July 12, 2004
The stem cell issue is a crucial “sanctity of human life issue. Human
embryonic stem cell, (obtained at the cost of sacrificing an early human being – like you and I once were), have thus far proven to be extremely problematic, not yielding any consistent positive therapeutic results, but yielding some very negative results (ie, in attempts with Parkinson’s disease patients).
On the other hand, adult stem cells, cheap, abundantly available, with no rejection reactions if they come from your own body, have already produced significant positive therapeutic results. However, driven by pressure from the biotecnical industry, and scientists who hold a utilitarian view of life and want access to America’s pool of frozen embryo’s for experimental purposes, the issue has become incredibly politicized.
Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, pluripotent stem cells, progenitor cells are all terms used to disguise the issue both in the media and in bills before legislatures, in order to obtain a vote favorable to the industry, rather than favorable to the embryo.
As physicians who believe in the sanctity of human life, we need to maintain a clear focus on what means what, and who is saying it!
The following is a very informative article by Dr. David Prentice, Professor of Life Sciences at Indiana State University, Adjunct Professor of Medical and Molecular Genetics or Indiana University School of Medicine, and a Founding Member of
Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics:
There are many sources of stem cells, but the two most often discussed are embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells come from early embryos within the first few days of life. Obtaining them requires the breaking apart of the embryo, which necessarily results in death. By contrast, adult stem cells can be found in virtually all tissues of the body from birth onward (as well as in umbilical cord blood and placenta) and harvesting of these cells does not harm the individual from whom they are obtained.
Despite the hype surrounding them, embryonic stem cells actually have little to offer for treatment of disease. Their supposed advantages *unlimited growth and potential for forming all tissues ? are hindrances when it comes to transplants to repair damaged tissue. When transplanted into experimental animals, these cells generally continue this untamed behavior, with a tendency to form tumors or various unwanted tissues.
A recent attempt to treat diabetes in mice using embryonic stem cells showed that the cells did not form insulin-secreting cells, but did form tumors.
Experiments at treating Parkinson’s disease in animals gave a slight benefit, but also killed 20% of the animals with brain tumors caused by the embryonic stem cells.
The scientific literature is filled with similar results, even after over 20 years of research with mouse embryonic stem cells. Cries for more human embryonic stem cell lines to be made available for federal funding are unjustified, as research on current lines shows insufficient evidence that they are either safe or effective. Proponents are playing on the emotions of the vulnerable — lacking facts and making empty promises.
In contrast, adult stem cells (including umbilical cord blood stem cells) have already shown effectiveness in treating disease. It may be surprising to know that there have been hundreds of quiet advances in adult stem cell research, while the loud praise heaped on embryonic stem cells lacks scientific credibility.
The successes of adult stem cells have been documented repeatedly in an avalanche of published scientific papers over the last several years. In animal tests, adult stem cells have successfully treated:
* Heart disease;
* Spinal cord injury.
In human patients, adult stem cells have already demonstrated success for:
* Multiple sclerosis;
* Sickle cell anemia;
* Repairing cartilage damage;
* Growing new corneas to restore sight to blind patients;
* Growing new blood vessels to rescue legs from gangrene;
* Repairing heart damage
* Alleviating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease;
* Restoring movement to spinal cord injury patients.
These successes, using the patients’ own adult stem cells, are advancing rapidly and producing the therapies about which embryonic stem cell advocates can only speculate.
(An extensive list of the adult stem cell literature can be found at: http://bioethics.gov/reports/stemcell/appendix_k.html)
Even proponents of embryonic stem cells admit that adult stem cells are successful:
In a UPI story published October 12, 2003, Robert Lanza of
Advanced Cell Technologies noted that “there is ample scientific evidence that adult stem cells can be used to repair damaged heart or brain tissue* if it works, it works, regardless of the mechanism.”
Stem cell research — adult stem cell research — is daily proving
itself more capable of cures without moral and political difficulties. If we are truly interested in providing treatments for suffering patients, we should rapidly pursue that which shows real promise.
[AAPLOG, 12Jul04, email]