By Paul Tuns
Researchers at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto have produced Canada’s first embryonic stem cell lines and are boasting about this country being a leader in curing various diseases and ailments. Some scientists, however, say those involved in the ground-breaking science are overstating claims as to the kind of cures that may come from the unproven research.
Dr. Andras Nagy, a senior researcher at Mount Sinai, said the new lines “will ultimately bring Canada and the world closer to treating or curing diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries.”
Nagy continued: “This is an important step. This places Canada on the map of embryonic stem-cell research.” Dr. Michael Rudnicki, the scientific director of Canada’s Stem Cell Network, a research and lobbying organization, applauded the announcement: “Having our own cell lines gives Canadian researchers access to a valuable research tool. They are a valuable contribution to stem cell research on a global scale.”
But pro-lifers said the creation of stem cell lines that depend upon the destruction of human life is not something worth celebrating. Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes said, “How can we boast of taking home-grown Canadian embryonic children and dismembering them for their stem cells?”
Nonetheless, the mainstream media, most notably the Toronto Star and the CBC, dutifully reported Nagy’s boasts, with no consideration for the ethical and moral implications. But even ESCR’s scientific merit is dubious. Nagy’s team ignored the concerns of other researchers, especially those in the Alzheimer’s field, who say that there is little actual evidence embryonic stem research can deliver on the promises of its noisiest advocates. Notably, leading Alzheimer’s researchers say the destructive research is nowhere close to helping patients. As LifeSiteNews has reported: “Because Alzheimer’s is not a disease involving one type of cell, one scientist says the use of embryonic stem cells is unlikely to have much effect.” And as Steve Stice, a stem cell researcher at the University of Georgia, explained to the Altanta Constitution-Journal, “Alzheimer’s is a more global disease, with an effect on numerous kinds of cells … That makes it much more difficult for a cell therapy to be effective.” Other researchers agree that potential cures, if they are found in stem cell research at all, won’t happen soon. Marilyn Albert, a Johns Hopkins University researcher who chairs the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council of the Alzheimer’s Association, says there is a growing consensus among Alzheimer’s researchers that “there are higher priorities for seeking effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and for identifying preventive strategies.”
But it is not only Alzheimer’s on which the focus of embryonic stem cell research is misplaced. Adult stem cells, derived from ethical sources including bone marrow, teeth, brain cells, skin, fat and umbilical cord blood, are already being used to treat numerous diseases. Furthermore, as Dr. Peter Hollands, who has a PhD in stem cell biology from Cambridge University in England, has noted, adult and umbilical cord blood stem cells “are readily available, have no (ethical) objections associated with them and are tried and tested in clinical use.” He pointed to the fact that umbilical cord blood stem cells have been used in treating 3,000 patients for 45 different diseases.
Despite such success stories – and the absence of them for embryonic stem cells – the media continue to celebrate every bit of ESCR news (usually in experiments on animals) while ignoring breakthroughs in clinical trials using adult or umbilical cord blood stem cells.
In May, there was widespread international coverage of the announcement by South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk that he had successfully cloned a human being to create new embryonic stem cells. Meanwhile, the use of adult stem cells in the Asian country are enjoying the most success. For one example, orthopedist Han Chang-whan at St. Mary’s Hospital in Daejeon is treating patients with adult stem cells and seeing tremendous results. Treating a variety of ailments – cerebral infarctions, Buerger’s disease, femur head avascular necrosis, bone fractures – 64 of 72 patients showed significant improvement without any negative side effects. Woo-suk, on the other hand, admits that scientists are nowhere near treating patients using embryonic stem cells.
Meanwhile, developments in South Korea and Great Britain, where scientists have cloned human beings to create new stem cell lines, have led to calls from Canadians scientists for the government to relax already-permissive regulations on cloning and embryo research. Currently, the law permits the creation of embryonic human beings by cloning for research purposes if scientists claim they have exhausted other research sources.
Alan Bernstein, head of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, said the international developments warrant changes to Canadian regulations, despite the fact the government passed its reproductive and experimental technologies bill just last year. It was time for the research “to move forward,” he said. Bernstein, a stem cell researcher himself, said that science had made Canada’s regulations irrelevant and he called upon Ottawa to allow human cloning so that researchers would have enough human embryos to sate their appetite for destructive research on human beings.