Battling Obama's Stem Cell Order

One of the plaintiffs in a landmark embryonic stem cell trial says that the case shouldn’t be labeled as a religion vs. science issue.

“The issue is not religion versus science,” Dr. James Sherley, one of the plaintiffs in the case, told HUMAN EVENTS. “The issue is about the government doing something illegal and that having a negative impact on science, on the public—in terms of how resources would be allocated and used—and on embryos.”

The litigation deals with whether the Obama Administration policy of allowing federal funding of embryonic stem cell research complies with the Dickey-Wicker amendment. That measure says federal funds can’t be used in research that knowingly discards or destroys an embryo or subjects an embryo to more dangerous experiments than those allowed on a baby in the womb under certain U.S. codes.

Sherley’s co-plaintiff in the case, Dr. Theresa Deishe, says there is a “long history” of the media not accurately portraying embryonic vs. adult stem cell research.

“When they do actually cover advances in adult stem cell research, for the most part, they drop the word ‘adult,’” Deisher said. “It’s almost an attempt to mislead the public into thinking that the only stem cell is embryonic. And I’m amazed when I speak on these issues at how many people think that—MDs don’t know that there are other stem cells besides embryonic.”

Deisher and Sherley filed suit against a presidential executive order that lumps the results of both types of stem cell research together when citing scientific advances in the field.

“Research involving human embryonic stem cells and human non-embryonic stem cells has the potential to lead to better understanding and treatment of many disabling diseases and conditions. Advances over the past decade in this promising scientific field have been encouraging,” the executive order reads.

According to Deisher, adult stem cells are where the real advances are being made.

“There’s this idea that embryonic are new, and adult are old. The opposite is … true,” said Deisher, whose career has been in commercial biotechnology.

“They’ve formed tumors for 30 years,” Deisher said of embryonic stem cells. “We’ve never overcome them, nor has a therapeutic been discovered from doing research on those cells… They have not been necessary or essential for any drug that has been developed in that time period, and that time period is the boom of biotechnology.”

Deisher said watching scientists ignore the adult stem cells—which are in late stage clinical trials—to work on embryonic stem cells helped form her current outlook on the research.

“When you can use a patient’s own stem cells, that is always the best for that patient,” Deisher said. “So when those cells were isolated, that’s a huge, huge scientific advance, and those results were deliberately suppressed. And so when you see that, you have to look at the people suppressing them, and you say, ‘If you really wanted to treat patients, you would be just jumping up and down over these cells.”’

During his presidential campaign, Obama seemed willing to rethink the approach to the embryonic vs. adult stem cell controversy that his executive order now advocates. To his statement that he didn’t see anything wrong with using already created embryos for scientific research came this caveat:

“If, in fact, adult stem cell lines are working just as well, then of course we should try to avoid any kind of moral arguments that may be in place,” Obama said to Pastor Rick Warren at the Saddleback Forum.

Another topic that Deisher says rarely comes up is the cost. The president of Geron, a biopharmaceutical company, said in 2009 regarding a new experiment in embryonic stem cell therapy, “This is not going to be a $500,000 price tag. It will be remarkably affordable … in the context of the value it provides.”

But Deisher is concerned the price tag for embryonic stem cell therapies may be just under that $500,000 threshold and says adult stem cell therapies are more affordable.

And in an economy with a 9.6% unemployment rate, affordability is key.

“What do you wish for your neighbor—$10,000-$25,000 therapeutic they could possibly afford, or federal money to be developed for these therapies that only Michael J. Fox can afford?” Deisher said.

“This is about wanting us to see science done with integrity in this country, to see public resources used the best way to use them, which is not embryonic stem cell research,” Sherley said.

While the National Institute for Health does not keep figures on how much embryonic vs. adult stem cell therapies will cost, they currently estimate their institution will spend $348 million on non-embryonic human stem cell research and $123 million on human embryonic research in Fiscal Year 2010 (that’s not including stimulus funds, which add $14 million to human embryonic stem cell research and $40 million to human non-embryonic stem cell research).

Deisher and James’ case remains in federal court. But Judge Royce Lamberth did issue an injunction against Obama’s executive order. The Obama Administration asked the injunction be removed but the judge refused to grant its request.