Bioethicists are debating how, or even whether, one can remain impartial when working for industry as Glenn McGee, founder and editor of the American Journal of Bioethics, joins CellTex, a company that banks patients’ cells for untested stem cell therapies, reported Nature. McGee, who joined CellTex in December of last year and will step down from AJOB on March 1, says he hopes to bring ethical standards to CellTex’s stem cell trials.
CellTex licenses therapies from RNL Bio, a South Korea-based company that converts patients’ fat cells into patient-specific mesenchymal stem cells, which the company claims can be reinjected to treat conditions like spinal cord injury. To date, no clinical trials have been completed that back these claims.
Though criticism has been leveled at McGee for joining CellTex while remaining at AJOB, observers also wonder whether bioethicists can work in industry at all. McGee has argued that bioethicists have a place in industry, thereby helping bioethics to have a practical purpose. Others, such as Insoo Hyun, a stem-cell bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, are doubtful. Hyun developed patient consent procedure for egg donation for Woo Suk Hwang, the infamous Korean stem cell researcher whose claims of human cloning later proved fraudulent.
“I know firsthand how difficult it is to separate conflict of interest—to maintain the role of bioethicist,” Hyun told Nature. “I know you need to not be too chummy with enterprises trying to speed ahead in stem cells.”