Stem Cell Research Politics, Briefly

The politics of stem cell research are underway in earnest once more in the US, for what it's worth.

With just days to go before the Senate is scheduled to vote on a hotly anticipated bill that would loosen President Bush's restrictions on [Federal public funding for] human embryonic stem cell research, both sides of the scientifically and ethically charged issue have ramped up their publicity machines and attacks on each other.

At least they're largely fighting over what to do with taxed dollars, rather than fighting over whether to ban these very promising medical technologies. That's a step up in the sense of falling into a pit versus falling into a pit with spikes at the bottom.

Given my leanings, I'd rather see a world with much more research funding that has not been taxed and wasted by government before it gets to the laboratories; a world in which funding research is a matter of personal choice and spontaneous organizations such as the Methuselah Foundation. This is conceivable, workable, but it'd take a lot to get there.

As for many other large, desirable changes for the future, my first things first pragmatism leads me to help longevity research - and research likely to lead to cures for age-related conditions - prior to helping found a more libertarian society. Or indeed helping any of the other causes I consider worthy. First things first: it's hard to help when you're suffering or dead, and little will have a greater effect upon the degree of suffering and death in the world than success in healthy life extension research.

But back to the ostensible subject of this post. One of the many line items in this morass of politics that I find so distasteful is the outright lying on scientific topics. There are any number of people out there willing to misrepresent the state of present day stem cell science until blue in the face, just to gain some meaningless advantage in debate, or to make themselves feel better. This usually takes the form of denigrating embryonic stem cell research, or overhyping adult stem cell research - but the lies are pretty baldfaced these days.

"Prentice not only misrepresents existing adult stem cell treatments but also frequently distorts the nature and content of the references he cites," wrote Shane Smith of the Children's Neurobiological Solutions Foundation in Santa Barbara, Calif.; William B. Neaves of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo.; and Steven Teitelbaum of Washington University in St. Louis.

For example, they wrote, a study cited by Prentice as evidence that adult stem cells can help patients with testicular cancer is in fact a study that evaluates methods of isolating adult stem cells.

Similarly, a published report that Prentice cites as evidence that adult stem cells can help patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma does not address the medical value of those cells but rather describes the best way to isolate cells from lymphoma patients and grow them in laboratory dishes, the letter said.

And Prentice's reference to the usefulness of adult stem cells for patients with Sandhoff disease -- a rare nerve disorder -- is "a layperson's statement in a newspaper article," the scientists reported.

All told, the scientists concluded, there are only nine diseases that have been proved to respond to treatment with adult stem cells.

"By promoting the falsehood that adult stem cell treatments are already in general use for 65 diseases and injuries, Prentice and those who repeat his claims mislead laypeople and cruelly deceive patients," the scientists wrote.

A look back in the Fight Aging! archives turns up a good overview as to why embryonic stem cell research is essential. I'm not sure why it is that these folk feel it is better to lie about science than to simply debate on grounds of belief and preferences - but it's pretty despicable. This is what the tragedy of the commons does to people. The commons in this case being that pool of taxed dollars; dignity, responsibility, accountability, common human decency and self-respect are the first to fall to the mud beneath this great trough.

Technorati tags: , ,


More Life: Pro-Tech campaign for life extension&regenerative medicine

Here is my idea: online-offline Pro-Tech campaign&happening for life extension&regenerative medicine&biotech which fits well for the participatory politics-driven spirit of Campaigns Wikia and the new and powerful web tools we have. New tools deserves new topics and issues.
Healthy Life Extension (LE) is out of those very rare issues, that could make people go to the streets and demonstrate for the first time that there are many people whose established desire is to live more and eliminate problems concerning aging through science, biotech and medicine. Many particular aims could be targeted in this area from research and health care to human rights too.
So imagine a free, geek performance for LE (more LIFE) when people, aiming high and thinking long term in every age group - old people very welcome -, researchers, coders, doctors, geeks, intellectuals, IT-entrepreneurs, businessmen? who want to live more, go and stand up for their human rights to live as long as they can to express their full human potential and stand up for life extension technologies, (embryonic) stem cell research, tissue engineering and human biotechnology in general. This would be interesting, non-violent. Hippie and hip. Not just -sometimes- boring conferences, gatherings, but lively, funny happenings which make LE aims and supporters really visible. The ideal offline place of this kind of performance would be the U.S., California the home of Proposition 71, or Miami, the Grey Zone.
More Life would be an international, intergenerational movement transcending existing political barriers, linking people together seeking the common denominator. Supporting healthy life extension is celebrating and confirming the value and dignity of human life. Live long enough to live more, than ever.
What better place than here, what better time than now?

Posted by: Attila Chordash at July 17th, 2006 6:27 AM

You stated that nine disease have cures using adult stem cell therapy.

How may diseases have cures based on embryonic stem cells?

Also isn't true that in most cases the adult stem cells are collected from the patient and thus do not have any kind of rejection reaction?

Posted by: b0b at July 17th, 2006 11:26 AM

Look back at this post for some of the many conditions that embryonic stem cell research is aimed at treating:

In the most advanced research - with the exception of healing spinal damage and paralysis - it's not about transplants. It's about replicating diseased cells so as to understand exactly how to intervene. Again, read the post linked above.

Posted by: Reason at July 17th, 2006 8:00 PM

wait a minute. ESC research is 'aimed at treating:' but ASC research has already been used to treat 9 diseases? Seems to me you would want to put your [and my, tax] money where it would do the most good.

My understanding is that ASC research is examining the same areas as ESC research [ healing spinal damage, for example], and it's more successful.

And I guess I don't understand how ESC research can replicate diseased cells. How does that happen unless the E. stems cells themselves are diseased?

the article at the url above is talking about "..somatic cell nuclear transfer to generate stem cells that are customized to the specific patients.. "

Couldn't this be done much more easily just by taking ASC from the patient?

"We hope to correct the genetic defects in these patient-specific cells, direct their differentiation into blood, and transplant kids with these genetically matched autologous cells. "

Is it easier to correct the genetic defects in ESC even after the extra step of somatic cell nuclear transfer?

I don't get it. If you can correct the defects in ESC, why can't you correct them in ASC, skipping the extra steps?

"Although it is true that no one has to date been treated with cellular therapies based on human embryonic stem cells,..."


"As for the criticism that no one has been cured with embryonic stem cells, the field of human embryonic stem cell research is a mere 7 years old, ..."

How old is field of ASC? Isn't it about the same age?

the article laments, "and the adult blood stem cells from Fanconi's patients cannot be maintained in culture."

Wouldn't the research dollars be better spent on trying to correct the problem of maintaining ASC in a culture?

An article I read today said that it will likely be ten or more years before anyone is being successfully treated with embryonic stem cells.

I dunno, it looks to me that some people just want to study Embryonic stem cells come hell or high water , without any regard for effectiveness or cost.

Course it's always easy to spend other people's money than your own, so I can't blame these researcher for trying to get tax money.


If they really really believe that ESC research is going to pay off better than ASC research, why don't they spend their own money?

I don't have a problem with them making a buck on it if/after it pays off.


Posted by: b0b at July 18th, 2006 2:31 PM


This guy, Caplan, makes wild accusations without any supporting evidence at all.

for example:
"If adult stem cell research were really an alternative to embryonic, then why have nearly all but the tiniest handful of the experts who work on stem cells maintained that this is false?"

This statement is pure un-adulterated crap.
He doesn't bother naming even one 'expert' who maintains that ASC is NOT an alternative to ESC.

"The only people who continue to put faith in the policy of promoting government funding for only adult stem cell research that the president is still babbling on about are the president, his close advisors, some conservative groups motivated by deeply-held religious views concerning embryos and a few neoconservative polemicists who seem desperate to find an issue that might bring them redemption after doing such a fine job contributing to the design of American foreign policy under Bush."

First notice his use of disparaging words like 'babbling' and 'polemicist' or 'neoconservative'
[that latter is usually a code word for Jew, btw]

What has foreign policy got to do with stem cell research.

This guy just hates Bush. Period.

I remind everyone that ESC research with your own money is still perfectly legal. So is ASC research.

Neither 'needs' subsidizing by the tax payers. In fact, if the IRS and Postal 'Service' are 'good' examples of tax-payer subsidized services, it should be perfectly clear that we would be better served if neither ESC nor ASC is subsidized by the tax-payer.

Posted by: b0b at July 20th, 2006 9:44 AM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.