Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Whatever Became of Stem Cells: Part 2

Back in December, I wrote a post entitled "Whatever Became of Stem Cells" where I noted that Australia had recently passed legislation that paved the way for stem cell research and therapeutic cloning to proceed in that country.

Then, about 2 weeks ago in an update, I noted that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) was finally ready to make its first research grants, and that pending lawsuits challenging the law on various grounds were expected to be resolved in CIRM's favor. Yesterday, as predicted, for the second time in less than a year, the California judiciary issued a decision affirming the Constitutionality of the state's innovative stem cell research project.

I also wrote last Sunday that the State of Illinois had joined the ranks of states now funding embryonic stem cell research (although New York State was still running into legislative issues and questions about the Governor's call for the state to fund stem cell research). Also, the Iowa House recently passed a bill that would allow therapeutic cloning.

Today's New York Times is reporting that an inquiry panel found what it called "significantly flawed" data in a controversial 2002 stem cell research paper.

Back in 2002, a stem cell research paper was published that President Bush and other opponents of embryonic stem cell research immediately seized upon claiming the paper suggested that stem cells isolated from an adult could potentially change into all the major tissue types of the body, thus embryonic stem cell research was unnecessary because adult stem cells could provide all of the same benefits.

Other laboratories had difficulty repeating the 2002 paper's results, although recently some have succeeded, but they often gave the cells different names. Regardless, an inquiry panel was set up after the lead researcher, Catherine Verfaillie, asked the University of Minnesota to look into the issue of the duplicated graphs, which she attributed that to a mix-up when preparing two papers for publication at the same time. The inquiry panel also confirmed Dr. Verfaillie's account and concluded that there was no issue of scientific misconduct. But it discovered another problem besides the duplication, involving inconsistencies in the data describing the proteins on the cells' surface.

Dr. Verfaillie (who is now at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium) said yesterday that she had sent a letter to the journal Nature stating that the flawed data "should not be relied on" but she added that they did not affect the article's conclusions. She also said that the journal was resubmitting the article to the original referees for them to make their own assessment.

I am well aware of the whole debate surrounding embryonic stem cell research, but I also think that opposition has created controversy where there shouldn't be any by misrepresenting the facts and using "half-truths". This latest development is typical of the modus operandi that the opposition has used to stifle a legitimate debate on this subject.

Anyone who is interested in this topic really should read Eve Harold's book "Stem Cell Wars". In that book, Ms. Harold provides ample ammunition against those who are trying to halt embryonic stem cell research, both by making the case for pursuing knowledge for knowledge's sake and by confronting the ethical arguments made -- both by religious and political figures -- head-on. Ultimately, stem cell research has the potential to allow researchers to finally provide cures for diseases, including diabetes, that so far, medicine has only been able to manage (and not manage especially well, I would add). There is no guarantee that stem cell research will yield a cure for diabetes or anything else. But we know that by stifling this research, we can guarantee that this field of science will take significantly longer to cure us than if it was allowed to proceed in a governed, ethical manner.

1 comment:

Nicole P said...

Hey Scott -

Excellent post. You are correct, distortion of the facts - and the opposition's willingness to seize upon any shred of evidence that might create doubt in anyone's mind around the issue and what is "right" and "wrong," about it - makes it insanely difficult to have any real, rational debate.

I've not read Stem Cell Wars - but there is a great collection of essays on the topic - put out by MIT and edited by Suzanne Holland, Karen Lebacqz, and Laurie Zoloth called The Human Embyronic Stem Cell Debate - it's a collection of essays from experts in a number of disciplines (science, theology, history, philosophy) around the topic - I think it's an incredible book.