Human Exceptionalism

“The Great Stem Cell Coverup”

I have a piece in the newly released Weekly Standard about “embryonic stem cell mantra,” and the lack of coverage about adult stem cell research advances. I think it requires a subscription to access, but here is the link (which may be generally accessible later).

For those who can’t get the article, here is a very abridged summary. I begin, “IT HAS BEEN REPEATED so often that it is now a mantra: ‘Embryonic stem cells offer the most promise for finding cures’ for degenerative diseases and conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injury. But saying something ten thousand times doesn’t make it true. Indeed, the embryonic stem cell mantra has yet to be demonstrated scientifically.

“More than that, the actual data published to date in peer-reviewed science journals tell a far different story. While there have certainly been successes in embryonic stem cell experiments in animal studies–many of them hyped to the hilt in mainstream media reports–the numbers pale in comparison with the many research advances being made with adult and umbilical cord blood stem cells, which are already being used in human patients.”

I describe two such adult stem cell studies as examples; one involving the progress of MS being apparently stopped by blood stem cells and the other the Carlos Lima paper reporting on his pilot program using olfactory mucosa to treat spinal cord injury. I write, “If Lima had used embryonic stem cells to help human patients recover some sensation after spinal cord injury, the headline in the New York Times would have been printed two inches high in red ink,” and note that the media usually ignores these studies while hyping any embryonic advance.

“There is a reason for the news blackout about the many encouraging advances in adult stem cell science,” I opine. “Worried that adult/umbilical cord blood research successes might tip public support away from embryonic research, proponents of federal funding for embryonic stem cell studies, aided by a compliant press, have mounted a vigorous campaign to downplay adult stem cell research.”

I then defend David Prentice, who was the subject of an unfair attack in Science by promoters of human cloning and ESCR. I point out that by these advocates’ own standard, that research advances don’t really count unless they are in regular clinical practice and fully approved by the FDA, “embryonic stem cell-boosting scientists and their boosters in the media had better stop chanting the embryonic stem cell mantra,” since they have zero results that would qualify.

Here is my conclusion: “Embryonic stem cells have not treated a single human patient, and only time can tell whether they ever will. Highlighting the progress of adult/umbilical cord blood stem cells…is a legitimate part of the public discourse. Indeed, the unfair attack on Prentice for educating the public about the potential of adult stem cells may indicate that these scientist/political advocates know where the true best hope for regenerative medical treatments is likely to be found.”