Monday, July 20, 2009

Embryonic Stem Cells 'Obsolete'


By INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Thursday, July 16, 2009 4:20 PM PT

Bioethics: The former director of the National Institutes of Health, once an enthusiast for embryonic stem cells, now says their future has "dimmed." So why is the administration bailing out research into such therapies while troubled states like California have committed billions?

Read More: Health Care

Aside from creating or saving a few research jobs, the administration's decision to federally fund embryonic stem cell research is, as we've noted, a bailout of bad science. It throws money at an avenue of research that time and adult stem cell progress have passed by.

Applauding the administration's move was Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., who echoed the claims of embryonic stem cell supporters when he said the research has "the most remarkable potential of any scientific discovery ever made with respect to human health."

Potential it had. Actual results, not so much.

Michael Fumento, former IBD writer and now director of the Independent Journalism Project, writes in Forbes that adult stem cell research has lapped the field and that adult stem cells "have now treated scores of illnesses including many cancers, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, immunodeficiency disorders, neural degenerative diseases, anemias and other blood conditions."

He notes that while there has never been an embryonic stem cell clinical study, adult stem cells "have been used in over 2,000 human clinical trials." So why is ESCR attracting so much government money? Part of it is ideology, and part of it is money.

"Research funding can generate tremendous income with no treatments," Fumento says, "because human and animal ES cells, and materials and techniques used to manipulate them, can all be patented. Licensing fees make them worth a fortune."

Research forever, cure never. Embryonic stem cell research has become sort of a medical bridge to nowhere.

Writing in her U.S. News & World Report column after President Obama announced his plan, Dr. Bernadine Healey, director of the National Institutes of Health under Bush 41, said that "embryonic stem cells, once thought to hold the cure for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and diabetes, are obsolete."

Even worse, they can be dangerous. They are difficult to control, to coax into the specific type of tissue desired. Unlike adult stem cells taken from a patient's own body, ES cells require the heavy use of immunosuppressive drugs.

Recently, we wrote of how the family of an Israeli boy suffering from a lethal genetic brain disease sought a solution in the form of injections of fetal stem cells. These injections apparently triggered tumors in the boy's brain and spinal cord. Such tumors are called teratomas, or "monster tumors", can grow larger than a football and can even contain body parts such as hair, eyes and teeth.

Healy is not alone in her skepticism. British fertility expert Lord Robert Winston said in a 2005 lecture, "I am not entirely convinced that embryonic stem cells will, in my lifetime, and possibly anybody's lifetime for that matter, be holding quite the promise that we desperately hope they will."

Real promise is held in what are called induced pluripotent stem cells. In 2006 researchers led by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Japan's Kyoto University were first able to "reprogram" human skin cells to behave like embryonic stem cells. They can do everything stem cells from destroyed embryos can do, except without the moral baggage or the destroyed embryos.

The National Institutes of Health say this type of stem cell offers the prospect of having a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, to name a few.

Embryonic stem cell research has already consumed a lot of government dollars. California's Proposition 7, supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, created a $3 billion research effort — money the state could use now — to fund research allegedly banned at the federal level, even though no such ban existed. Other states, including New Jersey, New York and Connecticut now fund ESCR research.

Expect such funding to expand greatly now that the federal spigot has been turned on. Never mind that adult and induced pluripotent stem cells have made such research obsolete.

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