From the WSJ from my colleague, Dr. David Prentice:

On the eve of the congressional stem cell debate, the journal Science published a letter questioning whether adult stem cells have helped patients for 72 conditions. I have used that figure (see, and was cited, with scorn, by name. But the gap of successful treatments between adult and embryonic stem cells is wide and increasing. Adult stem cells, from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, nasal tissue, and even fat, have a flexibility that can be harnessed in treatment regimens transcending their tissue of origin. They have replenished marrow and blood, but also have grown new blood vessels and corneas as well as stopped life-threatening genetic problems in children. Cord blood stem cells have successfully treated sickle cell anemia. A recent study reported improvement in seven spinal cord injury patients, using their own nasal stem cells.

Patients are receiving real help, using adult stem cells obtained without harm to the donors, often the patients themselves. The embryonic option results in the death of every donor embryo and is unacceptable to many. But in terms of real-world efficacy, the advantage is all — literally — to adult stem cells. My Science critics set fire to a straw man, charging adult stem cells have benefited patients for far fewer than 72 conditions, by which they mean treatments are “generally available,” “cures” and “approved by the U.S. FDA.”

This twisted interpretation is neither what I have said, nor how patients and medical practitioners measure benefit. FDA approval is not a medical standard for evaluating benefit to the patient, but an agency determination that the benefits outweigh the risks. Doctors don’t check with the FDA to see if their patients have improved, they observe the effects on the patient. The “list,” compiled from peer-reviewed reports, shows observable, measurable benefits to patients, a necessary step prior to final, formal FDA approval (and a step yet to be met at all with embryonic stem cells).

President Bush vetoed the overhyped embryo research bill, and also greeted Ryan Schneider, treated for cerebral palsy with cord blood stem cells and now symptom-free according to his mother, and Stephen Sprague and Nathan Salley, leukemia-free. When it comes to the results and not just the politics of stem cells, ethics and efficacy are walking hand in hand.

David Prentice, Ph.D. Senior Fellow,
Family Research Council Washington

Author Profile

Jennifer Lahl, CBC Founder
Jennifer Lahl, CBC Founder
Jennifer Lahl, MA, BSN, RN, is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.