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Science and Spin

An "educational video" on stem-cell research leaves science in disgrace.

11:00 PM, Nov 23, 2006 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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Forget for the moment that the failure of gene expression in human "manufactured egg cells" has not been observed because scientists have been unable to maintain cloned embryos to the point that fetal gene expression could actually be studied: It is true that serious gene expression failures have been observed in animals. But these defects have not prevented cloned animals from surviving to live birth. Indeed, cows, sheep, pigs, mice, horses, and other animals are now routinely created through SCNT both for medical research and breeding purposes, all despite gene expression defects.

In addition to making false claims in favor of cloning and embryonic stem-cell research, Pathway to Cures also engages in outright deception about the promise of adult stem-cell research. For example, the video claims (falsely) that adult stem cells "can only become the cell types of their own particular organ system." But it has been long established that adult stem cells are at least multipotent--that is, they can become several types of tissue, not just from the organ system from which they were extracted. Moreover, umbilical cord blood stem cells and bone marrow stem cells might even be pluripotent, that is, capable of becoming almost every type of tissue. Umbilical cord blood stem cells, for example, have been morphed into dime-sized sections of liver tissue that can already be used to test drugs.

Pathway to Cures then makes an astounding assertion: "Parkinson's disease has been cured in chimpanzees," it claims, using "embryonic human stem cells." Can this be true? Surely, such a breakthrough would have made international headlines. Indeed, if chimps had really been "cured" of Parkinson's disease, Michael J. Fox would have touted the experiment in his controversial political ads in support of embryonic stem cell research in the recent election.

I consulted some scientist friends who are deeply involved in the stem cell debate. They hadn't heard of the experiment either, but agreed to check the science and medical journals. The closest experiment anyone could find on the subject was performed with monkey embryonic stem cells, not human, injected into macaques, not chimpanzees, with the cells apparently alleviating some symptoms--but not coming anywhere close to a "cure." Unless the Parkinson's chimp experiment is the best kept secret in the history of medicine, the Alliance for Medical Research is either confused or making more false claims.

In short, Regenerative Medicine: Pathway to Cures is drivel. Unfortunately, such mendaciousness is becoming par for the course in pro-cloning advocacy.

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

Correction appended 11/27/06: The article originally stated that the Alliance for Medical Research had informal ties to Baylor University. It does not. The Alliance for Medical Research has ties to the Baylor College of Medicine, which is unrelated to Baylor University.