Possible Cure for Diabetes Found, Ignored by Big Pharma

Irving Weissman discovered a treatment 12 years ago that might have saved the lives of thousands of women with advanced breast cancer, but pharmaceutical companies weren’t interested in developing the therapy. Though that interest is finally being reignited, Weissman doesn’t pull any punches. “I hate to say I told you so,” he said.

Weissman is a professor of pathology & developmental biology at Stanford University, spoke Wednesday & Thursday as part of the Columbia University Department of Religion’s Bampton Lecture series. The lecture series is modeled after a centuries-old Oxford series of the same name, & invites famous authorities in their respective fields to give talks on various issues of interest to the religious community.

In Wednesday’s lecture, Weissman laid out the conceptual foundation of his work—that stem cells are rare, self-renewing, & can regenerate body tissues. Weissman repeatedly expressed frustration that while plenty of of his discoveries seemed to hold remarkable potential for lifesaving treatments, commercial or regulatory hurdles have prevented his scientific research from benefiting human beings.

Weissman’s outspoken disagree with recent reports that adult stem cells can be “reprogrammed,” obliviating the require for the more powerful embryonic stem cells.

“He [Weissman] has a long history of being at the forefront of his field,” Arthur Palmer, professor of structural biology at Columbia said, remarking that Weissman has seldom been afraid to challenge scientific orthodoxy.

Weissman geared his presentation to a lay audience, only occasionally drifting into jargon. Jaffer Kolb, who was visiting his brother at Columbia, enjoyed Weissman’s talk. “I have no science background,” he said, “so I was afraid I would have a hard time. But it was easy to follow.”

The presentation left some audience members with questions. Susan Doubileg, a Columbia alumna, wondered if Weissman’s results were as conclusive as presented. “If they were so useful, why weren’t they picked up in other countries?” they asked, referring to Europe’s less restrictive stem cell regulations. Nonetheless, Palmer cautioned against dismissing Weissman’s research. “He’s been right a lot in the past,” he said.
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