Adult Stem-Cell Treatments: A Better Way 12/1/2005
Adult stem-cell research may lead one day to cures for terminal and debilitating diseases
“I hope we will always be guided by both intellect and heart,
Few areas of scientific study hold as much potential as adult stem-cell research. This research is already generating medical breakthroughs and treatments for debilitating diseases and disabilities, such as spinal cord injuries, sickle cell anemia and Parkinson’s. Indeed, scientists laud stem-cell treatments as the “miracle cure” of the 21st century. Unlike so many areas of biotechnology, adult stem cells do not spark a heated debate between scientists and ethicists. However, while adult stem-cell research has no moral problems, embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR) ignores the sanctity of human life in the name of scientific “advancement.”
This issue came to the forefront early in President George W. Bush’s first term. In a 2001 address, he remarked that ESCR “lies at a difficult moral intersection, juxtaposing the need to protect life in all its phases with the prospect of saving and improving life in all its stages.” 2 Too many scientists and politicians have become focused on making breakthroughs while ignoring their responsibility to protect life. Many ignore the bright prospect of adult stem-cell treatments only to celebrate the still-dim possibility of using embryonic stem cells for miracle cures. Yet, while adult stem-cell treatments often lack media hype and celebrity spokesmen, they consistently prove themselves in study after study. Adult stem cells are poised to improve the lives of millions.
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that continually renew themselves through cell division. 3 Unlike other cells, stem cells begin as “blanks” without a dedicated task, but with an ability to become specialized. Scientists hope to use this capability to replace cells damaged by a broad spectrum of diseases. 4
Stem cells come in two types: embryonic and adult. Embryonic stem cells have not yet received an “assignment.” 5 For this reason, they can develop into a number of different human-cell types. 6 Researchers obtain embryonic stem cells from embryos created in fertility clinics and donated to medical research, but many scientists hope to use cloning to mass-produce embryos for this research.
Unlike embryonic cells, adult stem cells can be taken from a variety of sources, including the placenta, umbilical-cord blood, skin, bone marrow, hair and body fat, with no destruction of human life at any stage. 7 Adult stem cells normally develop into their tissue of origin, but increasing evidence shows that adult stem cells have the ability to develop into other cell types, 8 making these cells a viable alternative to embryonic stem cells.
The alternative of adult stem cells is greatly needed in a scientific community willing to go to nearly any length for medical advancement. The use of the human embryo as a source of stem cells holds terrible ramifications, because the process of removing stem cells destroys the embryo. While scientists try to justify their research with the notion that embryos are not yet human life, many ethicists dismiss this idea for what it clearly is-a lie, a feeble attempt to rationalize their experiments.
According to C. Ward Kischer, a human embryologist, “Virtually every human embryologist and every major textbook of Human Embryology states that fertilization marks the beginning of the life of the new individual human being.” 9 [Emphasis in the original.] Professor Hymie Gordon, chairman of the Mayo Clinic, says that, “By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.” 10 Professor Micheline Matthews-Roth, Harvard University Medical School, states, “It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception.” 11 Carrie Gordon Earll, Focus on the Family policy expert, writes:
President Bush agrees. He recalls an ethicist’s warning, saying, “Make no mistake, he told me, that cluster of cells is the same way you and I, and all the rest of us, started our lives. One goes with a heavy heart if we use these, he said, because we are dealing with the seeds of the next generation.” 13
Many remain undecided about the status of the embryo. Hilde Lindemann Nelson, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy at Michigan State University, says, “I don’t think there is an easy answer to what we do with these embryos because we don’t yet have any common standing on what kind of moral status they have.” 14 Former President Ronald Reagan once stated, “If there’s doubt about it, and if there’s mystery, then shouldn’t we be extraordinarily careful?” 15 The smallest possibility of destroying a human life should rule out this research. Science should never advance by sacrificing the very lives it should be trying to save.
Author of Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America, Wesley J. Smith, asks, “Once embryos can be exploited for their stem cells to promote human welfare, what is to stop scientists from manipulating embryos to control and direct human evolution-equally for the purpose of improving the human future?” He notes that many of those who signed a letter to President Bush urging an end to the ban on federal funding for human embryo research were scientists and bioethicists favoring eugenics, 16 a movement that ignores the sanctity of human life and undermines God’s role in His creation.
C.S. Lewis emphasized these dangers when he wrote, “If any age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after are the patients of that power,” slaves to the “dead hand of the great planners and conditioners.” 17
POTENTIAL PANDORA’S BOX
Frighteningly, the 21st century appears to be that age, and scientists may enter this era through the backing of a society that allows them to devalue human life at its earliest and most vulnerable stage.
Not only does the use of embryonic stem cells imperil the sanctity of human life; this “medical miracle” has little scientific validity. These stem cells have not shown any therapeutic benefits to patients. Even leading proponents of ESCR, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, admit, “[T]he human embryonic stem cells … that made headlines in November 1998 because they can, in theory, develop into any cell type have so far produced relatively modest results.” 18
In fact, in some cases, embryonic stem cells have produced horrific results. Neurology reported one such instance where a patient suffering from Parkinson’s disease died after fetal cells were transplanted into his brain. His autopsy revealed that his death had been caused by growth of bone, skin and hair in the brain, probably due to the “transformation of undifferentiated stem cells into non-neural tissues.” 19 Transplant rejection continues to be a major problem. 20 According to many reports, in one out of every five cases in animal testing embryonic stem cells trigger tumors at the point of injection. 21
Patients who would be treated with these cells would risk serious side effects, such as unstable gene expression (abnormal production of proteins from genes) and inability to stimulate the cells to grow certain types of tissue. 22 John B. Shea, M.D., writes, “Even if a specific tissue is successfully produced from embryonic stem cells … therapeutic use of this tissue may cause abnormalities in the person receiving the tissue graft.” 23
Moreover, increasing evidence shows that embryonic stem cells are difficult to control and preserve. Dr. Peter Andrews of the University of Sheffield, England, says, “Simply keeping human embryonic stem cells alive can be a challenge.” Doug Melton, Harvard University researcher, adds, “In my view [human embryonic stem cells] would degrade with time.” 24 Bioethicist Glenn McGee told Technology Review that “the emerging truth in the lab is that pluripotent stem cells [embryonic stem cells able to develop into all cell types] are hard to reign in. The potential that they could explode into a cancerous mass after a stem-cell transplant might prove to be the Pandora’s Box of stem-cell research.” 25
While ESCR consistently turns up dead ends and sometimes-deadly results, adult stem cells continue to amaze researchers with their powers. In fact, the only real medical advances from stem cells have come with adult stem-cell treatments. Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Michael Fumento asserts the advantage of adult stem cells. “Embryonic stem cell research is so far behind it’s like a joke,” he says. “We’re getting everything we need out of nonembryonic stem cells, and what we’re getting is incredible.” 26
Recent scientific developments prove this statement true. A few include:
More importantly, many of these studies have moved into human clinical trials and have yielded tremendous results in fighting many diseases, including:
These are just some of the documented examples showing the promise of adult stem cells. Adult stem-cell treatments have successfully fought Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anemia, thalassemia major, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, 51 blindness, 52 spinal cord injury 53 and renal cell carcinoma. These treatments have also been used to fight many forms of cancer, including ovarian, 54 testicular 55 and breast. 56
Amazing discoveries continue to show that adult stem cells carry all the proposed benefits of embryonic stem cells without the risks. Present in everyone, these cells are noncontroversial and easier to obtain. Furthermore, researchers have found adult stem cells, known as “multipotent adult progenitor cells” (MAPC’s), which, like embryonic stem cells, have the capability to convert into any cell type. They have also found another cell type, the “mesenchymal stem cell” (MSC), capable of making only bone, cartilage, fat and muscle tissues, but with the remarkable ability to cause little or no immune reaction when transplanted. 57 Importantly, this cell seems to go only to damaged areas. 58
These two findings have incredible implications. But even more astounding is the suggestion that the cells can do something ESCR cannot do?be transplanted without fear of rejection. According to Ross Tubo of the biotech company Genzyme, “Put the properties of the two kinds of cells together and all of a sudden you have a noncontroversial, highly versatile source of adult stem cells that can, in theory, be transplanted to anyone.” 59 Everyday, new and ethical discoveries transform today’s science into the cures of tomorrow.
POLITICS, POWER AND PROFITS
Many scientists and politicians know the facts about adult stem cells. They have seen the research about the mounting failures of embryonic stem cells. So why do so many continue to ignore adult stem-cell treatments while aggressively promoting ESCR? The deeply troubling answer involves the power of the media, the advancement of the abortion and eugenics agenda, and financial profit.
Scientists and politicians, like much of society, are slaves to the media, and a few key celebrities have used the media to promote federal funding of ESCR. Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s, Dana Reeve, widow of paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve, and Mary Tyler Moore, stricken with diabetes, have joined the debate, appealing to emotions in their quest to find a cure for these diseases.
These emotional celebrity appeals advance an abortion agenda. In response to the pro-life outcry about the destruction of human life involved in ESCR, abortion supporters have jumped aboard the embryo-research bandwagon. As Wesley J. Smith writes:
Thus they refuse to acknowledge the tremendous potential of adult stem-cell research, fearing the political consequences. When people learn of this pro-life, superior alternative they understand there is no need to pursue an unethical and inferior choice, one that has been promoted as patients’ only hope.
Supporters of eugenics have always tied themselves closely with the abortion movement. On the issue of ESCR, they take an identical stance, with dangerous consequences. The exploitation of embryos to promote advances in science for the “greater good” could conceivably take the final step into the world of eugenics. Once again scientists would promote the “greater good,” but this time scientific advancement would take the form of genetic screening and cloning to weed out the “inferior” in hopes of improving society eugenically. 61
Despite all their efforts on behalf of society, these scientists seem to care little about the individuals who comprise society. Charles Krauthammer describes their real purpose in The Weekly Standard. He writes of embryo research: “It is a clear deception perpetrated by cynical scientists and ignorant politicians. Its purpose is clear: to exploit the desperation of the sick to garner political support for ethically problematic biotechnology.” 62
Another very real factor in the propagation-of-the-embryo lie is financial profit. Scientists engaged in the stem-cell debate are often university and research leaders. However, they also often serve as board members or shareholders in biotechnology companies that would thrive with government funding of ESCR. Several prominent scientists serve as faculty at prestigious universities and research institutes but also maintain close ties with biotech companies involved in ESCR. They include:
These men all have a financial interest in the outcome of the stem-cell debate. The media have quoted these “experts” hundreds of times regarding their support of ESCR, but rarely mention their financial stake in the debate. 63
In addition, some politicians do not have the courage or character to consider the truth. Worse, they feed the lies. Typical of this deception, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) speaks of “so much promise” for incredible medical advancement using ESCR. 64 “So much promise?” Scientists have not come close to finding safe, effective cures with this research.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) states with similar intent, “It is scandalous, absolutely scandalous, that there are so many people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and heart disease and cancer. … [N]ot to have the availability of the best in medical care is simply atrocious.” 65
America cannot justify the cost of ESCR to our humanity. Moreover, the advances with adult stem cells prove America does not face an impossible ethical dilemma.
A MORAL CROSSROAD
And so the lie continues, influencing the debate on embryonic research policy. Although the United States government banned federal funding for research involving the harming or destruction of embryos in 1996, the Clinton administration quickly proposed a way to bypass the law. Under guidelines endorsed by the National Institutes of Health, the government would ignore the research as long as the embryos were killed by a nongovernment-funded source in a “government-approved manner.” The guidelines were largely the work of Marcy Wilder, who had served as legal director to NARAL pro-Choice America immediately prior to joining the Department of Health and Human Services. 66
Notably, several politicians have taken a stand against ESCR. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), for example, firmly opposes ESCR and advocates adult stem-cell research. 67 Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) also condemns ESCR and pushes for ethical alternatives, including bolstering the nation’s supply of cord-blood stem cells. 68
Likewise, the current administration under President Bush refuses to waver from his policy that federal funds should not be used as an incentive to kill embryos. Even as a candidate, he stated, “Taxpayer funds should not underwrite research that involves the destruction of live human embryos.” 69 In reviewing the issue, the administration concluded that the type of funding proposed by the Clinton administration violated the law.
In August of 2001, President Bush announced his decision on this defining moral issue. He stated that the government will not support the destruction of embryos with federal funds, 70 but that he would permit funding of research on already existing stem-cell lines. 71 Adult stem-cell research will also continue, with the National Institutes of Health giving $203.3 million to the research in 2005. 72 Furthermore, President Bush established the President’s Council on Bioethics, initially chaired by Dr. Leon Kass, a University of Chicago bioethicist. TIME magazine quotes the doctor, who wrote, “By pouring our resources into adult-stem cell research … we can avoid the morally and legally vexing issues in embryo research.” 73
Since President Bush’s decision, Congress has made several attempts to bypass him by enacting legislation to grant federal funding to stem-cell research. To date no such legislation has passed both houses. If it does, the President has vowed to veto it.
During World War II the Germans conducted inhumane experiments on concentration camp victims. Their findings could have been used for medical advancement. But ethical scientists around the world refused to use the information because of how it was obtained. 74 They refused to legitimize murder.
Like these scientists, Americans should not condone research that denies the sanctity of human life, especially when an ethical, more scientifically viable alternative exists. Adult stem-cell research must go on, with full support from the American people. The embryonic stem-cell lie must be confronted with the hope of adult stem-cell treatments-the demonstrated “miracle cure.”
NOVEMBER 17, 2005