It “may be the greatest medical breakthrough in our or in any lifetime: the use of embryonic stem cells,” Ron Reagan told enthralled listeners at the Democratic Convention. These cells could “cure a wide range of fatal and debilitating illnesses: Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lymphoma, spinal-cord injuries, and much more.”
Yet “there are those who would stand in the way of this remarkable future, who would deny the federal funding so crucial to basic research,” he warned, concluding we must “cast a vote for embryonic-stem-cell research” on Election Day.
Now why would the Democrats choose Ron “Jr.” to deliver this speech? The reason, naturally, is that Reagan is not only the son of a conservative Republican former president, but of one whose disease we’re told could one day be cured with embryonic-stem-cell therapy.
Liberal, pro-Kerry columnist Richard Cohen accused Ron Reagan of “grave robbery,” not so much for exploiting his father’s name but for doing it so cynically. After all, Ron Reagan is a lifelong liberal who never voted for his dad, according to Reagan’s other son, columnist and radio-show host Michael Reagan. And Miss Manners would surely not approve of Ron Reagan converting the eulogy for his father into a political speech with a thinly veiled swipe at President Bush for “wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage.”
In a recent column that, I’m happy to say, quoted my stem-cell work, Michael Reagan declared he was “tired of the media’s insistence on reporting that the Reagan ‘family’ is in favor of stem cell research, when the truth is that two members of the family have been long time foes of it…my dad, Ronald Reagan during his lifetime, and me.”
As to Ron Reagan’s 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.
Further, perhaps we have no need for “one size fits all.” In recent years researchers have found that they can tease various adult stem cells into far more types of mature tissue than was previously thought possible. Moreover, they seem to find adult stem cells essentially wherever they look–including blood, bone marrow, skin, brains, spinal cords, dental pulp, muscles, blood vessels, corneas, retinas, livers, pancreases, fat, hair follicles, placentas, umbilical cords, and amniotic fluid. We may need all sizes, but we don’t need them from one type of stem cell.
So why do we keep hearing so much about “miraculous” embryonic stem cells? Because private investors know otherwise, pumping money into adult-stem-cell research and leaving embryonic-stem-cell labs and companies desperate to feed from the public trough.
Ron Reagan began his talk saying it “should not–must not–have anything to do with partisanship,” thereby signaling its sole purpose. The Democratic position on stem cells is a cynical and cruel attempt to disenchant Republicans ignorant about adult stem cells and make them feel Bush is pig-headedly stopping a technology that will cure everything from Alzheimer’s to AIDS. In what’s already a nasty campaign, Ron Reagan’s stem-cell speech may have been the most vicious attack yet.
–Michael Fumento is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a syndicated columnist with Scripps Howard News Service, and the author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing Our World.