Why adult cells are superior to embryonic cells.
Autor: Elaine Mc Ginnis Fuente: CWFA(Concerned Women for America)

What are stem-cells?
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that continually renew themselves through cell division. Unlike other cells, stem cells begin as "blanks" without a dedicated task, but with an ability to become specialized. Scientists hope to use this capability to replace cells damaged by a broad spectrum of diseases.

Why is there a fight involving stem-cell research?
There are two different kinds of stem cells: adult stem cells (ASC) and embryonic stem cells (ESC). Adult stem cells can be found in the blood, bone marrow, skin, brain, liver, pancreas, fat, hair follicle, placenta, umbilical cord and amniotic fluid. The retrieval of these stem cells is relatively easy and does not harm the patient.

However, embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) requires the destruction of an embryo, which is a human being at the beginning of life. The fight is not over whether to legalize embryonic research--it is already legal--but over the source of funding. Because it kills a human being, opponents of ESCR do not want taxpayers to fund it.

Does embryonic stem-cell research really kill a life?
An embryo is the earliest stage of human development, from a single cell up to about eight weeks. It contains 46 chromosomes, which hold all the genes necessary for development. Ward Kischer, a human embryologist, says, "Virtually every human embryologist and every major textbook of human embryology states that fertilization marks the beginning of the life of the new individual human being." [Emphasis in the original.]

Five to seven days after an egg has been fertilized, "the embryo forms a structure called a blastocyst. Consisting of merely 140 cells, this hollow, fluid-filled sphere is made up of two types of cells: those that form the 'shell' of the sphere and those located within the 'shell.'" The cells in the "inner" part are the embryonic stem cells that are removed in order to do research, effectively destroying the embryo.

Why do some claim there are advantages to ESCR?
ESCs originally were thought to have an advantage because they have unlimited growth and potential for forming all tissues. Yet disastrous effects have occurred.

Increasing evidence proves embryonic stem cells are difficult to control and preserve. According to Dr. Peter Andrews of the University of Sheffield, England, "Simply keeping human embryonic stem cells alive can be a challenge." And Dr. David Prentice, professor of Life Sciences at Indiana State University, says, "The supposed advantages of ESCs are hindrances when it comes to transplants to repair damaged tissue. When transplanted into experimental animals, these cells generally continue this untamed behavior, with a tendency to form tumors or various unwanted tissues."

Indeed, rats with diabetes and Parkinson's disease were treated with embryonic stem cells and while some received benefits, many developed tumors.

Are adult stem cells beneficial?
Yes. Patients are already being treated with ASCs. Studies using ASCs include diabetes, heart disease, sickle cell anemia, acute myeloid leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and Crohn's disease.

ASCs have also successfully fought brain tumors, retinoblastoma, multiple myeloma, ovarian, testicular, and breast cancers. More than 30 anti-cancer uses for stem cells have been tested on humans, and many are already in routine therapeutic use.

Remarking on a fellow colleague's discovery that certain kinds of ASCs can convert into other tissue (the supposed advantage of ESCs), Dr. David Hess, a neurologist at the Medical College of Georgia, says, "I think Verfaillie's work is most exciting and translatable into the clinical arena. She seems to have a subpopulation with basically all the benefits of ESCs and none of the drawbacks."

Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Michael Fumento asserts the advantage of adult stem cells: "Embryonic stem cell research is so far behind it's like a joke. … We're getting everything we need out of nonembryonic stem cells, and what we're getting is incredible."

Then why is there controversy?
"There's a huge ESC industry out there, with countless labs packed with innumerable scientists desperately seeking research funds," Fumento says. "Private investors avoid them because they don't want to wait perhaps 10 years for commercial products that very well may not materialize and because they're spooked by the ethical concerns. That leaves essentially only Uncle Sam's piggy bank."

Could stem cells treat Alzheimer's disease?
Not likely. According to stem-cell researcher Michael Shelanski, co-director of the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center, the "chance of doing repairs to Alzheimer's brains by putting in stem cells is small."

U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Florida), a practicing physician, agrees: "Whether embryonic or adult stem cells, Alzheimer's disease is one of the least likely where stem cells could be useful."

When asked why ESC proponents claim it could treat Alzheimer's, one ESC researcher said, "People need a fairy tale."

What about the 400,000 embryos that will be discarded if not used for research?
According to the 2002 RAND Corporation Survey, 400,000 frozen embryos are stored in fertility clinics. Advocates of ESCR argue that if they are not used for research, then they will be discarded. However, the same survey found that 88.2 percent of the embryos are reserved for future attempts at pregnancy. Only 2.2 percent are to be discarded and 2.8 percent have been slated for research. Overwhelmingly, parents don't want their embryos treated like research material or trash.

Did President George W. Bush ban stem-cell research?
President Bush did not ban stem-cell research. In August of 2001, the president designated $250 million toward adult stem-cell research. He announced that the government would not support the destruction of embryos with federal funds, but that he will permit funding of research on already existing stem-cell lines taken from embryos.

If we do not research ESCs, then will we have a brain drain?
Advocates argue that without an increase federal funding for ESCR our top scientists will leave the country to work abroad. However, European Union Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin says that the main aim in loosening the existing laws on ESCR in Europe "was to stop a brain drain of the brightest scientists leaving Europe to work in countries like the U.S." The BBC released a report showing that "the USA continues to dominate the biotechnology industry." Countries and U.S. states that limit or ban embryo research or cloning have thriving biotech industries.

Adult stem-cells are both effective and ethical. Embryonic stem-cells are obtained by killing embryos, and are too unstable to even begin human trials. We do not have to choose between curing lives or preserving lives of embryos; we can do both.

Policy decisions should be based on facts and morality. The temptation to spend tax dollars on ESCR will lead to the same horrific outcome as other unethical scientific endeavors that put the pursuit of knowledge above respect for human life.

Elaine McGinnis is an intern with Concerned Women for America. She recently graduated from Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
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