With the successful transplant of artificial bronchus by the British researchers, stem cell research has likely to enter a new stage. And on Tuesday a German team reported that a stroke patient had received stem cells in a clinical trial for the first time.

All these were made from adult stem cell, researchers are also progressing in embryonic stem cells. For all their potential, however, few stem-cell therapies are yet ready to be given to patients. The bronchus transplant and the stroke treatment are being offered only on an experimental basis, and embryonic approaches have not even reached that far.

However, all is not well in the world of stem cell research. A University of Alberta study claimed tom have found that most lack scientific credibility.The vast majority over-promise results and offer no substantiation for their claims in medical literature, while glossing over risks.

International Society for Stem-Cell Research (ISSCR) is thus to be commended for publishing a handbook for patients (available at www.isscr.org) which gives them a few tools with which to assess the claims of stem-cell therapies. It also wants countries that lack regulatory systems to develop them and is offering its help. These are sensible and practical measures, which should help patients and governments to identify and avoid shady practitioners.

For the time being, the immediate potential of stem cells, especially embryonic, is in a different direction. This week, two American groups grew motor neurons from embryonic cells, which they are using to study the development of motor-neuron disease and to screen new drugs. It is as just such a research tool that stem cells will be useful first.

Effective and safe transplant technology will generally take a lot longer.These caveats do not mean that it is wrong for scientists to get excited about stem cells, or for governments to back them with money. They have real potential. Patients, though, need to understand that this research will take time and beware of claims that stem cells are already transforming medicine.

Source: Times Online