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Adult Stem Cell Research Should Be First Priority According to Experts

By Tom Strode, Baptist Press, August 1, 2007

Promoters of non-controversial adult stem cell research say that priority funding should be directed not towards destructive embryonic experiments but adult stem cell research given the promising results that have been achieved with the latter.

To testify to the effectiveness of adult and other non-embryonic stem cell research, a bioethics specialist, researchers, and patients joined in a news conference in Washington. Legislation to give priority to adult stem cell research was introduced by two members of the House of Representatives the same day as the promotion in Washington.

Reps. Dan Lipinski, D.-Ill., and Randy Forbes, R.-Va., introduced the Patients First Act, H.R. 2807.

With the ability to develop into all of the different cell types in the body, embryonic stem cells are considered to be "pluripotent". But since the extraction of embryonic stem cell results in the destruction of an embryo, most pro-life advocates are opposed to this type of research. Additionally, experiments have been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals, and embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) has yet to treat any disease in human beings.

With the ability to form many, but not all, of the body's cell types adult stem cells are considered to be "multipotent". These cells are also referred to as non-embryonic stem cells. However, the donor is not harmed in the extraction process of adult stem cells. And the same flexibility as embryonic stem cells has been exhibited by some types of adult stem cells in recent years.

"Even the scientific community unfortunately has tended to ignore the potential of adult stem cells, especially in relation to patients," said David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council, in the July 26 news conference.

"There are at least two dozen examples of adult stem cells showing this flexibility but without some of the problems associated with embryonic type stem cells, problems with tumor genesis or getting the right type of cell for treatment," Prentice told reporters. "There are now thousands of patients whose health has improved, maybe not in all cases a cure, although in some it is."

"The bottom line is: If we're considering patients first, it's the adult stem cells that are really the most promising" now, he said.

"Pluripotent stem cells have been found in amniotic fluid, placenta, testicular tissue, umbilical cord blood, nasal tissue and bone marrow, among other sources," Prentice said.

According to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research, non-embryonic stem cells have produced treatments for a minimum of 73 conditions and diseases. Prentice said that such cells are currently being used in about 1,400 clinical trials.

Stephen Sprague, 58, of New York said at the news conference he was privileged to be "one of the very early, early examples of the power of adult stem cells in cord blood."

Apparently dooming him to an early death, no none marrow match was found when he was diagnosed with leukemia 12 years ago. But as result of using stem cells from umbilical cord blood, he has been leukemia free for 10 years now.

"Ten years ago, nobody ever thought this would work on an adult, particularly a full-sized adult," Sprague told reporters. "There is some mother and her now-10-year-old daughter walking the streets of New York who did what mothers didn't do 10 years ago, and she donated her daughter's cord blood to a public cord blood bank. They will never, ever know what they have done for me and for my family."

Other notable recoveries presented at the conference were:

-- Doug Rice, 61, who was told he only had three or four months to live without a mechanical heart after bing diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Since receiving an injection of stem cells from his blood in a January 2006 procedure in Thailand the resident of Washington state has improved dramatically.

-- Jaider Abbud, a Brazilian dental surgeon diagnosed at the age of 26 last year with juvenile diabetes. He is no longer taking insulin after receiving an infusion of his own stem cells in a trial last year.

Also testifying to the success of adult stem cells were:

-- Amit Patel, a Pittsburgh, Pa., cardiothoracic surgeon and adult cardiac stem cell researcher whose treatments with stem cells from bone marrow have resulted in patients "still doing well" four years later, in contrast to a control group receiving standard care that is not doing as well.

-- Julio Voltarelli, a Brazilian researcher whose clinical trial using stem cells from blood resulted in 13 of 15 Type 1 diabetes patients being free of insulin use.

Forbes and Lipinski said in a news release that the Patients First Act is designed to advance stem cell human trials and research that show benefits in the near future.

"It also is to promote the development of "pluripotent" stem cell lines without destroying human embryos," they said.

"The issue of embryonic stem cell research has become divisive, and when there are cures and human lives at stake, divisiveness is not a luxury we have," Forbes said in a written release. The legislation attempts "to devote our energies and our resources on the common goal shared by both sides of the embryonic stem cell debate - curing and treating patients," he said.

The National Cord Blood Inventory, which collects cord blood units and makes them available for doctors searching for matches for patients, received $11 million in funds after House approval on July 18th. Prentice commended this action.

On June 20th, President Bush voted to block federal funds from being used in embryonic stem cell research. But the Senate is expected to attempt to override his veto of the bill that would have bolstered research using embryos. Providing funds for research using stem cells procured from embryos stored at in vitro fertilization clinics, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act was also vetoed by President Bush last year. The president's 2001 rule permits funds for embryonic research only on stem cell lines already in existence at the time of the announcement of the policy.


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