Friday, June 22, 2007

Stem Cells

My wife subscribes to a magazine called "Western Horseman" -- not the kind of thing I'd usually read, but this morning I happened to be thumbing through the May 2007 issue. Mostly I was marveling at the huge industry built around horses (they need lots of accessories!), but I happened upon a very interesting article: Stem-Cell Research Offers New Options, by Jennifer Zehnder. In it, Zehnder interviews Dr. Robert Harman, a San Diego veterinarian who has started a stem cell therapeutics company to treat lame horses. Unfortunately this article is not online, but here's the sub-heading and couple of paragraphs that caught my attention:
Embryonic Stems Cells take a Back Seat

The evolution of stem-cell technology for use in humans or animals is rooted in controversy. This is because early research led scientists to believe embryos were the only viable source for stem cells, but Harman is quick to point out lesser-known issues with such cell sources.

"Moral and political view aside, embryonic stem cells have huge flaws the public never hears about," Harman explains. "The recipient's body views embryonic stem cells as foreign genetic material, which translates into a lifetime of immuno-suppressant drugs."
What? You mean embryonic stem cells aren't the singular answer to all medical challenges?

Dr. Harman's company could have chosen embryonic stem cells, but instead they chose stem cells from adipose tissue (fat); they'll grow them from the animal being treated, so no immuno-suppressive drugs are needed.

Similar things are happening in human medicine as well, but I have not read such a direct and cogent explanation as I found in this article. The issue with humans is so wrapped up with reflexive liberal anger over President Bush's refusal to fund embryonic stem cell research that all discussion of it that I have found is very light on the facts and very heavy on the hype.

Especially prominent is the liberal claim that Bush has "banned" stem cell research. This is an especially disingenuous claim, as stem cell research is being funded by the Bush administration by a 4:1 margin over the funding in the Clinton administration. No research -- even on embryonic stem cells -- is banned. There's just no federal funding of it.

It's interesting to note that pharmaceutical companies (who are free to fund whatever research they want) are choosing to fund far more research on non-embryonic stem cell research -- and the total of their research expenditures dwarfs the federal governments funding. It's very much a tempest in a teapot, being driving by ideologues and demented Bush bashers.

Meanwhile, the science moves on ... and away from embryonic stem cells...

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