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March 11, 2009
Column #1,437
Embryonic Stem Cell Research - A Waste of Money
by Mike McManus

Barack Obama announced a reversal of the Bush policy that limited embryonic stem cell research, because the President said he wanted to ensure that "we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology," sparking applause from attending Democrats at the White House.

Actually, the reverse is true.  Since President Bush took a stand against destroying embryos in order to get embryonic stem (ES) cells, Democrats pounced on the issue, fighting for unfettered ES research.  That seemed reasonable even to many Republicans, and was a reason that Democrats won control of the House and Senate in 2006, and the Presidency in 2008.

The media trumpeted the Obama reversal.  ABC's Lisa Stark pontificated, "The president's move will free up federal dollars for more widespread research on embryonic stem cells, the so-called master cells of the body. Supporters say it may lead to cures for diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimers."

That is erroneous reporting at two levels.  While $8 billion of the stimulus package was earmarked for the National Institutes of Health, a federal law has blocked federal funding of ES research and Congressional action is needed to open the federal spigot.

Second, there is NO evidence that ES research will lead to cures for major diseases.

There is not ONE disease which has been effectively treated with embryonic stem cells, not one.  Finally, "Every disease that the President mentioned which he hoped someday to treat with embryonic stem cells - there already is evidence that adult stem cells have already helped patients with those diseases," said Dr. David Prentice of the Family Research Council.

"Patients with Multiple Sclerosis treated with their own adult cells have gone five years without symptoms," he said. "Thirteen patients with Type I Diabetes have become insulin free after their own adult stem cells were transplanted." Six patients with spinal cord injuries have improved functioning after an adult stem cell transplant.  They have feeling in legs, and able to walk with braces.

One patient with Parkinson's Disease had the disease significantly reduced for five years reports a new study.  More than 100 patients with damaged hearts, had their own stem cells injected. They can now walk and are no longer in bed.

More than 70 diseases have been successfully treated with adult stem cells. The question which must be asked of the Obama Administration is this: "Why aren't the billions being invested in clinical trials of these proven strategies, rather than in embryonic stem cells?"

In fact, the inventor of embryonic stem (ES) cell research, Dr. James Thomson, told "The New York Times" that he had ethical concerns about embryonic research from the outset. "If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough."  A human embryo is killed to extract a stem cell for research.

Therefore he kept researching and came up with "induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells" that "meet the defining criteria that we originally proposed for human ES cells, with the notable exception that the iPS cells are not derived from embryos, but from ordinary skin cells!

I reported this breakthrough in November, 2007: "Two researchers on two different continents published studies in competing on-line magazines ("Science" and "Cell") the same day reporting the same remarkable breakthrough. Both created cells with the properties of embryonic stem cells from human skin cells without destroying embryos or cloning."

"No women's eggs had to be destroyed to create stem cells that could theoretically treat patients with personalized replacement parts for their bodies from their own skin. American and Japanese researchers report they have reprogrammed ordinary skin cells to behave like embryonic stem cells."

Yet President Obama seemed oblivious to this 18-month-old scientific breakthrough.  Indeed, he arrogantly declared that by lifting Bush's restrictions on ES research, he would "guarantee scientific integrity." Rot.

Dr. Thomson, who invented ES, told the NY Times the new iPS technique is much easier: "It involves adding just four genes to ordinary adult skin cells.  It will not be long before the stem cell wars are a distant memory.  A decade from now, this will be just a funny historical footnote."

A FUNNY FOOTNOTE?  Not if Obama pours $8 billion down a useless hole. That will be a tragic waste of money.  First, Congress should re-authorize its ban on embryonic research.

Second, it should direct those billions into more practical stem cell work.  Leukemia patients have had their bone marrow extracted. When blood cells are treated and put back in patients, the cancer disappears!

However, this research has involved few patients. Widespread clinical trials are needed, and are expensive.  That's what federal funds should pay for.

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