Research need not kill
Lawmakers told that adult stem cells work as good or better than embryo cells
By Julianne Nornberg
Catholic Herald - Madison
MADISON - No human life need be destroyed in the process of
deriving stem cells to be used in research, Dr. David Prentice
told legislators and other public officials at a Wisconsin Right
to Life-sponsored presentation on stem cell research at the State
Prentice is a professor of life sciences at Indiana State
University and a founding member of Do No Harm, The Coalition of
Americans for Research Ethics.
Prentice said stem cells, which form the various tissues of the
body, can be used for tissue engineering and regenerative
medicine. For example, if someone has a heart attack, stem cells
can be used to replace the damaged or diseased cells.
"Unfortunately, the attention has been on embryonic stem cells,"
he said. By the time a human embryo is 5-7 days old, its inner
cells, or stem cells, can generate all tissues of the human body.
The ethical question, Prentice said, is that using embryonic stem
cells requires destroying the embryo.
"At one cell we are human beings," said Prentice. "This is a
human rights issue. When do we define a person? Should we take
one group of humans and sacrifice them for the potential benefit
of another group of humans?"
Our own adult bodies also have stem cells that can repair and
generate tissue, he said. "Published literature shows that you
can do all these things with adult stem cells, so there is no
absolute need for embryonic stem cell research."
"Adult stem cells have an amazing capacity to grow and repair
damage," said Prentice, pointing out that they can form all
tissues such as bone, cartilage, muscle, fat, liver, brain,
nerve, heart, blood cells, skin, cornea, retina, pancreas, lung,
"They already are being used clinically. Adult stem cells are
used for cancer, lupus, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, sickle
cell anemia, and bone disease," he said.
Potentially, adult stem cells could be used to treat Parkinson's
disease, Alzheimer's disease, and spinal cord injury. In one
experiment, researchers cured diabetes in mice, using the mice's
own adult stem cells, he said.
Prentice said studies have also shown that adult stem cells
injected into the blood stream can go where the damage is, while
embryonic stem cells have been shown to develop tumors.
The day after Prentice's talk, a New York Times article,
"Parkinson's research is set back by failure of fetal cell
implants" (3/8) by Gina Kolata illustrated limitations of
embryonic stem cell research based on a study published in The
New England Journal of Medicine.
"In about 15% of patients, the cells apparently grew too well,
churning out so much of a chemical that controls movement that
the patients writhed and jerked uncontrollably," the article
said. "The researchers say that while some patients have similar
effects from taking too high a dose of their Parkinson's drug, in
this case the drugs did not cause the symptoms and there is no
way to remove or deactivate the transplanted cells."
In the last two years, which was about the same time as the
discovery of embryonic stem cells, researchers started
discovering the same possibilities in adult stem cells, he said.
"We're at the beginning of a biological revolution," Prentice
said. "We'll see more, not less, of these ethical and scientific
debates. It's important that everyone have an informed dialogue
Susan Armacost, legislative director of Wisconsin Right to Life,
said Prentice "did an outstanding job in educating lawmakers on
the ethical problems using embryos and demonstrating that there
are other sources to obtain stem cells. The message was that
those are the avenues we should be exploring."
Armacost said one of the heartening outcomes of the presentation
was that several legislators said they now understood why the use
of embryonic stem cells must stop.
"We hope the culmination of this will be to ban the use of
embryos for research purposes. Education has to take place before
we move forward with anything," said Armacost, explaining that
even legislators who were pro-life were struggling with this
issue because they thought they were cutting off research
possibilities. "And now they know there are alternatives."
"Dr. Prentice made a compelling case that research on embryos is
not necessary to achieve medical advances in these areas," said
John Huebscher, executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic
Conference. "He articulated the ethical problems in the use of
embryos and he made an important contribution to improving the
nature of the debate on this question.
"One of the things Dr. Prentice said was that this is an issue
for all of society," Huebscher said. "Everyone has to be involved
in making these value judgments. We are in a position where the
whole society can be in on the discussion."
(The web site for Do No Harm, The Coalition of Americans for
Research Ethics is: www.stemcellresearch.org)