizon in the correct perspective despite the permeating enthusiasm from various parties. 

Perhaps researchers, scientists and clinicians should exercise a large degree of restraint and moderation in sharing the potentially good news with the public so that the public can truly be well-informed rather than otherwise. 

In the effort to make the sciences ever dominant in the daily life of our aspired knowledge society, the rigour of scientific investigations taught at school should match the sincere scrutiny of the public (adult) learning mechanisms. 




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