STEM CELL RESEARCH: PROGRESS & PR
By Alan Caruba
To encourage passage of proposed legislation that would increase federal funding for ESC research, he has created a “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” campaign (Jericho Communications, 304 Hudson Street, Suite 700, New York, N.Y., 10013) asking people to send the President of the United States a million pairs of old shoes to demonstrate public support for the bill that would provide more funding. After the message is presented to the White House, the shoes will be donated to charity. For more information, people are invited to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stem cell research offers the promise of cures, but lost in the debate about federal funding is the fact that there are two forms of stem cell research, embryonic and adult.
What you rarely read or hear about is adult stem cell (ASC) research. The reason is two-fold. Firstly, embryonic stem cell research has gotten better public relations, but the use of embryos also lies at the heart of a moral tug-of-war between primarily fundamentalist Christians and the scientists advocating more funding for research.
Secondly, ASC research, which may prove to be more promising, gets almost no media coverage because, quite frankly, most reporters are either abysmally ignorant of the progress that has already been made or are biased toward ESC research, thanks to the way its advocates have effectively promised to cure every disease or injury in sight, as well as to the conflict that neatly divides those for and against it. Journalism thrives on conflict.
Frankly, I hope my friend’s wife and all the others in need of a cure can find it, whether it comes from either ESC or ASC. I am personally less concerned about the ethics of using embryos if, in fact, they are going to be destroyed anyway.
My colleague, Michael Fumento, one of the leading science writers in the nation, reports that, “Adult stem cells routinely treat or cure more than 80 different diseases, while no ESC research is anywhere near becoming a human clinical trial.”
ASC research represents real progress, but you aren’t reading about it because the political debate about ESC research funding is drowning out this important fact. “Moreover,” notes Fumento, adult stem cells “are obtained without the ethical conflicts of harvesting human embryos.”
In short, the process of cloning using a human embryo, widely opposed by right-to-life advocates, is not a factor, thanks to the advances already made with ASC research. ESC’s only advantage is that embryonic stem cells can become all cell types, but ASCs have the ability to convert into all three “germ layers” formed during early embryonic development. One involves connective tissues, muscles, and the circulatory system. Another involves skin and nervous system cells, and the third involves the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, and endocrine glands. Thus, ASCs can address a whole host of diseases and injuries.
Should we abandon ESC research? No, but neither should we succumb to the hyperbole about their ability to cure all ills to the extent that we ignore ASC research. Right now, ESC’s don’t cure anything.
The political battle will focus on the moral and ethical issues, but politics is already influencing the number of research grants being administered by the National Institutes of Health. They tilt strongly to ESC research. From 2001 to the present, there have been 750 ESC research grants, whereas ASCs have received only 140 such grants, with an additional 139 for research on umbilical-cord stem cells.
Politics, too, is clearly influencing President George W. Bush’s resistance. The role of Christian evangelicals was critical to his winning the last two elections. There is a touch of irony involved in the political debate occurring. As the legislation seeking more ESC funding continues to make it way through Congress, we can expect Nancy Reagan, the wife of the late President Ronald W. Reagan, to play a role supporting it.
What you are not likely to hear, however, is that there is not a huge surplus of embryos for such research. Writing in a June 5 edition of the Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman reported:
According to a RAND study, these would yield no more than 275 stem-cell lines.
For the task of curing major diseases, an article in Scientific American last year said, ‘hundreds of thousands’ of lines may be needed --- which ‘could require millions of discarded embryos.’”
As these facts become more widely known, the ethics battles may recede. Adult stem cells would, at this point, appear to hold a far greater promise. Either way, what I and countless others want is to see research proceed and the promise of stem cell research to end the suffering of those afflicted by the diseases and injuries which are the cause so much grief today be fulfilled.
Morality, Decency, & Traditional American Family Values
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Alan Caruba is a veteran business and science writer, a Public Relations Counselor, and Founder of the National Anxiety Center, a clearinghouse for information about media-driven scare campaigns. Caruba writes a weekly commentary, "Warning Signs," posted on the Internet website of the National Anxiety Center, which is located at www.anxietycenter.com.
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