Science’s New Era Centers On Adult, Not Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 1, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Science’s New Era Centers On Adult, Not Embryonic Stem Cell Research Email this article
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by Rep. Chris Smith
June 11, 2007 Note: Congressman Chris Smith is a Republican from New Jersey and the head of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. The following remarks were delivered during last week’s debate on embryonic stem cell research.

In early January, a team of scientists from Wake Forest University and Harvard Medical School announced a historical breakthrough: a new readily available source of life saving stem cells derived exclusively from amniotic fluid.

The Washington Post called these ethically derived pluripotent stem cells: "highly versatile and readily available."

Newsweek said: "a new era begins, stem cells derived from amniotic fluid show great promise in the lab and may end the divisive ethical debate once and for all because the amniotic fluid stem cells are pluripotent able to transform into fully grown cells representing each of the three major kinds of tissues found in the body."

And ABC News pointed out that these stem cells can be taken from amniotic fluid with no harm to either the mother or the fetus."

Earlier this week, I met with the Wake Forest University researcher Dr. Anthony Atala who led the team credited with this extraordinary discovery. Dr. Atala made it absolutely clear that these amniotic stem cells are pluripotent and that this research-along with numerous other remarkable initiatives in regenerative medicine-are progressing robustly.

Mr. Speaker, in April, the Journal of American Medical Association reported that cord blood stem cell transplantation-not embryonic, cord blood-into 15 patients recently diagnosed with Type I Diabetes had resulted in 13 becoming completely insulin free.

And, by now we all know about the New York Times and other news reports about the surprising developments that were carried in papers across the country.

Richard Doerflinger of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops compiled comprehensive list entitled "New Reasons for Hope," 111 recent developments in adult stem cell research and other alternatives to embryo destroying stem cell research published since Congress’s stem cell vote in 2006.

It is filled with one breakthrough after another, all attributed to adult stems cells-cord blood, amniotic fluid and the like-that’s where the hope is. Not in destroying embryos to derive stem cells.

Every week, Mr. Speaker, medical journals, science periodicals as well as the mainstream media announce and report on yet another promising advance in adult stem cell research and clinical application.

Unlike embryonic stem research which has had a poor track record, adult stem cell therapies are not only the present-they are the future as well.

Cord blood stem cells-for example-are healing and mitigating a myriad of diseases today and promising research suggesting better therapies to come.

Let me just say a word about embryo destroying stem cell research. It has at least three strikes against it.

First, the propensity to morph into tumors;

Secondly, if they are ever successfully transplanted into humans, embryonic stem cells carry an enormous proclivity for rejection;

And third, embryonic stem cell research and potential treatment requires the killing of human embryos. If it ever worked, the limited supply of so-called spare embryos-and that is a very offensive word let me just say. Those children who have been adopted from cryogenic tanks are a witness against this idea of saying that somehow there is a spare embryo. But just take that for what it is. If it ever worked, there would be a near insatiable demand for embryo destruction

On that last point let me ask my colleagues to consider what Dr. Robert Lanza, Vice President of Research & Scientific Development at Advanced Cell Technology said, and he said, "Creating that many lines"-talking about to meet what would be the need-"could require millions of discarded embryos from IVF clinics."

In the March 16, 2006 edition of Stem Cells, Civin and Rao calculated how many embryos could be needed for clinical applications, and they said that embryonic stem cell lines "could theoretically reach into the millions if…therapies live up to their potential."

So this is the tip of the iceberg.

You are talking about so-called spare embryos now, but if it ever did work-especially when we have an ethical alternative that does work-but if it ever did work, it would mean requiring the killing of millions of embryos and I don’t think enough members have looked forward enough to realize where this would lead us.

That is a brave new world.

This is the tip of the iceberg today and hopefully we will not go that way and we will do ethical research.

And let me say one last thing, the Bush Administration doubled from $300 to $600 million the amount of money that we are spending on stem cell research. We are passionately in favor of it when done ethically, which this bill does not.

Vote NO on this bill.