The Right is Wrong on Stem Cells

As the Senate gears up for a vote on the issue of stem cell research, the Washington Post reports that one of the Right’s favorite “experts” on the issue is not particularly reliable

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.

“By promoting the falsehood that adult stem cell treatments are already in general use for 65 diseases and injuries, Prentice and those who repeat his claims mislead laypeople and cruelly deceive patients,” the scientists wrote.

The Post says the scientists explained that “there are only nine diseases that have been proved to respond to treatment with adult stem cells,” not 65 as claimed by Prentice.

When reached for comment, Prentice stated that he appreciates the scientists “pointing out some of the things . . . that need to be changed and updated” but then accused them of “mental gymnastics” by focusing solely on diseases for which adult stem cells have proven effective rather than the diseases for which the value is still being tested.

Which is exactly the sort of response one would expect from someone who boldly, but wrongly, declares that

Adult stem cells have now helped patients with at least 65 different human diseases.