Stem Celling

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What Scientists Aren’t Telling You About Stem Cell Technology

by Bill Sardi by Bill Sardi

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It’s said that Bible believers set back scientific progress when they asserted a few centuries back that the world is flat. Actually the Bible describes a circular Earth and it was the scientific community that mistakenly asserted the world is flat. [Book of Isaiah 40:22]

With that said, we now hyperspace in time to the ethical and scientific issues surrounding stem cell technology. The claim is that Christians are needlessly confining paralytics to wheelchairs and the blind to darkness over archaic moral beliefs that the use of embryonic stem cells is akin to murder.

Not outlawed

A common misconception is that stem cell research is outlawed. It isn’t. It is not against any written law to conduct embryonic stem cell research. It’s just that the federal government hasn’t provided all the free money for research of embryonic stem cell studies that scientists now demand. Forbes Magazine reports that $40 million is directed to such research from federal funds annually. The research could be done more economically offshore, but the big carrot is to keep jobs and the technology onshore.

In addition to an endless supply of money, what the researchers want is access to embryos when they are five-day old balls of hundreds of cells, such as from fertilized eggs discarded after an in vitro fertilization.

Billionaires to the rescue

A consortium of billionaires has come to the rescue of stem cell research because of a Presidential ban that limits investigation to current libraries of existing embryonic and adult stem cells but no new embryonic stem cell lines.

The secular-minded billionaires are throwing their dollars at the embryonic stem cell researchers. Some of the names worth mentioning are Eli Broad, who is donating some of his $6 billion fortune; Ray Dolby of Dolby sound fame; Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle; Michael Bloomberg, the current millionaire mayor of New York City; and Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. [Forbes Magazine, Sept. 4, 2006] It’s as if these billionaires have only one thing they can’t buy, perpetual youth, and they long for a day when their brains will have fresh cells implanted so they can avoid senility. However, it’s just not that simple. What would memory-less brain cells do once implanted into the cranium?

Who will prevail: science or God?

Federally-funded research labs have taken to purchasing privately-funded lab equipment to further their research and mock the current ban by placing stickers on duplicate equipment that can’t be used. Let’s make it clear, we’re back to the Earth is flat debate. Christians are being mocked for standing in the way of scientific progress. It is alleged the followers of Jesus, the Son of God who restored sight to a man born blind and mobility to another man who couldn’t walk, object to the destruction of human life for the promise of freeing the infirm from the confinement posed by their physical disabilities.

Andy Grove of Intel fame, asks "science always wins out, but how many people die in the meantime?" Is that a fair appraisal of the situation?

Stem selling

Chris Smith, Republican representative from New Jersey, says "despite effort by some to quell reality, one of the best-kept secrets in medicine today is that umbilical-cord-blood stem cells and adult stem cells are curing people from terrible conditions and diseases." [The Hill, August 15, 2006] OK, if umbilical cords and adult tissue are sufficient, why the need for the embryonic stem cells?

Well, Rep. Smith overstated the progress in stem cell technology. He goes on to say that "these miracle treatments have the potential to cure millions and could quickly be made available to tens of thousands of patients" with the passage of legislation that he authored [HR 2520]. Notice the phrase "potential to cure." Rep. Smith says stem cells have been used to treat 65 diseases including leukemia, osteoporosis and sickle cell disease. Ah, but there is a vast difference between experimental treatment and a proven cure.

Science takes ten steps backwards

The New York Times recently said there has been a marked shift in scientists’ views and "many no longer see cell therapy as the first goal of the research." [New York Times, August 14, 2006] What? Researchers now concede embryonic cell research would only serve as a study tool to uncover the mechanisms of disease. This means researchers used the false claim of impending cures to gain public approval, false science to gain credibility (stem cell colonies used in a landmark research paper published in Science Magazine were faked by Dr Hwang Woo-suk of Korea), which led to the resounding passage of a $3 billion ballot initiative in California for embryonic stem cell research.

Ah, but the scientists must feel they have to skirt around the rules of scientific integrity to overcome the conservative Christians who oppose their hallowed research. So, in the minds of many, the Christians also get blamed for pressuring scientists to cheat. Such is the mindset these days.

Blame it on Buddha: After publication of two reports describing successful stem cell research in Science Magazine, one of the leading scientific journals in the world, Korean researcher Hwang Woo-suk became a national hero. A postage stamp was even created showing a wheelchair-bound person being able to walk again. Hwang Woo-suk credited his breakthroughs to belief in Buddhism. “I am not versed in the creeds of Buddhism. But when I carry out research, I always check whether they square with the sublime spirit of the Buddha." Woo-suk’s research was later discredited, Science magazine retracted the reports, and this Korean professor resigned his post at Seoul National University.

Take up thy bed and walk

In the public’s mind, the lame were just about to get up and walk. Actor Christopher Reeve (Superman), after watching researchers inject stem cells into paralyzed rats and seeing their spinal cords mend, declared that "stem cells have already cured paralysis in animals," in a commercial he filmed a week before he died. [Time Magazine, August 7, 2006]

What the researchers weren’t telling Reeves is that human embryonic stem cell implantation is hindered by the fact that the host’s body will reject the stem cells much like an organ transplant. Life-long immune-suppressing drugs would be needed. [Stem Cells 24: 1628-37, 2006] Would you say it was cruel to mislead a man in a wheelchair that a cure was imminent? In the name of scientific progress, are there no boundaries?

The New York Times article says the ability to convert embryonic stem cells into specialized types of brain, retina, liver or heart cells, is not "straightforward or predictable."

But researchers are far from abandoning stem cell technology. The New York Times article indicates dopamine-producing cells from aborted fetuses, when injected into the brains of Parkinson’s patients, do have an effect, which suggests real therapy once researchers learn how to make it work. But did the Times say "aborted fetuses" without pausing even a moment over the ethical issues posed by use of tissue from an aborted baby? With a growing population of retirees and a shrinking birth rate, will society end up encouraging abortion for an endless supply of embryonic stem cells?

Public easily swayed

Apparently public support for stem cell technology can be swayed when it becomes something that is more likely to benefit more Americans. The number of diseases on the stem cell therapy list is small, affecting just 17 percent of the populace. But when the public hears the stem cell technology could cure Alzheimer’s disease, which increases the number of people who might benefit, 69% support the research. [Slate, August 10, 2004, William Saletan, Revelation of the nerds, The religion of stem-cell research]

Americans continue to say it is more important to conduct stem cell research that might result in new medical cures than to avoid destroying the potential life of human embryos involved in such research (by 57% to 30%). [The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, July 2005 poll] Many Americans who hold a favorable opinion towards embryonic stem cell research may not perceive this as a conflict with their religious values and position against abortion.

Believe!

There is a zealous belief system about stem cell technology. Democrat Nancy Pelosi is quoted as saying stem-cell therapy has "the Biblical power to cure." Rep. James Langevin of Rhode Island, a paraplegic, proclaimed his "strong faith that we will find a cure." It sounds like stem cell technology has become a religion.

Where’s the science?

Well, people may have their hopes wrapped up in it, but it isn’t good science, and it’s strange that groups which oppose embryonic stem cell technology have not objected to it on scientific grounds, especially after the fraud involving the Korean researcher that was published in one of the most prestigious scientific journals.

First, it’s not like stem cell research is new. It began in 1981. Where are the cures?

Fertility expert Lord Winston of Great Britain has said "the potential benefits of embryonic stem cell research have probably been oversold to the public." [BBC News, August 15, 2006]

Stephen L. Minger, director of stem cell biology laboratory at King’s College in London, along with colleagues, has stated that while "the use of human embryonic stem cells has been hailed as the next major step in the battle against serious degenerative disorders," that "stem cells have not been grown that would be expected for any pharmaceutical product destined for use in humans." He says the premature use of stem cells could "put many patients at risk of viral or prior diseases." [British Medical Journal, May 21, 2005] Recall the polio vaccine that mistakenly infected millions with the Simian 40 virus that causes lung tumors.

Ethical embryonic stem cells? Researchers now claim they can remove a single stem cell from a fresh 8-10 cell embryo.

Ethical stem cell lines

But now, suddenly, researchers say they have created "ethical embryonic stem cell lines" by gleaning single cells from embryos, a process that leaves the embryo intact. [Nature Magazine, 429: 216-19, August 24, 2006] The researchers never said how many embryos were destroyed before they refined their methods. No data is provided on how many embryos a single cell could be successfully obtained from before causing a death. Would it be OK to extract a single cell from embryos if only 5 in 100 were destroyed or damaged?

Ronald Green, head of Dartmouth College Ethics Institute in Hanover, New Hampshire, says “I think it’s a way out of the moral impasse in the United States.” But again, science has jumped the gun. We don’t know if a couple of cells removed from a very immature embryo (8—10 cells) will cause defects or lower its chance of implantation in the womb. Science still has its toes over the moral line in the sand.

Stem cells cause cancer?

As if stem cell advocates don’t have enough obstacles to overcome, another scientific problem has arisen. There is the real concern that stem cells injected into the human body will trigger cancer. Stem cells are immature cells that have not yet differentiated into specialized cells for nerves, heart or muscle tissue. Stem cells are the very cells that are targeted by the process that initiates cancerous cells. Stem cells lack something called gap junctional intercellular communication. So do cancer cells. Researchers are already talking about having to use anti-tumor molecules from nature, such as resveratrol from grapes or other molecules from green tea, to promote gap junctional intercellular communication in implanted stem cells. [Biomedicine & Pharmacology 59: S326-31, 2005; Biochemical Biophysical Research Communications 275: 804-09, 2000]

You mean a person could get cancer by having stem cells implanted? Researchers are talking about that possibility. And they could possibly become infected with a hidden virus? The public hears none of this. It is kept hidden from public view by the research community that is moving in lock step towards the introduction of technology that currently has no foreseeable way of ever working.

The public should not have such a mass charade pulled on them any more than Christopher Reeve did when researchers used him to gain public support for their self-serving scientific investigation.

In early December of 2004 world news sources reported on the stunning ability of Hwang Mi-Soon, 37, to walk again days after an umbilical cord stem-cell transplant performed in South Korea.

Mi-Soon had damaged her lower back in a car accident in 1985 and had been confined to her bed or a wheelchair for nearly 20 years, said the report. Since Mi-Soon received stem cells from umbilical cord tissue and not embryonic cells, the procedure was considered ethical. But there has been no update on Mi-Soon’s condition since then. Has Mi-Soon’s immune system begun to reject the implanted umbilical cord tissue? Researchers said in 2004 that Mi-Soon’s case required confirmation by independent sources. If a miracle, why haven’t more of these umbilical cord implantations been performed since then?

Basic versus applied research

Somehow, science has become less practical these days. The cures of Gyorgi, Funk, Pasteur, Fleming and Salk are no more, and medical investigation has become an end in itself, a jobs program that prolongs the discovery of a cure to ensure life-long employment for its legions of researchers. Basic research is prized above applied medicine. The medical research community has more to deliberate than the ethical issue over the use of human embryos; it is complicit in deceit and public misdirection.

And as for the antiquated Christians, if not for them, there would be no one standing in the way of this chicanery. At least the Christians drew their line in the sand. Science without discipline and boundaries is not science at all.

Life in limbo: Fertility clinics are a source for embryonic stem cells. Doctors remove human eggs (oocytes), fertilize them, then return them to a woman’s womb to initiate a pregnancy. The leftover fertilized embryos, which are stored or discarded in fertility clinics, are a potential source of embryonic stem cells. U.S. Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Redondo Beach, CA), talking in political double-speak, has said “Federal funding for embryonic research should not be caught up in the abortion debate. Stem cell research is pro-life. It will save lives, not take them. If the embryos used in this research are simply discarded, we discard with them not only the hope of patients across the country, but also the promise of a new generation of medical cures,” said Harman. But just when does life begin if not at the moment when cellular multiplication begins, when an oocyte becomes an embryo? Examine the chart above — when?

Addendum: Stem Cell Report: After posting my report on stem cell technology online, news sources began correcting the false claim that a company had created an u201Cethicalu201D technique to remove single embryonic stem cells without harming the embryo. The press release was based upon a study published in Nature magazine. [Nature advance online publication 23 August 2006] The company’s press release said it had achieved a breakthrough, but a consumer watchdog located the early-released online report in Nature Magazine and found the method left all the old embryos dead and only 2 stem cell lines were created from 91 separate cells that were removed. [BioEdge: 8-29-2006] The stock value of the company that made the false claim had dropped in recent months from $3.00 to a low of 40 cents just before the announcement. With the misleading press release, the company’s share price rose by 358% to $1.83. Meanwhile, a group of scientists in Britain issued an urgent bulletin in the London Times, warning the public away from unproven stem cell therapies now being offered in foreign countries. [London Times, August 29, 2006] Stem cell technology is rife with fraud, and to add insult, Hwang Woo-Suk, the disgraced South Korean professor who submitted two falsified researcher papers that were later withdrawn from publication, has now been reinstated at Seoul University to study human cloning. Hwang will now focus on creating human clones to provide spare parts for humans.

Bill Sardi [send him mail] is a consumer advocate and health journalist, writing from San Dimas, California. He offers a free downloadable book, The Collapse of Conventional Medicine, at his website.

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