The Magazine

The Great Stem Cell Coverup

Promising medical research you never hear about.

Aug 7, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 44 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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Toward this end, an unfair and demagogic attack was recently published in Science against biologist David Prentice--who has done more than any other person to bring adult stem cell research progress to the public's attention--and the Do No Harm Coalition, which Prentice helped found to keep track of and analyze stem cell research literature.

Specifically, embryonic stem cell and human research cloning proponents Shane Smith, William Neaves, and Steven Teitelbaum in their letter in Science accused Prentice of being "deceptive" for claiming that "adult stem cells have now helped patients with at least 65 different human diseases." But Prentice's modest claim is absolutely true (with the number now having reached 72) and based on scientific reports published in peer-reviewed journals. Moreover, Smith, Neaves, and Teitelbaum are the actual deceivers: They accused Prentice of promoting "the falsehood that adult stem cells are already in general [clinical] use," when he has never made any such claim.

Their letter continues the scientific establishment's efforts to keep adult stem cell research successes from being an issue in the stem cell and cloning debates. "Adult stem cell treatments fully tested in all required phases of clinical trials and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are available to treat only nine conditions," they sniff.

This is disingenuous. Many ad vances in adult stem cells are being made overseas, which by definition precludes their receiving FDA approval. Moreover, by their logic, neither the MS nor olfactory tissue research successes cited above should be mentioned in public discourse, since these hopeful avenues of science have not yet completed "all required phases of clinical trials." Nor, for that matter, should we inform the public that the FDA's databank shows that there are more than 500 approved human trials active or recruiting for patients in this country using adult stem cells, with more than 1,100 such approved experiments in all--versus zero for embryonic studies.

On the other hand, if it is only acceptable to discuss stem cell treatments that have actually entered medicine's clinical armamentarium with full FDA approval, embryonic stem cell-boosting scientists and their boosters in the media had better stop chanting the embryonic stem cell mantra.

Embryonic stem cells have not treated a single human patient, and only time can tell whether they ever will. Highlighting the progress of adult/umbilical cord blood stem cells--an uncontroversial therapeutic approach that does not require the destruction of human embryos--is a legitimate part of the public discourse. Indeed, the unfair attack on Prentice for educating the public about the potential of adult stem cells may indicate that these scientist/political advocates know where the true best hope for regenerative medical treatments is likely to be found.

Wesley J. Smith, a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.