$10M Stem Cell Grant a ‘Bad Investment,' Experts Say

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By Michelle A. Vu, Christian Post Reporter
July 7, 2006|10:10 am

WASHINGTON – Bioethics professors and stem cell experts call the $10 million donation to the University of California, Irvine for embryonic stem-cell research a ‘‘bad investment’’ in ‘‘hyped up hope.’’

“It is simply a bad investment just like the investment of tax payer dollars in California for embryonic stem cell research,” said Dr. Kelly Hollowell, an adjunct professor of Bioethics and Biotechnology at Regent University Law School. Hollowell, who is also a patent attorney, sits on the general assembly committee for medical ethics and stem cell research in Virginia.

“I predict they will lose their money; any individual or tax payer dollars that are invested in embryonic stem cell research are simply going to be lost dollars in my estimation,” Hollowell told The Christian Post on Thursday.

A donation of $10 million was recently given to the University of California in Irvine by the founder and chief investment officer of Newport beach-based investment firm PIMCO, Bill Gross, and his wife to be used towards embryonic stem cell research and for a proposed research building, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

According to the report, about $2 million will be used to finance embryonic stem cell research at the university and another $8 million will be a matching gift for a proposed stem cell research center.

“We’ve seen other stories like this where huge grants from the private sector are given to institutions to do primarily embryonic stem cell research,” said Gene Tarne, communications director for Washington-based DoNoHarm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics.

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“I would say this is like good money chasing very shaky science. I mean these donations seem to be generated more by hype than by any hard scientific evidence of embryonic stem cells actually being on the verge of providing any therapeutic benefits to human patients,” declared the communications director.

Regent’s Hollowell agrees that embryonic stem cell has not proven to be a good research investment when compared to adult stem cell research.

“After more than two decades of research, science simply does not support the investment [in embryonic stem cell research] and that is completely independent of the ethical issue which, by themselves, should prevent investment, but unfortunately does not,” said Hollowell.

Embryonic stem cell research has been a controversial issue because the process of extracting stem cells results in the death of embryos, which some liken to abortion.

Liberty University’s director for the Center of Creation Study and associate professor of biology has used alternatives to embryonic stem cells in his research that he notes has yielded results.

“Embryonic stem cell research using human cells are really destroying human lives and we have not fully capitalized on adult stem cell use,” said Dr. David DeWitt, who has researched Alzheimer disease for the past 15 years. “There is a lot of potential there that would not require us to kill human beings.”

DeWitt has used human cell lines from tumor in his research and remarked that he has “not exhausted knowledge” gained from these types of cell line.

Dr. Kyle Fedler, chair and associate professor of religion and bioethics at Ashland University and a member of the bioethics board at Ohio’s Samaritan’s hospital, said that from a Christian perspective, he would like to see more money given to adult stem cell research.

“From a Christian perspective, this issue is controversial. I think one of the difficulties is that many Christians – even those who are not completely opposed to stem cell research in general – wish that there was more emphasis being placed on adult stem cell research,” said Fedler. “There have been a number of very important papers in the last year or two saying that adult stem cells are more pluripotent – meaning they can become more things – than we initially thought they could.”

The professor explained that five to ten years ago, many speculated that adult stem cell research would be limited because they could not be “tricked” into becoming different types of cells. However, research results have shown that it is easier for adult stem cells to become the type of cell needed than embryonic stem cell, said Fedler.

“From a Christian perspective and personally, I wish that more of this money is going into adult stem cell research,” he added. “Certainly from a Christian perspective, we have to be very careful about the protection of the weak and powerless.”

He concluded by drawing a parallel to the Bible story of a young man who asked Jesus, “who is my neighbor?”

“He was seeking to distinguish who is an object of my concern and who isn’t. What he really wanted to know is who isn’t my neighbor and of course Jesus refuses to get into this game of delineating who is an object of love and who isn’t,” said the Ashland professor. “He turned it around on the guy and asked, ‘what would it look like for you to act like a neighbor?’ So there would be the idea that if there is a doubt lets err on the side of bringing people into the circle of our concern.”


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