Stem cells: Where the real hope lies

Posted: Nov 03, 2006 12:00 AM
Stem cells: Where the real hope lies

In the two weeks since I first wrote about the human-cloning amendment on the ballot in Missouri, the debate has really heated up.

Actor Michael J. Fox grabbed headlines by taping a TV ad asking voters there to approve Amendment 2. The amendment is designed “to ensure that Missouri patients have access to [embryonic] stem cell therapies.” These therapies, we’re led to believe, will bring cures for terrible diseases such as the Parkinson’s that, sadly, has stricken Fox and many others.

Then the ever-brave and straight-talking Rush Limbaugh spoke out against this ad, surmising that Fox had deliberately gone off the medication that helps control his tremors (something that Fox himself, in his autobiography, admitted doing before testifying to Congress in 1999). And all this, Rush noted, in the service of an illusory “cure” (as I’ll explain in more detail below). Rush courageously endured a hailstorm of criticism for -- yet again -- giving voice to an uncomfortable truth.

Meanwhile, Missourians Against Human Cloning, a group of state-based scientists, doctors, medical professionals and researchers, has run ads exposing the insidious science of embryonic cloning and research. The ads feature actors James Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ”), Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan.

Why all the high-profile attention for a single ballot question in one state? Because we’re debating a bedrock issue, my friends -- one that means the difference between life and death for some very tiny (but fully human) members of our human family.

First, though -- since we’re dealing with an arena of science that’s extraordinarily complex -- let’s get a little Stem Cell 101. Dr. Kelly Hollowell, a molecular and cellular pharmacologist, is a bio-technology patent attorney at the firm of Williams Mullen. She spoke to an audience at The Heritage Foundation last year and summarized the science this way:

“Embryonic stem cells … are the unspecialized cells that form the basic building blocks for all of the 220 specialized cell types in your body. By harvesting and manipulating these master cells, researchers hope to treat diseases. Cur­rently the primary sources for embryonic stem cells are aborted fetuses and donated and unused embry­os housed in IVF (in vitro fertilization) facilities.

“To obtain embryonic stem cells, an embryo is formed and allowed to mature for five to seven days. The inner mass of the stem cells is then removed, plated and treated with chemicals to become specialized cell types. The problem is that in this process the embryo itself is destroyed.”

Considering that the embryos are, in fact, human beings, their destruction is, indeed, a monumental problem. But in an age of legalized abortion, many people are unwilling to stand up for them. Even if the embryos are human, they say, look at the cures we’ll be getting. How can we turn our backs on scientific progress?

To which we must respond: What “progress”?

As a trip to the Web site of the National Institutes of Health confirms, there is none. Oh, advocates have lots of “hope,” all right. But they have nothing -- that’s right, nothing -- to show for it. Ask Dr. Hwang Woo-suk, the South Korean scientist who resigned last December from his post at the Seoul National University when it was revealed that he had faked his alleged breakthroughs.

Follow the money, folks, because believe me, if embryonic stem cells offered any real hope, private companies would be lining up around the block to fund it. Sure, some would avoid it because of the ethical problems, but not all. That’s why the proponents of embryonic stem-cell research are beating the drums for taxpayer money. It’s their only chance.

Fortunately, we don’t have to turn our backs on stem-cell cures entirely. Other types of stem cells are helping us make substantial progress against disease -- and without any of the ethical quandaries associated with embryonic stem cells. Just this week, it was announced that British scientists have grown the world’s first artificial human liver. And what did they use? Tissue created from umbilical cord blood, taken just minutes after birth.

Adult stem cells are another alternative -- one that preserves life and, well, actually works. According to NIH:

“Adult stem cells, such as blood-forming stem cells in bone marrow (called hematopoietic stem cells, or HSCs), are currently the only type of stem cell commonly used to treat human diseases. Doctors have been transferring HSCs in bone marrow transplants for over 40 years. More advanced techniques of collecting, or ‘harvesting,’ HSCs are now used in order to treat leukemia, lymphoma and several inherited blood disorders.”

Dr. Hollowell points out: “For more than two decades, we have been treating more than 58 different types of diseases using adult stem-cell research. Some of the most startling advancements using adult stem cells have come in treating Parkinson’s disease, juvenile diabetes and spinal cord injuries.”

So, with such promising cures available without the taking of human life, why would Missourians -- or anyone, for that matter -- want to pour millions into embryonic stem-cell research?

Missourians deserve to enter the voting booth armed with the truth. And the bottom line is this: Embryonic stem-cell research is an abomination and a fraud.