Correction to This Article
A July 15 article misstated the number of votes required to pass a Senate bill that would loosen President Bush's restrictions on research funding. By agreement, it will require 60 votes.

Clash Over Stem Cell Research Heats Up

By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 15, 2006

With just days to go before the Senate is scheduled to vote on a hotly anticipated bill that would loosen President Bush's restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research, both sides of the scientifically and ethically charged issue have ramped up their publicity machines and attacks on each other.

As the week drew to a close, commentators opposed to the research, such as William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, released fiery commentaries urging senators to reject the bill. And several scientific and medical groups, including the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, released countervailing warnings that patients and their families would suffer if the bill failed.

Yesterday, in one of the more incendiary volleys, the journal Science published a letter by three researchers documenting apparently significant misstatements made by a leader in the movement to block the bill.

The legislation, already passed by the House, would for the first time allow scientists to use federal funds to conduct research on new colonies of the medically promising cells, which are controversial because human embryos must be destroyed to obtain them.

The bill would override rules put in place by Bush five years ago that restrict federal funding to research on only those embryonic stem cells that were in existence as of August 2001. That policy is aimed at protecting human embryos, but it has been widely decried by researchers and patient groups as a roadblock to the development of treatments for a range of diseases.

The letter to the journal focused on David A. Prentice, a scientist with the conservative Family Research Council. Prentice has been an adviser to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) -- a leader in the charge to maintain tight restrictions on the research -- and an "expert source" often cited by opponents of embryonic stem cell research.

Prentice has repeatedly claimed that adult stem cells, which can be retrieved harmlessly from adults, have at least as much medical potential as embryonic cells. He often carries a binder filled with references to scientific papers that he says prove the value of adult stem cells as treatments for at least 65 diseases.

In the letter to Science, however, three researchers went through Prentice's footnoted documentation and concluded that most of his examples are wrong.

"Prentice not only misrepresents existing adult stem cell treatments but also frequently distorts the nature and content of the references he cites," wrote Shane Smith of the Children's Neurobiological Solutions Foundation in Santa Barbara, Calif.; William B. Neaves of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo.; and Steven Teitelbaum of Washington University in St. Louis.

For example, they wrote, a study cited by Prentice as evidence that adult stem cells can help patients with testicular cancer is in fact a study that evaluates methods of isolating adult stem cells.

Similarly, a published report that Prentice cites as evidence that adult stem cells can help patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma does not address the medical value of those cells but rather describes the best way to isolate cells from lymphoma patients and grow them in laboratory dishes, the letter said.

And Prentice's reference to the usefulness of adult stem cells for patients with Sandhoff disease -- a rare nerve disorder -- is "a layperson's statement in a newspaper article," the scientists reported.

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