Friday, January 27, 2006

At least locally, the fetal/embryonic stem cell debate is coming to a head. Maryland fancies itself a center of biotechnology, conveniently ignoring that its seriously anti-business environment begs highly mobile industries such as biotech to relocate. There is a biotech corridor in Maryland, due to the proximity to regulating authorities, but that may be coming to an end due to the oppressive business environment.

Anyway, MD has chosen to place itself at the forefront of the stem cell debate.

I think that I've discussed this before, but while looking for another article, I found an essay by a very intelligent guy that backs up what I've been saying. To whit: fetal/embryonic stem cells just don't work.

Supporters claim solid ground in the stem cell debate. Stem cells are like a piece of sheet metal that can be hammered into any shape. It just takes the right conditions to force a stem cell to differentiate into a particular cell, be it cardiac, pancreatic, whatever. BUT--fetal/embryonic stem cells have been a total bust. There have been numerous advancements in medicine related to stem cells, but in every case they have been adult stem cells. Said cells exist in the blood of adults as "peripheral cells" and in adipose (fat) tissue (possibly America's most abundant resource). Additionally, there have been a number of successes in transplanting already differentiated cells from a healthy heart to a diseased heart, a healthy pancreas to a diseased pancreas, etc. I've been a part of some of those projects.

The one and only clinical trial involving fetal/embryonic stem cells was not just a bust, it was a spectacular failure. Cells were injected into the brains of people with Parkinson's, and the result was that no one got better, and a significant number of subjects declined dramatically. They went in with the shakes and emerged as droolers. Nobody knows why, but nobody wants to speculate because to do so is to lend the appearance that you are anti-abortion, a cardinal sin. It goes right up there with the terminated pregnancy/breast cancer link. There is a ton of anecdotal evidence that women who have had terminated pregnancies--be it abortion or just miscarriage--are at higher risk for breast cancer than the general population, but nobody will touch it lest they be cast as anti-abortion.

I sometimes think that the fetal/embryonic stem cell thing is an issue of preserving grants and jobs. Unless they've ignored the literature, they know damn well that their research has yielded nothing, while adult cells are an absolute gold mine. But by casting opponents as stifling research for religious reasons, they're able to stifle those opponents in turn and continue lining their pockets.

There's a tremendous potential in stem cells and cell therapy, but until we stop barking up politically proper trees and limiting ourselves by refusing to admit that fetal/embryonic cells don't work, we're going to spend a lot of money on failed research, all the time feeling so much better because we're being so open minded about stem cells.

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