The myth of stem cells as a zero sum game

One of the most common myths is that stem cells are a zero sum game.

What’s a zero sum game?

It’s a dynamic where the overall good in a given situation or system stays the same.

What this means is that in a zero sum game, if something is good for one person, it must be bad for someone else because the overall net situation does not change.pizza

There are real zero sum games in life, but the stem cell field is not one of them.

A great example of a real zero sum game is a pizza to be divided amongst a group of people. Every piece eaten by one person means one less for the others. There is no way around that.

In the stem cell world, some ideologues incorrectly view stem cells as a zero sum game.

In this mythical stem cell world, what is good for one type of stem cells must automatically be bad for another different kind of stem cells.

Usually the zero sum game players believe that what is good for adult stem cells must be bad for embryonic stem cells and vice versa. Interestingly, by contrast, a person advocating for embryonic stem cells correctly seems adult stem cell work not as some kind of enemy, but rather as something positive.

The stem cell zero sum gamers desperately try to promote bad things about embryonic stem cells in the foolish belief that as a result they’ll be helping adult stem cells.

They also believe that any positive thing for embryonic stem cells must be bad for adult stem cells so they attack any claim of the possible positives of embryonic stem cells.

Some of them are even now attacking iPS cells and iPS cell researchers as somehow being biased against adult stem cells and adult stem cell clinics. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Stem cells are not a zero sum game.

In fact, what is good for one type of stem cells is usually also good for other types of stem cells.

It’s not a competition.

Knowledge about embryonic stem cells can actually inform adult stem cell work and vice versa. The advancements with iPS cells are a great example of how knowledge from embryonic stem cells can advance non-embryonic stem cell work.

Stem cell advances in adult, embryonic, and iPS cells are a win-win-win situation, not a zero sum game.

One thought on “The myth of stem cells as a zero sum game


  1. Very good analysis of the situation. I have never quite understood the “competition” that seems to exist in the minds of the anti-ESC faction. The entire NIH court case was part of the same mindset. If ESC cells get funded, the adult (read as “we”) do not. As I have pointed out again and again, adult stem cell research has been fairly well funded since the 1940 (it was call radiobiology in those days). It continues to be funded and to provide new findings all the time. The recent Vatican meeting is another case in point. I was nauseated by many of the news reports on the subject.

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