But while the work here and elsewhere has touched off a debate reaching into the presidential campaign, a tour through these labs shows that the progress of research is both greater and less than it seems from a distance.
One idea, the focus of about half the nation's stem cell research, involves studying stem cells that are naturally present in adults. Researchers have found such cells in a variety of tissues and organs and say they seem to be a part of the body's normal repair mechanism. There are no ethical issues in studying these cells, but the problem is in putting them to work to treat diseases. So far, no one has succeeded.
The other line of research, with stem cells from embryos, has a different obstacle. Although, in theory, the cells could be coaxed into developing into any of the body's specialized cells, so far scientists are still working on ways to direct their growth in the laboratory and they have not yet effectively cured diseases, even in animals. . . .
As the two lines of research proceed along parallel paths, researchers say it is far too soon to bet on which, if either, will yield cures first. "It's not either-or," said Dr. Diana Bianchi, chief of the division of medical genetics at Tufts New England Medical Center in Boston.
Faster, please. And this is why I think that (1) Kerry's right to criticize the Bush funding limitation on embryonic stem cell research, even if he exaggerates its extent, and (2) why I don't buy the argument that adult stem cells will take care of everything. That's just not clear yet. And, since I don't believe that life begins at conception, the embryonic aspect doesn't bother me much either. [Dude, you've got, like, no chance at a Bush judicial appointment now! -- Ed. I've got no chance of a date with Salma Hayek, either. No, Drezner's got that one nailed down. -- Ed.]