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Calif. changes tune on adult stem cells

WASHINGTON (BP)–California’s stem cell program has awarded $230 million primarily to non-embryonic research, in the process implicitly admitting embryonic experiments are much further from producing therapies in human beings.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) made grants to only four efforts that involve embryonic stem cells, while making 10 others to non-embryonic projects, according to The New York Times. CIRM, the $3 billion, 10-year effort approved by voters in 2004, began in response to President Bush’s policy that barred federal funds for stem cell research that results in the destruction of human embryos. Extracting stem cells from an embryo destroys the days-old human being.

One project approved for funding Oct. 28 involves extracting stem cells from a person’s heart and inserting them back into his heart to repair heart attack damage, The Times reported. The study leader, Eduardo Marban of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said embryonic stem cells may not help such patients. “The last thing we want to do is grow rogue heart cells,” he said, according to The Times. Embryonic stem-cell research has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.

Bioethics specialist Wesley Smith said of Marban’s comment, “Funny when [embryonic stem cell research] opponents used to make that very claim, they were hooted down by ‘the scientists’ and their camp followers in the media.”

Stem cells provide hope for producing cures for a variety of diseases, because of their ability to transform into other cells and tissues. The biotech industry has long promoted research with embryonic stem cells because of their pluripotency, which means they can transform into any cell or tissue. ESCR has not proven nearly as effective as experiments with other types of stem cells, however.

Trials using adult stem cells have produced therapies for at least 73 ailments in human beings, despite the fact such cells are not considered pluripotent, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. Among the afflictions treated by adult stem cells are cancer, juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart damage, Parkinson’s, sickle cell anemia and spinal cord injuries, according to Do No Harm.

Scientists have discovered induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells in the last two years, producing great promise for cures without the ethical problems of ESCR. In iPS research, scientists convert adult cells into cells that have nearly the identical properties of embryonic ones.

Neither procuring stem cells from non-embryonic sources nor transforming adult stem cells into embryonic-like ones harms the donor.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

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