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Stem Cell News That Isn't Fit For Print

The mainstream media is ignoring promising news about adult stem cell research.

11:00 PM, Dec 2, 2003 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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SADLY, this experience is typical of the establishment media's general approach of either not reporting or under emphasizing adult stem cell research successes. (The reasons for this bias are many and varied but we will not deal with them here.) As a consequence, many Americans are woefully unaware that the best opportunity to obtain regenerative medical treatments in the soonest possible time is most likely with adult stem cell therapies, not therapeutic cloning.

Here are just a few examples of the many recent exciting regenerative research successes using adult stem cells and other non-embryonic approaches:

*Brain function in five human patients with advanced Parkinson's disease was partially restored using a natural body chemical known as glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF). One year after the infusion of GDNF, all patients had clinical improvement of motor function and in the ability to perform activities of daily living. Demonstrating the tremendous potential of this experimental therapy, three patients had their senses of taste and smell restored within a few weeks of starting therapy. "Phase II" human studies are now being contemplated that would include double blinding and use of placebo.

*In another Parkinson's case, a patient treated with his own brain stem cells appears to have experienced a substantial remission with no adverse side effects. Dennis Turner was expected by this time to require a wheelchair and extensive medication. Instead, he has substantially reduced his medication and rarely reports any noticeable symptoms of his Parkinson's. Human trials in this technique are due to begin soon.

*Bone marrow stem cells, blood stem cells, and immature thigh muscle cells have been used to grow new heart tissue in both animal subjects and human patients. Indeed, while it was once scientific dogma that damaged heart muscle could not regenerate, it now appears that cells taken from a patient's own body may be able to restore cardiac function. Human trials using adult stem cells have commenced in Europe and other nations. (The FDA is requiring American researchers to stick with animal studies for now to test the safety of the adult stem cell approach.)

*Harvard Medical School researchers reversed juvenile onset diabetes (type-1) in mice using "precursor cells" taken from spleens of healthy mice and injecting them into diabetic animals. The cells transformed into pancreatic islet cells. The technique will begin human trials as soon as sufficient funding is made available.

*In the United States and Canada, more than 250 human patients with type-1 diabetes were treated with pancreatic tissue (islet) transplantations taken from human cadavers. Eighty percent of those who completed the treatment protocol have achieved insulin independence for over a year. (Good results have been previously achieved with pancreas transplantation, but the new approach may be much safer than a whole organ transplant.)

*Blindness is one symptom of diabetes. Now, human umbilical cord blood stem cells have been injected into the eyes of mice and led to the growth of new human blood vessels. Researchers hope that the technique will eventually provide an efficacious treatment for diabetes-related blindness. Scientists also are experimenting with using cord blood stem cells to inhibit the growth of blood vessels in cancer, which could potentially lead to a viable treatment.

*Bone marrow stem cells have partially helped regenerate muscle tissue in mice with muscular dystrophy. Much more research is needed before final conclusions can be drawn and human studies commenced. But it now appears that adult stem cells may well provide future treatments for neuromuscular diseases.

*Severed spinal cords in rats were regenerated using gene therapy to prevent the growth of scar tissue that inhibits nerve regeneration. The rats recovered the ability to walk within weeks of receiving the treatments. The next step will be to try the technique with monkeys. If that succeeds, human trials would follow.

*In one case reported from Japan, an advanced pancreatic cancer patient injected with bone marrow stem cells experienced an 80 percent reduction in tumor size.

I COULD GO ON like this for many pages. But you get the picture. Adult stem cell and other experimental regenerative treatments are moving forward toward eventual clinical use at a breathtaking pace. Meanwhile, therapeutic cloning offers no immediate prospects for treating human ailments. If this trend continues, the day will soon come when people realize that the great hope for regenerative medicine does not come from human cloning. The question is whether or not this good news will be reported.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. His current book is "Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder."