The Canadian Cancer Society remains committed to funding human embryonic stem cell research despite great advances in adult stem cell therapy and the controversial nature of research that relies on the harvesting of human embryos.
CCS spokesperson Rosie Hales confirmed the organization has not changed its policy. The registered charity reported that donations made up 84 percent of its 2016 revenue of $184,142,409.
The Canadian Cancer Society will fund research using human embryonic stem cells if: the research is deemed meritorious by an expert panel of reviewers through the grant review process managed by the Canadian Cancer Society; the research holds the promise of offering important information that could reduce the burden of cancer; the research is in accordance with federal legislation and regulatory processes governing the use of human embryonic stem cells in research, which prohibits cloning and the creation of embryos strictly for research purposes but permits research on embryos no longer needed for reproductive purposes donated with full informed consent.
The CCS “is not currently funding any research that involves embryonic stem cells,” Hales told LifeSiteNews in an email. “It may be helpful to understand the process through which we select research projects for funding,” which is a “scientific review process” that is “based in scientific merit,” she added.
As early as 2009 researchers were decrying previous predictions that human embryonic stem cells could be used to treat any number of diseases as drastically overstated.
Bernadine Healy wrote that year in U.S. News & World Report that Israel reported “embryonic stem cells injected into patients can cause disabling if not deadly tumors.” This result had been expected and “feared” by scientists because tests in animals had shown embryonic stem cells to run “wildly out of control.”
Researchers were instead turning to the 2007 “blockbuster discovery” of “induced pluripotent stem cells,” created from adult skin cells and “embryonic-like in that they can turn into any cell in the body — and so bypass the need for embryos or eggs,” Healy wrote.
While these were ethical, cheaper, and easier to produce than harvesting human embryonic stem cells, and genetically identical with the donor, scientists were wary that iPSCs “also come with the risk of cancer.”
Adult stem cell therapy had by far the most successful track record, wrote Healy.
Matt Bowman of the Alliance Defense Fund similarly dismissed human embryonic stem cell research in a 2010 CNN op-ed as “the $10,000 toilet seat of the 21st century.” Such research had “produced no treatments at all,” Bowman asserted, whereas adult stem cell therapy had been used to grow “new corneas and tracheas, restoring sight and speech.”
American Life League likewise echoes this. “More than 70 diseases or conditions including leukemia, immune system and other blood disorders, cancers and autoimmune diseases respond well when adult stem cell therapy is used,” it reports.
Such ethically-sourced stem cells can be harvested from “fatty tissue, bone marrow, or the umbilical cord after the birth of a baby,” ALL notes.
But according to the Canadian Cancer Society research funding database provided by Hales, the Canadian organization has funded projects involving human embryonic stem cell research up to January 2015. This included a $179,835 “innovation grant” from February 2012 to January 2014 for Tamra Werbowetski-Ogilvie at the University of Manitoba.
Werbowetski-Ogilvie also received $132,405 on a CCS research fellowship at McMaster University from 2007 to 2011 for unspecified research involving human embryonic stem cells.
The CCS granted Senthil Muthuswamy of the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto $200,000 from 2012 to 2014. The project’s description said Muthuswamy achieved a “major breakthrough” when his lab team “developed a novel method to generate normal pancreatic duct-like, three-dimensional (3D) structures (iPducts) from human embryonic stem cells” because “no researcher has been able to identify conditions to form pancreatic duct-like structures from hESCs in culture.”
Now based at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Muthuswamy and his team have gone on to create cancerous “organoids,” or mini-tumors, using cells from the patient’s tumor and human embryonic stem cells, reported in the November 2015 Nature Medicine. He told Boston’s Fox 25 News in February that these mini-tumors can be used to pinpoint the most effective drug treatment for a particular patient, but this has yet to be put into practice.
Should an effective treatment eventually emerge from human embryonic stem cell research, as ALL points out, “obtaining stem cells from a human embryo is highly unethical.” There is “only one way to obtain stem cells from a developing human embryo, and it involves killing the embryo,” ALL notes.
A longer version of this article originally appeared July 5 at LifeSiteNews and is used with permission.