Prof. Ian Wilmut of Edinburgh University is hardly a household name. However, most people would recognize his Nobel-Prize-winning scientific development. Prof. Wilmut was the individual who led the team that created the cloned sheep Dolly and pioneered a technique many would want to use for a type of embryonic stem-cell research. His action resulted in both uproar and applause all over the world and was instrumental in bringing the discussion of cloning and stem-cell research from the laboratory to the dinner table.
For years, the moral and ethical issue of destroying human embryos for scientific experimentation has been the biggest argument against embryonic stem-cell research. But now there is a new argument against embryonic stem-cell research: science.
Obama Ignores Science
Just recently, President Obama signed an executive order lifting the ban on the use of federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research, an act based more on politics than it was on science. (Private funding for this research has never been banned.) His action reignited the contentious issue for many individuals in the U.S. — it also ignored the miracles we’ve seen in advancing science.
Adult stem-cells are derived from umbilical cords, wisdom teeth, amniotic fluid, and various tissues, and they don’t hold the same ethical concerns that stem-cells taken from human embryos do. Over the years, adult stem cells have resulted in 73 successful treatments for various diseases like Alzheimer’s, Type 1 Diabetes, Parkinson’s, and various forms of cancer.
A U.S. doctor, Amid Patel, has used adult stem cells to successfully treat over 1,800 patients who suffered from severe heart failure, dramatically increasing their quality of life and chances of survival. Two years ago, I met a man named Stephen Sprague, who had been treated for leukemia through the use of adult stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood. There are success stories like Dr. Patel’s and Stephen Sprague’s scattered across the globe where individuals have been treated for their diseases by adult stem cells, and the hope for future breakthroughs seems limitless. On the other hand, despite millions of dollars of research, not one — not one — embryonic stem-cell trial has resulted in the successful treatment of a human patient.
Perhaps most incredibly, though, is the fact that scientists have just recently figured out how to reprogram adult stem cells to the point where they function exactly like an embryonic stem cell. These cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), can do everything an embryonic stem cell is capable of, only without having to destroy a human embryo. Because of this development, there is likely no medical benefit that can come from embryonic stem-cell research that cannot be obtained from adult stem cells. IPS cells also have a greater advantage because they can be derived from a person’s own cells, so a patient’s body is less likely to reject the stem-cell treatment.
Science is truly outpacing the embryonic stem-cell debate. Scientists across the world who were once advocates of this research have reversed course. They overwhelmingly say the future of stem-cell research lies in iPS cells and adult stem cells. Dr. James Thompson, known as the father of embryonic stem-cell research, has said that “it’s probably the beginning of the end for that controversy.” In fact, even the sheep-cloning Prof. Wilmut has abandoned embryonic stem-cell experimentation saying that the use of iPS cells is “extremely exciting and astonishing” and shows more promise for the future.
Stock Price Hikes
Why then do we continue to push federal dollars to embryonic stem-cell research? At least part of the reason may be found in the jump in stock value of several major companies involved in that research on the day that President Obama issued his executive order. The share price of some of these companies increased as much as 88%.
I reintroduced the bipartisan Patients First Act, (H.R. 877) to ask a single question: If we have limited federal dollars to spend on stem-cell research, should we not put our patients first by spending these dollars where we will get the most near-time clinical benefits for patients? If we do, the answer of where to spend the money is clear: adult stem-cell research.
When human lives are at stake, we cannot afford to take steps backwards in scientific development for the sake of politics. It is time to put the divisive political debate aside, unlock the potential in adult stem-cell research, and focus on the common goal on both sides of the stem cell debate — curing and treating patients.