The Austin American Stateman August 30, 2006 article by Ashley Sanchez calls for common ground in Texas stem cell research. Ms. Sanchez describes just some of the many examples of cutting edge ethical science going on in Texas.
In contrast to private banks, parents can donate cord blood to public banks that are available to anyone needing a stem cell transplant.
Unfortunately, not many hospitals are equipped to accept these donations. The Web site nationalcordbloodprogram.org offers amazing stories of people successfully treated with donated cord blood. To date, thousands of cord blood transplants have occurred worldwide, treating at least 12 types of malignant and 59 genetic diseases.
Thanks to ongoing research, the number of conditions successfully treated with adult stem cells should continue to grow. Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, are conducting a clinical trial to treat children who have had a recent traumatic brain injury with stem cells harvested from their own bone marrow.
One of the principal investigators is a pediatric neurosurgeon at Memorial-Hermann Children’s Hospital. Dr. James Baumgartner explained to me that stem cells appear to be remarkably good at going to the site of a brain injury. He calls stem cell research an extraordinary and revolutionary opportunity.
Consequently, Baumgartner is dismayed by people’s misunderstanding of this promising research. To wit, the parents of two of his patients wanted their children to remain anonymous for fear of having their homes picketed by opponents of stem cell research.
These parents’ fears are unwarranted. Responsible opponents have been clear: They oppose only embryonic stem cell research, research that destroys a human embryo. Their position is based on the scientific fact that as soon as a human sperm and egg unite to form an embryo, a new and genetically distinct member of the human species is created. They oppose the deliberate destruction of that human being.
However, they enthusiastically support research such as Baumgartner’s that relies on other sources for stem cells, such as bone marrow and nasal tissue. In fact, there is universal support for such research, as well as that using what might otherwise be considered trash — baby teeth, umbilical cord blood and (in the case of an Austin plastic surgeon who performed his own liposuction and saved the stem cells) even fat.
Baumgartner explained his fear that the highly charged political climate surrounding embryonic stem cell research is jeopardizing efforts to find cures. He cited a bill proposed during Texas’ past legislative session that would have made it a criminal offense to participate in embryonic stem cell research. He believes that kind of hostility sends a chilling message and is resulting in a scientific brain drain here.
On the other hand, some supporters of embryonic stem cell research also fan the flames of hostility. In his July 31 Newsweek column, Jonathan Alter dismissively referred to a human embryo as “a piece of protoplasm,” and embryonic research opponents as “anti-cure” activists.