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Media Cover-Up, Public Left in the Dark About Adult Stem Cell Superiority

By Michael Fumento, Weekly Standard, February 19, 2007

It is almost definite that a presidential veto will obstruct the democratic controlled house and their recent effort to drive embryonic stem-cell research forward by expanding federal funding. The decision to boost funding won by a 253-174 vote, but fell under the 290 required to take precedence over any potential, and in this case expected, executive branch intervention.

Proponents of the bill say a veto would obstruct scientific efforts that could guide the way to prospective breakthroughs for the treatment of many diseases. But contrary to what many have been led to believe, that is not the case.

Adult stem cells, an ethical alternative to those that are derived from embryos, have proven themselves to be more effective thus far and have accomplished astonishing breakthroughs far beyond anything managed by their embryonic counterparts.

Almost 1,300 clinical trials are presently underway involving adult stem cells, and they are responsible for the treatment and cures for more than 70 diseases. A wider assortment of mature stem cells can be created using adult stem cells as science persistently proves. The January issue of Nature Biotechnology highlighted perhaps the most promising of these results.

Stem cells derived from the amniotic fluid that fills sacs surrounding the fetus emerged as an equal rival to embryonic stem cells. While preserving the imperative advantage of verified success over embryonic stem cells, they are also equivalent in terms of versatility compared to embryo derived cells. The discovery was reported by Anthony who is the director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Since there are no realistic applications for embryonic stem cells at the moment, those on the hunt for more embryonic stem cell funding from taxpayer dollars have felt distraught with the discovery. At least 10 years stand in the way of approved embryonic stem cell treatments according to researchers, and not even one single clinical trial has been performed using embryo derived cells thus far.

An advantage once held by embryonic cells was their capacity to replicate. Outside the body, adult stem cells cannot be multiplied for extended periods of time, where embryonic cells can expand indefinitely. However, with the ability to double every 36 hours, amniotic stem cells grow just as rapidly as embryonic cells. Without any indication of slowing, they have now been expanding the same amniotic stem cell line for two years at Wake Forest University.

Perhaps, one advantage still holds true for embryonic stem cells, and that is their potential to possibly develop into all 220 varieties of human cells. They can differentiate into all three subtypes of cells, or “germ layers”. Depending on the type of adult stem cell initially used, it was for a long period of time accepted as fact that adult cells were merely capable of limited differentiation. For example, a heart stem cell could be developed into heart tissue to help heal damaged heart muscle, but that same stem cell couldn’t become a bone cell since it is a different germ layer. But this advantage has been negated as well.

Multiple studies spanning the globe have confirmed that the conversion and transition between germ layers using adult stem cells is entirely feasible. At the University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute, Dr. Catherine and her team have been transitioning adult stem cells between germ layers for almost 5 years.

And now, amniotic stem cells may be differentiated more effortlessly than any other form of stem cell, and may also be the easiest to extract in large quantities. During amniocentesis, they are regularly recovered by the hypodermic needle. An extensive study last November of 35,000 women who underwent mid-trimester testing found "no significant difference in loss rates between those undergoing amniocentesis and those not undergoing amniocentesis." This would debunk the broadly held conviction that the procedure raises the odds of miscarriage.

99 percent of the U.S. population’s needs for perfect matches for transplants could be satisfied with only 100,000 amniotic stem cell specimens. Bearing in mind that there are more than 4 million births each year in the U.S alone, performing the necessary sampling shouldn’t be any type of challenge. And a perfect match may not even be required. In Western Europe and the United States, about 700,000 amniocentesis procedures are performed each year.

Anthony’s findings have been dismissed by some embryonic stem cell researchers.

"They have only shown that these particular stem cells can turn into a couple of different types of other stem cells. I would say that a hell of a lot more work is required," said embryonic stem cell scientist Stephen.

The self proclaimed “lecturer in stem-cell biology”, downplayed the work by saying that it, “still required a lot of replication from other groups before it could be conclusive.”

Newsweek International claimed, "Many scientists are quick to emphasize that comprehensive human trials are still many years away."

Anthony’s work was not even reported by the New York Times, possibly hoping to circumvent any controversy associated to the circumstances surrounding stem cells in general. The Times answered that its genetics reporter, Nicholas, "looked at the Anthony paper last week and deemed it a minor development,” when a reader confronted the “Public Editor” who is an online ombudsman, regarding the exclusion. Nicholas said the Wake Forest research, “reports finding 'multipotent' stem cells in amniotic fluid. Multipotent means they can't do as much as bona fide embryonic stem cells (which are called 'pluripotent')."

All three of these supposed critics were completely wrong.

Anthony told PBS Online NewsHour that, “they have been able to drive the cell to what we call all three germ layers, which basically means all three major classes of tissues available in the body, from which all cells come from."

If one simply reads the online abstract of Anthony’s paper, than the report Anthony gave to PBS can be understood. But apparently, the New York Times was incapable of comprehending such results. But then again, there are no treatments or cures in existence using adult stem cells as the newspaper told readers back in 2004. No, the 70 treatments or cures that date back nearly half a century do not even exist.

The New York Times engaged in a stem cell cover up, and it is nether an overstatement nor mistrust to say as much.

The most unswerving and disturbing aspect of this “selective” reporting is that Anthony’s work has in fact been scientifically replicated numerous times. Others have extracted the identical cells from the placenta, whereas Anthony and his Wake Forest team have gone a step further and derived their cells from amniotic fluid. Anthony himself noted that placental and amniotic stem cells are identical.

And as to human trials being "many years away," Newsweek is correct only if "years away" means "years ago."

In 1996, The New England Journal of Medicine published a paper about placental stem cell trials and a subsequent paper on the same topic two years later. Sickle cell anemia has been the focus of a continuing clinic trial since 2001. Rick Weiss of the Washington Post said that, "the new [sic] cells are adding credence to an emerging consensus among experts that the popular distinction between embryonic and 'adult' stem cells--those isolated from adult bone marrow and other organs--is artificial." Although he attempted to find middle ground in this instance, in the past, Rick has been accused of being a partisan promoter of embryonic stem cell research.

When all adult stem cells were extracted from bone marrow, the term “adult stem cell” was quite applicable. But that term can now be described as “artificial”. With cells being extracted from sources that are not precisely of “adult” origin such as amniotic fluid, umbilical cords, and placentas, the circumstances have become puzzling. But stem cells can still be split between the embryonic and the non-embryonic when the dialogue turns to morals or science.

From a scientific perspective, embryonic stem cells are difficult to differentiate into the desired forms of cells. And because the body rejects them as foreign, the use of risky immunosuppressive drugs is mandatory for a lifetime. All embryonic stem cells are also inclined to become cancerous.

In contrast, thanks to their remarkable capability to form the correct type of mature cell by merely being injected into a body that requires that type of cell, non-embryonic stem cells have been used therapeutically since the late 1950’s. Adult cells in general, and especially the youngest such as amniotic, placental, and umbilical cord cells, are seldom attacked by the body’s immune system, making the problem of rejection a fading memory. Finally, adult stem cells do not become cancerous.

For all the discourse about increasing federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, it would be wise to realize the most important distinction: it is the biological disparity, and not the deficiency of funding that has hampered embryonic stem cell research.

The amniotic stem cells, "appear to be at least as malleable as embryonic stem cells but without all the ethical baggage," said Malcolm, a stem cell researcher at the University of London.

But in all this, perhaps a different concern is at play over all the talk about morality and using human embryos in medicine. Non-embryonic stem cell researchers still struggle to get federal funding for their research, despite the truth that they are performing miracles on a daily basis. In living humans, they are treating multiple sclerosis, and growing new liver and heart tissue.

Overall National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding is unlikely to increase anytime soon. And states are beginning to pass legislature independent of the federal government to increase funding for embryonic research, but not non-embryonic. In the end, the moral issue should not be as to whether we should fund embryonic stem cell research or not… but if we should disallow funding for technology that has been saving lives for half a century and in its place support technology that foreshadows nothing more than “possibility”?


 

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