by Steven Ertelt
November 16, 2006
Los Angeles, CA (LifeNews.com) — A leading biotech firm that engages in cloning and embryonic stem cell research has launched a scathing attack on LifeNews.com, the pro-life newswire service. The CEO of Advanced Cell Technologies sent LifeNews.com a heated letter late Wednesday threatening the news service if it didn’t stop reporting the truth about its research.
ACT came under fire in September when it issued a press release claiming to have created a new embryonic stem cell research technique that voided the concerns of pro-life advocates by obtaining the cells without destroying human life.
The press release, and subsequent news coverage, lauded the new technique as an ethical panacea in the embryonic stem cell research debate
"Until now, embryonic stem cell research has been synonymous with the destruction of human embryos," Robert Lanza, the study’s senior author, said in an August 23 statement obtained by LifeNews.com.
"We have demonstrated, for the first time, that human embryonic stem cells can be generated without interfering with the embryo’s potential for life," he claimed.
However, the firm’s research report, published in the scientific journal Nature, revealed every one of the 16 human embryos the ACT team used in the new technique died. ACT also claimed to have removed just one cell from each human embryo in its press release, but the paper showed 4-7 cells were removed, killing the days-old unborn child.
LifeNews.com led the national exposure on ACT’s misleading press release and how the favorable, but erroneous, initial news coverage drove ACT’s stock price up 358% after a steady decline throughout most of 2006.
In his letter, ACT CEO William Caldwell claimed LifeNews.com featured news stories about the biotech firm and its leading researcher, Dr. Robert Lanza, that are "inaccurate and highly inflammatory" and claims the stories have done "unfair damage."
Caldwell took issue with LifeNews.com’s characterization of ACT’s press release as "misleading" and claimed the news service made "egregious false statements" about it.
"I am quite confident that any reasonably informed journalist familiar with the Nature paper would easily recognize that ACT and Dr. Lanza misled no one" and that his firms research was "properly described."
Caldwell goes on to say that the ACT press release "announced accurately" what the paper contained adding, "Neither the Nature article nor the press release made any claim that the embryos referenced in our research paper were allowed to develop to an advanced stage."
LifeNews.com never reported the story with that claim. None of the human embryos in ACT’s research could have ever made it to an advanced stage of pregnancy, because they were all killed in the research.
Backing up the assertions LifeNews.com made, in late August, Nature, issued two "corrections" regarding the misleading claims concerning ACT’s studies.
"We feel it necessary to explain that … the embryos that were used for these experiments did not remain intact," Ruth Francis, Nature’s senior press officer, said at the time.
In fact, Nature later admitted what LifeNews.com had already exposed in our August 25 story, "Supposed New Embryonic Stem Cell Research Technique Killed All Embryos."
"The paper itself, however, shows only proof of principle that a human embryonic stem-cell line can be created from a single cell, or blastomere, from a very early embryo comprising 8–10 cells. None of the embryos used survived," it wrote on September 8. "The Nature paper’s details and Supplementary Information made clear that all the embryos were broken up."
Scientists also said the presentation of the ACT Nature paper was not on target.
"So many things about the paper and how it was presented are unclear," stem-cell scientist Hans Schöler, a director of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster, Germany, told Nature.
Nature added "many in the field have objected" to how ACT characterized the research.
Caldwell claims Nature never issued the corrections saying LifeNews.com’s mention of them is "not true."
But Nature admitted it issued corrections in its September 8 editorial.
"Within minutes of the paper going live, Nature’s press office corrected its press release to say that Lanza’s experiments had destroyed some of the embryos. Two days later, a second note made clear that all the embryos had been destroyed," Nature wrote.
Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature, even went so far as to apologize for the publication’s own press release that erroneously claimed none of the human embryos in ACT’s new technique were destroyed.
Despite Nature’s clear explanation that none of the human embryos survived in the new ACT technique, Caldwell continued to insist the opposite is true. In his letter to LifeNews.com, he claimed "Indeed, the Nature paper documents a technique that can be used to create embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos."
Yet, virtually every leading bioethicist and scientist interviewed about the paper says the Nature article proves that it might be possible to someday obtain the embryonic stem cells without destroying the days-old unborn child, but ACT did not successfully do that.
Caldwell also cited two news stories, an August 24 Wall Street Journal article and an August 26 story in the Economist, to back up his assertion LifeNews.com has the facts wrong.
In both stories Caldwell suggested, mention is made that some or all of the human embryos were destroyed — including in an admission from Lanza himself.
Meanwhile, other media outlets reported that ACT couldn’t get its story straight about the research after issuing its initial press release.
During an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer before the controversy erupted about the false claims, Lanza, who is also ACT’s vice president, told the newspaper that "some of the embryos survived and were returned to frozen storage."
Later, in a follow-up interview with the newspaper, he said he was referring to human embryos used in similar experiments, but not the ones touted in the Nature article he wrote.
He also refused to talk with the Philadelphia newspaper about the huge upswing ACT’s stock received after the false press release touting the supposedly ethical procedure.
"To be truthful, I’m so deeply involved in the scientific side,” Lanza said, "you’d have to talk to the business end.”
Later, Lanza even came under fire from a Senate committee as Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who is a leading backer of forcing taxpayers to fund embryonic stem cell research, scolded him.
"You made our job a lot tougher," Specter said, according to a Reuters report. He called the reports of ACT’s success "dramatic albeit false."
Specter said Lanza’s mischaracterization of his team’s research hurt the cause of those who back the controversial research and said proponents of embryonic stem cell research funding would have to create a new bill because of the problems with ACT.
Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who co-sponsored a funding bill with Specter, also criticized Lanza during the hearing.
Wesley J. Smith, an author and leading bioethics watchdog, made the same ultimate assessment as LifeNews.com’s reporting of the situation.
"The press release from ACT told a different story [than the paper] and the media stampeded. In other words, they wrote off the press release, not the actual published science," Smith said, calling it "shameful."
In his letter to LifeNews.com, Caldwell concludes that ACT will "not stand idly by while we are attacked with false statements about our efforts" and labeled LifeNews.com’s reporting of ACT’s misleading claims "dishonest and unconscionable."
He also said ACT will publish a future article in Nature intended to correct "misleading news reports" such as ones he claims LifeNews.com carried.
Caldwell finished his letter by threatening LifeNews.com if it did not pull the supposedly erroneous news reports and promised to monitor the pro-life news service’s further coverage of ACT’s research.