What do stem cells and radium have in common?

I’m currently reading a fascinating book that sums up the many ways people concocted to kill each other during the jazz age. Mostly women killing their husbands (The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum).

One thing I’ve learned from the book is that hope and false advertising spring eternal. In those days, radium was sold as a cure for whatever ails you: in health drinks, as lotions. This was before the Food and Drug Administration regulated such claims.

Today, stem cells are the hot cure-all. It’s frustrating because at CIRM, obviously, we believe that stem cells can be used as therapies or as research tools to generate new therapies for a wide range of diseases.

But just because we’re funding potential therapies for, say, Alzheimer’s and heart disease, doesn’t mean the cells would make a useful face lotion. Or health drink.

Unlike the 1920s, advertising claims today are regulated, and because of that L’Oreal has gotten a notice from the Food and Drug Administration pointing out some erroneous claims in their advertising for anti-aging creams. Here’s a link to the letter, sent Sept. 7. According to a story in Newsday:

The FDA this year has targeted a growing crop of beauty treatments that are partly pharmaceutical, such as wrinkle creams with retinol, saying they may need to be regulated as drugs. Michael Landa, the director of the agency’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told a House subcommittee in March that these so-called cosmeceuticals often try to straddle the line between being a cosmetic treatment and a drug.

L’Oreal claims its Genifique product “boosts the activity of genes” and its Absolue Sunscreen “has been shown to improve the condition around the stem cells and stimulate cell regeneration.” Those claims require the products to go through the drug review process, according to the FDA letter.

I imagine it’s easy for people who aren’t following the field closely to get confused about what is or is not a scientifically sound claim for what stem cells are capable of. At this point, a good rule of thumb is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And left to their own devices, some companies, like some women in the jazz era, will try to get away with murder.


One thought on “What do stem cells and radium have in common?

  1. Gee, thanks for this. I just now wrote to L'Oreal asking about their Soy protein that is 'based on increased collagen prodction during in-vitro testing on soy seed proteins'…of course, how would you ever be able to know what they mean, huh. I've always used L'Oreal and like their creams, etc., very much. But I'm concerned about them using some sort of unborn human (or animal!) parts in their research – nevermind in their products! Thanks for any input.
    Reta Tallman, Reno, NV nevadatap@charter.net

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