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Wise, please respond to this, it is in the Asbury Park Press today- Embryonic stem cell funding meeting the needs of researchers

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    Wise, please respond to this, it is in the Asbury Park Press today- Embryonic stem cell funding meeting the needs of researchers
    Embryonic stem cell funding meeting the needs of researchers

    BY TONI MEYER, senior research analyst for the New Jersey Family Policy Council, Parsippany.

    As state officials prepare to make decisions by year's end about who should receive the government's $5 million in grant money for stem cell research in New Jersey, newspaper articles have abounded on the subject and legislators, political figures and researchers have weighed in on the issue. Unfortunately, many have blurred the distinction that exists between the successful uses of adult stem cells in curing humans versus the so-called "promising" research with embryonic stem cells in lab animals. Dr. David Prentice of the Center for Clinical Bioethics at the Georgetown University Medical Center made that distinction very clear. He cited the case of a South Korean woman who had been paralyzed for 20 years but is now walking again, with braces, since being treated with stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood. "In contrast, after 24 years of research with embryonic stem cells, researchers are just now only treating rats with brand-new injuries."

    By blurring this distinction, the public has been led to believe that both types of research are necessary to find cures for dreaded diseases and disabilities. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jon S. Corzine said that limiting federal funding of embryonic stem cell research was "inadequate to meet the needs of researchers." "It's bad science and it's bad medicine and it won't work," he said.

    Little, if any, basis is found for the claim that funding embryonic stem cell research, which destroys human embryos, is even necessary when one considers the latest breakthroughs with adult/non-embryonic stem cells. Month after month, researchers are proving that adult stem cells, and stem cells found in umbilical cord blood and placenta, are suitable for, and showing the most promise for, use in developing all the cures we hope for.

    A commonly repeated claim to support embryonic research was that adult stem cells were not as flexible as embryonic cells, only forming the tissue from which they originated. This claim is being proven false in a growing list of studies since the mid-1990s that show non-embryonic stem cells are just as flexible. Within the last four years, researchers from around the world have demonstrated that adult stem cells from bone marrow, blood, amniotic fluid, placenta, umbilical cord blood and nasal tissue have remarkable plasticity, yet without the problems of tumors seen with embryonic stem cells.

    In August, University of Pittsburgh researchers demonstrated that they can generate any cell from amniotic epithelial cells found in human placenta. This could be used to produce new liver cells to treat liver failure, new pancreatic islet cells to cure diabetes or new neurons to treat Parkinson's disease. In May and June, several research groups showed they could get any cell from bone marrow.


    BY RICK COHEN One of the hallmarks of political debate in recent years has been the blurring of science and rhetoric. Whether it's presidential candidates arguing over global warming or school board members arguing evolution vs. "intelligent design," the pattern is the same: Science is bandied about as a matter of opinion.

    The issue of stem cell research in New Jersey's gubernatorial campaign has taken such a twist — compelling me to step into the discussion.

    At issue is whether to pursue cures only through adult stem cells, or whether we should also provide funding for embryonic stem cell research. As a scientist who has spent the better part of four years working with human adult stem cells from cord blood, bone marrow, adipose and placenta, I can report that there are good, but limited, results. It is very clear that stem cells from bone marrow and cord blood can cure some human diseases. These cells have been transplanted into humans for decades to cure a variety of blood-related cancers. And, researchers are using cord blood-derived cells to help mend certain types of heart disease. Some are transplanting cord blood to help repair spinal cord injuries. Even fetal tissue derived stem cells are being used in Canada to essentially cure Parkinson's disease.

    But the ability of adult stem cells to help cure other types of diseases is not clear. Every disease is different, and so are the stem cells that could provide a treatment or cure. While I envision many treatments derived from embryonic stem cells, the federal limitations on such research have left scientists stuck because of politics.

    The stem cells researchers would like access to — and funding for — are derived solely from fertilized eggs of unknown reproductive capacity. These cells are derived by fertilizing an egg with sperm in a Petri dish, also known as in vitro fertilization. Further, and perhaps most importantly, we are making a suggestion that the majority of the public agrees with: that fertilized eggs be donated to research only when the owners would otherwise destroy them. A stunning 97 percent of surplus fertilized eggs at fertility clinics are simply destroyed.

    Facts is facts



      I will try to respond to this.

      It is sad that the pro-life groups appears to have taken up the position of speaking for scientists instead of asking them what they think about the suitability and availability of the embryonic stem cells that are available for research and therapy in the United States. Even scientists who are against embryonic stem cells agree that it is not sufficient for research and that it makes little or no sense to force US scientists to study some 22 cell lines that are over 5 years old and have all sorts of genetic problems, as well as being contaminated with mouse proteins and possibly mouse genes. Over 100 embryonic stem cell lines are now available to scientists who do not work with NIH funds. These are cell lines that have already been derived. Why is it okay to study the cell lines derived before August 2001 and why is it not okay to study the cell lines derived after that date?

      Embryonic stem cells remain the only cells that have been shown to produce functioning neurons when transplanted into the brains or spinal cords of non-fetal animals. The fact that umbilical cord blood and bone marrow stem cells are turning out to be useful for many conditions is not a reason to stopy studying embryonic stem cells. In fact, the work that is being done now on embryonic stem cells, funded by private foundations or done overseas, has provided new tools that are making it easier for people to grow and expand umbilical cord blood and bone marrow stem cells.

      The best way for people to reduce the likelihood of embryonic stem cells being used for therapies is to support funding of umbilical cord blood and bone marrow stem cell rsearch. This is something that they have unfortunately not done in the past five years. The pro-life groups have been spending all their time and energy railing against embryonic stem cell research and not pushing for more funding of umbilical cord blood and bone marrow stem cell research. At the present, the federal government is spending about $200 million per year on human umbilical cord blood and bone marrow stem cell research. Contrast that to $268 million contract given to the Carnival Cruise Line just to house victims and rescue workers in the aftermath of Katrina.

      Embryonic stem cells are truly special cells. Unlike other stem cells, they are designed to produce all the different kinds of cells by themselves. Adult and umbilical cord blood stem cells usually have to work with other cells before they can produce many different kinds of cells. Adult stem cells move into "niches" in tissues where they receive support and other factors from existing cells in the tissue, to produce the right number and type of cells from the tissue. Embryonic stem cells, by themselves, can produce almost all the cells of the body in culture. It is important to allow scientists to study these cells and not to restrict access to the cells.

      The hold on NIH funding of embryonic stem cell research (as well as inadequate funding of adult stem cell research) has put the United States behind other countries doing stem cell research. It is true that they started far behind us and did not have the infrastructure to do the research. But, they have caught up and are surpassing us in many respects. Although we continue to have the edge on animal stem cell research, it is in the area of human stem cell research where we are falling behind.

      Furthermore, most of the clinical trials of stem cell therapies are now going on overseas and American clinical trials are two or more years behind. For example, the discovery that bone marrow stem cells may be beneficial for failing hearts was made in Germany over four years ago. We are just now catching up, showing the same thing in humans. Spinal surgeons in places like China, Russia, Turkey, Poland, Portugal, and other countries now have more experience in cell transplantation to treat humans than most or any U.S. surgeon. As long as this trend continues, the United States will fall further behind in all types of human stem cell research.

      Some time ago, I made an off-hand remark to a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer that the stem cell debate is tyranny of the minority. A relatively small group of people have managed to mislead and misinform the American public on an issue that is very important. They have done so for reasons that I do not understand, based on groundless fears, and inappropriately linking embryonic stem cells to abortions. There is no relationship between embryonic stem cell research and abortion. Yet, every time I give a talk to the public, somebody in the audience would ask a question that assumes that embryonic stem cells come from aborted fetuses.

      I have met very few people who have told me face-to-face that they would rather throw out leftover blastocysts from fertility clinics than to use them to save lives. It is an indefensible position and one that rings with hypocrisy when one realizes that those who are opposed to embryonic stem cell research are not agitating to save the embryos that are being thrown out. In fact, from discussions in the Political Forum, I realized with shock that the Catholic Church may have taken the position that embryos should be thrown out rather than be implanted into the uterus to create a "snowflake" baby, since they do not think that it is appropriate to commit a second sin to correct the error of the first sin (in vitro fertilization). In short, their concern is not the saving of the blastocysts but to prevent sin from occurring.