Adult Stem Cell Research More Useful Than Embryonic Stem Cells

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 24, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Adult Stem Cell Research More Useful Than Embryonic Stem Cells Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 24, 2005

Washington, DC ( — As the House of Representatives considers competing stem cell research bills, scientists and observers of the stem cell research debate point out that adult stem cells have proven more useful and effective than their embryonic counterparts.

Phil Coelho is CEO and Chairman of the Board of Thermogenesis Corp., which provides cord blood stem cell processing and cryopreservation systems used by major cord blood stem cell banks.

He says that adult stem cells have "been used clinically about 30,000 times."

Cord blood cells, the subject of one of the bills Congress will consider, "have some dramatic advantages," Coelho says.

"[T]hey can become several—and perhaps all—the different tissue types; they involve no donor risks; they have the capacity for many cell divisions; and they cause less graft versus host disease," he explained.

According to Coelho, the first patient to be treated with adult stem cells, in 1988, shows no evidence of the Fanconi Anemia that he suffered from as a child.

So far, more than 6,000 patients and 66 diseases have been successfully treated with stem cells from cord blood.

Coelho says the results from the adult stem cells from cord blood have been tremendous.

"A recent study found a survival rate of around 70 percent among high-risk adults treated with cord blood," he said. "Results are even more promising with children, with clinical trials showing an 80 percent survival rate for children with immunodeficiency diseases."

Florida Congressman Dave Weldon, an OBGYN, agrees.

"Adult stem cells and, in particular, cord blood stem cells are going to be the sources for the regenerative, miraculous medicine in the future," he said. "Embryonic stem cell research is just not getting good research results."

On the other hand, embryonic stem cell research has yet to cure a single patient.

No currently approved treatments are being used on patients as a result of research on the cells and there are no human trials. After 20 years of research on embryonic stem cells, the only results have shown they are unsafe.

In studies, they have produced tumors, cause transplant rejection, and they have formed the wrong kind of needed replacement cells.

That’s why private investors have funneled most of their money behind adult stem cell research.

William Haseltine, CEO of Human Genome Sciences, is a leading advocate of embryonic stem cell research. But, he says results are decades away and his company is not spending money on the unproven cells.

“The routine utilization of human embryonic stem cells for medicine is 20 to 30 years hence," Haseltine admits.

"The timeline to commercialization is so long that I simply would not invest," Haseltine added. "You may notice that our company has not made such investments.”

Kelly Hollowell, Ph.D., a molecular and cellular pharmacologist and a patent attorney, says another problem with embryonic stem cell research is that it requires harvesting so many cells and the process requires women’s eggs to create human embryos.

"To treat, for example, the 17 million diabetes patients in the United States will require a minimum of 850 million to 1.7 billion human eggs," Hollowell said. "Collecting 10 eggs per donor will require a minimum of 85 to 170 million women."

"The total cost would be astronomical, at $100,000 to $200,000 for 50 to 100 human eggs per each patient," Dr. Hollowell explained.

She explained at a Heritage Foundation conference that the process of obtaining eggs puts women at risk.

"Superovulation regimens for fertility treatments would be used to obtain women’s eggs," Hollowell explained. "The risks associated with superovulation regimens or high-dose hormone therapies are debated."

She said women who engage in the process can be subjected to a "spectrum of problems including memory loss, seizure, stroke, infertility, cancer, and even death."

"The scientific data on embryonic stem cell research simply does not support continued investment in research. Even if the research were successful, it is morally bankrupt and endangers women," Hollowell concludes.