NRL News

Re-introduced Stem cell bill ignores patients and real science

by | Jul 7, 2011

By David Prentice

Dr. David Prentice

The reintroduction of a bill for federal taxpayer support of human embryonic stem cell research by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), will waste taxpayer funds on unworthy science and possibly delay cures for patients. The new bill, H.R. 2736, is virtually identical to DeGette’s previous offering in the 111th Congress.

The bill’s purpose supposedly is to codify the Obama administration’s 2009 liberalized policy of federal funding for human embryonic stem cells. However, it lays out a policy that is neither ethically responsible nor scientifically worthy, including authorizing funds for the cloning (by somatic cell nuclear transfer) of human embryos for experiments.

The bill language offers up human embryos from fertility clinics for experiments, based on the parents signing over their “excess” embryonic children for research. The bill’s faux ban on funding human cloning disingenuously redefines the cloning process to mean implanting cloned embryos, not cloning itself:

“…the term ‘human cloning’ means the implantation of the product of transferring the nuclear material of a human somatic cell into an egg cell from which the nuclear material has been removed or rendered inert into a uterus or the functional equivalent of a uterus.”

That “product” is commonly known in biology as an “embryo”; even NIH admits that somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning produces an embryo. The bill thus allows federal funding for the cloning of human embryos, so long as the cloned embryo is not allowed to survive. The bill essentially mandates what some have called “clone-and-kill.”

Use of federal funds for human embryonic stem cell research, as well as for cloning of human embryos, is not only ethically repugnant but also would overturn current law, specifically the Dickey-Wicker amendment first signed into law by President Clinton. NIH’s Federal funding of such research is currently being challenged in Sherley v. Sebelius in U.S. District Court.

One statement in the bill rings true, however: “The scientific field of stem cell research is continually advancing.” Yet Rep.DeGette is wrong here: The field is advancing in every direction except human cloning and embryonic stem cell research which haven’t treated any patients despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent. The DeGette-Dent bill would codify this wasteful spending on the least promising, outdated stem cell science, while slowing the pace of adult stem cell research – the most promise for patients.

There are currently over 2,200 adult stem cell clinical trials ongoing or completed, and over 50,000 patients are treated with adult stem cells each year around the globe. Adult stem cell transplants have become “the standard of care” for many people with blood disorders and malignancies. And the realization is growing that adult stem cells can treat much more than blood diseases and cancer. Published scientific evidence now shows a wide range of successful examples for dozens of diseases, including autoimmune disorders such as juvenile diabetes and multiple sclerosis, as well as heart disease, spinal cord injury and corneal blindness.

Thousands of people have benefited from adult stem cell research.

People like Amy Daniels. A young mother of two, Amy was told she had a fatal condition called scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that turns organs and tissues to stone. She wrote a letter to her husband telling him it was OK to move on after she died. But Amy has thrown away that letter, because after treatment with her own bone marrow adult stem cells, she lives a normal life.

People like Doug Rice, who had only a short time to live after heart attacks damaged his heart. Doug had his own adult stem cells injected into his heart, helping it rebuild the damaged muscle. Now the retired Marine loves to tell how his life was saved.

The federal government has spent over half a billion dollars on human embryonic stem cell research since 2002, and funding for this controversial research increased over 40 percent since 2008. At the same time, funding for human adult stem cell research, mostly invested into clinical trials for patients, increased only 20 percent. Resources should be invested into ethical, successful adult stem cells, focusing on the real promise for patients.

Dr. David Prentice is senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council.