July 30, 2004
As to Ron Reagans convention speech, it was so opposite the truth as to resemble a photographic negative.
Far from blocking federal embryonic-stem-cell research funding, Bush specifically authorized it so long as it used existing lines of embryonic cells. But more remarkably, Ron Reagan made absolutely no reference to an alternative to embryonic stem cells that is decades more advanced and carries absolutely no moral baggage. "Adult stem cells" can be extracted from various places in the human body as well as blood in umbilical cords and placentas. They were first used to treat human illness in 1957.
By the 1980s, adult stem cells were literally curing a variety of cancers and other diseases; embryonic stem cells have never been tested on a human. Adult stem cells now treat about 80 different diseases; again embryonic stem cells have treated no one. Adult stem cells obviously aren't rejected when taken from a patient's own body, though they may be from an unmatched donor; embryonic stem cells have surface proteins that often cause rejection. Implanted embryonic stem cells also have a nasty tendency to multiply uncontrollably, a process called "cancer." Oops.
Regarding Alzheimer's specifically, drugs will probably provide the cure. But forget embryonic stem cells, as Ronald McKay, a stem-cell researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, recently told the Washington Post. He labeled claims of an embryonic-stem-cell cure for Alzheimer's "a fairy tale."
The only potential advantage embryonic stem cells ever had was the belief that only they could be coaxed into becoming all the different cells of the body. We don't even know whether that's true. Conversely, three different labs have now discovered it may be true of certain adult stem cells.
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