Stem Cell Primer
I am a physician and I am strongly against the use of fetal or embryonic tissue for scientific research. The media continues to back those who demand the use of aborted fetuses and frozen embryos; meanwhile, apart from publications like the Register, nothing is heard about the success stories of adult stem-cell research (“Umbilical Stem Cells Offer Alternative to Killing Embryos,” April 8-14).
Italian scientists have generated muscle tissue using rat stem cells, a discovery that may have significant implications for organ-transplant therapy. Researchers at the University of South Florida report that rats genetically engineered to have strokes were injected with rat stem cells that “integrated seamlessly into the surrounding brain tissue, maturing into the type of cell appropriate for that area of the brain.”
The group of scientists who achieved worldwide fame for cloning Dolly the sheep have successfully created heart tissue using cow stem cells. Scientists inserted anti-HIV genes into human stem cells. The stem cells survived, grew, and developed into a type of white blood cell that is affected adversely by HIV infection. In the laboratory, these treated cells blocked HIV growth!
Again, none of these advances are well known and none relied on the use of stem cells from embryos or the products of abortion. All of these experiments involved adult stem cells.
Embryonic and aborted tissue research may not actually produce the therapeutic benefits its supporters have told us to anticipate. We also learn in the Register (“Fetal Tissue Transplants Cripple Patients,” March 25-31) that the March 8 New England Journal of Medicine reported tragic side effects from an experiment involving the insertion of fetal brain cells into the brains of Parkinson's disease patients. The patients treated showed modest, if any, overall benefits.
The results, in the words of one disheartened researcher, were “utterly devastating,” with the unfortunate patients exhibiting permanent uncontrollable movements: writhing, twisting, head-jerking, arm flailing and constant chewing. One man was so badly affected he no longer can eat, requiring the insertion of a feeding tube. Grafts of fetal and embryonic tissue may provoke the body's immune response, leading to rejection of the tissue and potentially death.
I believe that our tax dollars should not be used to finance this research! In fact, this was the law of the land until the Clinton administration, when the National Institutes of Health began accepting grant proposals for research using embryos originally created for in vitro fertilization but now deemed “in excess of clinical need.”
Why is federal funding for embryo and fetal research pushed so hard and so publicly while adult stem-cell and other alternative therapies are put on the back burner?
I suppose it is linked to the power of the abortion industry and our wonderful Hollywood celebrities. If Michael J Fox, Mary Tyler Moore and Christopher Reeve believe something, then we must all believe it. I respectfully disagree.
Remember, we are creatures of God. We cannot “experiment” or destroy his newly created life. The Hippocratic oath says, “As to diseases, make a habit of two things — to help, or at least do no harm.”
THOMAS V. MESSE, M.D.
- April 15-21,2000