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The Big Stem-Cell Breakthrough

That you're not hearing about . . .

11:12 AM, Oct 31, 2006 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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DID YOU SEE THE SIZE OF THOSE HEADLINES? "Stem Cells Used to Create Artificial Liver," the New York Times screamed on its front page. "Breakthrough! Stem Cells to One Day Create Organ for Liver Transplant," was how the Washington Post put it. "Stem Cell Breakthrough Demonstrates Viability of New Science," yelled the Los Angeles Times. "Stem Cell Hope for People with Liver Disease," agreed USA Today. The story was so big that Katie Couric narrated a special report, expressing her profound gratitude for the hope these dedicated stem-cell scientists had brought to suffering humanity.

What's that? You didn't see those headlines? You say you somehow missed the story? Well, don't blame yourself. You are not out of touch. The above headlines never appeared, the stories have not been written.

Don't get me wrong: The breakthrough described in the fictional headlines is real. British scientists have created an artificial liver--from scratch--using stem cells. The research does offer tremendous hope for the alleviation of human suffering. But you probably didn't hear about this amazing achievement because the stem cells the scientists used to build a human liver did not come from embryos: They came from umbilical cord blood.

This made their scientific achievement politically incorrect. A story that doesn't validate the stem-cell mantra that embryonic stem cells offer the "best hope" for future cures isn't worth much attention. Even the most important adult or umbilical cord blood stem-cell breakthroughs usually receive only minor, inside-the-paper coverage. This is the primary reason why so many people still don't know about the many advances being made on a continual basis in human research with ethical, adult and umbilical cord blood stem cells.

HERE'S THE STORY: Two scientists from Newcastle University, Nico Forraz and Colin McGuckin, have built dime-sized human livers using stem cells found in umbilical cord blood. The livers are already sufficient for use in drug testing--perhaps in place of using some animals and humans as research subjects. The scientists believe that within five years, stem-cell generated liver tissue could be sufficiently perfected for use in treating human diseases caused by injury, disease, and alcohol abuse. Perhaps in 15 years, the technique could even be employed to manufacture whole human livers suitable for transplantation.

Contrast this general media's shunning of this major story with its sensationalistic reporting several weeks ago of the bogus story that scientists had obtained embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos. That story, unlike the umbilical-cord-blood-stem-cells-into-liver breakthrough, got front-page play and major television coverage. It was deemed news because it was seen as undermining President Bush's stem-cell policy.

Indeed, if this new breakthrough had been accomplished with embryonic stem cells instead of umbilical cord blood stem cells, the headlines would have been enormous. The second paragraph of the stories would have accused President Bush of holding up potentially life-saving cures. Notable scientists and bioethicists would have been touting the new dawn of regenerative medicine that was coming into being, despite Bush's resistance.

Instead, we hear the sound of silence--thanks to the news blockade that doesn't care much about stem-cell breakthroughs unless they come from destroyed embryos.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His website is www.wesleyjsmith.com.