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Xconomist of the Week: Evan Snyder—Stem Cell Reality Check

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huge amount of money up front.

X: So what areas of promise do you see for stem cells?

ES: If we were having this discussion 50 years from now, I have no question that we would be talking about replacing circuitry and body parts and cell types and things of that sort. No doubt in my mind.

I rely on my colleagues—the disease biologists—to tell me the areas that they think need to be fixed. So that means using stem cells in transplantation. These cells actually do protect cells and connections and organs that are already there. Using them to detoxify toxic environments. Using them to diminish inflammation. Using them to promote the stem cells that already exist to grow and provide support, so for example using them to help blood vessels grow.

I think using the cells themselves to change a diseased environment so it becomes healthier is there for Lou Gehrig’s disease and Parkinson’s disease and even for some childhood diseases that are caused by rare enzyme deficiencies.

Another area of really low-hanging fruit are stem cells in a dish that model a disease. We call it disease in a dish. They can be used to understand the mechanism of a disease and identify new drug targets in developing a drug to treat the disease. There you have a drug that a company would find interesting and might take it from there

X: Won’t the costs of commercializing this technology decline over time as innovation lowers the cost for everyone in the industry?

ES: I think to an extent everything becomes a little bit easier. But then you hit new challenges. The reality is that it’s expensive no matter what. Research is expensive. What happens in science is that you see the mountain as your obstacle, and you fight, fight, fight to get to the top of the mountain. And then you realize that you just have a better view of the next mountain.

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