Despite Massive Hype and Billions of Dollars Embryonic Stem Cells Still Haven’t Cured a Single Patient

Bioethics   David Prentice, Ph.D.   Jun 30, 2017   |   10:09AM    Washington, DC

Stem cells. Those words can conjure up many images for those who hear them: cures, death of young human beings, millions and billions of taxpayer dollars, lab-coated scientists, petri dishes, and patients with serious conditions—waiting, hoping, disappointed, or treated.

These varied and disparate images and thoughts come not only because the science of stem cells can be complex at times, but also because a great deal of misinformation has been, and continues to be, pushed out in the public realm. That misinformation often comes from scientists and politicians who hope to benefit from steering the public’s imagination–and dollars–toward themselves.

The annual NRLC convention has been a welcome antidote to some of this anti-life rhetoric regarding stem cells, the different types of stem cells, the real results especially with respect to patient outcomes, and the ethical questions that should be asked regarding any stem cell research. I enjoy discussing this topic of stem cells every year, because there are still many people, even many medical professionals, who do not know the truth about stem cells.

And people do want to know the truth, about trends in research and about developing therapies for patients. They also want to be armed with the facts against those who are interested not in helping patients, but in funding their laboratories and promoting their own careers.

Embryonic stem cells continue to be portrayed by some scientists as the ultimate stem cell therapy, despite the continuing lack of evidence for their efficacy, whether it be the few patients who have received injections of embryonic stem cells, or in the many lab mice and rats who have undergone embryonic stem cell experiments. Despite all of the promises about “lifesaving research” and the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on embryonic stem cells in the last two decades, there is still not a single validated case of “lifesaving” results with such cells.

Embryonic stem cells also face an insurmountable barrier for their acceptance by many people: harvest of embryonic stem cells requires the destruction of a human embryo, a young human life barely started on its existence yet the biological truth is clear: one of us. Gladly, people are not faced with the choice of accepting or rejecting an unethically-derived therapy.

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Adult stem cells have been making good on the empty promises of embryonic stem cells for decades, yet continue to be ignored or defamed by proponents of embryo-destructive research. Yet the facts bear out their real answer as “lifesaving” cell therapy.

Over 1 ½ million people have been treated with adult stem cells, and their lives saved and health improved for dozens of diseases and medical conditions. These are real people and real benefits, and continued adult stem cell research provides real hope for more and more people. Many of these adult stem cell therapies are still experimental, but they are validated in the published scientific literature as providing help to patients.

Within the past year there have been many advances in adult stem cell science, including new strategies and advances using adult stem cells to treat stroke (even years after the stroke event), multiple sclerosis (putting people into remission, not just stopping progression of the disease), and improving repair of both knee joints as well as damaged hearts. People need to know the truth: adult stem cells provide effective tissue repair, without destroying the life of the stem cell donor (who is often, with adult stem cells, the patient himself!)

As a scientist, I am fascinated by the wondrous complexity and capabilities of adult stem cells, other natural progenitor cells, and our human body. As a patient advocate, I am heartened by the results seen not only in the laboratory but also in the clinic with ethical, successful adult stem cells, and only wish for faster progress and more resources to bring about more and improved adult stem cell treatments, as well as increased accessibility to their benefits.