Press Conference With Rep. Christopher Smith; David Prentice, Family Research Council; Richard Doraflinger, Secretariat of Catholic Bishops; Cathy Pell, Mother of Abby Pell, Treated for Brain Damage with Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells; Stephen Sprague, Cord Blood Patien - Opposition to President Obama's Executive Order on Stem-Cell Research
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REP. SMITH: Good afternoon. And I want to thank each and every one of you for coming out to this press conference.
My name is Chris Smith. I'm a congressman from the 4th District of New Jersey, currently serving in my 29th year as a member of the House of Representatives.
Just a little background. I am co-chairman of the House Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, but I also serve as co-chair of the Alzheimer's Caucus, the Spina Bifida Caucus and the Autism Caucus, to name just a few of the disease-specific initiatives that I've been a part of over these many years.
At a time when highly significant, even historic breakthroughs in adult stem-cell research have become almost daily occurrences and almost to the point of being mundane, President Obama has chosen to turn back the clock, and starting today will force taxpayers to subsidize the unethical over the ethical, the unworkable over what works, and hype and hyperbole over hope.
Human-embryo-destroying stem cell research is not only unethical, unworkable and unreliable, it is now demonstrably unnecessary. Assertions that left-over embryos are better off dead so that their stem cells can be derived is dehumanizing and cheapens human life. There is no such thing as a left-over human life, as the snowflake children and their parents -- and the snowflake children, as you know, are cryogenically frozen embryos who were adopted -- will tell you, their lives are precious and priceless.
Recent spectacular breakthroughs in non-controversial adult stem cell research, as well as clinical applications to effectuate cures or the mitigation of disease or disability have now been well-documented. For several years, significant progress has been achieved with adult stem cells derived from non-embryonic sources, including umbilical cord blood, bone marrow, brain, amniotic fluid, skin and even fat cells. Patients with diseases including leukemia, Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, sickle cell anemia and dozens of other maladies have significantly benefited from adult stem cell transfers.
Stephen Sprague, who will speak to you in a moment, was diagnosed with leukemia, got his umbilical cord blood transfer way back in 1997, and is walking proof that cord-blood stem cells work.
Now, the greatest of all breakthroughs, induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPS cells, offer hope for cures using embryo-like cells without killing embryos.
On November 20th, 2007, scientist Dr. Shinya Yamanaka and Wisconsin research Dr. James Thompson -- and you will remember Dr. Thompson was the one who brought forward embryonic stem cells -- well, these two men shocked the scientific community by independently announcing their ability to derive induced pluripotent cells by reprogramming regular skin cells. And unlike embryonic stem cells that kill the donor, are highly unstable and have a propensity to morph into tumors, and are -- and are likely to be rejected by the patient unless strong anti-rejection medicines are administered, induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPS cells, have none -- none -- of those deficiencies, and are emerging as the future, the greatest hope of regenerative medicine.
Mr. Obama is way behind the times. Making Americans pay for embryo-destroying stem-cell research is not change we can believe in. Far from it; it is politics. A decade ago, the false hope of embryo- destroying research made it very difficult to oppose. That is no longer the case.
So the question arises, why persist in a dehumanizing of nascent human life when better alternatives exist -- alternatives that work on both ethics grounds and efficacy grounds? Non-embryonic stem cells, especially IPS cells, is the present and it is the future of regenerative medicine, and the only responsible way forward.
I'd like to now turn the podium over to Dr. David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council.
MR. PRENTICE: Thank you, Congressman Smith.
As the congressman has noted, President Obama's decision to emphasize embryonic stem-cell research actually emphasizes the least- effective, poorest science -- science that's becoming obsolete -- and will not be focusing on the science that is actually going to help patients now and in the future. Embryonic stem-cell science has passed that by, so that research with human embryos, frankly, is no longer necessary. The induced pluripotent stem cells, in which a skin cell can have a few genes added and the new cells now are reprogrammed to behave just like an embryonic stem cell, have moved rapidly ahead.
Just last week, we saw a scientist note that they had taken a bit of skin from a Parkinson's patient, done this induction process to get the embryonic-type stem cells in the culture, and then turned those cells into the type of cells that are missing in the Parkinson's patient, so that you can study that disease in the laboratory. Furthermore, the adult stem cells are already treating thousands of patients for dozens of different diseases, and this is documented by published science. In fact, every disease that the president mentioned in his statement, there's already published scientific evidence of adult stem cells having already helped patients. That includes spinal-cord injury. Groups in Australia and Portugal have already treated patients for spinal-cord injury, and the patients have improved -- have regained sensation and movement. But that's with adult stem cells. Juvenile diabetes -- two years ago, a group from Northwestern University near Chicago showed 13 patients off their insulin after being treated with adult stem cells. Other diseases the president mentioned -- cancer; I gave an interview to one of the major news networks a couple of days ago. The sound technician was asking me, "Well, what's the subject?" She goes, "Well, I was treated for breast cancer with my own stem cells 15 years ago." She's doing fine now -- and by the way, her multiple sclerosis symptoms also disappeared.
Kind of wait for that to pass by.
And heart damage. There are several thousand patients around the world whose hearts are better now after being treated with their own adult stem cells. I was on a flight on Thursday coming back from D.C., opened the in-flight magazine and found this ad from Emory University. And what it says is, "What if you could do this after a heart attack?" And a gentleman has a nice, colorful suit on. He's skydiving. You go on to read down here that what they're doing is using a patient's own stem cells -- their adult stem cells -- to restore a damaged heart muscle after a heart attack.
Now, if we're thinking about the patients first, we'd be emphasizing the adult stem cells, putting our resources firmly behind the adult stem cells that are already helping patients now and hold the real promise for treatments in the future.
REP. SMITH: We'll next hear from Dr. Richard Dorflinger from the Secretariat of the Catholic Bishops.
MR. DORFLINGER: Thank you, Congressman.
I represent the Catholic bishops of the United States. The chairman of our pro-life committee, Cardinal Rigali, issued a statement today, which I'd like to cite: "Today's executive order is a sad victory of politics over science and ethics."
President Obama has said he's advancing science over what he calls dogma, but it is science that tells us that every condition he's citing to claim a need for embryonic stem cells has been treating patients successfully in clinical trials and in some cases broader treatments. It is science that tells us that the human embryo is one of us -- is a living member of the human species, is just young and undeveloped, is as much a member of the human family as any of us. It is dogma that insists the most morally controversial, the most speculative and the most morally problematic avenue for advancing medical progress has to be funded now, diverting funds away from things that are morally unproblematic and are really helping patients.
In terms of ethics, even a scientist who founded the field of embryonic stem-cell research has said there are moral problems with this. Dr. James Thompson, who founded the field of human embryonic stem-cell research, said to The New York Times, November of 2007: "If human embryonic stem-cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough." We have a president today who has not thought about this enough, because Dr. Thompson is among those who has been hailing the new advance in reprogramming adult cells so that embryonic stem cells are no longer needed.
And it is now, just when we stand at the cusp -- at the edge of an entire new age of regenerative medicine that everyone can support, that we are going to divert money away from these ethical and sound and promising treatments toward research that has failed and disappointed many, many times, and is opposed by millions of Americans who will now be forced to put their tax dollars into it.
REP. SMITH: Richard, thank you very much.
We'll now hear from Cathy Pell, who's the mother of Abby Pell, who was treated for brain damage with umbilical cord blood stem cells.
MS. PELL: Hi, how are you? My name's Cathy Pell. This is Abby. And thank you all for coming to hear my daughter's story.
Abby was born September 9th, 2004. Due to a mistake at birth by her doctor, she has brain damage in three out of the four lobes of her brain.
Funny enough, I had watched an Oprah episode years and years ago about cord-blood banking, and I had never done it for my other four children. This time, I for some reason decided to do it in case my other kids got cancer. I was two months' pregnant with Abby and I'd already had the box.
Anyway, little did I know she would be the one to use it.
Upon receiving an informational e-mail from cord-blood registry, I began to learn about the wonderful treatment being done with cord- blood stem cells. I was like a dog with a bone once I found out this could help our little angel.
We called all over the country and we were consistently turned down to do this procedure. They wouldn't do the procedure because there was no protocol. They had told me, we could do it if she had cancer, but they couldn't do it for a brain injury.
Now, mind you, it was her own cord blood; there was no rejection, no side effects. It's an IV. After much research, we found a doctor to perform the procedure in the United States. My neurologist had told me that it wouldn't help. With all of her brain damage, she would start having seizures at six months and would be on seizure meds.
We had the first infusion done at five-and-a-half months, and after two weeks she looked up at me, straight in my eyes, and smiled for the first time. She had smiled before, but she had never looked me straight in my eyes because she also had cortical visual impairment. So she would look to the left or right of me, but never straight into my eyes.
We had another treatment done at 14 months. Abby has had one feveral seizure at 10 months due to a double ear infection, then she had one at 21 months do to a bronchial infection. To date, there have been none, and she still has never been on seizure maids -- meds, I'm sorry. It's been two years and nine months since her seizure.
We attribute this to the cord-blood stem cells, but there is no proof as of yet that it has helped her. We had an MRI done when she was two, and the MRI showed less brain damage than the original MRI done at three months. But again, it is not proof, and funding would help us get specialized MRIs that could track the stem cells in the body to show it would go to her brain. Then we could prove that -- you know, that would prove that it helped.
It's definitely -- for us, I've always said that it's hope. It's definitely been hope. And we, in our hearts, feel that it has helped.
We hope to go back -- (chuckles) -- thank you, sorry -- we hope to go back again when they're able to make brain stem cells out of her remaining cord-blood stem cells. Until then, we'll continue. We've been doing Anat Baniel method. We've been doing speech therapy, feeding therapy, horse, aqua and everything to help Abby. So we're not sitting, waiting around.
I urge anyone I know or who I meet to bank or donate their cord blood. I don't care if meet them in line at their grocery store, over the time I'm paying my bill, they've learned Abby's story, and I've given them my phone number and my e-mail -- (chuckles) -- if they want any information. I tell people it's simply like car insurance: you hope you never need it, but if and when you do, it's there. I describe cord blood -- cord blood as liquid gold. In this economy, you couldn't buy it from me for a million dollars, so I hate to see federal money to go where they haven't had success. Let's put it toward helping those who have seen positive outcomes.
REP. SMITH: Cathy, thank you so much.
I'd like to now invite Bill and Cherie Keating, and their children Maggie and William. And again -- let me emphasize again, there is no such thing as a left over embryo, as they'll tell you about right now.
MS. KEATING: Thank you. Thank you. I have brief remarks.
Our two youngest children, Maggie and Will, started their journey to our family as frozen two-celled embryos. They were given their inalienable rights of life, and had a chance to grow into babies and, eventually, into the adult people they were intended to become.
We adopted them in a group of five embryos. And they -- their genetic parents chose life for their remaining embryos and allowed us to implant them in me for our family. And we are very blessed by that.
The frozen embryos in this country are not all destined to be thrown away anyway, as some would say. Couples need to know that they have a life-saving and life-giving choice when it comes to their frozen embryos. And the public especially needs to know that their hard-earned money will require the destruction of the most vulnerable of human life, while there are already proven ethically and morally sound options to obtain stem cells, such as from umbilical cord blood or those from adults.
As a nurse in labor and delivery, I see every day umbilical cord blood being thrown away. That has the opportunity, without any ethical issues whatsoever, to save the lives of millions of people.
REP. SMITH: Thank you so much. Thank you.
I'd like to now ask Stephen Sprague, who, as I indicated earlier, is a leukemia survivor who overcame that terrible, horrific disease through a cord-blood transplant.
And I would just say, parenthetically, I was the prime sponsor of the cord blood transplantation -- the Transplantation Stem Cell Act of 2005. It put $264 million into a new nationwide program to mitigate disease through cord-blood transplantation. And we, for years, could not get the legislation passed because the best stories that could be told were drowned out -- (sirens) -- like the fire engine here in the back -- were drowned out by the hype -- the hype -- about umbilical -- embryonic stem cell research.
Stephen is -- in 1997, he got his cord-blood transplant.
MR. SPRAGUE: Good afternoon, folks. To some of you, I guess I'm a familiar face. I have the privilege of being one of the longest surviving success stories of umbilical cord blood.
In 1997, I was -- had lost my battle with leukemia, was sent home, getting my affairs in order, and just happened to be at the right place at the right time, participated in a clinical trial, and I stand before you here, 12 years later, cured of leukemia. In that decade -- you know, back then, they had no idea whether this would work for leukemia or anything else. They had no idea whether it would work for a big, unhealthy adult like I was. But it did.
Now we are here a decade later, and I've had the privilege of watching all of these stunning advances being made with adult stem cells. And it is -- it is unfortunate that the patient community doesn't understand what these advances are, and the research community and the media isn't helping us to explain in patient language just what these advances mean.
You know, this morning was a sad say, in my view, for patients. You know, when you make a promise to the American citizens like our new president has done, that's one thing. When you make promises to a desperate patient community who are struggling to live, that's a really different thing. If you can't keep that promise, you've done a disservice to those patients who are expecting embryonic stem-cell cures tomorrow because of the action that was taken this morning. That's unfortunate. It is irresponsible to a patient community who has no idea of the complexity of what's on the table.
You know, it -- it is -- I certainly have no medical background, but I know what I read, and I understand what I am seeing in terms of papers and progress. And if we can find a way to convince the patient community to do a little better job of understanding and get some help in that, I think we would be doing a better service than signing legislation that's going to go down a very slippery path. We've started down that path.
I would tell you that there's a better way to get where we all want to go. It's not that we don't want cures, it's not that we don't believe in stem-cell research. We just disagree about who's going to pay for it, whether it's going to come at the expense of destroying embryos, or whether it should come from something that is not controversial and has proven to work in a growing number of patients.
So I would urge the patient community, as well as Congress, to take a deep breath, take a step back, take a little -- another look at this issue. You know, research dollars are scarce. The legislation that Congressman Smith talked about is still woefully underfunded. And that building of a cord-blood inventory will go a long way to serve the needs of patients. But the money keeps getting shorter and shorter every year.
We need a bigger bang for our research dollars, and I would suggest to you that that's going to come from pursuing what's working now, not promises and what-ifs down the road. There's a better way to spend those scarce research dollars, and I hope the Congress will understand and support that kind of stem-cell research.
REP. SMITH: Stephen, thank you very much.
MR. SPRAGUE: You're welcome.
REP. SMITH: Are there any questions from the press? Yes, ma'am.
Q What do you -- what do you say to those who argue that the kind of research the president endorsed today is going to help this? And separately -- (off mike) -- this research happen without federal money?
REP. SMITH: Well, to take the second question first, the research on cord blood and all of stem cell is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So the federal government is very much committed to trying to use stem cells to try to find cures and to mitigate disease. There's no doubt about that. We've been doing it for years, we will continue, we will expand it.
The sad notion is that embryonic stem cells, which we've tried to convey here today have not worked. They become tumors, they are rejected by a potential tranplantee, and they are derived by killing human embryos. Regenerative medicine should -- in the future should not be contingent on millions of embryos being destroyed to promote cures.
The fact that is hasn't worked -- and even a person like Dr. Bernadine Healy, who was the NIH director and writes for U.S. News and World Report -- a very, very esteemed medical doctor, but also a public servant for years and now a journalist -- she calls them obsolete, they being embryonic stem cell -- embryonic stem cells. Obsolete. We've gone beyond that.
And yet, for whatever reason, political or otherwise, President Obama -- who now is in his fourth executive order in promoting the destruction of or the dehumanization of unborn children or embryos or fetuses -- after a while, you begin to see a pattern. That which is unborn, that which is newly created human life, has very little value in the eyes of this president. And that's -- that's unfortunate and sad.
Any other questions?
Q What do you see as the way forward for you in Congress? With you being in the minority here in Congress, how will you --
REP. SMITH: Well, we will continue to try to educate, inform, enlighten our fellow members of the House and Senate, Democrat and Republicans, because the hype and hyperbole of embryonic stem-cell research ought to have a shelf life. At some point -- and you're doing it. It's been the media that has begun to, in article after article, point out what IPS is doing, what -- you know, the induced pluripotent stem cells. It has not recently been for lack of media coverage, but unfortunately there are some who are still stuck in old ways and old science.
And that's why I said at the outset, you know, President Barack Obama turned back the clock today. He should have had a White House signing ceremony on providing significant amounts of additional funding for induced pluripotent stem cells. He made an oblique mention to it in his statement, but hardly -- it was there as almost an obligatory reference. It was not anything that was central to what he had to say.
So the education process needs to continue. And for the sake of patients who are suffering, as Stephen Sprague said a moment ago, it does them a grave disservice to somehow lift up embryonic stem-cell research as the future. The future is in adult stem cells.
And I have a reason for being very concerned about this myself. My legislation was held up for five years, until 2005, when we finally got it onto the floor, for a cord blood, bone marrow nationwide program. That was my bill. I wrote it. And it was held up because the advocates of embryonic stem-cell research were clamoring that theirs is the way and -- the holy grail, if you will. And nothing could be further from the truth. Science -- good solid science has been showing that to be the case.
And I think -- did you want to that, the way forward?
MR. PRENTICE: I think, as Congressman Smith says, the way forward is to look at the real science. You know, the president has talked about restoring integrity to science, but this decision doesn't do that. It goes the other direction.
As many people have pointed out, both in terms of their statements as well as in terms of their action, these new induced stem cells and the adult stem cells are the way forward. What we saw this morning was opening up, though, for more use of human embryos. And in point of fact, the president notes that they would ban cloning for reproduction, but what wasn't said is then they would also open up for cloning of human embryos for experiments.
In the meantime, you have Dr. James Thompson, who first grew human embryonic stem cells back in '98, then showed that he could make those induced stem cells from a piece of human skin just in 2007. He switched his private companies over to using those new induced pluripotent stem cells. Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly the sheep, has a cloning license, or had a cloning license in the U.K. for human cloning of embryos, gave that up in favor of this new technique.
And again, it's the patients -- especially, if we're thinking about the patients first, we ought to be thinking about moving ahead and putting significant resources behind that to perfect these treatments and bring more treatments on line.
REP. SMITH: Any further questions?
REP. SMITH: Yes, sir.
Q Is there -- as a follow up, is there anything that you think can be done legislatively, as indicated -- (off mike)?
REP. SMITH: Well, our hope is that we can. It will take some time. There's still a learning curve. But hopefully the evidence that's being brought forward today, that others have brought forward -- you know, the science is with us. So it's a matter of when, not if, I think that members of Congress will finally get it and not live with yesterday's hype.
I am concerned that there are some members of Congress who would like to go even further and start doing experimentation on human embryos -- I mean, which would be the ultimate guinea pig. Totally unethical. Who are we to experiment on an individual who cannot give his or her consent or decree? And yet there are people who would use unborn children as the next guinea pig with federal funding behind it. So that is something we need to be very wary of and will be watching to ensure that we don't go into that -- in that direction.
I want to thank you all for coming out. If there's no further questions, then appreciate it and have a great day.