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Public Statements

Fetus Farming Prohibition Act of 2006

Location: Washington, DC

FETUS FARMING PROHIBITION ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - July 17, 2006)


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I wish to take 5 minutes of my allotted 15 minutes to answer some of the questions raised by Senator Harkin and Senator Specter.

I think it is very important that the American public understands what this debate is. We have heard a lot of statements this morning that there are no cures other than fetal stem cell research, and that could not be further from the truth. I am a practicing physician. I deliver babies. I have read almost every article published in the last 12 months on stem cells, both embryonic and nonembryonic adult. The fact is there is not one cure in this country today from embryonic stem cells.

We talked about 21 lines, but what they don't say is there is no limitation in this country at all on private research from any of the 400 lines Senator Harkin mentioned. There also is a statement by the caretaker and many scientists that the lines are not contaminated. As a matter of fact, they are not contaminated. The question is, do we want to do what is best to get us further down the road to treat people? I am a two-time cancer survivor; I had cancer of the colon and melanoma. With the treatments that are available--I desire the treatments that can come out of stem cell research, there is no question. But every disease Senator Harkin listed--every disease save ALS--has an adult stem cell or cord blood stem cell cure that has already been proven in humans, without using embryonic stem cells. What is the science behind it? What is the science that tells us we are going to have trouble with embryonic but not with the other? It is called the mitochondria. If you study physiology at all, what you know is every cytoplasm of every cell has mitochondria in it.

The only way to use an embryonic stem cell line and to use it effectively without falling into the trap of contamination or cross-immunization--in other words, allergy to the treatment--is to somehow quiet mitochondria. They are the energy source for cells. They have DNA. So none of the problems that are seen with your own adult stem cells or cord blood from your own child will be existing in a treatment from your own stem cells.

The reason we should spend more money on our own stem cell lines today is because there will not be complications from them as is noted in every study that has thus far been done on embryonic stem cells.

The Senator mentioned the rats. The only study that shows neurologic improvement is when the rats were sacrificed at 8 weeks. Every other study, when they let the rats live to 12 weeks, show teratoma or tumor formation, which is the problem with embryonic stem cells.

I hope the American people will listen. It is not about not getting where we want to go, but there is false hope, tremendous false hope in what we are about to do when, in fact, if we would redouble our efforts on the other areas of stem cells.

One final point and then I will yield. There is a germ cell line, stem cell line, which goes against everything Senator Harkin says. It has been proven in this country; it has been proven in Germany. It comes from ovarian tissue and testicular tissue. It is, without a doubt, the greatest thing on the horizon for us because it has none of the problems associated--I am not talking the ethical problems, I am talking the scientific problems associated with embryonic stem cells. There are none of the problems with it.

I have seen beating heart tissue from germ cell lines. It can create every area. There are three tissues, endoderm, ectoderm and mesoderm. That is the important reason why embryonic is thought to be so important.

One final point on dedifferentiation, the ability to take a cell that is in your body today and make it go backward. That has been accomplished. We now see multiple lines of pluripotent cells from our own bodies.

The choice is not destroy embryos, and if we don't, we will not get good research; the choice is go where the money is leading us, and the money is leading us into adult stem cells, germ cell lines, and other lines that have none of the problems of embryonic stem cells.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, would the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. BROWNBACK. I am happy to yield.

Mr. COBURN. Is there any prohibition in the United States today for private money to fund any type of fetal research, embryonic stem cell research?

Mr. BROWNBACK. Reclaiming my time, no, there is not. There is no limitation today on State dollars, private dollars, foreign dollars, whatever you want to call it.

Mr. COBURN. As a matter of fact, California passed, I think, Proposition 71: $500 million over the next 10 years in fetal stem cell research?

Mr. BROWNBACK. I think actually the number is $3 billion.

Mr. COBURN. Three billion dollars. So there is no limitation at the present time.

Mr. BROWNBACK. None whatsoever.

Mr. COBURN. Is the Senator aware of the private investment dollars that are presently--the private investment dollars--not Government dollars, not State dollars--that are now going into embryonic stem cell research versus adult stem cell and germ line stem cell and cord blood, the ratio is about 100 to 1?

Mr. BROWNBACK. Mr. President, reclaiming my time, it is, and it is a very interesting feature that where the private money is going, where people have to show production coming out of it, it is all going into the adult cord blood because people know the science. And that is why I want to conclude with what I started with.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. HARKIN. Yes.

Mr. COBURN. Is the Senator aware of the research that has been done on juvenile diabetes thus far in terms of embryonic stem cell research and adult stem cell research?

Mr. HARKIN. I am not intimately knowledgeable of all of the nuances in research that is being done. We had hearings, and we have the information in our hearing record on a lot of that. Standing here now, I don't know all of that.

Mr. COBURN. Is the Senator aware that the only successful treatments for juvenile diabetes to come from stem cells have come from adult stem cells, and in fact that the embryonic stem cells have one-fiftieth the amount of insulin, were not effective, and ended after about 80 days after transplantation? Is the Senator aware of that?

Mr. HARKIN. Will the Senator repeat that? I was reading something.

Mr. COBURN. Is the Senator aware that of the human studies which have thus far been done on juvenile diabetes in fact the successful one was adult stem cells and the unsuccessful one was embryonic stem cell? Is the Senator aware of that fact?

Mr. HARKIN. Let me respond this way: First, I note that the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which represents families all over America who are affected with juvenile diabetes, is in support of H.R. 810. I want that on the record. In fact, they have been one of the strongest supporters.

Second, the transplantation of insulin-producing pancreatic cells is already known to reverse the most damaging symptoms of type 1 diabetes. The problem with that is the limited number of organ donors out there who donate pancreases. That seems to be the problem.

Could I ask the Senator, are there enough pancreas donors out there to take care of everyone with juvenile diabetes?

Mr. COBURN. It is not required. Actually, today the science shows that ductal cells from the patient's own pancreas can be induced to become stem cells that then produce insulin-producing cells. There is no transplantation needed. In fact, these ductal cells have been proven and demonstrated to produce the same eyelet cells that the patient did initially when they were grown as an embryo.

Mr. HARKIN. I have heard this argument before. I am not a scientist. I don't know all of the nuances, I would be the first to admit. I do know, however, that every time that has come up, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Association disagrees that this is a viable pathway toward curing all of those with juvenile diabetes.

Mr. COBURN. They cannot disagree. It has only been done for 3 months, and it is successful. There have been no successful embryonic cells taken from the duct of the pancreas of children with diabetes, converted into cells, and have in fact cured their diabetes.

Mr. HARKIN. How many people have been cured of juvenile diabetes with this?

Mr. COBURN. For 3 months is all we know. I don't know the numbers. I think it is eight or nine. This protocol is being done in Europe at the present time.

Mr. HARKIN. Is it not being done in the United States?

Mr. COBURN. No, it is not being done in the United States.

Mr. HARKIN. Have any of these findings been published?

Mr. COBURN. They have been published in peer-reviewed articles. I would be happy to submit them for the RECORD.

Mr. HARKIN. I would appreciate that.

Mr. COBURN. I thank the Senator for allowing me to ask those questions.

Mr. HARKIN. I thank the Senator. There is a good colloquy.

I would further ask the Senator from Oklahoma--this has been done for 3 months--do we have any data to show that this does cure juvenile diabetes? Does it abate it somewhat? I don't know what the outcomes have been for these eight or nine people.

Mr. COBURN. Here is the key point that needs to be made in this debate: If you use your own cells, you will not have tumors, you will not have teratomas, and you will not have rejection.

If you use embryonic stem cells, you will have tumors, you will have teratomas, and you will have rejection.

That is what we know. That is why I, as a scientist, have not raised the life issue here once, but I am adamantly pro-life. I believe the science is so far ahead of this debate. When everyone knows what is really going on in terms of research, they are going to want the dollars put into the stem cells, both in terms of dedifferentiation--we know we can differentiate cells backward to make them pluripotent--and also to isolate cells from our own human body to use back on us. That is an important part of the debate.


Mr. COBURN. I will spend a few minutes. This is a very emotional debate for every family in this country. Every family in this country has someone who, in fact, has a disease that will be impacted in the future by research that is ongoing in terms of stem cell research.

I make a couple of points. We have heard today a couple of very strong statements that are highly inaccurate.

One is that the only way you will cure this is with embryonic stem cells. No one knows that. As a matter of fact, most of the cures in science have come not by what we thought was going to happen but by what happened that surprised us. That is not true.

No. 2, there is no ban at the present time on research in this country on embryonic stem cells. What there is a ban on is using additional Federal funds to create additional stem cells, but additional stem cells can be created outside of the Government.

The Senator from South Dakota created a false choice. The false choice is not incineration. There are 400,000 embryos that are frozen in this country today; 93 percent of those the parents want to save for themselves. So that leaves us a smaller portion. If you look at the numbers, when you thaw embryos, you have a 50-percent wastage, you lose 50 percent of them. The false choice Senator Johnson put forward was this: they either get burned up or they get used for embryonic stem cell research. This last week, the 108th baby was born through this Operation Snowflake--which is adopted embryos--so that is not the only choice.

The other thing is, if everyone will recognize, in the fertility community in this country, that in Europe, they do not have a problem with excess embryos. We overdo it in this country in terms of creating embryos for fertility clinics. We create about four times as many obstetrician and fertility specialists as the rest of the world. The choice is not incinerate or use for embryonic stem cell research.

The majority leader has arrived. I yield my time.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, Senator Brownback has graciously allowed me to take 10 minutes of his time. I would like to do that at this time.

First of all, I would like to set the record straight: the United States remains the world's leader of published stem cell articles and human embryonic stem cell articles. Specifically, it was April 6 of this year when that statement was made. From 1998 through the end of 2005, the United States published 46 percent of all papers published worldwide--by far the single largest proportion. The remaining 54 percent was divided among 17 other countries.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the RECORD the latest peer review articles that have been brought up to date for this year. This is about 15 pages long, and it has multiple entries. For every disease that has been mentioned on the Senate floor by those supporting the embryonic stem cell research, there are treatments ongoing today using adult stem cells.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

(See exhibit 1.)

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, the other thing I think we ought to make sure of--and I just want to go back. The Senator from California claims 72 percent of Americans favor stem cell research. That is true. That is true, if you ask it that way. But if you ask it: Should your tax dollars be used to destroy embryos to then create a research mechanism, it falls to 38 percent. So there is a difference between the ethical dilemma. I understand people can honorably disagree on the ethical dilemma, but we ought to be truthful about what the polling actually says. If you specifically say what we are doing, you get a much different answer.

I want to talk for a minute about something the majority leader discussed. He is a transplant surgeon. There are two problems transplant surgeons face. One is enough organs, which is a difficult problem in our country today, but the second problem is rejection. Nobody is talking about the long-term consequences of where we go.

Let's assume everything that everyone says about embryonic stem cell research is right. I am highly skeptical of that, but let's assume that it is. You still have this little problem called histocompatibility; in other words, rejection. Whatever you do with it, you are going to have a problem with rejection. And the thing that is so exciting about germ cell--and I want to explain that for a minute. Germ cells--pluripotent stem cells--just as powerful as embryonic, they can do everything that embryonic can. They don't have that problem. No. 1, they are pluripotent; No. 2, they continue to reproduce pluripotent cells just like embryonic. That is new research. That is 6 months old. It was discovered here first. It was duplicated in Germany last month. So that is a brand new study.

The point is, you don't have rejection because you are taking your own cells to create a pluripotent cell, and that is the wonderful thing about adult stem cells, about cord blood stem cells, about germ cells, is that they create a pluripotent cell. There is no rejection. So when you hear all the talk about embryonic stem cell research, the thing to remember is when you get the treatment, you are going to have the side effects like everybody else who has the transplant--if it works--and that is immune-suppressive drugs. You are going to have to have them. The only way not to have that is to do fetal farming or human cloning, where you clone yourself and then take part of what you have cloned back, which we already know is illegal and is banned. So it is important for the debate to focus on that.

Everybody in this country wants cures. Everybody wants to do the thing that will get us there the fastest with the least complications, and we want to invest our dollars in what will be most successful.

One of the things my dad taught me is to look around the world, and if you want to see what is happening, follow the money. If you look around the world today, the world as a whole, and you look at where the money is being spent, it is not being spent on embryonic stem cells. It is being spent on stem cells from us, just like we had the debate a moment ago. We now know ductal cells from somebody's pancreas can create new insulin-producing cells. We know now the mucosa, the lining of your mouth, can create cells to make you a new cornea. You don't have to have a cornea transplant in the future because your own cells are going to be able to create a new cornea. We also know that we have stem cells in our body that can take away cystoid macular edema, this aging process where we as seniors start to lose our vision--the cloudiness--the macular area of the retina starts to fall away. All of these wonderful things that we are doing versus nothing that has been accomplished.

I also would refer to the reference of the Senator from California to the renal success. It wasn't done with an embryonic stem cell, it was done with an adult stem cell. That research was all adult stem cells. So we end up tending to confuse what has really happened.

The fact is, all the success in treatment, all the success in terms of who is willing to invest private capital, where they are putting it, they are not putting it in embryonic. There is a reason for it. It is because in the long term it won't be the best treatment. It is fun science. As a doctor, I will tell you there could be no more fun or rewarding or interesting science than embryonic stem cell because you can turn things on and turn things off. There is no question about it. But what we are finding out is you can actually do that with our own cells, our own stem cells.

This idea of de-differentiation--and I want to explain that for a minute because we are going to hear a lot about it in the next 10 years--we take one of your stem cells, one of your multipotent--not totipotent, not pluri potent, but multi--and reverse its mechanism where we make it pluripotent. We are doing that in several stem cells now with an enzyme called reversa, where they are reversing the cell structure and making it revert back to what it was; in other words, grow in reverse to become pluripotent.

So I hope everybody will remember, this isn't a choice about cures or no cures. We are getting cures like crazy right now with adult stem cells and cord blood. We are going to be doing tons more when this germ cell comes forward. There is no question the scientific community is extremely excited about germ cell pluripotent stem cells because it has all the potential that an embryonic stem cell has and none of the problems.

With that, I yield back my remaining time, and I thank the Senator from Kansas.

Exhibit 1


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, let me clarify for the record. I think it is very important. There is a difference between cancer and teratoma. They use the formation of teratomas to make a differentiation of whether this is a part of the cell. That is not a cancer. Teratomas are not necessarily cancer. They are tumors but not necessarily cancer.

Mr. HARKIN. They are tumors. That is what I heard the Senator say.

Mr. COBURN. If you do not have a tumor, I would just as soon have a teratoma as cancer.

Mr. HARKIN. I don't know. I am a little confused. Is the Senator saying, if a stem cell has been introduced and is undifferentiated, it causes cancer or teratoma?

Mr. COBURN. No. The Senator alluded to the fact that there is a gold standard of whether an embryonic stem cell is pluripotent or whether it produces a teratoma. That means it has components of the three layers of an embryo--exoderm, endoderm, and mesoderm--which create all the other tissues.

Mr. HARKIN. But the fact is the inference from some of the statements, I think, is that thus far stem cells, when introduced, cause cancer. That is not so. That has not been proven. That has not been proven at all.

Mr. COBURN. It has. Most of the time teratoma.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I want to spend a few minutes to kind of outline some of the statements that have been made. To just show how off base from reality some of them are, we heard there was a ban on embryonic stem cell research. There is no ban on embryonic stem cell research. As a matter of fact, the American people paid $40 million this last year on embryonic stem cell research--human, $40 million. So there is no ban. And considering that, there is a significant industry in the private sector that is researching it.

We heard there are only 21 cell lines around, available. There are 400 cell lines available to scientists. There are 21 that Federal dollars can be spent on. So let's be real clear about what the real facts are.

We also heard from the Senator from Florida that all medical researchers believe that embryonic stem cell research is the best hope. That could not be further from the truth. All of them do not. As a matter of fact, there is a large number who do not believe that way at all, based on not ethical concerns, on scientific concerns. They think it is not an acceptable way.

We heard the Senator from Illinois saying that adult stem cells can only be collected in small quantities. That is not true at all. Many adult stem cell lines are reproductive of themselves. They are progenitor cells. They reproduce themselves. They come from amnionic membrane. They come from bone marrow. They come from endometrial lining. They come from placental tissue. They come from cord blood. They come from the spleen and the liver. They come from all sorts of areas in our body.

We heard the Senator from California say we should let the scientists decide, not the Senators. Let's talk about Tuskegee. We let the scientists decide that one. I can think of two or three more instances in the 20th century when we let the scientists decide, and we went down a path that all of us were grieved over.

When Senator Specter opened the debate today, there was, again, the assumption, in his first statement, that there is no embryonic fetal stem cell research. Not true. He also said none of the others have the potential of embryonic stem cell research. Well, I think there is a large body of science and a larger body of scientists who would disagree with that, especially as they study the new breakthroughs on germ cell pluripotent stem cells.

I am going to ask to have printed in the RECORD a Rand study on the available numbers of human embryos, where in fact there are 400,000. But they outline, in great detail, that the fact is, a very small percentage of those are available for fetal research. They also outline in great detail so the American public can know that for every two embryos you are going to thaw, one of those two will die during the thawing process.

So for this limited number, the most number of new cell lines, if you took all that are available today, would be less than what is available in the world today. It is 273 cell lines. So we have this great big demand, that we are going to get all this, but what we are going to get is less than what is out in the world today.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Rand study I referred to be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:


Mr. COBURN. Now, why do we want multiple cell lines? It goes back to the issue I have been talking about all day. It is called tissue rejection. That is the wonder of adult stem cells and germ cell pluripotent stem cells versus embryonic. With embryonic, there is rejection because there is an allergy to the foreign tissue. It is called the HLA, histocompatibility complex. The only way around that, with fetal embryonic stem cells, is to clone yourself--the only way you will get around it. And it will only work well in women. Only if you clone yourself with your own egg do you avoid all the allergy implications of foreign tissue.

So I think it is very important that we--it is OK to have this debate, but some of the claims we hear--we actually heard, and I know he did not mean this, Senator Specter talking about embryos injected into the pulp of the tooth to create a new set of teeth. He did not mean embryos. He meant pluripotent stem cells. But you do not want pluripotent. What you want is the epidermal stem cells that produce teeth in the first place. That is what is great about adult stem cells. We are going to be able to do that with adult stem cells.

He also stated that embryonic stem cell research is outstripping all of the research. That is not true. It is not true at all. The vast majority of success in stem cells today lies not with embryonic stem cells, it lies with everything but embryonic stem cells.

Now, I do not deny as a scientist that would be a wonderful area in which to work. There is lots unknown, and if you are a scientist today, and they say you can go to this area where there are all these areas where you can work and go and move and everything, it is a fun area of research. But it is loaded with hazards, just like the Senator from Kansas talked about, in terms of fetal tissue. The fact is, as we may someday learn how to turn on and turn off some of these cell lines, we do not know that yet. It is fine to perfect that in animals. It is not fine to perfect that in human clinical trials until we have that absolutely controlled. I do not have any trouble with what we are doing now, doing that in the private sector.

But the question is, do we ask American taxpayers to use their money to destroy embryos--embryos for which there are 2 million people in the country who would love to adopt--do we ask them to destroy that with their tax money so we can do that research, even though it is occurring in the private sector at a far greater rate than it is in the public finance sector?

So I think this really boils down to two questions: false choices and false promises. Let me outline them. The false promise is that only embryonic stem cells are going to solve the problem. It is not true.

The second promise is we are going to get treatments, but we are not going to have to clone. You are going to have to clone if you are going to get treatments from embryonic stem cells.

No. 3 is that adult stem cells and the pluripotent lines, as well as germ cell lines, will not be able to do what embryonic stem cells do. That is not proven anywhere in the scientific literature. That is a false promise.

And No. 4 is the false promise issue that you cannot take adult stem cells and dedifferentiate, move backwards, to make them pluripotent, which we are seeing great science with an enzyme today called reversa. So those are the false promises that are out there.

Now, there are four false choices, I believe. One is that there is no cure without embryonic stem cells. That, for sure, the evidence does not show. Another is that there will not be any research unless the Government pays for it. That is not true at all. The research is ongoing across the world in lots of areas without government research, and much more so in our country outside of government research.

The third choice is that there is no life in an embryo. The fact is there is. Now, we had one Senator talk about the fact that they are going to be incinerated. If you talk about the 108 snowflake babies, the other 2 or 3 organizations that are adopting those, those children belie that fact that there is wonderful potential with the amount of demand.

I am not saying that people who disagree with me on the ethical issues are bad or immoral people. I am saying I am not fighting this on ethical issues. I am fighting this on common sense, to see what things are happening and where we are seeing success and keeping up with the science. This debate in the Senate today is almost all about a year and a half old, as far as the science is concerned. I am talking about the new science. That is why I worked so hard to stay up on it.

Finally, the promise is what every scientist knows, what every embryologist knows and every cell biologist knows, which is the mighty mitochondria. You cannot clone without having potential rejections unless you clone yourself with your own egg. There is different DNA in the mitochondria and the cell cytoplasm. I appreciate the spirit of the debate, and I hope the American people understand that it is not a false choice of no research versus some. The question is, Do we destroy unborn children? Two, do we give Federal dollars to do that? Thank you.


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