A reader sent me copy of a letter that will be published in Science this week, criticizing the dishonest tactics of the anti-scientific adult stem cell “advocates” (in quotes because they aren’t really science advocates of any kind—they’re only using it as an issue to limit stem cell research.) Anyway, it raises the interesting question of who you’re going to believe: scientists with expertise in the issues under discussion, or a flunky for Sam Brownback and shill for the religious right?

Adult Stem Cell Treatments for Diseases?

Shane Smith, William Neaves, Steven Teitelbaum

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 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, 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 are available to treat only nine
of the conditions on the Prentice list, not 65 [or 72]. In
particular, allogeneic stem cell therapy has proven useful in
treating hematological malignancies and in ameliorating the
side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Contrary to what
Prentice implies, however, most of his cited treatments
remain unproven and await clinical validation. Other claims,
such as those for Parkinson’s or spinal cord injury, are simply

The references Prentice cites as the basis for his list
include various case reports, a meeting abstract, a newspaper
article, and anecdotal testimony before a Congressional
committee. A review of those references reveals that Prentice
not only misrepresents existing adult stem cell treatments but
also frequently distorts the nature and content of the
references he cites.

For example, to support the inclusion of Parkinson’s
disease on his list, Prentice cites Congressional testimony by
a patient and a physician, a meeting abstract by the
same physician, and two publications that have nothing to
do with stem cell therapy for Parkinson’s. In fact,
there is currently no FDA-approved adult stem cell
treatment–and no cure of any kind–for Parkinson’s disease.
For spinal cord injury, Prentice cites personal opinions
expressed in Congressional testimony by one physician and two patients. There is currently no FDA-approved adult
stem cell treatment or cure for spinal cord injury.

The reference Prentice cites for testicular cancer on his list
does not report patient response to adult stem cell therapy; it simply evaluates different methods of adult stem cell

The reference Prentice cites on non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
does not assess the treatment value of adult stem cell
transplantation; rather, it describes culture conditions for
the laboratory growth of stem cells from lymphoma patients.
Prentice’s listing of Sandhoff disease, a rare disease that
affects the central nervous system, is based on a layperson’s
statement in a newspaper article. There is currently no
cure of any kind for Sandhoff disease.

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.


  1. #1 Todd
    May 1, 2008

    Ok, so it’s only 9 treatments as of your writing. How many does ES have….can you say ZERO. To have the govt pay for research in an area that has no scientific evidence of being able to do greater things than non controversial adult stem cells seems ridicules to me. Let private donations sponsor this type of research, not my tax dollars.

  2. #2 Sarah
    June 2, 2008

    Ethics and religion aside, adult stem cells ARE treating real diseases and real people. I’m not an expert on the subject, but just by doing a little Internet research and finding sited studies I was able to see that ES is not able to show the same results as adult stem cells. I notice there are no references in this post to back up your critique.

    I would also like to know why the scientific community is not able or willing to attempt to put differences aside and work on making positive differences for the greater good. I don’t think bashing someone with opposing views gets us anywhere, except viewing the person who has to resort to such negativity as less credible and less respected. I love and cherish living in a country where we’re all able to have your own views and opinions and express them freely, but grow up and use your words! Do you have to use such negative rhetoric to get your point across?

  3. #3 Bev Searl
    July 3, 2008

    I have a couple questions after reading your article about David Prentice and adult vs embryonic stem cell research. In your article you state, “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 are available to treat only nine of the conditions on the Prentice list, not 65 [or 72].”
    How many treatments are there using embryonic stem cell research? I believe the answer is NONE. After years of killing babies to do your research you have NO treatments but you will try to sabotage the progress using adult stem cells where there are (by your own words) 9 conditions already approved and in use. Why would you do that? How does it hurt you to admit adult stem cells may be the answer. What is your motive for pushing embryonic stem cell research? I would suggest those who listen to your arguments go to the source and read for themselves the difference between embryonic and adult stem cells and the moral and ethical reasons as well as the health of the patient leans toward adult stem cell research over emybryonic.

  4. #4 Bev
    July 3, 2008

    you know I didn’t take the time to read the other comments before making my own and now I have to add a couple things. First it’s funny that those who call us “religous right wing fanatics” ignorant are the same people who have to use expletives to get their point across. You all seem a bit angry and wanting to lash out at a God you don’t even believe in. We may go on faith about heaven and hell but I can tell you one thing – if I believe in heaven and hell and its not real I just die. If you don’t believe and its real guess what?

  5. #5 Britomart
    July 3, 2008

    My goodness, a new fundie invasion !

    Bev, google Pascals Wager some time. You are making a lot of assumptions about your god, its really not as simple as you think.

    No babies are killed. None. Ever. We are not lashing out against god, but we are pretty annoyed at the followers who want us to behave as if your god was real. Real children die of diabetes, stem cells could help there. Real people have parkinsons and shortened lives because of it. Real people have kidney failure.

    Get informed, and if you have information, share the links.

    Thank you kindly

  6. #6 Nick Gotts
    July 3, 2008

    if I believe in heaven and hell and its not real I just die. If you don’t believe and its real guess what?

    What if they are real, but God sends smug Christians to hell, and honest atheists to heaven?

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