January 28, 2005


Unforeseen Consequences?: Stem Cell Debate Branches Out (Chuck Missler, Koinonia House)

Scientists studying degenerative diseases are excited about stem cell research because they hope to implant these baby cells into damaged tissues and spur them to grow into new, healthy cells. Stem cells seem promising because a single cell has the potential to develop into any of 210 different types of human tissue. As in the case of an embryo, one cell divides into many and these cells begin to specialize, forming the different organs and tissues in the developing baby. Adults and children also have stem cells, which respond to a special signal protein produced by damaged cells. These stem cells are rushed to the site and reproduce to repair the damage.

Embryonic cells are not the only source for acquiring stem cells. Stem cells have been harvested from adult bone marrow, fatty tissue, and umbilical cord blood. Stem cell research is still in its earliest stages, and at this point it is believed that adult stem cells are only able to change into a limited number of types of human tissues. For example, tests on mice demonstrate that stem cells from the adult brains of mice can be nurtured into heart, liver and muscle tissues. Other experiments show that umbilical cord blood can be made to grow into brain cells. Researchers believe that because embryonic stem cells are more versatile in their ability to grow into virtually any of the 210 varieties of cells, they offer a greater potential for success.

Because the process of extracting stem cells from embryos results in the destruction of the embryo, pro-life advocates have opposed the procedure, as well as the even more controversial use of aborted fetuses as a stem cell source.6

Although there may be some limitations in the versatility of using the stem cells collected from bone marrow, fatty tissue, and umbilical cord blood, the prospects are good and do not present the type of moral and ethical issues that embryonic research does. Research has only just begun to scratch the surface in this area of science, and it is yet to be seen if the arguments for the superiority of embryonic stem cells will hold up. [...]

The politicians and the scientific community may be overly optimistic about the potential benefits of biotech therapies. A similar debate in the German government prompted one researcher to set the record straight. Oliver Bristle told a German newspaper, "I consider it preposterous to make arguments based on the hopes of patients who are suffering from illnesses in order to get their way politically." He also said that some of the promises of cures were "not serious," and that it would take five to ten years of research to verify the viability of such treatments.

In the area of human cloning, scientists responsible for the successful cloning of the sheep, Dolly, told reporters that the idea of cloning human beings with these same techniques is "dangerous and irresponsible," and the resulting babies likely would die early or suffer numerous abnormalities.

Rudolf Jaenisch and Ian Wilmut said in an article in Science magazine, procedures that have been used in cloning animals yield a very low percentage of viable embryos, and many of these die soon after birth. "Any human baby who survives may experience respiratory, circulatory, immune, kidney and brain abnormalities, and evidence is beginning to suggest other developmental and genetic defects," they said.

Even more disturbing results were reported in The New England Journal of Medicine . A study, aimed at treating Parkinson's disease patients with stem cells, not only failed to produce the desired benefits, but also produced disastrous side effects. In about 15 percent of the patients the implanted stem cell began growing too rapidly, causing the patients to writhe and twist, jerk their heads, and fling their arms about uncontrollably. Dr. Paul E. Greene, a neurologist, describing the patients as follows: "They chew constantly, their fingers go up and down, their wrists flex and distend." One of the test subjects was so badly affected that he had to be fed intravenously. Another suffered intermittent attacks of the condition making his speech unintelligible.

Tragically, there was no way to undo the procedure since the stem cells could not be removed. Dr. Greene lamented, "It was tragic, catastrophic. It's a real nightmare. And we can't selectively turn it off." His recommendation in the report called for no more fetal transplants. "We are absolutely and adamantly convinced that this should be considered for research only. And whether it should be research in people is an open question."

Dr. Frankenstein didn't think his project monstrous.

Stem Cell Therapy Improves Heart Failure (Reuters, Jan 25, 2005)

Patients with heart failure experienced a marked improvement after being given an injection of their own stem cells, investigators reported today at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Thoracic Surgery in Tampa, Florida.

Dr. Amit N. Patel, from the University of Pittsburg, and his associates previously found that stem cells injected during bypass surgery improve heart function. The current study is the first in which a minimally invasive technique was used, the researchers note.

Before the procedure, the patients underwent various tests to identify regions in the heart that were not beating properly. Using a tiny tube to visualize the heart muscle, the researchers injected stem cells into the poorly functioning areas of the hearts of 15 patients. Fifteen other patients served as a comparison group, receiving injections that lacked stem cells.

The patients who got the stem cells experienced a much greater improvement in heart function than comparison subjects. Moreover, ultrasound testing showed that the hearts of stem cell-treated patients shrank from an abnormally large size to a more normal size than did those of comparison subjects.

Despite participating in the same rehab program after treatment, the stem cell group showed a greater improvement in their walking ability than did the comparison group.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 28, 2005 6:50 AM

At least, at the beginning...

Posted by: Just John at January 28, 2005 1:32 PM

Actually, the situation is much much worse for the Fetal stem cell advocates: There exist many viable and working stem cell treatments that use adult stem cells, but there is not one accepted and proven treatment that uses fetal stem cells. In fact, if one bothers to do the journal search, there is NO paper reporting any promising results from fetal stem cell studies or research, and the number of negative reports are probably depressed because of reluctance to admit that they were wrong.

My recommendation: if a biotech company does research exclusively using adult stem cells, BUY. Fetal stem cells, SELL.

Posted by: Ptah at January 28, 2005 3:55 PM
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