Trendiness in medical terminology

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Via Instapundit, I found this headline on the CNN website: "Man appears free of HIV after stem cell transplant."

I was curious. I figured it was some form of adult stem cell therapy, but I imagine that many people reading the headline and nothing else would have assumed it involved embryonic stem cell therapy, since that's the kind that gets all the attention, even though adult stem cell therapy has gotten all the therapeutic results to date.

So I read further:

A 42-year-old HIV patient with leukemia appears to have no detectable HIV in his blood and no symptoms after a stem cell transplant from a donor carrying a gene mutation that confers natural resistance to the virus that causes AIDS, according to a report published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"The patient is fine," said Dr. Gero Hutter of Charite Universitatsmedizin Berlin in Germany. "Today, two years after his transplantation, he is still without any signs of HIV disease and without antiretroviral medication."

Pretty exciting! The story mentions that the stem cell transplant was for the purpose of treating the leukemia, but they chose a donor with a "gene mutation that confers resistance to HIV."

Donor? I read further:

While promising, the treatment is unlikely to help the vast majority of people infected with HIV, said Dr. Jay Levy, a professor at the University of California San Francisco, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. A stem cell transplant is too extreme and too dangerous to be used as a routine treatment, he said.

"About a third of the people die [during such transplants], so it's just too much of a risk," Levy said. To perform a stem cell transplant, doctors intentionally destroy a patient's immune system, leaving the patient vulnerable to infection, and then reintroduce a donor's stem cells (which are from either bone marrow or blood) in an effort to establish a new, healthy immune system.

So they "destroy a patient's immune system," and then introduce cells "from either bone marrow or blood" from a "compatible donor."

Doesn't that sound like what they used to call a bone marrow transplant?

Some medical expert correct me if I'm wrong, but bone marrow cells are stem cells, so the story isn't inaccurate. But it would have been more informative to the public and to the debate over embryonic stem cell research for the story to use the familiar term of bone marrow transplant, to state clearly that the cells came from an adult bone marrow donor, and to state that no human embryos were destroyed as part of the treatment.

I notice that googling "bone marrow HIV" turns up stories about the same patient from last November. I have to wonder if the scientists changed their terminology to "stem cell" for the New England Journal of Medicine story in hopes of attracting more funding.

The National Health Service website in Britain has an article about the treatment which refers to it as a bone marrow transplant. The NHS article goes into much more detail on the science behind the story and mentions that the patient underwent two transplants from the same donor.

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4 Comments

G Webster Wormleigh said:

For several years I was acquainted with a physician, an eminent pathologist, who said quite plainly that; AIDS is always fatal and is incurable. I think that he knew what he was talking about. This was over twenty years ago, and, despite enormous strides in medicine, it is still true today.

This is why we should be paying you money. Great analysis!

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Very interesting switcheroo. This is a little off subject, but:

GWW: I don't think there's been a cure for anything in the 20th Century, possibly ever. I could be wrong.

There are antibiotics - that takes care of infectious diseases, but doesn't cure. You have the Polio and Smallpox Vaccines, but that is prevention not a cure. Polio is still endemic in a few countries. Smallpox has made a comeback in places like the Philippines, and other 3rd world countries.

The successes medicine has are in treating symptoms or fighting infections. Tremendous medical breakthroughs but no cures. They have also had success in remissions of certain cancers.

Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

Very interesting switcheroo. This is a little off subject, but:

GWW: I don't think there's been a cure for anything in the 20th Century, possibly ever. I could be wrong.

There are antibiotics - that takes care of infectious diseases, but doesn't cure. You have the Polio and Smallpox Vaccines, but that is prevention not a cure. Polio is still endemic in a few countries. Smallpox has made a comeback in places like the Philippines, and other 3rd world countries.

The successes medicine has are in treating symptoms or fighting infections. Tremendous medical breakthroughs but no cures. They have also had success in remissions of certain cancers.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 12, 2009 9:18 PM.

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