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Collins Reports to Colbert

Joking that he is eager to grow a pair of crab claws, Stephen Colbert asked National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins last night what’s taking so long with stem cell research. In response to the Colbert Report host, Collins presented a smart example of how we need to make sure that we get stem cell therapies right regardless of whether they come from embryonic or adult cells.

“You probably want to be sure they’re going to work so that your crab claws don’t turn into a complete exoskeleton,” he explained.

But in all seriousness, to design stem cell therapies that are effective and safe, scientists need to understand the full mechanics of the cell from its earliest developmental stages, and therefore must pursue many avenues of research. And that, as we have explained previously at Science Progress, will take time. Earlier this year, James M. Wilson, of the University of Pennsylvania underscored the importance of creating safe, responsible trials for stem cell therapies in an article in Science. Wilson understands first-hand the pitfalls of proceeding too quickly with a novel therapeutic technology, as he was the principal investigator in a gene therapy trial that resulted in the death of 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger in 1999.

Collins also hit all the right notes in his explanation of personalized medicine, saying that it’s about “getting the right drug, at the right dose, for the right person.” It’s about “doing prevention in an individualized way instead of one-size-fits-all—taking advantage of the fact that we’re all different,” he said.

Just a few weeks ago Collins penned an article for Parade Magazine on the importance of pharmacogenomics and family history in treating cancer. It’s an important field of work, but the orchestra of federal agencies involved in the research and policy of personalized medicine is in need of a conductor, as Whitney Kramer and I explain in our recent report.

Here’s the full interview as Collins Reports to Colbert:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Francis Collins
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Michael Moore

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