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False Marketing of Embryonic Stem Cells

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

The headline was orchestrated beautifully in light of the upcoming Senate vote on stem cell research. Chris Emery was only one of many staff-writers who emphasized: “Paralyzed Rats Walk in Stem Cell Study” (2006). The report comes out of Johns Hopkins Medical Center, where researchers used embryonic stem cells to try to restore neurological function to paralyzed rats. Emery indicated that the research study re-established the electrical path in the rats’ brains and described the work as a multi-pronged procedure “which requires the use of drugs and proteins as well as implanted stem cells” (2006).

Within just a few days of this announcement Reuters news service released a story signifying “Senate Sees Progress Toward July Stem Cell Vote” (Kenen, 2006). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has been biding his time before calling for a vote on federally-backed embryonic stem cell research (S. 471). This latest “good news” was just the platform he was waiting for before taking the proposed bill before the Senate. Since a vote on that bill, known as Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, is expected in July, Christians ought to contact their Senators and urge them not to support the bill. Three years ago a similar study made the news and ushered similar stem cell bills through the House with their stamp of approval. But what is the truth regarding these studies? Are embryonic stem cells the magic bullet we have been awaiting to cure a host of disorders? Or is this a well-veiled attempt to help gain support for a procedure that disregards the sanctity of human life?

In summarizing this latest study, the authors noted: “We conclude that in adult paralyzed rats, functional restoration of motor units with ES [embryonic stem—BH] cell-derived motor neurons is possible, and ES cells represent a potential therapeutic intervention for humans with paralysis” (Deshpande, et al., 2006, 60[1]:43, emp. added). “Potential” is an excellent choice of words, as that is all this study demonstrates—“potential.” Consider the following admission hidden deep within the text of this study:

Animals were followed for 24 weeks and were assessed blindly for functional recovery as defined by the ability to flex the proximal leg under the animal and to push off with the foot. We scored the percentage of animals that could do both at 0, 12, and 24 weeks after transplantation both ipsilateral and contralateral to the C17.2-GDNF transplantation.... Although none of the animals regained the ability to bear weight and step contralaterally to the C17.2-GDNF cell, 25 and 75% of animals regained the ability to bear weight and step ipsilateral to the C17.2-GDNF cells at 12 and 24 weeks after transplantation (60[1]:42).

Wait a second. Didn’t Emery claim embryonic stem cells caused these paralyzed rats to walk? Indeed, he and many other news writers did. They also forgot to mention that this study required an adult stem cell factor boost in order to get the embryonic stem cells to perform and grow correctly.

Unfortunately, all too often the mainstream media is more worried about sensational sound-bites and eye-catching titles than reporting the news accurately.

Consider the following headlines that have gone virtually unnoticed regarding the beneficial use of adult stem cells in research over the past two months:

  • “Patients’ Own Adult Stem Cells May Lead to Better Treatment of Heart Damage”—New Scientist, May 29, 2006.
  • “Cord Blood Transplantation Study Documents Help for Children with Genetic Metabolic Diseases”—Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation, December, 2006.
  • “Doctors Call Adult Stem Cells ‘Cure’ for Incontinence”—Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, May 21, 2006.
  • “Adult Stem Cells Differentiated into Lung Cell; Could be Used to Treat Emphysema and Pulmonary Fibrosis”—Pharmalive.com Businesswire, May 8, 2006.
  • “Previously Unknown Molecule Called Oncomodulin Spurs Regeneration in Optic Nerve”—AScribe Newswire, May 14, 2006.

For those who do not see the irony, consider that Desphande, et al., carried out their research on rats and only reported “potential” benefits. Yet, hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have been conducted demonstrating over and over the efficacy of adult stem cells in human research. (NOTE: For more information, see “Presidential Elections, Superman, Embryonic Stem Cells, Bad Science, and False Hope” at http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2621). Additionally, those who are unsure as to whether this embryonic stem cell research should be hailed as a success are encouraged to visit a “stem cell facts” page online (http://www.stemcellresearch.org/facts/treatments.htm) which clearly identifies 70 different disorders that are currently being treated using adult stem cells. Listed in the far right column are all of the disorders that have shown benefit in human trials from using embryonic stem cells—and the only word in that column is “none.”

Surely logic will prevail. If we can (and do) see therapeutic benefit in a host of human disorders using adult stem cells which do not involve the destruction of human life, why are we pursuing an experimental model that clearly destroys life? Why are we even dabbling in this “potential” field, when adult stem cells have already been proven useful? Last year Senator Sam Brownback held a press conference in which he addressed Frist’s plan to sponsor the embryonic stem cell research bill. Brownback noted:

I am disappointed that Senator Frist has endorsed taxpayer-subsidized destruction of human embryos. While Senator Frist acknowledged that human embryos are nascent human life, he never addressed the most important question: how does one treat human life? Is the young human embryo a person or a piece of property? It is one or the other. The American public deserves to have a thorough debate on this subject in the Senate. We must address the legal status of the young human embryo (Brownback, 2005).

Indeed, if that young human embryo is viewed as life, then he or she deserves the full protection of the law and Constitution as all U.S. citizens. We hope that as this bill works its way through our government, common sense and a sense of morality will proliferate among our lawmakers.

REFERENCES

Brownback, Sam (2005), “Brownback Statement on Expanded Stem Cell Research Funding,” [On-line], URL: http://brownback.senate.gov/pressapp/record.cfm?id=242868.

Deshpande, Deepa M., Yun-Sook Kim, et al., (2006), “Recovery from Paralysis in Adult Rats Using Embryonic Stem Cells,” Annals of Neurology, 60[1]:32-44, July.

Emery, Chris (2006), “Paralyzed Rats Walk in Stem Cell Study,” Sun-Sentinel, [On-line], URL: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/features/health/bal-te.stem21jun21,0,10039 54.story?coll=sfla-news-science.

Kenen, Joanne (2006), “Senate Sees Progress Toward July Stem Cell Vote,” Reuters, [On-line], URL: http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=scienceNews&storyID =2006-06-29T181757Z_01_N29181751_RTRUKOC_0_US-USA-ONGRESS-STEMCELLS.xml.




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