WASHINGTON DC – Two Obama executive orders, one following the other, have confused me once again. The first was to approve funding of embryonic stem cell research. Bear in mind, other technologically advanced nations have been doing embryonic stem cell research for years. Thus far the number of efficacious treatments derived is a big fat ZERO. American Arrogance seems to think if the USA isn’t doing it, ain’t nobody doing it. However, lots of countries are doing it, with thus far absolutely no return on investment.
What has yielded actual application is research on adult stem cells. For example, in 2001 in Dusseldorf, a patient was treated for a heart malady with the injection of adult stem cells from his own bone marrow. The patient’s condition improved dramatically, and since then six additional patients have been treated with similar results. Also, Crohn’s disease (a chronic infection of the gut), and thalassemia (a blood disease), have been treated with adult stem cell derived treatments.
The rap on adult stem cells is there aren’t very many of them in the body, and they are hard to get at. So, since unborn babies are rife with undifferentiated cells, research swung in that direction. After years of research what has been determined thus far is that cells that have never differentiated don’t have a lot of promise, the incidence of tumors is high, and the incidence of rejection is very high. With the recent discoveries by two independent research groups, one at Kyoto University in Japan, and one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, allowing the re-programming of adult epithelial cells to what is called pluripotency, the case for embryonic stem cell research had been neutered.Pluripotency is what makes stem cells so interesting. They are undifferentiated, meaning they can become any cell, be it heart cell, bone, eye, etc. It was believed once a cell was differentiated, it could not go back. However, scientists have successfully caused skin cells to “regress” to an undifferentiated state, essentially making them into stem cells again. There are no issues of tumors. There are no issues of rejection (the body doesn’t reject it’s own tissue) and the body has lots and lots of skin cells.
Obama in his recent TV appearance stated “I am glad to see progress is being made in adult stem cells. And if the science determines that we can completely avoid a set of ethical questions or political disputes, then that’s great.”
Which makes the next executive order he signed confusing. The following day after approving federal funds for embryonic stem cell research, he wrote an executive order rescinding Bush’s Executive Order 13435 of June 20, 2007. This executive order pushed for research and funding of alternatives to embryonic stem cell research, including Alternate Nuclear Transfer and Regression approaches to inducing pluripotency in adult cells. The latter “regression” approach is what has successfully reprogrammed, i.e. regressed, epithelial (skin) cells to pluripotency in the above mentioned University studies. In other words, Obama killed funding for research that was actually producing results in favor of funding for research that is not producing results. And he crowed that finally we could have a triumph of science over ideology. Huh? What science? What ideology? Mr. Rational claims that “I have — I have no investment in causing controversy. I’m happy to avoid it if that’s where the science leads us.” Then why cut the funding for the science that is actually leading away from controversy?
Why? I just want to know why.