Embryonic Stem Cells Approved for First Human Trials

Stem cells from adults can be "coaxed" into becoming more specified tissues and used effectively for specific treatments. Stem cells from embryos, however, involve the destruction of a human life and have not yet offered any useful treatments. Nevertheless, the FDA has approved embryonic stem cell use in "the world's first clinical trial of a human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-based therapy in man."1

The news comes as the latest chapter in a long series of events. When President George W. Bush introduced a policy in August 2001 that prevented federal funding for stem cell research involving embryos, guidelines regarding the use of embryonic stem cells had already been established in labs and remained on the table.

After taking office, President Barack Obama reversed the Bush decision on March 10, 2009.2 This was an anticipated fulfillment of a campaign promise, but what came as a surprise was that this announcement to proceed with embryonic stem cells provided no limits or restrictions on the source of those cells--leaving that daunting responsibility to National Institutes of Health researchers.

This push for the use of embryonic stem cells, as embodied in the Obama decision, is incomprehensible considering the medical fact that, although there are over 100 effective treatments using adult stem cells (which are in ample supply), no treatments have resulted from even the embryonic stem cell lines that have already been established.3 Killing babies to harvest their cells (which is the direction this trend is heading) is not only morally wrong--it's senseless.

Nevertheless, these developments paved the way for a California biotech firm called Geron to receive a green light in 2009 to begin the process of using embryonic stem cells for a potential treatment to regenerate damaged nerve tissue. However, in August 2009 the FDA suspended the process because of the development of small tumors in mice that resulted from Geron's embryonic cell-containing concoction.4

The FDA has now reversed the suspension, freeing Geron to proceed with a clinical trial in patients with severe spinal cord injuries, with a goal of eventually developing embryonic stem-cell treatments for such degenerative diseases as Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis. Though this is good news for Geron stockholders, it's a deep concern for several reasons.

First, the tumor-causing issues in the drug may not have been resolved, so there's no guarantee that human patients will be tumor-free when this experimental treatment is administered to them. Without evidence that the treatment has been improved, why has the FDA made this latest decision?

Neuroscientist Evan Snyder told LifeNews.com, "There's a lot of debate among spinal cord researchers that the pre-clinical data itself doesn't justify the clinical trial."5 In addition, embryonic stem cells have no positive medical track record. If the cells can be stimulated at great expense toward a specified tissue type, they often develop tumors. They also suffer from immune system rejection when injected into animals, unlike adult stem cells, which can be properly matched to a patient.

Lastly, their use is tied to death of the unborn.

Seeking a cure for disease and paralysis is commendable. But since stem cells with successful track records―taken from adipose tissue, blood, or umbilical cords―do not involve murder, claiming medical necessity looks in this case like a smoke screen to obscure a more sinister purpose.

References

  1. Geron to Proceed with First Human Clinical Trial of Embryonic Stem Cell-Based Therapy. Geron press release, July 30, 2010.
  2. Wohlsen, M. Scientists cheer Obama's stem cell reversal. Associated Press, March 10, 2009.
  3. Thomas, B. Understanding the Stem Cell Debate. ICR News. Posted on icr.org July 10, 2008, accessed July 30, 2010.
  4. Geron's IND for Spinal Cord Injury Placed on Hold. Geron press release, August 18, 2009.
  5. Ertelt, S. FDA OKs First Embryonic Stem Cell Research Trial on Humans, Despite Concerns. LifeNews. Posted on lifenews.com July 30, 2010, accessed July 30, 2010. 

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on August 5, 2010.

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