Friday, January 15, 2010

'Battle over embryonic stem cell research is over'

In 2004, Proposition 71 in California appropriated $3 billion in state funds (over 10 years) to unethical embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Now researchers there seem to be acknowledging failure and embracing what works: adult stem cells.

As Joe Carter of First Things writes, "Years from now, when we look back in astonishment at having been fleeced for billions to pay for therapeutically worthless research, we'll recognize that California was the Waterloo for ESCR."

Here's what the Los Angeles Times reported on Jan. 10:
For 3 1/2 years, the [California Institute for Regenerative Medicine] focused on the basic groundwork needed to someday use human embryonic stem cells to replace body parts damaged by injury or disease. Such cures are still far in the future.

Now the institute has a more immediate goal: boosting therapies that are much further along in development and more often rely on less glamorous adult stem cells. It is concentrating its vast financial resources on projects that could cure conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, AIDS, sickle cell disease and various types of cancer.
This is "a significant change in direction for an effort originally designed to bolster research on human embryonic stem cells," the Times noted. An Investor's Business Daily editorial puts it this way:
Five years later, ESCR has failed to deliver and backers of Prop 71 are admitting failure. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state agency created to, as some have put it, restore science to its rightful place, is diverting funds from ESCR to research that has produced actual therapies and treatments: adult stem cell research. It not only has treated real people with real results; it also does not come with the moral baggage ESCR does.

To us, this is a classic bait-and-switch, an attempt to snatch success from the jaws of failure and take credit for discoveries and advances achieved by research Prop. 71 supporters once cavalierly dismissed. We have noted how over the years that when funding was needed, the phrase "embryonic stem cells" was used. When actual progress was discussed, the word "embryonic" was dropped because ESCR never got out of the lab.
ESCR faces very serious, perhaps insurmountable, scientific obstacles to offering therapies to patients. Adult stem cells are successfully treating patients already, and have the potential to help many, many more. And now -- effectively abolishing any conceivable remaining therapeutic justification for ESCR -- we have induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are equivalent to embryonic stem cells but are less expensive and easier to obtain.

That's why Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the National Institutes of Health (and no pro-lifer), calls ESCR "obsolete."

Carter writes, "The battle over embryonic stem cell research is over. A few skirmishes will no doubt continue -- perhaps even for years -- and some ESCR advocates will refuse to acknowledge defeat. But they have decisively lost ... and ethical research has won."