Imagine your parent or grandparent is suffering from Parkinson’s disease or your child is stricken with diabetes. You helplessly watch the agonizing toll the disease takes on your family member. Now, imagine that by taking the nucleus from a cell in that person’s body and placing it in a donor egg, culturing the resulting stem cells, and implanting them back into that person’s body, you could regenerate the essential cells damaged by the disease to restore your loved one’s health. Would you hesitate to provide this life-saving treatment?
If legislators like Rep. Ed Emery (R-126) are successful in passing a law that bans stem cell research using somatic cell nuclear transfer, this type of cure may never be available to the people of Missouri, and the state’s scientific community will be banned from participating in the research that can one day make it possible.
Rep. Emery advanced arguments in support of criminalization of medical research with somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT (the procedure described above) in the Joplin Independent (Embryonic stem cell research is immoral, Feb. 10, 2005). The importance of this life-affirming research to the people of Missouri impels me to respond to Rep. Emery’s flawed and misleading arguments.
William B. Neaves is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, MO. Prior to joining the Institute in June 2000, he served in various positions at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, including Professor of Cell Biology, holder of the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science, Dean of Southwestern Graduate School of Biological Sciences, Dean of Southwestern Medical School, and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.
He received an A.B. magna cum laude with highest honors in biology from Harvard College in 1966 and a Ph.D. in anatomy from Harvard University in December 1969.
Banning research and treatments with somatic cell nuclear transfer is wrong for Missouri. Those in the scientific and medical communities dedicate their lives to the noble pursuit of easing human suffering. SCNT stem cell research represents an opportunity to improve the lives of countless people suffering from diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord injury, and many other debilitating illnesses. The SCNT procedure is the one way we currently have to learn how to awaken the body’s genetic capacity to repair the damage underlying these illnesses. The idea of criminalizing this life-affirming research is simply morally indefensible.
Adult stem cells are not enough
Rep. Emery believes that research on adult stem cells will have all the eventual medical benefits of early stem cells from SCNT. In fact he goes so far as to write that “Adult stem cell research has been used extensively and successfully in the treatment of spinal cord injury, leukemia, and Parkinson’s disease.”
This is simply not the case. While adult stem cells hold promise for certain medical purposes, they are very limited in their ability to develop into other types of cells. While they have been used successfully in bone marrow transplants for leukemia patients, they have not produced cures or treatments for spinal cord injuries or Parkinson’s disease, and researchers agree they probably never will.
Adult stem are limited in their ability to become other types of cells. For example, cells taken from the bone marrow can develop into various types of blood cells but cannot become an insulin-secreting cell in the pancreas. In contrast, early stem cells have the ability to develop into virtually any type of cell, allowing them to offer hope for a host of diseases afflicting humankind.
Leading researchers in stem cell biology around the world as well as Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, and 60 Nobel Prize-winning scientists believe that very early stem cells - not adult stem cells - hold the key to therapeutic replacement of damaged or lost cells in every organ system in the human body.
Addressing cloning concerns
We can all agree that banning reproductive cloning is a good idea, but we don’t have to criminalize lifesaving research and treatments to do so. Many jurisdictions, including states like California and countries like Great Britain, have outlawed the implantation of a SCNT blastocyst in a uterus while simultaneously authorizing the use of SCNT in medical research aimed at curing disease and relieving human suffering. My colleagues and I would encourage and endorse such legislation in the State of Missouri.
Choosing cures for Missouri
Rep. Emery seems to believe that a small group of undifferentiated cells — with no brain or nerve cells, no awareness, no thoughts or feelings and never destined to be implanted in a human womb — is the same thing as a human baby. Because of his belief, which to me defies common sense, he would halt medical progress and condemn our children and grandchildren to the same diseases, the same pain and suffering that we face today. We can do better; we should do better; as a state, we must do better.
Missourians should encourage research with SCNT that aims to unlock the body’s genetic capacity for self-repair. This is the bright hope of regenerative medicine, and if pursued diligently, it could someday empower physicians to do more to restore their patients’ health than previous generations dreamed possible. We must seek these cures in Missouri.