Stem Cells: An Insider’s Guide
(World Scientific Publishing, 2013)

Paul Knoepfler ’89

By William Abernathy ’88
Stem Cells

Stem cells are your body’s most protean agents: supercells that can change into any needed tissue, they offer the hope of amazing regeneration and miraculous cures. Advancements in handling, maintaining, and producing stem cell lines have stirred great excitement and opened novel lines of research that promise tantalizing therapeutic possibilities. These advancements, however, have also given birth to a shady underworld. In Stem Cells: An Insider’s Guide, Paul Knoepfler spells out the basics of stem cells—what they are and what they aren’t—and addresses some of the serious problems facing stem cell science today.

A preeminent advocate for—and critic of—this new field, Knoepfler has gained renown not only as a stem cell scientist, but also as the topic’s most influential blogger (Reed, March 2012), bringing to his writing the unusual perspective of being both a stem cell researcher and a cancer survivor. In his blog, he has mixed it up with just about everyone in the stem cell field: serious researchers, patients desperate for cures, and a rogue’s gallery of charlatans and quacks. Stem Cells: An Insider’s Guide continues this work, providing a detailed view of the current state of stem cell research and the stem cell industry—good, bad, and ugly. 

Because stem cell science is young, promises miraculous results, and dwells in a legal gray area ahead of legislation and regulation, it offers irresistible bait and cover for shady operators out to turn a buck off vulnerable patients. The examples Knoepfler cites range from the pathetic to the macabre: a $625-per-ounce stem cell face cream that contains stem cells from trees, doctors in developing nations injecting medical tourists with stem cells from barnyard animals, and a “stem cell facelift” involving actual human stem cells that, once injected, transformed into a bone growth sticking into one unlucky patient’s eyeball. 

If you or someone you care about is considering a treatment involving stem cells, this guide is indispensable. In plain language, Knoepfler spells out exactly what stem cells can and cannot do. Medically proven stem cell treatments can be counted on one hand. Everything else, he points out, is an experiment. While some of these experimental treatments are ethically conducted by reputable clinicians, most are of dubious value or are outright frauds. Knoepfler’s guide identifies honest operators and provides the tools you need to spot bad ones, to advocate for yourself, and maybe even to talk Grandma out of it.