A proposed Maryland bill that would fund adult stem cell research for sickle cell disease has won the backing of the Maryland Catholic Conference. One official with the conference says success in unfunded adult stem cell efforts suggests that a focus on embryonic stem cells has led to “funding the wrong research.”
The legislation in the state’s House of Delegates is sponsored by Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a Baltimore County Democrat. It would devote five percent of the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund to adult stem cell research for sickle cell disease, the Catholic Review reports.
Del. Nathan-Pulliam’s proposal comes two months after the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published the results of a clinical trial that used the research to reverse sickle cell disease in 90 percent of adult patients.
Nancy Paltell, associate director for respect for life at the Maryland Catholic Conference, said that the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund had twice rejected applications for funding adult stem cell research in sickle cell disease.
“Adult stem cells don’t have the safety issues of embryonic stem cell and induced pluripotent stem cell research – both of which form tumors,” commented Paltell, according to the Catholic Review.
She expressed concern that the state research fund is favoring projects involving embryonic stem cell research that depends upon the destruction of human life.
Paltell noted that the recent clinical trial used adult stem cells from matched bone marrow, but work must now be done using stem cells from either non-matching bone marrow or umbilical cord blood.
CNA spoke with Paltell in a Tuesday phone interview. She said the Maryland stem cell fund was first proposed only for embryonic stem cell research but the MCC and others successfully expanded its mission to include adult stem cell research.
However, Paltell saw a figurative “brick wall” blocking actual funding approval for adult stem cell research. Indeed, the sickle cell disease researchers published in the NEJM were based in Maryland but did not receive state funding.
“No matter how many patients we bring in, no matter how many studies we show… we’ve just not been able to convince the legislature that it’s more important from a patient’s perspective” to fund adult stem cell research and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell research, she said.
In terms of persuading people, Paltell said, science, medicine and ethics can help strengthen the case for using adult stem cells instead of embryonic ones. Though she granted the importance of moral objections to the research, Paltell reported that people are more willing to listen to an emphasis on the likely cures which justify more adult stem cell research.
The NEJM study’s report of reversed sickle cell disease in 9 of 10 patients was “huge” in her view.
According to Paltell, all of the success stories have come from adult stem cell research, which she said is underfunded in Maryland.
“It’s very easy to make the case that we’re funding the wrong research,” Paltell told CNA.
The $3 million in state funding for human embryonic stem cell research had “nothing to show for it,” while the Maryland research group unfunded by the state made great progress in treating sickle cell disease.
Paltell reported that some state delegates are not committed to the adult stem cell funding proposal but advocates have been getting “good results.”
Some have objected that if funds are reserved for one disease then every disease lobby will seek funding for their cause.
To this, she argued that sickle cell research appeared to be “so close” to success and therefore deserves special focus.
If another advocacy group brings up a successful clinical trial, she suggested, “you should fund that group too.”
CNA asked Paltell to explain why embryonic stem cell research is immoral.
“Because it kills a living human being,” she replied. To harvest embryonic stem cells researchers “have to kill and dissect a young human being, a human embryo between one and two weeks from conception.”
“The nice thing about adult stem cell research and IPS is that you don’t have to harm anybody. The cells just come from a person’s body.”