Biotech Group Sends Misleading Stem Cell Research Comments to Media

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 14, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Biotech Group Sends Misleading Stem Cell Research Comments to Media Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 14, 2006

Washington, DC ( — With the Senate preparing for a debate and vote on three stem cell research bills next week, groups on both sides of the debate are stepping up lobbying campaigns and efforts to get the public to call elected officials. However, a leading biotech lobbying group is sending misleading press releases to media outlets.

On Friday, the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR), sent out targeted press releases to radio stations in at least six states featuring comments from actor Michael J. Fox.

Fox, who is afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, urges the Senate to vote for a bill that would overturn President Bush’s limits on using taxpayer funds to pay for embryonic stem cell research.

CAMR leads off the press release saying "nearly 75 percent of Americans support embryonic stem cell research to help find cures and treatments for those who suffer from cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injuries, and other diseases and disorders.

The statement doesn’t square with the facts.

The latest polls show a majority of Americans uncomfortable with using their tax money to pay for embryonic stem cell research.

An International Communications Research poll in mid-May finds 48% of Americans oppose federal funding of stem cell research that requires destroying human embryos. Just 39% support such funding and another 12 percent had no position.

The poll also found that Americans favor stem cell research that does not involve the destruction of human life.

The ICR survey found 57% favored funding only the research avenues that do not harm the donor. Just 24% favored funding all stem cell research, including the type that involves destroying human embryos.

Another 11 percent of those polled didn’t want Congress to fund any kind of stem cell research and 7 percent didn’t have an opinion.

Despite CAMR’s assertion that such a strong percentage of the American public backs embryonic stem cell research, Fox’s comment says nothing about the research. It refers only to stem cell research in a broad sense, though the bill only concerns funding embryonic stem cells.

"Support for stem cell research was apparent when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Now this bill is awaiting a vote on Tuesday, July 18th in the U.S. Senate. Every Senator’s vote counts in this important fight for Americans’ lives," Fox says in the statements.

Sean Tipton, CAMR’s president, urges residents of each state in the targeted news releases to contact their elected officials. He, too, mentions nothing of the bill’s funding only embryonic stem cell research.

Meanwhile, in their zeal to persuade the public embryonic stem cell research still has a potential for success, CAMR has overstated the case by saying the research can cure Alzheimer’s disease.

Because Alzheimer’s is not a disease involving one type of cell, one scientist says the use of embryonic stem cells is unlikely to have much effect.

"Alzheimer’s is a more global disease, with an effect on numerous kinds of cells," Steve Stice, a stem cell researcher at the University of Georgia, previously told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. "That makes it much more difficult for a cell therapy to be effective."

In a patient afflicted with Alzheimer’s, clumps of protein called amyloid build up within the brain and begin attacking various types of cells and the connections between cells.

Other researchers agree that potential cures, if they come about, won’t happen soon.

Marilyn Albert previously told the Associated Press, "I just think everybody feels there are higher priorities for seeking effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and for identifying preventive strategies."

Albert, a Johns Hopkins University researcher who chairs the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council of the Alzheimer’s Association, says there are more promising efforts to treat the disease than waiting on the decades it could take to see results from embryonic stem cells, if that ever happens.

Marcelle Morrison-Bogorad, associate director of the National Institute on Aging’s neuroscience and neuropsychology of aging program, concurs.

"There’s an awful lot going on right now that perhaps holds a little bit more immediate promise for trying to slow the disease, or even cut off its development," Morrison-Bogorad explained.

Both scientists pointed to efforts to block amyloid from building up in the brain. Such research could yield results in 5 to 10 years, much sooner than potential dividends from embryonic stem cell research.

Even Ron Reagan, son of former President Ronald Reagan, admitted in an interview on MSNBC’s "Hardball" in July 2004 that embryonic stem cell research is unlikely to provide cures for the debilitating disease.

"Alzheimer’s is a disease, ironically, that probably won’t be amenable to treatment through stem cell therapies," Reagan admitted.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said the proof has been in the pudding — that embryonic stem cells have yet to help a single patient while adult stem cells have already produced treatments for dozens of conditions and diseases.

"Science has proven that embryonic stem cell research has not delivered one successful cure and deliberately kills human life in the process," Perkins added. "Adult stem cell science, however, has thousands of cures and is completely ethical."

CAMR sent its press release, featuring the Michael J. Fox comments, to radio stations in Ohio, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, New Mexico and Georgia.