Translating complex/controversial science information for stakeholders and influentials

Steven L. Teitelbaum, M.D.

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    Teitelbaum says it may be years before embryonic stem cells can be used for therapies. Researchers must first perfect techniques to manipulate the cells to become pancreas, nerve or other cell types. And as research advances, he says the cells may one day offer hope for those with incurable diseases.
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    At the AAAS symposium, Teitelbaum discusses the science involved in embryonic stem cell research and some of the controversy that surrounds it. To opponents who point to a lack of cures from embryonic cells, he points out that the cells were first isolated and identifed only in 1998, and he says it would be imprudent to rush to develop therapies before adequate research has been done.

On February 18, Teitelbaum will give a presentation entitled “Translating complex/controversial science information for stakeholders and influentials.” The presentation is part of a session called “Shaping public policy: A case study on stem cell legislation.” The session runs from 3:45 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.

As a leading spokesperson on stem cell science for Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Steven L. Teitelbaum has frequently explained the lifesaving medical advances that may be made possible by stem cell technology and cloning to politicians, journalists and general audiences. Teitelbaum does so to help generate support for a Missouri stem cell ballot initiative that, if approved, would keep stem cell research and its possible cures legal in the state.

Teitelbaum, the Wilma and Roswell Messing Professor of Pathology and Immunology, will join a panel of scientists and policy makers who will use the Missouri stem cell initiative as a model for understanding how scientists and policymakers can work to establish effective lines of communication as they consider controversial public policy decisions that have the potential to affect cutting-edge research programs.

“Stem cell research is the most important issue for medical research and future patient care that I can recall in the 44 years I’ve been a Missourian,” says Teitelbaum, who was one of several scientific experts invited to testify on stem cell technology to a U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

As a young physician at Washington University School of Medicine, Teitelbaum became interested in a genetic disorder known as osteopetrosis. Children afflicted with the disorder make too much bone, leading in serious cases to fatal neurological complications. He was part of a team that developed the first successful treatment for the disorder: a bone marrow transplant from an immunologically matched donor.

Steven Teitelbaum
Steven Teitelbaum

Although the treatment proved to be the first successful cure for the disorder, the need to find bone marrow donors who are immunological matches for the patients constrains its application to less than 10 percent of the patients who have this disorder.

Teitelbaum hopes that a new stem cell technology, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which is sometimes called therapeutic cloning, will make it possible to administer that treatment to many more osteopetrosis patients. SCNT transplants the patient’s own DNA into an unfertilized egg cell, providing scientists with a base for potentially developing new therapies that are much less likely to be rejected by the patient’s immune systems.

Teitelbaum notes that SCNT could also benefit another group of patients he regularly sees: organ and cell transplant recipients who develop severe osteoporosis and bone fractures because of the harsh anti-rejection medications they must take to prevent transplant rejection.

“My belief is that it will be some time before we are positioned to safely use these cells for therapy,” Teitelbaum told the Senate subcommittee. “But if scientists are prevented from exploring the biology of human embryonic stem cells, we will never get there.”

For his pioneering research into disorders of the skeleton and the biology of cells that build and deconstruct bone, in April, Teitelbaum will receive the Rous-Wipple Award of the American Society for Investigative Pathology. The society gives the award annually to a pathologist over the age of 50 with a distinguished career in research.

Teitelbaum is past president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR). He has received the ASBMR’s William F. Neuman Award for outstanding scientific and administrative contributions, and the ASBMR Boy Frame Award for Clinical Excellence in the Field of Bone and Mineral Metabolism.

Washington University School of Medicine’s full-time and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.