Saturday, July 15, 2006

Stem Cell Research Skullduggery

If the anti-stem cell research people had a valid argument, they wouldn't need to resort to blatant misrepresentation of scientific facts.

With just days to go before the Senate is scheduled to vote on a hotly anticipated bill that would loosen President Bush's restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research, both sides of the scientifically and ethically charged issue have ramped up their publicity machines and attacks on each other....

Yesterday ... the journal Science published a letter by three researchers documenting apparently significant misstatements made by a leader in the movement to block the bill.

The legislation, already passed by the House, would for the first time allow scientists to use federal funds to conduct research on new colonies of the medically promising cells, which are controversial because human embryos must be destroyed to obtain them.

The bill would override rules put in place by Bush five years ago that restrict federal funding to research on only those embryonic stem cells that were in existence as of August 2001. That policy is aimed at protecting human embryos, but it has been widely decried by researchers and patient groups as a roadblock to the development of treatments for a range of diseases.

The letter to the journal focused on David A. Prentice, a scientist with the conservative Family Research Council. Prentice has been an adviser to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) -- a leader in the charge to maintain tight restrictions on the research -- and an "expert source" often cited by opponents of embryonic stem cell research.

Prentice has repeatedly claimed that adult stem cells, which can be retrieved harmlessly from adults, have at least as much medical potential as embryonic cells. He often carries a binder filled with references to scientific papers that he says prove the value of adult stem cells as treatments for at least 65 diseases.

In the letter to Science, however, three researchers went through Prentice's footnoted documentation and concluded that most of his examples are wrong.

"Prentice not only misrepresents existing adult stem cell treatments but also frequently distorts the nature and content of the references he cites," wrote Shane Smith of the Children's Neurobiological Solutions Foundation in Santa Barbara, Calif.; William B. Neaves of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo.; and Steven Teitelbaum of Washington University in St. Louis....

All told, the scientists concluded, there are only nine diseases that have been proved to respond to treatment with adult stem cells.

"By promoting the falsehood that adult stem cell treatments are already in general use for 65 diseases and injuries, Prentice and those who repeat his claims mislead laypeople and cruelly deceive patients," the scientists wrote.

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