California’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine came into being five years ago, fueled by a conviction that the Bush administration’s restriction on embryo-destructive research in the National Institutes of Health was stifling the progress of science.
But after years of fruitless work, the Institute has now quietly diverted funds from embryonic stem cell research (ESCr) to adult stem cell research – which has already produced dozens of treatments and all-out cures for maladies ranging from spinal cord injury, to Alzheimer’s, to type I diabetes.
The California government – which is again teetering on the brink of bankruptcy – in 2004 passed the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, or Proposition 71. The initiative pumped $3 billion into research seeking some medical use for stem cells harvested from human embryos, which are killed in the process.
But an editorial in the Los Angeles-based Investor’s Business Daily magazine January 12 pointed out the abysmal failure of the state’s massive investment in research that has procured no effective treatments to date.
“Five years after a budget-busting $3 billion was allocated to embryonic stem cell research, there have been no cures, no therapies and little progress,” notes the IBD editors.
“ESCR has failed to deliver and backers of Prop 71 are admitting failure.”
The editors also called out the Institute for dissembling on the real source of progress among stem cell research. “Over the years … when funding was needed, the phrase ’embryonic stem cells’ was used. When actual progress was discussed, the word ’embryonic’ was dropped because ESCR never got out of the lab,” they write.
“This is a classic bait-and-switch, an attempt to snatch success from the jaws of failure and take credit for discoveries and advances achieved by research Prop. 71 supporters once cavalierly dismissed.”
Although scientists and pro-life advocates have denounced the dead-end science of embryo research for years, the political and ethical furor surrounding embryonic research appears to have obscured the undeniable superiority of adult stem cells’ track record. Not only have adult cells already produced dozens of treatments, but embryonic stem cells have been found prone to multiply out of control, causing tumors, and are less easily cultivated into specific types of tissue than their adult counterparts.
Meanwhile, due to advances in induced pluripotent stem cells, adult cells are now capable of transforming into various types of cells – an ability once thought to be held only by embryonic cells.
Dr. Bernadine Healy, the director of the National Institutes of Health under the Bush administration, wrote in a March 2009 U.S. News & World Report column that “embryonic stem cells, once thought to hold the cure for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes, are obsolete.” The same month, however, President Obama reversed the Bush administration ban on taxpayer funding of embryo research, saying that “our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values.”
The IBD editors concluded that “it is ESCR researchers who have politicized science and stood in the way of real progress.
“We are pleased to see California researchers beginning to put science in its rightful place.”