Embryonic Stem Cell Hucksters Exploit Misery

Published June 1, 2006

There’s bad news and more bad news for paralysis victims hoping some variety of stem cell will soon help them walk again.

Adult stem cell paralysis treatment just suffered a major setback. Worse yet, these victims are being mercilessly exploited by activists desperate to convince us that embryonic stem cells (ESCs) yet to be tested in a human are a miracle cure desperately needing massive infusions of taxpayer funds.

There have been many claims of improvements for quadriplegics using adult stem cells (ASCs)–those found throughout the human body as well as in umbilical cord, placenta, and, most recently, menstrual blood. But only one study has appeared in a peer-reviewed publication.

That was the case of South Korean Hwang Mi-soon, paralyzed from the hips down for 19 years. After an infusion of umbilical cord cells into her spine, she was able to get out of bed and walk with the aid of a walker. It was called a miracle, but tragedy soon struck. Since receiving a second infusion she’s been wracked with pain and bedridden. Doctors aren’t sure why.

Whatever the cause, this is very sad news. Other paralysis victims have testified before Congress that they’ve tremendously improved since receiving stem cell transplants from their own olfactory (nasal) stem cells, but this has yet to be documented in a medical journal.

Rodent Studies

But that still leaves embryonic stem cells, right?

We’ve been flooded with stories about paralyzed rats receiving ESCs suddenly doing back flips and dancing the cha-cha, most recently in a February 60 Minutes segment. While utterly ignoring ASCs, the 60 Minutes story touted the work of the University of California-Irvine’s Hans Keirstead, to the extent of showing the video he’s been displaying since 2002 of his walking rats. But most of what surrounds these rodents is mere hype.

Program cohost Ed Bradley claimed that to move the science forward, California allocated its own money to pay for stem cell research, luring some of the top scientists in the nation, who are doing cutting-edge work that could change the way we treat disease.

No image says more about the remarkable results that have been achieved so far than this one: Laboratory rats whose hind legs were completely paralyzed until they were injected with human stem cells. Remarkably, afterwards, the rats were able to walk again.

Checking the Research

There are several things wrong with these claims. First, all of Keirstead’s rodent work was published before the California initiative to use state funds to pay for embryonic stem cell research, Proposition 71, was even voted on in November 2004.

Second, Keirstead’s rats were not “completely paralyzed.” Rather, as reported in the May 11, 2005 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, the rodents were given an “injury [that] is moderate in severity, sparing some hind limb motor function, but [that] severely impairs hind limb use during over-ground locomotion.”

Fancy that: The researcher most associated with curing paralyzed rodents has been fibbing for years, and Ed Bradley is a re-fibulator.

Finally, although 60 Minutes fastidiously avoided all mention of adult stem cells, ASCs’ use in successfully treating paralysis in rodents goes back a decade.

Making Up Facts

Like 60 Minutes, the media in general don’t want to hear about use of ASCs to cure paralysis, or about ASCs at all. In fact, they frequently attribute ASC breakthroughs to ESCs.

In late March, for example, German researchers announced they had isolated adult stem cells from mice testes; those cells appear to have tremendous potential to become all cells of the body. The Washington Post headline? “Embryonic Stem Cell Success.”

Last year, a representative of the Delaware Biotechnology Institute showed a video on the floor of the Delaware Senate, displaying a surgically crippled rat that, he said, could walk again because of ESC treatments. The rat certainly was walking. Only problem was, it had been treated with ASCs.

Not surprisingly, the media eagerly repeat Keirstead’s claims that he’s just about to take his “treatment” to humans. However, he’s been telling reporters since early 2002 such experiments could begin “in about a year.” Check your calendar.

Such minutiae don’t bother ESC lobbyists. The South Korean incident unintentionally provided false hope for paralysis sufferers, and that’s painful. But ESC acolytes are knowingly lying to them. And that’s wicked.

Michael Fumento ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC and author of BioEvolution: How Biotechnology Is Changing Our World.

For more information …

“Embryonic Stem Cell Success: In Mouse Experiment, Cells from Testes Are Transformed,” by Rick Weiss, The Washington Post, March 25, 2006, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/24/AR2006032401721.html.