The Stem Cell Debacle: Ideology Over Science

If there was any doubt that Doug Kmiec is now officially a useful idiot, Obama erased them when he signed an order allowing taxpayer money to be used for research on embryonic stem cells.

Never mind the fact that embryonic stem cells have never successfully been used in any kind of therapy whereas adult stem cells have been successfully used in hundreds of different treatment for hundreds of thousands of patients. In fact, most physicians agree that embryonic stem cells are so unstable that the outcomes of treatments using them cannot be accurately predicted.

Such was the story of a nine-year-old Israeli boy who was treated for ataxia-telangiectasia, a disease that causes degeneration of parts of the brain, with fetal stem cells. those fetal (i.e. embryonic) stem cells developed into a brain tumor. Doctors removed the tumor, but it has been gradually growing back since the surgery.

From Scientific American:

The theory is that because these stem cells are fetal cells, they are designed to proliferate and give rise to new tissue, which means they have the potential to produce tumors. The case, write the authors of this week’s case study, should serve as a warning that more research is needed to gauge the safety of these novel therapies.

Other stem cell experts echo their concerns and worry that scientists don’t yet understand exactly how stem cells used in such treatments behave once inside the body. Treating neurological disorders with stem cells from fetal brains is a “great scientific goal to pursue,” but there is simply not enough evidence from animal studies, let alone human studies, to prove it is safe or effective for treating these diseases in children, says Sean Savitz, a neurologist at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

Scientific American predicted this is June of 2006:

Stem Cells: The Real Culprits In Cancer?
Michael F. Clarke and Wichael W. Becker
Scientific American
June 2006

But, is there any hope from any kind of stem cells?

The answer is: Yes. Adult stem cells offer a better hope than embryonic stem cells.

Savitz has just begun enrolling patients in a study on treating adult stroke victims with their own—adult—stem cells. The intent of the boy’s treatment must have been to use these fetal stem cells to regenerate tissue lost in certain areas of the brain, Savitz speculates, but he adds, “we don’t have a full understanding of how [brainlike] stem cells can generate different cells in the brain.”

Savitz says that the stem cells used in his trial are not likely to cause cancer because they are adult cells taken from bone marrow that die once they have accomplished their mission of repairing brain tissue. In their study, Savitz and his colleagues will remove cells from the bone marrow of patients 24 to 72 hours after they suffer a stroke, isolate hundreds of millions of stem cells from that marrow and then re-inject the stem cells into the bloodstream.

Once inside the body, the stem cells will migrate to the brain and promote new blood vessel growth, reduce inflammation, and rescue neurons at risk of dying, Savitz hopes. And once they have done their job, they will basically commit suicide—unlike fetal neural cells, which tend to set up camp and proliferate, setting the stage for possible tumor formation, he explains.

And Dr. Savitz is not the only physician that feels this way.

Dr. Bernadine Healy recently wrote a blog piece about why embryonic stem cells are obsolete. In her essay, she notes the example of the nine-year-old Israeli boy:

His experience is neither an anomaly nor a surprise, but one feared by many scientists. These still-mysterious cell creations have been removed from the highly ordered environment of a fast-growing embryo, after all. Though they are tamed in a petri dish to be disciplined, mature cells, research in animals has shown repeatedly that sometimes the injected cells run wildly out of control—dashing hopes of tiny, human embryos benignly spinning off stem cells to save grown-ups, without risk or concern.

That dream was still alive only a few weeks before this report. Within days of Obama’s inauguration, the Food and Drug Administration approved its first-ever embryonic stem cell study in humans: the biotech company Geron’s plan to inject highly purified human embryonic cells into eight to 10 patients with acute spinal cord injuries. (The cells are from a stem cell line approved by Bush because it predated his ban.) The FDA should now be compelled to take another look: Are eight to 10 patients enough, or one year of monitoring sufficient, to assess safety? And doctors who participate in the trial will have to ask what every doctor must ask before performing research on a human subject: Were I this patient, would I participate? Would I encourage my loved ones to do so?

I wouldn’t want any of my loved ones participating in something like this. Given the track record of embyonic stem cells, it seems more like a death sentence than any kind of avenue for hope.

Again, is there another ray of hope?

According to Dr. Healy:

To date, most of the stem cell triumphs that the public hears about involve the infusion of adult stem cells. We’ve just recently seen separate research reports of patients with spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis benefiting from adult stem cell therapy. These cells have the advantage of being the patient’s natural own, and the worst they seem to do after infusion is die off without bringing the hoped-for benefit. They do not have the awesome but dangerous quality of eternal life characteristic of embryonic stem cells.

A second kind of stem cell that has triumphed is an entirely new creation called iPS (short for induced pluripotent stem cell), a blockbuster discovery made in late 2007. These cells are created by reprogramming DNA from adult skin. The iPS cells are embryonic-like in that they can turn into any cell in the body—and so bypass the need for embryos or eggs. In late February, scientists reported on iPS cells that had been transformed into mature nerve cells. While these cells might become a choice for patient therapy in time, scientists are playing this down for now. Why? These embryonic-like cells also come with the risk of cancer.

James Thomson, the stem cell pioneer from the University of Wisconsin who was the first to grow human embryonic stem cells in 1998, is an independent codiscoverer of iPS cells along with Japanese scientists. Already these reprogrammed cells have eclipsed the value of those harvested from embryos, he has said, because of significantly lower cost, ease of production, and genetic identity with the patient. They also bring unique application to medical and pharmaceutical research, because cells cultivated from patients with certain diseases readily become laboratory models for developing and testing therapy. That iPS cells overcome ethical concerns about creating and sacrificing embryos is an added plus.

So, what we have here is that adult stem cells offer better hope for treating ailments and induced pluripotent stem cells don’t have to overcome any ethical hurdles for use. Also, fetal stem cells have a track record of being unpredicatable and are known to cause cancer.

So, why are the leftists so intent on spending money and resources on embryonic stem cells?

Because its keeps the abortion agenda moving forward. No other reason.

If this were about medicine and science, the major push would be to fund adult stem cell research and iPS research.

You can access the two articles on-line here:

Fetal Stem Cells Cause Tumor In A Teenage Boy
Coco Ballantyne
Scientific American
February 19, 2009

Why Embryonic Stem Cells Are Obsolete
Dr. Bernadine Healy
U.S. News
March 4, 2009