Opponents of embryonic stem cell research almost invariably cite a "list" of (alleged) cures from adult stem cells. "72 treatments and cures", "58 cures", "65 treatments"--as a reason to deny funding for embryonic.  

This mysterious list--is it accurate? Where does it come from? Does it matter?


Before bringing this mysterious and all-powerful list to your consideration, I was asked to give my credentials, explain my background.

I am the father of a paralyzed young man, and have been involved with the search for cure of paralysis since 1994. A law named after my son, the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act, provided the first state-funded embryonic stem cell research in the nation. I worked as a grassroots coordinator for Senator Deborah Ortiz in her three stem cell bills in California, was on the board of directors for  Prop 71, the
$3 billion California stem cell research program. I support and serve on many groups, including the Alliance for Stem Cell Research, Americans for Stem Cell Therapies and Cures, Research for Cures, Californians for Cures, the Stem Cell Action Network,Genetics Policy Institute, Quest for Cure, the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research and others. I work behind the scenes mostly, aside from a three-times weekly column, www.stemcellbattles.com, and have been involved with most state and national stem cell research efforts across the country.

I am overwhelmingly glad to be alive at a time when we, the families of those who suffer chronic illness and injury, can make a difference.

Sorry to babble on so long, now on to the important stuff. best, don.

Those who oppose embryonic stem cell research frequently make statements like:

"...adult stem cell research shows far more medical potential than embryonic...Adult stem cells have been used to perform at least 72 successful treatments for...diseases, such as brain cancer, ovarian cancer, Parkinson’s disease, stroke damage and sickle cell anemia (and)... heart failure. Congress should not consider funding embryonic stem cell research..."—Sen. David B. Vitter, R-LA, U.S. Senate, July 28, 2006.

The number of "successful treatments" or "cures" supposedly derived from adult stem cells varies from speaker to speaker: sometimes it is 58, 65, 72, or higher. Where does this amazing list come from? Is it accurate?  Or is it a deliberate twisting of fact, a pseudo-scientific falsification of data, compiled by an employee of a religious lobby?

The accuracy of "the list" matters a great deal—if we have all these cures, the argument goes, there is no reason for Senate Bill 5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, to ease restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research...

In a July 13, 2006 Science Magazine article, scientists Shane Smith, William Neaves, and Steven Teitelbaum, identify and dissect the ubiquitous list.

"Opponents of research with embryonic stem (ES) cells often claim that adult stem cells provide treatments for 65 human illnesses. The apparent origin of those claims is a list created by David A. Prentice*, an employee of the Family Research Council who advises U.S. Senator Sam Brownback(R-KS)  and other opponents of ES stem cell research.

"Prentice has said, "Adult stem cells have now helped patients with at least 65 different human diseases. It’s real help for real patients." On 4 May, (2006) Senator Brownback stated, "I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the record the listing of 69 different human illnesses being treated by adult and cord blood stem cells."

"In fact, adult stem cell treatments fully tested in all required phases of clinical trials and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are available to treat only nine of the conditions on the Prentice list, not 65 (0r 72)... Contrary to what Prentice implies...most of his cited treatments remain unproven... Other claims, such as those for Parkinson’s or spinal cord injury, are simply untenable.

"...A review of the references Prentice cites as the basis for his list... reveals that Prentice not only misrepresents existing adult stem cell treatments but also frequently distorts the nature and content of the references he cites.

"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 lay people and cruelly deceive patients." (emphasis added)

Here is Dr. Prentice’s response to the article:

"Dr. Prentice: It’s easy for someone to put words in your mouth and then claim that those words are false, which is exactly what the Science letter’s authors did. Do No Harm has not claimed that current adult-stem-cell treatments are "cures" or "generally available" at this time. We have consistently said these are examples where patients have been helped by adult-/cord-blood stem cells and shown some benefit and improvement, something that can’t be said to be even remotely close for embryonic stem cells."— July 19, 2006, National Review online.

He has a point.

However, I do not recollect him ever correcting Representative Vitter, or any of the conservatives who talk about the long list of adult stem cell treatments and cures.  

To hear his side fully, go to his website.  

If you go to http://stemcellresearch.org/... you can see the latest version of the Prentice list, now carefully called "benefits".  

For the article’s views on "the list" see the "chart compiling and analyzing Prentice’s list of 65 diseases allegedly treated by adult stem cells", which can be viewed at www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/1129987/DC1

The chart is worth visiting.

Here are some examples, with my own comments interspersed.

"Table S1. Disease and Injury Chart: overview of Facts about the Diseases and Injuries on the Prentice List of 65 purported Adult Stem Cell Treatments."

Sometimes the science talk is hard to follow. But it is worth the struggle, please stay with me all the way through this short article.

The table lists the diseases, one by one: set up in four columns, so you can look up a disease, and see what effect adult stem cell treatments or cures (if any) are having on it.

  1. Disease or injury cited in Prentice List. (hereafter, DISEASE)
  1. Is there an FDA-approved adult stem cell treatment generally available to treat this disease or injury? (FDA TREATMENT AVAILABLE?)-- a yes or no answer.  
  1. Actual nature of the study or studies cited by Prentice. (STUDIES CITED) This lists the evidence Prentice offers as proof for his claims on the general wonderfulness of adult stem cell therapies—and a reason for not allowing new embryonic stem cell lines to be federal funding.  
  1. Additional comments    (COMMENTS)

As you read the following examples, ask yourself: is adult stem cell research all we need?

Quoted examples from the chart will be in bold. My comments are in regular print.

For instance:

DISEASE: Brain Tumors (Medullablastoma and Glioma)


STUDIES CITED: Two clinical studies and one literature review indicated that some patients who have their brain cancers treated with high-dose chemotherapy show improved long-term survival rates when transplants of adult stem cells from bone marrow are used to alleviate side effects of the chemotherapy.  

COMMENTS: Adult stem cells from bone marrow are not used to treat brain cancer. They are sometimes used to alleviate side effects of the toxic chemotherapy and radiation treatments used to treat the disease.

Nobody suggests it is not a good thing to treat side effects.  A person with a broken arm will be glad for pain-relief drugs to help ease his suffering.

But aspirin is not a cure.

DISEASE: Breast Cancer


STUDIES CITED: Four clinical studies reported that patients with high-risk or advanced breast cancer had improved survival rates when intensive radiation and/or chemotherapy was followed by a transplant of adult stem cells derived from bone marrow or blood.

COMMENTS: In these studies, adult stem cells from bone marrow were not intended to treat breast cancer. Rather, because they alleviate side effects of toxic chemotherapy, adult stem cell transplants can enable doctors to apply a stronger chemotherapy dose. However, this approach does not appear to benefit all women with breast cancer, and the National Cancer Institute now says that adult stem cell transplants in combination with high-dose chemotherapy are no better than standard chemotherapy alone in the treatment of breast cancer.

Any cancer sufferer (including several members of my family) who has been through the agony of chemo is glad for anything that relieves the suffering; and pain relief allows a greater dose of chemotherapy.

But we need treatments to cure the cancer, not the side effects.

DISEASE: Parkinson’s Disease


STUDIES CITED:  One abstract from a 2002 scientific meeting reported clinical experience with one Parkinson’s patient who received a transplant of his own brain stem cells. Two references reported Congressional testimony by the author of the above abstract and the transplanted patient. The testimony was given before Senator Sam Brownback’s Science, Technology and Space Subcommittee on July 14, 2004, and does not contain sufficient information to assess the claims made. Two additional references cited irrelevant papers that do not address a cell-based therapy of any kind for Parkinson’s.

COMMENTS: While transplants of cells from various sources have been tried on an experimental basis in Parkinson’s diseases, the clinical outcomes have been mixed...Neither the published scientific literature nor the cited papers support the claim that an effective stem cell therapy is available to Parkinson’s patients.

The one person who received the adult stem cells is Dennis Turner. He reportedly had a symptom-free time, which is wonderful. But what we are usually not told is that he also had a Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) operation as part of the experiment—and that DBS operation may have been the reason for his "vacation" from Parkinson’s. According to someone who has had personal contact with him, Mr. Turner’s Parkinson’s has returned.

DISEASE: Spinal Cord Injury


STUDIES CITED: This reference was testimony from one scientist and two patients with spinal cord injuries given before Senator Sam Brownback’s Science, Technology and Space Subcommittee on July 14, 2004.

COMMENTS: The cited testimony referenced the work of one Portuguese physician who claimed to treat spinal cord injury with transplants of stem cells from patient’s nasal lining. There is no evidence these claims have been subjected to rigorous scrutiny by the scientific and medical community. No FDA-approved stem cell treatment of any kind is currently available to patients with spinal cord injury.

Naturally, this is particularly infuriating to me. To have spinal cord injury listed as one for which there is a "treatment" or "cure" available?

I am very familiar with the "treatment" referred to, involving the taking of cells from the patient’s nose, and spreading them on the injured spine. I have spoken to people who have had that operation. They are still paralyzed.

Here is one, as quoted in Wired News, June 03, 2005, article by Kristen Philipkoski:

"A spinal cord patient has charged that Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Florida) used her image without permission and misled Congress and the public by suggesting that her case offers evidence that adult stem cells can help severely injured people walk again...

"On May 24, as Weldon tried to persuade members of the House of Representatives that embryonic stem cell research was not only unethical but unnecessary, he held up a poster-size image of himself standing beside Fajt, who is clutching a walker in the photo.

"This poster is of a young lady who was paralyzed for years and had an adult stem-cell transplant," Weldon said that day, "She is able to stand up."

"The bill passed, but not with enough votes to overcome the veto promised by President Bush...

"If Weldon wouldn’t have used me and said a cure is going to be found with adult stem cell research, embryonic stem cell research may have been federally funded," Fajt said in an interview."...

DISEASE: Heart Damage


STUDIES CITED:  Seven experimental or early phase clinical studies, including one placebo-controlled clinical trial, indicated that transfusion of a patient’s own bone-marrow-derived stem cells into the heart shortly after heart attack is relatively safe and is associated with regeneration of heart tissue and improved heart function. Two single case studies reporting a transplant of muscle stem cells into heart were also included.

COMMENTS: The cited studies suggest that transplantation of adult stem cells from bone marrow is associated with improved recovery after heart attack.  However, larger and more rigorous clinical trials are needed (emphasis added) to establish this protocol as a standard treatment for heart attack sufferers. Importantly, a 2006 clinical trial evaluating a similar protocol failed to improve heart function...even though it appeared to reduce the area of damaged heart tissue...

Three "larger and more rigorous" trials did in fact take place, in Germany and Norway, in which heart attack victims were given adult stem cells... and the results?

"Adult stem cells little or no help to heart: Results of studies point to need for embryonic stem cells, scientists say

"Largest studies to date...three new studies, reported in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine, are the largest and most scientific tests yet of whether stem cells derived from adult patients can improve heart function.

"Giving heart attack survivors stem cells from their own bone marrow did little to repair their damaged hearts, according to the three best studies to date...

(the adult stem cells brought) "no difference in length or quality of life...

"The modest results suggest more study is needed—and, some scientists say, demonstrate the need to lift political limits on using cells from embryos, which offer more promise for turning into heart-repairing tissue..."
—Associated Press, September 20, 2006  

America would indeed benefit by "lift(ing)  political limits on using cells from embryos".

Millions of us join in that request: we, the parents, patients, scientists and doctors who support embryonic stem cell research: we ask that the United States fund research on new embryonic stem cell lines, as requested in Senate Bill 5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.

But it will never happen if the Prentice list is accepted as unchallengeable truth.

This is not just one scientist praising a particular approach. That would be fine.

Adult stem cell authorities (like Dr. Catherine Verfaille of the University of Minnesota) deserve respect, and their projects should be judged individually.

But Dr. Prentice does not merely want to advance one kind of research; he wants to deny others.

Here is a public statement by Dr. David A. Prentice, on embryonic stem cell research:

"Federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research is illegal, unethical and unnecessary." National Review online, February 26, 2001.

Have you heard that line before? Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) uses a similar line, "Embryonic stem cell research is illegal, immoral, and unnecessary," (press release, "Brownback Blasts NIH Guidelines", August 23, 2000).

The similarities are understandable;  Dr. Prentice is science advisor to both Brownback and the previously-mentioned Representative Dave Weldon (R-Florida).  

Weldon and Brownback co-authored legislation to put researchers in jail for studying the advanced form of stem cell research called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT), with penalties of ten years imprisonment and fines of one million dollars.  

The Prentice list offers intellectual "justification" for those would deny federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. It is the backup for anti-science propaganda.

"The List" must not go unchallenged.
By Don Reed, Californians for Cure   www.stemcellbattles.com


If so, please contact any or all of the following six Senators, and ask them to vote "YES" on Senate Bill 5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Thank you! (We need one more vote to have enough to over-ride the President's expected veto-- and we only have a few days before the crucial vote...)

Lindsey Graham: South Carolina. Phone: (202) 224-5972  FAX: (202) 224-3808
Address: 290 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510
Southern Baptist

Bob Casey: Pennsylvania  Phone: (202) 224-6324. FAX: (202) 228-0604  
Address: B-40 Dirksen Senate Building, Washington, D.C. 20510
Roman Catholic

Norm Coleman: Minnesota (202) 224-5641  FAX: (202) 224-1152
Address: 320 Senate Hart Office Building, Washington, D. C. 20510

John Sununu: New Hampshire  Phone: (202) 224-2841 FAX: (202) 228-4131
Address: 111 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510
Roman Catholic

Bob Corker: Tennessee   Phone: (202) 224-3344  FAX: (202) 228-1264
Address: B-40A Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510

Richard Shelby: Alabama. Phone: (202) 224-5744    FAX: (202) 224-3416
Address: 110 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510

Originally posted to diverdonreed on Thu Jan 25, 2007 at 12:32 AM PST.

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