Scientific Myths and Facts

Two recent news reports make it perfectly clear that scientific research into alleged treatments and cures for diseases is either guess work or sadly lacking in conclusive evidence. Either way, let the buyer beware.

The first such case deals with the birth control pill. For years, internet advice columnists who are also involved in the medical field have been advising women that they may be able to fend off rheumatoid arthritis by taking the birth control pill. They have claimed that research proves the value of ingesting the pill for a wide variety of reasons including diminishing the likelihood of suffering from RA. One such columnist, Dr. Mark Borigini, M.D. has written:

The effect of birth control pills and estrogen replacement on the risk of rheumatoid arthritis was studied, the results published in the Journal of Rheumatology in 2004. The authors found that exposure to birth control pills, but not estrogen replacement therapy, significantly reduced the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

But just yesterday a report from researchers in Sweden has shown that mothers who breast fed their children for 13 months or more were half as likely to get the painful joint condition known as rheumatoid arthritis, but the use of birth control pills made no difference whatsoever.

This latest Swedish study compared 136 women with RA with 544 of similar age who did not have the disease. While the researchers cannot explain why the practice of breast feeding reduces the risk of having RA, what I find most interesting is that clinical research is finally taking a closer look at precisely what good there is in taking the birth control pill – if, in fact, there is any at all.

If you want the facts about the pill, I highly recommend this site as one of the best –

In another classic case of questionable research, the Geron Corporation, one of the nation’s largest biotech companies, was poised to begin the first clinical trial in the nation using human embryonic stem cells to ascertain whether or not its treatment will in fact help human beings who suffer from spinal cord injury. However, its plans were dealt a blow when the Food and Drug Administration ordered a halt to the trials, at least for now.

Geron has been at the forefront of promoting the use of human embryonic stem cells for many years, and this recent announcement by federal regulators cannot be a welcome one for the biotech giant. As early as January 2007, Geron was proclaiming that its studies using human embryonic stem cells in animal models suffering acute spinal cord injury had amazing results.  Thus, the recent FDA announcement is not a knockout for the biotech giant, but merely a setback.

It is my guess that eventually the FDA will give in and Geron will keep its promise, which is posted on its web site today:

We are also the world leader in the development of human embryonic stem cell-based therapeutics, with our spinal cord injury treatment anticipated to be the first product to enter clinical development.

It will not surprise me in the least if Geron continues developing other alleged therapeutic treatments for diseases while it works from the inside to press the government into falling in line with its agenda. There’s big money at stake and that is the bottom line.

Let’s be perfectly clear: There isn’t a single law or federal regulation that bars research using human embryonic stem cells as long as that research is taking place in the private sector. Geron is a privately funded company and its scientific research, which requires killing human embryonic children, is not a problem to the federal government.

While it is clear that the Food and Drug Administration is going to be cautious about the recent clinical trial Geron has sought approval for, it is not clear that such prudential decision making will halt Geron’s progress. As is usually the case, money talks.