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.