A Stem Cell scientist using a microscope

In 2006, having received an award for our work developing adult stem cell treatments for back pain, our university press office put out a press release entitled ‘Young Biotechnologist of the Year’. In hindsight, the language could have been better, especially since the work was still very preliminary and had only been performed in the lab. But the media response was incredible, with requests for interviews from local and national newspapers, as well as television news channels. While the press office dealt with most of the calls, I did give interviews to a few journalists. The most frequent question was ‘when will the treatment be available’. Answering that question was like looking in to a crystal ball, but saying ‘I don’t know’ wasn’t an option. I naively suggested that we would ideally like to start pre-clinical trials within a year and have a treatment within 3-5 years, but that it could take much longer. It seemed like a sensible answer, but the articles didn’t reflect this as speculation, reporting as fact that the treatment would be available within 3 years.

The BBC reported a ‘Stem cell cure hope for back pain’, while the Daily Telegraph reported ‘Stem cell cure for back pain 'in three years'. The Daily Mail went one step further, with the headline ‘Stem cell trial may bring end of back pain for millions’ seeming to suggest we had already conducted trials.

Six years later, our proposed therapy has still not reached even pre-clinical trial stage. However, those stories, and the dozens more that were written subsequently, are still on-line and appear whenever you do a search for stem cells and back pain, or back pain cure. I still receive regular emails from people desperate for a ‘stem cell cure’ for their back pain, which sadly we cannot offer yet.

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