Second anniversary of Michigan embryonic stem cell research vote

On Oct 4-6, Michigan welcomes the World Stem Cell Summit. Honored at the conference are Governor Jennifer Granholm and Alfred Taubman. Dr. Joseph Kincaid of Right to Life responds.

On November 4, 2008, Michigan voters, by a narrow margin, passed Proposal 2. Proposal 2 became an amendment to our Constitution that permitted unused human embryos in our in vitro fertilization clinics to be destroyed and their embryonic stem cells (ESC) used for research. The hopes were that this research would lead to cures for diseases devastating our society such as spinal cord injuries, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinsonism, etc.

Proponents of Proposal 2 envisioned a two-pronged race for the cure of such diseases. One prong would be the newer, streamlined, versatile ESC that would bolster and supplant the other prong consisting of the older, plodding, limited adult stem cells (ASC). With these two factors working together, the belief was such diseases could be cured within five years, or at the most ten years. On election day and even today it is doubtful that a significant number of people know the differences between ESC and ASC.

ESC advocates believed that hampered by the previous restrictive ESC laws, Proposal 2 would allow Michigan to take its rightful place among states with less restrictive laws. Although our top research centers, such as The University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State, had first class programs they could not attract top-tier bioscience researchers to Michigan because of our restrictive ESC laws. Really enthusiastic supporters said passing Proposal 2 would be a bioscience revolution and pump billions of dollars into the State’s sagging economy. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of new jobs would be created offsetting jobs lost in the auto industry.

The improvement in our health would be unbelievable. The public policy institute, Michigan Prospect, predicted there would be increased worker productivity with $28 million saved from reduction in worker absenteeism and reduction in death from various illnesses. Curative medicine would lower Medicaid costs by $38.5 million a year. Patients would save about $80 million a year because ESC based treatment would reduce standard treatment costs. Finally, about 770,000 Michigan residents would benefit from diseases treated through regenerative medicine.

So as Proposal 2 approaches its second birthday how successful has it been? What does its report card look like?

If one goes through the various diseases that Proposal 2 held out hope for and contrasts the success with ASC versus ESC a vital point can be made. First, let’s start with spinal cord injuries. On July 30, 2010, the FDA lifted a hold they had kept on the first clinical trial involving ESC and the trial will involve spinal cord injuries. However, the trial involves injecting ESC and seeing what the side effects are. The actual testing of ESC in spinal cord injury patients is still several years away. In contrast, Dr. Carlos Lima of Portugal since 2006 has injected adult nasal stem cells into spines of spinal cord injury patients with varying amounts of improvement. In 2008, Australian scientists reported similar results in their three year study. So there has been success with ASC and none with ESC.

Going to juvenile (Type 1) diabetes, in a study from Brazil and Northwestern University, twelve of twenty patients received bone marrow adult stem cells and remained without insulin injections thirty months later. Another study from the University of Florida showed children receiving their own stored cord blood were helped with their diabetes. With ESC there are no reports of positive results with diabetes.

In regard to heart trouble, ASC injections into heart attack victims help the heart pump better and in heart failure ASC injections ease symptoms. There are no similar beneficial reports with ESC research.

Moving to Parkinsonism, a 2009 report showed that injection of one’s own stem cells relieved Parkinsonism symptoms for almost five years. Again no report from ESC.

We will not go into the thousands of patients that have had their blood diseases, such as leukemia, cured or helped with bone marrow, blood or cord blood stem cells.

The grandiose expectations of Proposal 2 were that millions of dollars would flow into Michigan. It is true that in October 2009 the University of Michigan received eleven grants worth $6.8 million in federal stimulus fund money for stem cell research. However, only one grant involved ESC and that one would have been permitted prior to passage of Proposal 2.

Certainly the anticipated boost in our economy through bioscience jobs and other advantages of a number one bioscience atmosphere have not materialized.

So at present there is no apparent financial gain from Proposal 2. One can wonder how much further we would have been toward the cure of disease if money had been given to ASC research rather than ESC research.

By what other measures should Proposal 2 be evaluated? By far the greatest objection of opponents of Proposal 2 was that, believing life begins at conception, the destruction of each human embryo was the loss of another human being at his/her earliest beginnings. How many human embryos have been destroyed, in our ESC clinics, in these two years? Concerned about such questions, the Michigan legislature considered the Embryo Research Transparency Act that would require ESC clinics to make out a half page form once a year that would ask where the embryos were obtained, how many were used, and how many were retained in storage.

The University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State have bitterly opposed this innocent sounding bill. After creative maneuvering in the House in July 2010, this Act and the accompanying higher education budget bill have not seen the light of day.

When should we revisit the scene and see when and if ever that we see any signs of cure with embryonic stem cells in these devastating diseases of mankind?

By Joseph E. Kincaid
Joseph E. Kincaid, M.D. is the Vice President of Right to Life of Michigan.

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