October 20, 2002, Sunday, Final Edition
Letters; Forum; Pg. B05
The Washington Times
Actor Christopher Reeve has been receiving lavish amounts of media attention recently. I applaud him for using this attention to raise awareness of people with spinal cord injuries and the need for more research. Unfortunately, he has also used this attention, as in the past, to promote the line of research least likely to help spinal cord injured patients, and to denigrate those who disagree with him.
I also have SCI, am confined to a wheelchair, and share some of Mr. Reeve's symptoms, as well as his attitude toward finding a cure. But I strongly disagree with his promotion of cloning and embryonic stem cell [ESC] research as the only means of finding such a cure. I had the opportunity to debate Mr. Reeve this past May at a forum sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences and confront him with the many misleading and often deceptive statements he has made to promote his pro-cloning agenda. For instance, Mr. Reeve has said that only ESCs can remyelinate nerves, which is an essential element to curing many nervous system injuries. As the research shows, this is simply not true. Scientists have had very positive results in animal models in using adult bone marrow cells, adult neural stem cells and olfactory ensheathing glial cells [found in the nose] to remyelinate central nervous tissue. In fact, researchers at Yale are already treating two human patients with multiple sclerosis with myelinating cells from their own peripheral nerves.
Mr. Reeve has also stated without human cloning, to produce stem cells supposedly genetically identical to the patient's own cells, he is "out of luck" as far as a cure goes. But numerous, well-designed studies have clearly shown our bodies contain easily accessible adult stem cells capable of maturing into virtually every cell type, including neurons and myelinating cells. And because they are taken from the patient, these cells are already genetically identical, with none of the genetic defects that typically result from cloning.
In fact, while Mr. Reeve is frequently dismissive of the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells, research funded in part by his own Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation shows otherwise. In August 2000, the foundation announced a breakthrough with the potential [as it claimed] to treat Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and spinal cord injuries. The research was able to produce a "virtually limitless supply" of genetically compatible nerve cells for transplant, using a patient's own adult bone marrow stem cells.
Like so many other advocates of ESC research and cloning, Mr. Reeve has raised the alarm that adult stem cell research may delay advances in embryonic stem cell research: According to him, "if the government forces scientists to attempt to make adult stem cells [behave] like embryonic stem cells, they might waste five years, or more, and fail."
Actually, the reverse is true. Adult stem cells are by nature designed to play an active part in the body's normal cell replacement and maintenance. In cases of where this process is impaired or damage through disease or injury is too extensive, adult stem cells are too few to cope with the problem. But through research, clinicians are already learning to remove, multiply and implant adult stem cells in numbers able to deal with the problems they face.
In contrast, embryonic stem cells are foreign to adult bodies - even when cloned from the patient. Therefore, unnatural attempts to directly use embryonic stem cells for adult tissue applications leads to mutation, tumor formation and tissue rejection. Furthermore, ESCs derived from cloning are expected by leading pro-cloning scientists to still face rejection when used in adults. In fact, they've already been proven to do so. Each of these critical safety issues may need many years, if not decades, to overcome. Of the two avenues, which is more likely to "waste five years, or more, and fail?"
The fact is, adult stem cells are already in use in clinical trials to treat human patients. In September alone, we have seen reports that adult stem cells have been used successfully to repair heart muscle in patients who had heart attacks, and to restore sight to a blind man. In April of this year, Dr. Michael Levesque of Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles reported a Parkinson patient has been virtually free of symptoms for the past three years after being treated with his own adult neural stem cells.
In marked contrast, researchers in a government-sponsored clinical trial using tissue from aborted fetuses to treat Parkinson's patients published horrifying results last March. The New York Times reported the trials "not only failed to show an overall benefit but also revealed a disastrous side effect. ... In about 15 percent of patients, the cells apparently grew too well, churning out so much of a chemical that controls movement that the patients writhed and jerked uncontrollably ... and there is no way to remove or deactivate the transplanted cells."
Like those fetal cells, embryonic stem cells share a similar tendency to proliferate uncontrollably. And remember, many of the same folks who 10 years ago promised that fetal tissue would cure any number of diseases - including Alzheimer's, diabetes, Parkinson's and others - are now making the same exact claims for embryonic stem cells. The result of following their advice then? Ten years and millions of precious research dollars later, we have no cures from fetal tissue. Should we not be a bit cautious in assessing their current claims for miracle cures using embryonic stem cells?
I believe Mr. Reeve wants to get out of his wheelchair as badly as I want to walk away from mine. The tragedy of Mr. Reeve's using his high-media profile to promote a pro-cloning and ESC agenda based on misinformation is that cures for spinal cord injury and several life-threatening diseases could be crippled or delayed. This avoidable delay would not only be disastrous for Mr. Reeve, myself and others with spinal cord injury, but millions with Heart Disease, Diabetes, and Stroke might needlessly suffer and die.
Mr. Kelly is a patient with a spinal cord injury. He serves as a liaison
between academic and coporate researchers, and non-profit funding resources.
© Copyright 2002 News World Communications, Inc.