Thursday, July 01, 2004

No Justification to Fund Embryonic Research

That's the conclusion of a Letter to the Editor in today's Chicago Tribune by David Prentice, a Professor of Life Sciences at Indiana State University.

He writes in response to another letter, published last week, which regurgitated the current agitprop being circulated in the press in favor of embyonic stem-cell research. Embryonic stem-cell research creates human embryos for the purpose of destroying them in order to harvest the stem-cells, and is therefore morally illicit.

The advocates of embryonic stem-cell research typically either:

(a) engage in dishonesty by failing to differentiate it from adult stem-cell procedures, which are morally licit.

or (b) Justify it by promising all sorts of benefits to be gained in the future, everything from curing cancer, Parkinson's disease, liver disease, etc. What they don't say is that all of these promised gains are purely speculative, and there is little actual scientific evidence to back up those claims.

On the other hand, adult stem-cell research is rapidly reaching the status of proven technology that is already producing results.

This is one of the most important life-issues of our time, so I think it's important to read what Dr. Prentice writes:

David Prentice, Professor of Life Sciences
Indiana State University
Published July 1, 2004

Terre Haute, Ind. -- Jose Javier Otero of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine argued that embryonic stem-cell research offers a promising future while adult stem cells are a myth ("Voice of the people, June 22).

As a scientist, it is sad that Otero is seemingly so uninformed about the facts.

It is simply incorrect to assert that adult stem cells are not capable to become any tissue in the body.

This is repeating an outdated litany.

The most noteworthy of several published papers indicating the extensive transforming abilities of adult stem cells is by Catherine Verfaillie's research group at the University of Minnesota. Her research showed (using the same gold standard experiment used for embryonic stem cells) that a type of bone marrow stem cell called MAPC could generate every tissue in the body.

In fact there are more than 200 other scientific references over the last few years that attest to the fact that adult stem cells cannot only generate other cell types but are effective in repairing tissue damage in animals and in human patients.

The exact mechanism of repair is still unclear.

The repair sometimes occurs by fusing with and reinvigorating the tissue, sometimes by generating new tissue cells from the adult stem cells and sometimes by simply stimulating the tissue to begin its own regeneration.

One of the major difficulties with embryonic stem cells is how to direct them into becoming differentiated and thus suitable for transplant.

Most studies show production of the cells result in a mixture of cell types (rather than producing the one cell type needed) and consequently are totally unsuitable for transplant.
Otero is incorrect in asserting that those few differentiated embryonic stem cells that are able to be produced do not form tumors.

A recent article published in the journal Diabetologia explains how researchers attempting to make insulin-secreting cells showed that such differentiated embryonic cells still formed tumors in mice.

Otero rightly indicated that lifting current restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem-cell research would not result in cures tomorrow.

Unfortunately he mistakenly suggested that the current restrictions on funding human embryo research contribute to the misery of suffering patients and their families.

The government has invested in this research, with the Bush administration pouring in more than $20 million to date.

In fact, animal embryonic stem-cell research has been open to funding for more than 20 years, yet there is still little to show for the investments.

The science has demonstrated no justification for putting additional funding or destroying more embryos for such experimentation.