By Reason McLucus
Congress should investigate the false claims being made by advocates of embryonic stem cell research, particularly in light of the recent statement by Ronald D.G. McKay of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “To start with, people need a fairy tale. Maybe that’s unfair, but they need a story line that’s relatively simple to understand.”
McKay’s statement implies that embryonic stem cell researchers are deliberately lying about the value of their research in order to take money away from other areas of research that offer more promise for treatments of various disorders. Congress needs to determine if new laws are needed to prohibit researchers from making false claims to obtain funds for their research.
Embryonic researchers have been taking advantage of people with dread disorders like Type I Diabetes or Alzheimer's by claiming that embryonic stem cells could somehow cure them when in fact even adult stem cells cannot cure the disorder. Stem cells cannot cure anything. They merely replace damaged cells.
A patient's adult stem cells can help increase the size of a partial
liver received as a transplant, but stem cells cannot cure any type of
Scientists can already generate the adult stem cells that would be useful if stem cells could “cure” disorders like Type I Diabetes or Alzheimer's by themselves.
For example, for disorders like Type I Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis and Lupus in which the body’s immune system attacks some of its own cells, stem cells cannot “cure” the disorder because they cannot stop immune system attacks.
The immune system attacks what it considers “invaders” by recognizing proteins on the surface of bacteria or viruses. Normally the immune system doesn't attack parts of its own body, which is why a person's adult stem cells provide the preferred method of treatment. Organs or stem cells from another body might trigger an immune system attack on the new parts.
In Type I Diabetes, the immune system “thinks” the proteins on the surface of pancreatic cells identify those cells as “invaders” and attacks them.
Simply introducing pancreatic cells wouldn’t stop the attacks. The immune system would treat the new cells as invaders and attack them.
For immune system disorders, the first step should be to stop the immune system from attacking the body’s own cells. Some success has been achieved in this area by suppressing or eliminating(zapping) the immune system.
Harvard University study reported success three years ago on a study
using mice with Type I Diabetes. They zapped the immune systems of the
mice. Before researchers could implement additional treatment, the mice
grew new insulin producing islets.
A recent University of Minnesota study
reported on using anti-CD3 monoclonal antibodies to suppress the specific
white blood cells that attack pancreatic cells. They then infused insulin
producing islets from a single donor pancreas into several patients. Four
recipients were insulin independent for one year, three recipients for
more than two years and two recipients for over three years.
Lupus is an immune disorder in which the immune system attacks various
organs of the patient’s body. The Northwestern University Medical School
immune suppression and stem cell transplantation to treat patients
with severe lupus. The stem cells were taken from the patients prior to
chemotherapy to suppress the immune system. After chemotherapy the stem
cells were reintroduced. These “naive” stem cells lacked the programming
of the immune cells that had been attacking the patients’ organs. On
average, patients were symptom free after two years.
Alzheimer’s involves the accumulation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary
tangles that disrupt and eventually kill brain memory cells. Adding new
cells cannot stop this process or restore the memories stored in such cells.
Curing Alzheimer’s will require some way to prevent or eliminate the
plaques and tangles.
Various chemicals are being investigated that show some promise of blocking
the formation of amyloid plaques.
UC Irvine have discovered a common molecule of the specific proteins
involved in Alzheimer’s, and related disorders including Parkinson’s,
called toxic soluble oligomers. They’ve had success with a oligomer-specific
antibody that blocks the oligomers’ abilities to kill cultured neuronal
cells in all of the protein groups they studies.
The vaccine they developed was successful in stopping amyloid accumulations
in animals. Human tests were stopped after a small fraction of patients
Scientists have been experimenting with non-chemical therapies to help
Alzheimer’s patients. Researchers
at the University of Miami School of Medicine and Mount Sinai Medical Center
reported that mildly impaired Alzheimer’s patients who participated in
three to four months of cognitive rehabilitation had a 170% improvement,
on average, in their ability to recall faces and names and a 71% improvement
in their ability to provide proper change for a purchase.
The participants also could respond to and process information more
rapidly and were better oriented to time and place compared to a similar
group of Alzheimer’s patients who did not receive this targeted intervention.
These improvements were still evident three months after the cognitive
Scientists can already produce the neurons and glial brain cells affected
by disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Doctors have found that
giving Parkinson’s patients dopamine producing neurons only helps for
a short period until those cells are also destroyed. A cure for Parkinson’s
will require some method of stopping cell damage.
Advocates of embryonic research have suggested that embryonic stem cells
are necessary to treat spinal cord injuries. However, Dr.
Carlos Lima is already using patients’ own adult stem cells to treat
spinal cord injuries at the Egas Moniz Hospital in Lisbon, Portugal. The
cells are taken from the patients’ noses and then transplanted into spinal
Doctors are already using adult stem cells to treat heart patients and
replace corneas. Within a few years dentists believe they may be able to
use adult stem cells to grow new teeth. Adult stem cell research is producing
so many new results that there may never be a need for embryonic stem cells.
Researchers who have chosen embryonic research are losing out to those
who chose adult stem cell research. It shouldn’t be surprising that embryonic
stem cell researchers might feel they need to use desperate measures to
gain funds for research that may be irrelevant. Instead of trying to take
money away from research with the potential to treat or even cure dread
disorders, embryonic researchers should switch to the study of how embryonic
development may affect various birth defects like spina bifida.
Congress needs to study how medical researchers promote their research
to insure that they don’t defraud people by making false claims about
the potential value of the research. Congress should also insure that money
isn’t diverted from useful research to fund research that isn’t relevant
to the intended purpose.
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For more information on adult stem cells see the Do No Harm website.
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