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July 31, 2004
Column #1,196

                   "Your Own Personal Biological Repair Kit"
     Ron Reagan Jr. was delighted to appear at the Democratic National Convention this week to argue for "the greatest medical breakthrough in our or in any lifetime: the use of embryonic stem cells - cells created using the material of our own bodies to cure a wide range of fatal and debilitating illnesses: Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lymphoma, spinal cord injuries."

     "Millions are afflicted. Now, we may be able to put an end to this suffering." As he spoke, many thought of his father, President Reagan who died of Alzheimer's, a terrible debilitating illness.

     Assume ten years from now Reagan said, "You are diagnosed with Parkinson's
disease." Your doctors "takes a few skin cells from your arm" the nucleus of which is
"placed in a donor egg whose own nucleus has been removed. A bit of chemical or electrical stimulation will encourage your cell's nucleus to begin dividing, creating new cells which will then be placed into a tissue culture. Those cells will generate embryonic stem cells containing only your DNA, thereby eliminating the risk of tissue rejection....

     "Those cells - with your DNA - are injected into your brain where they will replace the faulty cells...In other words, you are cured. And another thing, these embryonic stems cells could continue to replicate indefinitely and, theoretically, can be induced to recreate virtually any tissue in your body. How would you like to have your own personal biological repair kit standing by?"

     There are three major problems with this deceptively sunny picture. 

     First, the "personal biological repair kit" does not exist. There is not one disease that embryonic stem cells have cured. Not one patient who has been helped. Not any success with animals. Not even embryo cells turned into adult cells.

     Testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space
last month, Dr. Jean Peduzzi-Nelson said, "Embryonic/fetal stem cells have the problems of overgrowth, rejection, possible disease transmission and ethical issues.  Tumors have been found in experimental animals and disastrous results have been reported in two separate clinical trials using embryonic/fetal tissue/cells."

     You'd never know those facts from listening to Ron Reagan.

     The second problem is moral or ethical. What Reagan perfectly described is
the way human beings can be cloned. If those cells were planted in a womb, they could develop into a baby - likely one with grotesque deformities. Further, harvesting embryonic stem cells from human embryos causes their death. "Cloning creates new human beings who are destroyed to harvest their cells like a crop," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. It also poses "a tremendous health hazard for women who undergo the procedure."

     Finally, Reagan's web of half truths intentionally neglected to note that many of diseases he mentioned HAVE been successfully treated with (ital) adult (un-ital) stem cells. Dr. Michel Levesque told the Senate subcommittee how he took such cells via a needle biopsy of a man's brain with advanced Parkinson's disease, treated them and injected them back into the patient.

     Furthermore, the patient involved, Dennis Turner, personally told the committee that in 1991 he suffered from "extreme shaking of the right side of my body and
stiffness in my gait and movements." After treatment his trembling has virtually disappeared. Last month as a big game photographer, he shot cheetahs and leopards in the wild and in 2001 scrambled up a tree to avoid being run over by a Rhino.

     Literally hundreds of patients have already benefited from adult stem cell treatments for multiple sclerosis whose symptoms stopped, cancer patients in remission and spinal cord patients who have gotten out of their wheelchairs. Laura Dominquez, 19, who was paralyzed from the neck down after an auto accident, was treated and can now walk 1,400 feet with braces.

     Why isn't Ron Reagan excited about this progress? It would not get him a prime time speech before the Democratic Convention. 

     Furthermore, as Dr. Peduzzi-Nelson put it, "The best way to honor the memory and work of President Reagan is to NOT provide Federal funding for something that President Reagan, if alive today, would vehemently oppose."

     He testified, "The government should not finance an area of research that is not only dangerous but also viewed by many people as unethical."

     Ron Reagan spun myths and half truths that mislead the nation into thinking that embryonic stem cell research is a miracle around the corner.

     The facts point in an opposite direction.

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