More MS news articles for July 2001

Adult stem cells preferred over embryonic cells

http://www.kcstar.com/item/pages/opinion.pat,opinion/3accd1a6.713,.html

By MARY PILCHER COOK - Special to The Star
Date: 07/13/01 22:00

Let there be no doubt. Everyone wants to find cures for diseases and stop the suffering of families. We all want breakthroughs on Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, diabetes and other diseases. And we are achieving those breathtaking outcomes -- with adult stem cells.

Notice the difference. There are adult stem cells and there are embryonic stem cells. All too often the media use the term "embryonic stem cells," followed by references to "stem cells."

However "stem cell" research often refers to progress of adult stem cells. Because terms are not precise, articles and polls become misleading and embryonic research is emphasized when it has never helped a single human patient.

A study by Statistical Assessment Service, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization, revealed the unbalanced reporting: "... as the political stakes were elevated, the subsequent silence on nonembryo developments was striking."

The group revealed a widely circulated report that mouse embryonic stem cells were programmed to secrete insulin (Science, April 2001). This research received enthusiastic coverage. However, no mention was made of a more significant development discovered a year earlier, where mouse adult stem cells had successfully reversed diabetes (Nature Medicine, March 2000). Reporters left out that mice receiving embryonic stem cells still died from diabetes.

Information derived from science journals indicate adult stem-cell advances are taking place quickly. Human patients were effectively treated for heart disease using cells from their arm muscles (The Lancet, January 2001); umbilical cord cells repaired brains damaged by stroke or other diseases (Associated Press); and bone marrow adult stem cells in rats created heart muscle and blood vessels. The University of California at Los Angeles used human fat cells to create bone, cartilage and muscle tissues, and adult bone marrow stem cells can form many types of cells, including liver, nerve, brain, etc. (Science, June 2001). Human patients have found success in relief of lupus, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and repairing nerve damage.

Adult stem cells have shown capacity to form essentially any tissue. One enormous advantage of adult stem cells is no transplant rejection, since recipients can use their own tissue. Alternatively, embryonic stem cells have risks of tumors. When early cells are coaxed to differentiate, there is a risk of contamination, which does not happen with adult stem cells.

Unfortunately, embryonic stem cells have been held up as the "potential" universal remedy for disease despite advantages that adult stem cells have already shown us. If the most potential life-saving adult stem cell research were ignored, it would delay valuable studies that are necessary to help people today.

We need to pause, put aside emotion and promises, and take a hard look at this. Science is not the final authority and should only give information that can help guide us. It is up to us to answer questions of what is most efficient and morally correct for humanity. As we do, it is imperative that we consider long-range ramifications of different research methods.

The argument that embryos are going to be discarded anyway is fallacious. Human embryos should not be thrown away. Humanity needs to acknowledge that a human embryo is life that deserves special respect.

There should not be hesitation to pursue research with adult stem cells, since it has not been conclusively determined that embryonic stem cells have more potential for curing disease. We are a civilized society and should not deliberately kill one living human to possibly benefit another.

History offers endless examples of what happens when groups of humans are treated as "less than humans" and as objects for others' use and destruction.

A total ban on embryonic research and human cloning, as the Brownback-Weldon Human-Cloning Prohibition Act in Congress is trying to achieve, would enable all of us to look forward to the future.

Research concentration will then be on the most promising and exciting adult stem cell developments.

Mary Pilcher Cook is a Kansas state representative from District 18. She lives in Shawnee.

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