Michael J Fox fighting for bad science

ORIGINALLY OCTOBER 23, 2006 from the WAYBACK MACHINE —
Michael J Fox fighting for bad science – UPDATED
Filed under: Culture of Life/Death, Medical, TV/Pop Culture/Music, Election 2006

When I was a little girl, I remember a neighbor of ours who spent every Labor Day raging at Jerry Lewis for “parading those poor crippled children around to pull on the heartstrings so that people will send him money…” As though the funds raised by the Muscular Dystrophy Association were going into Lewis’ pocket.

Today we’re being treated to this political commercial by Michael J Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and is allowing himself to be used by Claire McCaskill’s political campaign to pull on the heartstrings (and create a sense of “moral outrage”) so as to defeat her opponant. McCaskill “shares my hope for a cure,” says Fox, while her (presumably evil) opponant apparently wants Fox to suffer. Booo…Hiss….

The video is indeed difficult to watch, and one sincerely wishes there was immediately in place a cure for Fox and his fellow sufferers. Fox believes that his cure lies in the use of Embryonic Stem Cells Research (ESCR) and puts his hope in research currently being done by using precisely those sorts of cells on Parkinson’s patients. So, this story must have been very unwelcome, yesterday.

Stem cells might cause brain tumors, study finds

Injecting human embryonic stem cells into the brains of Parkinson’s disease patients may cause tumors to form, U.S. researchers reported on Sunday.

Steven Goldman and colleagues at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York said human stem cells injected into rat brains turned into cells that looked like early tumors.
[…]
Goldman’s team used human embryonic stem cells. Taken from days-old embryos, these cells can form any kind of cell in the body. This batch had been cultured in substances aimed at making them become brain cells.
[…]
The animals did get better.

But the grafted cells started to show areas that no longer consisted of dopamine-releasing neurons, but of dividing cells that had the potential to give rise to tumors. The researchers killed the animals before they could know for sure, and said any experiments in humans would have to be done very cautiously. Scientists have long feared that human embryonic stem cells could turn into tumors, because of their pliability.

This is not the first time ESC research for Parkinson’s sufferers has frightened scientists and halted experimentation. As reported by the New England Journal of Medicine, and – ahem – the New York Times, the injection of ESC’s into the brains of Parkinson’s patients became nightmarish experimentations gone bad.

The late development of dystonia and dyskinesia, more than one year after surgery, in five patients who had received transplants deserves comment. Parkinsonism in these patients improved during the first year after transplantation, even with substantial reductions in dosage or the discontinuation of levodopa. The subsequent appearance of dystonia and dyskinesia implies that the continued fiber outgrowth from the transplant has led to a relative excess of dopamine. The simplest response to this outcome would be to transplant less tissue in the future. The distribution of the tissue is also likely to be important.
- NEJM Transplantation of Embryonic Dopamine Neurons for Severe Parkinson’s Disease March 8, 2001

The dystonia and dyskinesia referred to here is more detailed in the report by the NY Times piece:

Although the paper depicts the patients with side effect in impassive clinical terms, doctors who have seen them paint a much different picture. Paul. E. Greene, a neurologist at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and a researcher in the study, [emphasis mine - admin] said the uncontrollable movements some patients suffer are “absolutely devastating.”

Although the paper depicts the patients with side effect in impassive clinical terms, doctors who have seen them paint a much different picture. Paul. E. Greene, a neurologist at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and a researcher in the study, [emphasis mine - admin] said the uncontrollable movements some patients suffer are “absolutely devastating.”

“They chew constantly, their fingers go up and down, their wrists flex and distend,” he said. And the patients writhe and twist, jerk their heads, fling their arms about.”It was tragic, catastrophic,” Greene said. “It’s a real nightmare. And we can’t selectively turn it off.”

One man was so badly affected that he could no longer eat and had to use a feeding tube, Greene said. In another, the condition came and went unpredictably throughout the day, and when it occurred, the man’s speech was unintelligible.

For now, Greene said, his position is clear: “No more fetal transplants. We are absolutely and adamantly convinced that this should be considered for research only. And whether it should be research in people is an open question.”

In the past when I have cited this article, I have heard from supporters of ESC research that this study used not “embryonic” stem cells, but “fetal stem cells from aborted fetuses.” I know that is what the NY Times piece says, but I don’t see that in the NEJM report. Moreover, we must not forget that before a fetus is a fetus it is an embryo for 8 weeks. If these scientists got their stem cells from aborted pregnancies, they clearly were looking for embryos, and I think might be a safe presumption to say that the words “fetal” and “embryonic” were being used rather interchangably in the Times piece.

But the NEJM report clearly uses the world EMBRYONIC both in its title and throughout the study, as we see here:

Background Transplantation of human embryonic dopamine neurons into the brains of patients with Parkinson’s disease has proved beneficial in open clinical trials. However, whether this intervention would be more effective than sham surgery in a controlled trial is not known.

Methods We randomly assigned 40 patients who were 34 to 75 years of age and had severe Parkinson’s disease (mean duration, 14 years) to receive a transplant of nerve cells or undergo sham surgery; all were to be followed in a double-blind manner for one year. In the transplant recipients, cultured mesencephalic tissue from four embryos was implanted into the putamen bilaterally.

So, we see that in 2001, ESCR was showing the embryonic stem cells tended to be unmanagable and, actually, too powerful, too malleable. We see in 2006 that labrats treated with the stem cells tended to show some improvement but within a short time tissue growth becomes abnormal – one might assume that the rats, which were killed, might have displayed similiar behavior as was seen in 2001, had they lived. For all the talk we hear about the “great promise” of Embryonic Stem Cells, the research doesn’t support it. Nor, apparently, does private funding.

There are, however, wonderful results being seen in various research and testing being done with the use of Adult Stem Cells (ASCR). We don’t hear very much about it, though. Writes Wesley J. Smith in the National Review Online, 2002:

Unless you made a point of looking for these stories…you might have missed them. Patients with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis received significant medical benefit using experimental adult-stem-cell regenerative medical protocols. These are benefits that supporters of embryonic-stem-cell treatments have yet to produce widely in animal experiments. Yet adult stem cells are now beginning to ameliorate suffering in human beings.

Stem cells were harvested from the patient’s brain using a routine brain biopsy procedure. They were cultured and expanded to several million cells. About 20 percent of these matured into dopamine-secreting neurons. In March 1999, the cells were injected into the patient’s brain.

Three months after the procedure, the man’s motor skills had improved by 37 percent and there was an increase in dopamine production of 55.6 percent. One year after the procedure, the patient’s overall Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale had improved by 83 percent — this at a time when he was not taking any other Parkinson’s medication!

That is an astonishing, remarkable success, one that you would have thought would set off blazing headlines and lead stories on the nightly news. Had the treatment been achieved with embryonic stem cells, undoubtedly the newspapers would have screamed loudly enough to be heard. Unfortunately, reportage about the Parkinson’s success story was strangely muted. True, the Washington Post ran an inside-the-paper story and there were some wire service reports. But the all-important New York Times — the one news outlet that drives television and cable news — did not report on it at all. Nor did a search of the Los Angeles Times website yield any stories about the experiment.

Please read Smith’s article – it is long and chock-full of information on successful ASCR you never hear about because, for some reason, only the stuff of embryos is fascinating to the press and the left. I wonder why that is, really? Why are they so hot to exploit the embryo – when study after study says don’t do it – and so bored with a safer alternative that does not in any way exploit or destroy human life?

Writing on this same subject a while back, I said:

That research…made me believe that Embryonic stem cells are like uncut heroin…waaaay, way to powerful to use – they are part of begotten life in its purest form (perhaps still too near to God for our fooling with) – and they are so maleable as to be (so far in research) unpredictable and unusable. And that’s not even getting into the moral and ethical questions of whether or not a human embryo should be exploited in such a way, particularly when Adult Stem Cells are showing remarkable results in everything from helping sufferers of Sickle Cell Anemia and Thallassemias Major and Minor, to spinal injuries, skin regeneration and more.
[…]
And I say that as a woman dealing with a chronic blood illness, and waiting to hear – finally – about a diagnosis that has taken a great deal of time to pinpoint. Both health issues are being looked into with adult stem cells, and that’s good news…I wouldn’t want any treatment derived from embryonic stem cells.

I still feel that way…

The proponants of ESC research like to say obnoxious things along the lines of “Bush is against science,” and “[Talent] doesn’t want Michael J Fox to stop moving, just like the nazis on the right didn’t want Christopher Reeve to walk again!” And they like to pretend that ESC research and funding have been – or are about to be – criminalized. The truth is and always has been that scientists are free to conduct experiments using ESC, and private investors are free to fund it. All President Bush has ever said was, “the government is not going to fund it, the government is not going to help you create more ESC lines.” Booo…Hisss….

I feel badly for Michael J Fox, and for the father of my former neighbor who worked his garden while his Parkinson’s afflicted body flailed and he paced the plantings with a scissor-like walk. I felt badly for Pope John Paul II when he could no longer control his body, and I feel badly for the Rev. Billy Graham, too. I hope with all my heart that a treatment or cure can be found to alleviate such suffering. But let’s stop pretending that to be against government funding of ESCR is to be some mustachio-curling eeeevil entity who revels in human suffering, and let’s also stop pretending that Embryonic Stem Cell Research is a hotbed of medical innovation and staggering success, when precisely the opposite is true.

Michael J. Fox’s ad is affecting, I guess. And as it is showing during the World Series in St. Louis, I suppose it’s going to win the day for his candidate, but in the end, it’s not going to do much for him, personally…and it is going to allow millions of people to feel noble and compassionate when they go to the polls and pull a wholly emotional lever while being completely underinformed about the realities of the matter.

UPDATE: Not only am I not a scientist, but I’ve never claimed to be one. Those of you who have suffered through my attempts to make sense of technology are quite aware that I am a woman who knows her limitations! I can read, though, and process information, and I can see by what is presented that ESCR has not lived up to the hype. AJ Strata is much smarter than I am, though, and he goes into absorbing and fascinating detail on the issue of this research, and I urge you to read him. Also, he rightly identifies the “disingenuous” ones here. Michael J. Fox is not the bad guy, and I am sorry to see some rightwing sites being nasty about him. He’s just a guy who wants his circumstance to change; you can’t gainsay his desire. But the people telling him he can have his life back if only there was more federal funding for ESCR, and who think misrepresenting the whole issue is the way to go about it…they’re a whole ‘nother subject. They’re right up there with John Edwards saying that if he and John Kerry were elected, Christopher Reeve would walk away from his wheelchair.

Over at National Review Online, Kathryn Lopez notes that the whole ESCR matter is more complicated than the left wants to admit and she is disgusted that McCaskill approved this ad: Amendment 2 is not a matter of voting for or against sick people. Claire McCaskill should be ashamed for approving a message that suggests such a thing. But apparently she’s comfortable running as just another snake-oil salesman.

Dean Barnett on the other hand calls the ad disingenuous and points out that Fox never once uses the word “EMBRYONIC,” thus making it sound like those evil Republicans are against ALL Stem Cell Research. But of course. Like me, Barnett has a personal stake in the success of ASCR, but is opposed to ESCR.

Meanwhile, John Stephenson has video of McCaskille supporters at work.

Related articles on Adult Stem Cell Research:
ASC 72, ESC 0
A sobering setback in stem-cell research
MIT Prof: Embryonic Stem Cell Research Nowhere Close to Helping Patients
The Case for Adult Stem Cells
Real-World Successes of Adult Stem Cell Treatment
Bone Marrow and Cord Blood Stem Cell Transplant

About Elizabeth Scalia

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