By Dave Andrusko
A few years back when actor Michael J. Fox made a number of ill-informed comments about the “promise” of embryonic stem cells, it was impossible not to cut him some slack. He suffers from Parkinson’s disease and it was only human nature on his part to buy into the PR that somehow embryonic stem cells (ESCs) could cure his Parkinson’s, as well as a host of other nasty diseases.
That honorable inclination not to pile on applies perhaps even more to Linda Ronstadt, one of the great voices of the 80s and 90s who can no longer sing because of her Parkinson’s. That is a loss for anyone who appreciates music well sung in many genres including pop, jazz, rock, and even folk.
She recently gave an interview to the Associated Press. Ronstadt is promoting her memoir, “Simple Dreams.”
Your heart goes out to her in the three sentences of the story written by John Carucci.
“These days, it’s hard for Linda Ronstadt to get around without her forearm crutches.
“The debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease require her to relax for a few minutes before starting an interview. But once she’s ready, the 67-year-old has full command of her voice, even though she’s no longer able to sing.”
Carucci asks if Fox had reached out to her. Ronstadt replies
“I have an email from him. You know, he’s been a great person to raise awareness. Bless his heart because it’s something that people need to know about. Of course, the most promising treatment is fetal stem cell, which is also a great treatment for diabetes, MS, all kinds of things. And of course, the Christian right will not allow that research. It’s a terrible thing that they’re blocking that research because it could help so many people. It could save lives. … But they won’t get out of the way.”
In the fight over ESCs usually there is a three-some of villains. Besides the “Christian right,” there is you and me (the dreaded “anti-abortionists”), and assorted politicians (their favorite enemy is President George W. Bush, who is falsely accused of a host of terrible things). But be that as it may…
Because we are not “anti-science,” we would never rule out of hand the possibility that ESCs could someday help people with serious degenerative diseases. But their track record is abysmal, as we have documented dozens of times. They are much more likely to grow out of control to form tumors (even when the cells have supposedly been “tamed” to specialize and stop all growth) and form misplaced tissues in organs where they shouldn’t occur than to cure or ameliorate.
To date ESCs haven’t helped a single human, and haven’t even helped very many lab mice in over 30 years of research.
More important than the slurs tossed at critics of ESCs is that by directing people’s attention down the wrong path, it means they are very unlikely to know that adult stem cells (obtained from bone marrow, blood, fat tissue, umbilical cord blood, and other tissues after birth) are already helping over 60,000 people each year around the world.
“Besides treatments associated with cancers and anemias, adult stem cells are now showing success at treating heart damage, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes, and dozens of other diseases,” says stem cell expert Dr. David Prentice. Prentice added, “And by the way, adult stem cells also have the only reported case of successful treatment of a Parkinson’s patient documented in the scientific literature.”
Moreover, great progress is being made in fine-tuning the use of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells)–an alternative way of producing stem cells that are for all practical purposes identical to ESCs.
No disrespect to a great artist, but Miss Ronstadt I hope you take the time to investigate therapies that are not only ethically unobjectionable but far more likely to heal those with devastating diseases like Parkinson’s.