Adult stem cell hopes grow, while California's embryonic path faces delays


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Reports of success using adult stem cells continue to mount, while reality is setting in for advocates of destructive embryonic research—at least in California. Experiments using non-embryonic stem cells have provided hope for successful treatments of muscular dystrophy, lung ailments and back pain, according to recent reports.

Meanwhile, promoters of embryonic stem cell research, which requires the destruction of viable embryos, are acknowledging an expensive California initiative will not produce cures soon and may never do so.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a draft of California's 10-year plan, which was scheduled to be approved the week of Dec. 4, said, "It is unlikely that (the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine) will be able to fully develop stem cell therapy for routine clinical use during the 10 years of the plan."

An ESCR supporter went even further in his assessment.

"If there are therapies, they're decades out," said Jesse Reynolds of the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland, the Times reported Dec. 3. "The Prop. 71 campaign went beyond the line of responsible political rhetoric."

In fact, the Times reported, "Gone are the allusions to healing such afflictions as spinal cord injuries and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases that dominated the 2004 campaign for Proposition 71," which will provide $3 billion in funding from bonds over 10 years for research utilizing embryonic stem cells and therapeutic cloning.

Instead, the draft report establishes a goal of making progress toward a treatment using embryonic stem cells that can "restore function for at least one disease," according to the Times. It also is hoped therapies for two to four more ailments will be "in development" within the 10-year span.

Another possible setback could be the Dec. 7 retirement announcement by Zach Hall, the president of the institute. Hall will leave the instituted within six months to retire to Wyoming.

Since its passage two years ago, Proposition 71 has been tied up in legal challenges, although a Northern California Superior Court judge upheld the measure last spring. Opponents of embryonic stem cell research are appealing the ruling.

While the case is litigated, the institute has been loaned money from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and several prominent philanthropists.

Adult cells prove viable
Meanwhile, recent reports of hopeful research using non-embryonic stem cells have included:

• The injection of stem cells from blood vessels has aided dogs with a type of muscular dystrophy, according to a Nov. 15 report by BioEd Online on research performed at San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy.

• A stem cell from human umbilical cord blood has differentiated into a type II alveolar lung cell, providing hope for the treatment of diseases such as emphysema and cystic fibrosis, according to an article in the journal Cytotherapy, and resulting in an agreement between the biomedical firm BioE Inc. and the University of Minnesota to do further research.

• Stem cells from a patient's own bone marrow may be able to regenerate spinal discs and relieve lower back pain, according to researchers at the University of Manchester in Great Britain and reported by BBC News Nov. 30.

• Stem cells are the body's master cells that can develop into tissues and other cells, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions. They are found not only in embryos but in such sources as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and adult bone marrow.

In addition to requiring the destruction of embryos, ESCR has not only failed to reach clinical trials in human beings but has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.

Experiments using non-embryonic stem cells do not harm donors and have provided treatments for at least 72 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. Those include spinal cord injuries, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, sickle cell anemia and multiple sclerosis.

While federal government funding of experiments on embryonic stem cells is barred, such research itself is legal and ongoing in this country.