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Sunday, June 13, 2004

Lies, Damned Lies, and Nancy Reagan

Like jackals at the edge of an antelope herd, con artists attack the vulnerable. Widows and orphans are the easiest marks. At least today’s scientists have found them so.

“People need a fairy tale,” said Ronald D.G. McKay, a stem cell researcher at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Maybe that’s unfair, but they need a story line that’s relatively simple to understand.”

Thus did Dr. McKay defend the bald-faced lie that embryonic stem cell research can cure Alzheimer’s disease. But, he also inadvertently demonstrated how much embryonic stem cell researchers respect the intelligence of the average citizen. Americans like you and I, Americans like Nancy Reagan, we are too stupid to be worthy of the truth. We do better with lies. It’s for our own good, you know.

This kind of conversation is typical of embryonic stem cell discussions. I. Richard Garr, president and CEO of Neuralstem Inc., a private company in Gaithersburg, Md., working with adult neural stem cells, points out: "This is a field that has more hype in it than almost anything outside of professional wrestling. The last thing we want to do is take away hope from anyone, but even a higher priority for us is not to give anybody false hope. I think the hype that's out there is not productive."

So why do people like Nancy Reagan and Michael J. Fox think embryonic stem cell research is useful for their Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease? Because, like the communists that Ronald Reagan fought, embryonic stem cell researchers deliberately mis-represent the facts in order to drum up public support. The researchers want to feed at the public trough because private enterprise refuses to fund their idiocy. Once they have our tax money, they can honestly tell us that they are from the government and they are here to help. Won’t that be nice?

What is a stem cell?
As you might recall from high school biology, all of us started as a single cell in our mothers’ Fallopian tubes. By the time we reached the uterus, we had grown into embryos. As embryos, we implanted into our mothers’ wombs and eventually grew into the fine, upstanding people we are today. But all the hundreds of different kinds of cells we have in our bodies today came from that first cell and its progeny.

A stem cell is one of those very early cells; it is a cell capable of turning into almost any type of cell the body needs, depending on the mechanical and hormonal influences it is subject to. There are two kinds of stem cells: embryonic stem cells (ESC) and adult stem cells (ASC).

Where do we get stem cells?
Embryonic stem cells come from embryos. Children are deliberately conceived in artificial conditions, these children are allowed to grow to a specific stage of development, and they are then torn apart so their cells can be used for experimentation. So embryonic stem cell research requires the deliberate deaths of thousands of children. It is happening right now. It just doesn’t receive government funding. Yet.

Researchers who support abortion like to argue that ESCs are the best thing to use for research, as they clearly have not differentiated, so we can learn more from these kinds of cells and we can adapt them for treatment more easily. Unfortunately for abortion supporters, getting stem cells from embryos has not turned out to be a good idea. Stem cells from embryos don’t know they are no longer part of an embryo. No matter where they are placed in the human body – heart, pancreas, skull - they tend to try to grow into a child. Since having a child growing inside your skull does not usually contribute to improved health, this kind of growth is considered cancerous.

Embryonic stem cells -- unlike the fetal and post-natal varieties -- have a tendency to produce tumors after implantation. "We have to find ways to minimize that," says Pamela Gehron Robey, chief of the Craniofacial and Skeletal Diseases Branch of the Division of Intramural Research of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. “And we’re willing to kill thousands of children if that’s what it takes to get what we want,” she might have added.

Adult stem cells, on the other hand, can come from darned near anywhere. Umbilical cord blood is the best source because the newborn immune system is not very advanced so the cells tend to be accepted by the recipient’s immune system. But, ASCs have also been obtained from blood, bone marrow, olfactory nerve endings (these are constantly regenerated, so taking them from an adult’s nose has no side effects), skin cells, even fat. That’s right. You can go ahead and eat that Big Mac. Just donate the results to science.

Which are more useful?
Adult stem cells have been used for decades to treat disease. Leukemias, immune system and other blood disorders, cancers, autoimmune diseases: the list is nearly 100 illnesses long, with more on the way. As you can see, adult stem cells work very well and they work right now.

What about ESCs? Do they work? In a word, no. Though they have been tried dozens of times, no one has ever been successfully treated with embryonic stem cells. No one. Typically, ESCs make people more sick or kill them. Less often, they simply have no effect.

To their credit, on June 10th’s World News Tonight, Ned Potter and Dr. Michael Shelanski, Alzheimer’s researcher, Columbia University, told the truth about how Nancy Reagan had been lied to:

Potter: “Stem cells, which are found in human embryos, may be able to replace almost any damaged cell in the body. But with Alzheimer’s it’s not the cell that need to be replaced.”

Shelanski: “The early changes of Alzheimer’s disease are a loss of the connections between nerve cells without death of the nerve cells themselves.”

Remember, stem cells, whether ASC or ESC, can only replace dead or damaged cells. They can’t fix living cells that don’t communicate well.

So why are people like journalists Tom Shales, Tom Brokaw, Sandra Hughes, Barbara Walters, the crew of Good Morning America, the president of the Alzheimer’s Association, and a couple dozen Congressmen all pushing for more embryonic stem cell research? Why are so many embryonic stem cell researchers either actively promoting lies or at least remaining silent while their stooges promote lies?

The reasons range from the political – reducing respect for very small children is a great way to promote legal abortion – to the mundane. After all, even embryonic stem cell researchers have house payments. From a social justice perspective, these are apparently good reasons to promote killing small children.

Embryonic stem cell research should be entirely banned. But instead, if the embryonic stem cell crowd is successful, your tax money will be poured down this rat-hole research, and the Evil Empire will be reborn. Here. There is a bright side. If it happens, Mr. Reagan will at least have died before he was forced to watch it.

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