An Interview with David Prentince:
David Prentice, Ph.D., formely professor of life sciences at Indiana State University and adjunct professor of medical & molecular genetics at the Indiana University School of Medicine. He is now with Family Research Council
CBC: You’ve been very involved in the whole stem cell/human cloning debate. Have you been surprised with how prominent these issues have become? And if so, why do you think the debate has become so heated?
Prentice: It has been a little surprising that the debate has heated up so,starting during last fall’s election campaign and continuing to buildmomentum. But in a way it is also not so surprising, given the success ofembryo research proponents in passing Proposition 71 in California.
Ever since President Bush’s decision on federal funding of embryonic stemcell research in August 2001, proponents of destructive embryo research havesought ways to open up funding for more research, both for more embryodestruction for cell lines, and also for cloning human embryos for research.The federal government has no cap on embryonic stem cell research funding,as long as the approved cell lines are used, but this is not enough forsome. They want more embryos, and they want to make embryos specificallyfor research. A crack opened up for them with Prop 71, and now theproponents of embryo research are trying desperately to open that crackwider.
However, there is a great deal of heat but little light. Embryonic stemcell research and human cloning have made few advances even in the animalresearch. Lacking real results to back up the claims for a need of morefunding, and less funding from the private sector, there is more hyperbolaregarding the potential of embryo research, promises of imminent cures andimminent wealth for states that will support the research. It really playson the emotions of desperate patients and their families, and the greed ofthose who want to do destructive embryo research.
CBC. What is the latest on the U.N. and the efforts to pass any kind ofcomprehensive ban on human cloning?
Prentice: Some very good news recently out of the U.N.! After 3 years of debates onbanning human cloning and blockage of progress by a few nations that want toclone humans for experiments, the Sixth Committee of the U.N. on Feb. 18passed a Declaration urging nations “to prohibit all forms of humancloning,” noting that human cloning was “incompatible with human dignity andthe protection of human life.” While the Declaration still must pass theGeneral Assembly, all nations have a vote at the committee level so theindications are that the Declaration will receive final passage. This is agreat symbolic statement, that the nations of the world do not condonecreating human beings as experiments.
CBC: Since the passage of proposition 71 in California, it seems thatevery state is trying to get in the act. Can you give us a snapshot ofcurrent legislation around the nation?
Prentice: Many states have jumped onto the “California Gold Rush” bandwagon, trying topass legislation that would devote precious state taxpayer dollars to morehuman embryo destruction and human cloning research under the guise of stateeconomic development. At least ten states have some form of proposal forthis being debated, including Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey,Connecticut, Illinois, Wisconsin, New York, and Washington.
Several states have proposed legislation designed to ban destructive embryoresearch and/or all uses of human cloning, including Missouri, Kansas,Texas, Maryland, and Wisconsin.
This is not a complete list; this year almost every state will have somebill debated on one side or the other of the issue, and sometimes more thanone bill on both sides (as you may have noticed from the partial listabove!)
We will also be seeing bills from both directions in Congress.
CBC: What would you say are the biggest misconceptions the public hassurrounding stem cell research?
Prentice: Most people never differentiate between the different types of stemcells–embryonic vs. adult. They are definitely not the same, either in thesource of the cells or the results achieved.
Embryonic stem cells come from destruction of young human life. Despite thetheory and hype surrounding them as a panacea for disease, they have alackluster record after over 20 years of research. Embryonic stem cellshave yet to treat a single human patient and have been relativelyineffective even in lab animals, plagued by problems of tumor formation,inefficient tissue production, producing the wrong cell type, or anon-functional cell.
Adult stem cells can be found in virtually every tissue of our bodies, frombirth on, as well as in umbilical cord blood and placenta. The public hasheard little of their successes, or attributed the reports to embryonic stemcells. But we now know that some adult stem cells can form any tissue ofthe body, and can effectively regenerate damaged tissue. Their regenerativeabilities have been documented in many diseases in animals, and have nowhelped many human patients for diseases such as heart damage, Parkinson’sdisease, spinal cord injury, sickle cell anemia, multiple sclerosis, andmany other diseases (the latest count is at least 58 for the number of humandiseases treatable by adult stem cells.) The real promise is beingdelivered by adult stem cells.
Readers can find out more about their abilities at:
bioethics.gov (this paper was prepared at the request of the President’s Council on Bioethics)
CBC: A question we are asked often is, “If adult stem cell research isso successful in treating patients currently suffering with disease, whyis the scientific community pushing embryonic stem cell research and notinvesting whole heartedly in areas that are helpful and don’t have anyethicaldilemmas? How would you respond to this question?
Prentice: There are several possible reasons. Some are so fixated on embryonic thatthey ignore the published science. Some have no ethical qualms about humanembryo destruction and simply see it as an interesting line of research theywant to pursue. And unfortunately some see embryo research, includingcloning, as a potential economic boon for themselves and their laboratories,by patenting the cell lines or even the embryos. Of course, like the restof us, scientists don’t like to be told “no, there are limits”, so part ofthe push is simply against the idea that there should be any limits onscience.
CBC: Do you have any final comments or thoughts for our readers?
Prentice: One key in these debates is education–people must become informed of thereal facts and not rely simply on the emotion, or press hype. Onceinformed, people must be activated to participate in the debate, to tellothers, write letters to the editor, call their elected officials, and maketheir wishes known.
To view David Prentice recently at Northwestern University, Illinois: Alternatives to Embryonic Stem Cells – 23 minutes RealPlayer
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