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Michael J. Fox isn't telling the whole truth about stem cells in those ads.

6:54 PM, Oct 25, 2006 • By RYAN T. ANDERSON
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If you doubt this is the case, one need only look to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM)--the multi-billion dollar institute dedicated to embryonic stem-cell research and paid for by California tax-payers--and their recent proposed strategic report. The report states: "it is unlikely that CIRM will be able to fully develop stem cell therapy for routine clinical use during the ten years of the plan. Within that time span, however, we will be able to advance therapies for several diseases to early stage clinical trials, and to have therapies for other diseases in the pipeline." For the next ten years, the best they can promise is "early stage clinical trials" and therapies "in the pipeline." The Mercury News reports that the Institute's president, Zach Hall, "predicted it might take 15 years before the institute's research results in a medical product." It is probably for these reasons that private investors have been so reluctant to invest in embryonic stem cell research, thus creating the greater need for governmental funding. If embryonic stem cell research really could deliver all that it promised, one has to wonder why there isn't a mad rush to invest now.

Meanwhile, adult stem cell therapies are healing patients now--despite the fact that they receive only a fraction of the funding. Professor Sherley argues that adult stem cells present greater promise for medicinal cures because they are already specialized into the tissue type needed, and--because they are harvested directly from the patient in need of therapy--they have the same genotype and thus avoid the risk of immune rejection (without the need for cloning or embryo-destruction). As Sherley put it: "If you have a problem with your liver, you need a liver stem cell, you don't need an embryonic stem cell." That is, while the best-case estimates put embryonic stem cell therapies at least 15 years away (if they ever arrive), adult stem cell therapies are here now. And they present none of the ethical dilemmas of embryonic stem cells. This is the research that should receive generous government funding.

Lastly, even if one is convinced that embryonic stem cell research is the best hope, one need not embrace human embryo destruction. If we are willing to wait just a little while longer, it appears that it may soon be possible to directly create embryonic-type (pluripotent) stem cells without creating, using, or destroying human embryos. Science itself may yet resolve this ethical impasse. There are currently two proposals on the table to accomplish just this. The first procedure, proposed by William Hurlbut, professor of Neurological Science at Stanford, is known as Altered Nuclear Transfer Oocyte Assisted Reprogramming (ANT-OAR). Garnering broad support both from the scientific community (from heavyweight stem cell researchers like Markus Grompe, director of the Oregon Stem Cell Center and a member of the board of the International Society for Stem Cell Research) and from the pro-life and Catholic communities, many see it as the best path (in addition to the highly successful adult stem cell therapies) for moving forward.

The second proposal relies upon dedifferentiation (reprogramming) of an adult somatic cell back to a state of pluripotency. As the human being matures, his cells differentiate as they become highly specialized tissue types. Scientists are now working to dedifferentiate these adult cells and return them to a state prior to specialization. This procedure is much like ANT-OAR, but seeks to reprogram a somatic cell without any nuclear transfer and thus without need for any ova. Further research into both of these procedures should be met with broad support.

It is unfortunate that our highly politicized culture has created an atmosphere where honest discussion of the prospects and ethics of various methods of stem cell research is impossible and these political ads have brought that discourse to a new low. For not only do they play on the hopes and fears of millions of suffering Americans, but they provide them with false information while attacking those who support ethical research that shows great promise.

Ryan T. Anderson is a Junior Fellow at First Things. He is also the Assistant Director of the Program on Bioethics and Human Dignity at the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, NJ.