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Adult stem cells a better option than embyronic cells

Jay Rey's Feb. 12 article in The News, "State urged to help fund stem cell research," touches on a notion that is important to all of us: curing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The plan is to use human embryos to obtain embryonic stem cells for this research. The first batch of embryos would be the established cell lines President Bush authorized for research in 2001. But most scientists seem to agree that these are inadequate in quantity and quality.

So where do more human embryos come from? For the most part, at present, they would come from leftover embryos at infertility clinics. But this supply is not endless, and embryonic stem cell research would require additional supplies.

Scientific researchers would next ask women and men to offer their eggs and sperm to science (this process has been quietly in place for years with a monetary remuneration to the donors). This round of experiments would produce more embryos to be destroyed in the effort to harvest more stem cells for research.

It is important to acknowledge that there have been no approved clinical trials in human beings with embryonic stem cells in this country. The Food and Drug Administration has not allowed any such research. All of this subterfuge and media hype is because of -- as any truthful scientist will freely state -- only the potential for cures using the embryonic stem cells.

According to Rey's article, "research and medical institutions . . . called on lawmakers . . . to act quickly before New York falls behind in this competitive environment." This opinion bothers those who know about the disgraced South Korean researcher Hwang Woo-suk, who is accused of falsifying his data regarding cloning research.

The intense desire and the implied demand to provide answers for politicians and patients, coupled with the prestige of being successful, creates a climate of urgency and haste. Indeed, there can -- and should -- be scientific oversight, but even this protection is not only threatened, but can be misled. Respected medical journal editors readily admit that bogus scientific research is sometimes initially unidentifiable and is published in major journals.

Adult stem cell research is the alternative -- and is a remarkably viable one. The "adult" stem cell can be obtained from numerous sources: the placenta of a newborn baby, the cord blood (after birth) and from many organs, including blood and bone marrow, the skin, the liver, the spleen and the eye.

To date, there has been successful clinical research in human beings with Parkinson's disease, cancer, spinal cord injuries, cardiac regeneration and even lupus. These are real clinical successes for real people with real diseases, not simply hypothetical potential possibilities.

"In a world with limited funds for research, why are we arguing about unproved and often dangerous embryonic stem cell treatments when treatments using adult stem cells are (presently) producing real results for real patients?" researcher Bradley R. Hughes Jr. asked. It's a good question.

Ferdinand D. Yates Jr. is a pediatrician in Erie County and serves on several local and national ethics committees.

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