Author archives: David Prentice

More Embryonic Stem Cell Hype, Less Reality and Ethics

by David Prentice

October 9, 2014

Excitement over a newly-released paper on stem cells making insulin is a tribute to the Harvard stem cell Press Office.


The actual report is quite a bit less earth-shaking than you might be led to believe by the Harvard press office.  The science itself, in a paper from the lab of Dr. Doug Melton published in the journal Cell, provides an incremental improvement in the derivation of functional (insulin-secreting) beta cells.  Melton’s lab developed an improved method to generate millions of insulin-secreting cells from human embryonic stem cells (hESC, which require the destruction of a young human being) and from human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC, the stem cells created from normal skin cells, without using embryos.)  The multistep protocol, which took 4-5 weeks and treatment with eleven different factors, produced insulin-secreting cells which the paper termed “SC-β” cells, that secreted about half the amount of insulin as normal adult beta cells from the pancreas.  Previous attempts resulted in insulin-secreting cells that were immature and more like fetal than adult cells.  In this new report, the authors note that global gene expression analysis showed “SC-β cells made ex vivo are most similar, but not completely identical, to cadaveric beta cells.”  The SC-β cells secreted insulin in response to different glucose levels in the lab dish and when injected into immunocompromised mice.  When the new SC-β cells were tested in a diabetic mouse model, 5 out of 6 mice survived up to 4 months, compared to 1 out of 6 control mice.


Embryonic Stem Cells Unnecessary

The paper itself makes the case that embryonic stem cells are not needed for even this incremental advance or any subsequent work.  The authors tested batches of SC-β cells made from hESC as well as from hiPSC.  The results were equivalent no matter the starting cell type.  So for any future production of SC-β cells, the authors have shown that no embryonic stem cells are necessary.


Unanswered Questions—Transplant Rejection and Safety

The paper and its results do not address some significant questions related to these new SC-β cells—immune rejection and safety (tumor formation).  The cells were tested in immunocompromised mice, so they were free from immune attack.  This will be an issue in any potential treatment if the SC-β cells are derived from hESC.  Use of hiPSC made from a diabetic patient might provide a way around immune attack on the SC-β.


Safety, especially from aberrant cell growth including tumor formation, is always an issue with pluripotent stem cells, especially hESC.  In the mouse experiment, the authors note that large masses of tumors were not seen, but also point out: “A much larger number of transplants and more extensive histological examination will be needed to assess the possibility of undesired cell growth in the grafts.” 


While the Harvard press release discusses testing of an implantation device to protect SC-β cells implanted into mice, this simply makes the point that the issues of immune rejection, as well as keeping the implanted cells from running free in the patient, have not been tackled.  In the end, this combination device is simply a potential cell-based insulin pump, not a cure for diabetes.


Embryonic Stem Cells Questionable

In the past, the obsession with ESC has led to some questionable claims about their abilities to treat diabetes.  Their ability to make authentic insulin, in quantities that would be useful, were first trumpeted and then shown to be incorrect and even artifactual (see, e.g., here and here).  In fact, teratoma formation was often the result or even the inducer of insulin secretion from ESC.


In fact, the high-efficiency production of insulin-secreting cells from hESC and hiPSC has been done before today’s announcement—similar results were published in September 2014 by Rezania et al.  That report also failed to address the questions that the current paper did not address, such as transplant rejection.


Other Ways to Make Insulin-Secreting Cells—No Embryonic Stem Cells Needed

The obsession with ESC continues to make headlines, but not help patients.  Even Melton’s lab has shown various other ways to make insulin-secreting cells, including: stimulating growth of pancreatic beta cells (which improves glucose tolerance) by expression of betatrophin growth factor; direct reprogramming to turn other pancreatic cells into new insulin-secreting cells within the body; and regeneration of insulin-secreting beta cells by the normal pancreas, achieved by stopping the autoimmune attack typical of Type 1 diabetes.


This latter result is important, because it addresses the underlying cause of Type 1 diabetes:  the autoimmune attack on the insulin-secreting cells.  Stopping the autoimmune destruction of beta cells allows the body to regenerate normal, insulin-secreting cells from the body’s own adult stem cells and progenitors.


Other scientists have shown the real promise of this approach. 

Faustman et al. used a simple treatment with BCG to achieve a transient improvement in patients, providing proof of principle for the concept.


Zhao et al. used cord blood-derived adult stem cells to “re-educate” the immune cells of diabetic patients, providing lasting improvement in metabolic control.


The best results thus far for Type 1 diabetic patients has resulted from the collaboration of Voltarelli and Burt, using immunosuppression to remove rogue immune cells followed by transplantation of the patient’s own adult stem cells.  Their success was reported in 2007 and in 2009 in JAMA.  This was able to induce complete remission (insulin independence) in most patients with early onset type 1 diabetes mellitus.  As they noted after publication of their second paper in 2009: “It’s the first therapy for patients that leaves them treatment-free — no insulin, no immune suppression for almost five years.”  Sadly, Dr. Voltarelli died in 2012, but his team continues to work on effective patient treatments.


Adult stem cells remain the gold standard for real patient treatments.


Adult Stem Cells Help Bryan Hinkle Make a Lifesaving Comeback

by David Prentice

September 4, 2014

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Bryan Hinkle was living the American dream.  But a disease called CIDP got in the way.  CIDP (Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy) is an autoimmune disease that attacks the peripheral nerves.  Bryan was diagnosed with CIDP as a teenager, but the disease was masked and controlled with medication and life went on.  Then his disease came back with a vengeance, robbing him of virtually all feeling in his legs and feet.  He ended up in a wheelchair, depressed and afraid.  “My biggest fear was that I was going to die,” says Bryan of those darkest of days.  “This disease was winning and it was going to overtake me.  I was just living my days, waiting for the end to come.”

But then Hope made a comeback.  Bryan came across news of a doctor in Chicago who had developed a ground-breaking adult stem cell therapy for CIDP.  Bryan was accepted into the treatment program, and received a transplant of his own adult stem cells as part of the therapy.  Within two days he noticed a difference, and his recovery continued from there.

Today Bryan has his American dream back.  He leads a happy, healthy life thanks to adult stem cells, a discovery that’s changing the face of regenerative medicine and giving people real hope in their fight against dozens of diseases and conditions.  Bryan says, “I’ve regained my independence.  I’m helping take care of my children, I’m being the husband and the father that I dreamt about not too long ago.  And for that, I’m just thankful—thankful and amazed.”

See the video of Bryan Hinkle’s amazing comeback!

Send Your Ice Bucket Challenge Donation to Ethical, Successful Adult Stem Cell Research

by David Prentice

August 21, 2014

You’ve probably heard of it by now, the Ice Bucket Challenge.  Those challenged are supposed either to dump an ice bucket of cold water over their head, or donate to ALS research.  Most people do both, posting a video of their icy bath.  It’s a stunt, but has successfully raised awareness of ALS as well as donations for research.  But people should consider where their donations go and how the money is used.

ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a.k.a. “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) is a fatal, progressive neurological disease.  It attacks the nerves that control voluntary muscles, so it is sometimes termed “motor neuron disease”.  As the nerves die, muscles weaken and atrophy, including the muscles for breathing; most people suffering from ALS die of respiratory failure.  The cause is unknown and at this point there is no cure, and very little that can even slow disease progression.

So, raising awareness about ALS and increasing support for ALS research is a good thing.  But whether you participate in a challenge or just donate to important research, where should your donation go?

So far, most of the attention and millions of dollars in donation have gone to the ALS Association.  However, the ALSA has admitted that it gives some of its money to embryonic stem cell research and has no qualms about doing so in the future.  (Note the ALSA page linked in the above has just recently been changed, and now notes that embryonic stem cell research “has raised ethical concerns.”)

As Rebecca Taylor has pointed out, ALSA also has given money to an affiliate, NEALS, that has given money to a trial that uses stem cells derived from the spinal cord of an aborted fetus.

That trial is being run by the University of Michigan and Emory University, and sponsored by a company called Neuralstem which uses aborted fetus cells for research (“from the donated spinal cord tissue of an 8-week-old aborted fetus.”)  All of the Neuralstem trials use cells derived from abortion.

Project ALS, another charity for ALS research, also funds embryonic stem cell research.


But there are alternatives for donations that use only ethical stem cell sources!

Here are a few of my favorites.

The Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center (MSCTC) at the University of Kansas Medical Center is only a year old, but is starting an increasing number of clinical trials and educational efforts.

One potential future trial would be using adult stem cells for ALS.  Dr. Rick Barohn, an internationally recognized expert on ALS, recently joined the Advisory Board for the Center.

The MSCTC does not do any embryonic or aborted fetal stem cell research, ONLY ADULT and NON-EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH and CLINICAL TRIALS.

HOW DO I DONATE?  click the “Make a Gift” link in the left column of their web page, it specifies donation for the MSCTC.

(Disclosure:  I am a member of the MSCTC advisory board)



Researchers at the Mayo Clinic are currently doing clinical trials for patients with ALS, using ADULT STEM CELLS.

Dr. Anthony Windebank and his team have one ongoing clinical trial for ALS patients and are ready to initiate a second clinical trial for ALS patients.

HOW DO I DONATE?  there is a “Give Now” link near the top of web page from Dr. Windebank’s link above; people can specify that their donation go to his ALS research team.

NOTE that the second trial is in association with an Israeli company, Brainstorm Cell Therapeutics, that is developing the adult stem cell treatment for ALS and other neural conditions.  While this is still an experimental trial, the early results using adult stem cells for ALS treatment have been positive.



The John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City is doing research in several areas including ALS, and does not support embryonic stem cell research.

HOW DO I DONATE?  use the button for “Donate Now” on their main web page



(the following listing was updated Aug 22, 2014 to clarify the profile of this company)

The Adult Stem Cell Technology Center, LLC is a for-profit company developing new methods for growth and application of adult stem cells, and does not support embryonic stem cell research.

Click “Contact Information” in the right column of their web page and e-mail the Director to learn more about the company’s adult stem cell technology development plans.



Donate to ethical adult stem cell research!  Adult stem cells are helping patients now!

Adult Stem Cells Help Conquer Lupus

by David Prentice

March 20, 2014

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Jackie Stollfus is a very caring and happy person.  But systemic lupus threatened her health, happiness, and even her life.  Lupus is an autoimmune disease affecting more than 5 million people worldwide.  “Lupus is my body attacking my body,” explains Jackie.  “If you have a cold, your body attacks the cold.  My body attacks my kidneys.  It doesn’t know the difference between a cold or my kidneys or my skin or my blood, it’s attacking it.”  There is no known cure, only treatment of symptoms with medication.  And none of the medications worked for Jackie.

When all seemed lost, Jackie’s doctor suggested she look into the work being done by Dr. Richard Burt at the Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago.  Jackie’s treatment involved using her own adult stem cells, which as Jackie puts it gave her “a brand new immune system.”  Five years later, she’s better than ever, enjoying the outdoors with her husband Brian while looking ahead to a long, happy life—and a family.

Adult stem cells have given Lupus survivor Jackie Stollfus a better life, better health, and a chance to be a mom.

Watch Jackie’s story at!

Save a Baby’s Life and Save a Second Life with Baby’s Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells

by David Prentice

January 22, 2014

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(a similar version of this item was first published online by National Right to Life News;
for more stories you can access the January issue of National Right to Life News and Family Research Council’s Life issues pages)

This year we mark the 41st anniversary of the onset of tragedy; a tragedy because of the horrific loss of life, and many more lives than we realize.  The legalization of abortion in the U.S. by the Roe v. Wade decision has cost over 56 million preborn babies their young lives since that fateful day in 1973. 

The numbers are staggering, difficult to grasp; the U.S. has lost more lives than the population of many entire countries such as South Africa or South Korea, almost as many deaths as the entire population of Italy or the United Kingdom.  But those aren’t the only lives lost or scarred as a result of abortion in the U.S.  There is no accurate number of the women who lost their own lives, as well as those who have been physically and psychically scarred by abortion.  The victims are often silent and unknown, but seriously harmed.

And yet the number of lives lost as a result of abortion is even more than that.  Because many lives could have been saved from the delivery of those babies, by the collection and use of adult stem cells from the umbilical cords of those born babies.  We could have doubled the lifesaving, by letting babies live and be born, and using their umbilical cords to save life from that life saved. 

Umbilical cord blood stem cells have become an extremely valuable alternative to bone marrow adult stem cell transplants, ever since cord blood stem cells were first used for patients over 25 years ago.  The first umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant was performed in October 1988, for a 5-year-old child with Fanconi anemia, a serious condition where the bone marrow fails to make blood cells.  That patient is currently alive and healthy, 25 years after the cord blood stem cell transplant. 

Since that time, over 30,000 cord blood stem cell transplants have been done around the world, and transplants have increased for various blood and bone marrow diseases and leukemias, as well as for genetic enzymatic diseases in children.  Cord blood stem cell transplants have also become more common for adults with leukemia.  Cord blood transplants have been especially helpful for racial and ethnic minorities. 

Bone marrow adult stem cell transplants require an exact match between donor and recipient, and it can sometimes be difficult to find a donor match for a patient, especially for minorities.  But umbilical cord blood stem cells can be used with some mismatch and still provide successful treatments.

The Wall Street Journal recently noted the increased interest in umbilical cord blood by scientists and doctors seeking stem cell cures.  Besides current treatments, cord blood stem cells are now being studied for their potential to treat many more diseases, including Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as congenital heart disease and cerebral palsy.  The story quotes Dr. William Shearer, professor of pediatrics and immunology at Baylor College of Medicine:

It’s a disposable item that Mother Nature provides us with… It’s a renewable source.  It’s free and why not use it?”

Since the first umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant over 25 years ago, over 600,000 cord blood units have been stored away around the globe for future lifesaving transplants.  Just two examples of public programs to collect and store umbilical cord blood stem cells are the National Marrow Donor Program (motto: “You could cure someone’s blood cancer by giving birth”) and the National Cord Blood Program, and additionally there are commercial cord blood storage companies, involved in collection, storage, and research.  The data so far show that cord blood stem cells can be stored frozen for over 20 years without loss of potency.

And it’s not controversial.  As a recent news story in the Washington Times showed, many more states are turning to ethical, successful adult stem cells, providing real hope and real treatments for thousands of people.  Kansas last year initiated a unique Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center that will treat patients, do research on new therapies, educate the public and professionals on the advantages of adult stem cells such as those from cord blood and the solid umbilical cord, serve as a resource to process patient cells for treatment, and train physicians to deliver those treatments.  Paul Wagle was appointed by Governor Brownback to represent the patient community on the new Advisory Board for the Kansas Center.  Paul received an umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant for his leukemia in 2005.  Partly as a result of the successful treatment, Paul developed an interest in science and earned a triple major from Benedictine College in Kansas in 2013, and is now in seminary.  The Kansas Center has already treated its first patient and held its inaugural scientific conference.

Here are just a few other examples from FRC’s “Adult Stem Cells Saved My Life project” of the double lifesaving from a born baby and the saved cord blood.

Mary Lou Rusco also received umbilical cord blood stem cells for her leukemia.  She received the treatment from doctors at the Kansas University Medical Center, and is now free from leukemia.

Joe Davis, Jr. was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, at only a few months old.  His parents were told that he wouldn’t survive to be a teenager, and they couldn’t find a bone marrow match for him.  But along came younger brother Isaac, whose umbilical cord blood stem cells saved Joe Junior’s life.

Chloe Levine received an innovative cord blood stem cell transplant at Duke University to treat her cerebral palsy.  She’s now a happy healthy little girl.

As our good friend Tom McClusky of the March for Life has noted, this lifesaving stem cell research strikes the right cord for life!

The Love of a Family and Adult Stem Cells Help Beat Leukemia

by David Prentice

November 8, 2013

Terry Killman and his grandson Eli are like two peas in a pod, almost inseparable. When Terry was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia almost three years ago, it was devastating to both of them. While Terry’s cancer was diagnosed early, it escalated dramatically. Terry declined drastically, and in months he was wasting away. His oncologist at one point told him he had to start treatment immediately or be dead within days.

An adult stem cell transplant from Terry’s brother, Vic, saved his life. Terry’s wife, Michelle, says “And to know now what they’re doing with adult stem cells is absolutely amazing.” Now the former Navy engine man is back to college studying to be a teacher, and fishing with his grandson. As Terry says, “If it wasn’t for the love of my family, I wouldn’t be here. We’re very tight. You trust in God to carry you through, because between family and faith, you’ve got to have both to survive.”

Watch Terry’s story at!


Adult Stem Cells, the Future of Medicine

by David Prentice

September 16, 2013

Watch Tony’s story of triumph over his disease, and learn why Tony calls adult stem cells “the Future of Medicine”.

Tony Underhill was diagnosed with systemic scleroderma, a disease that gradually hardens the skin and other organs. Doctors attempted to treat Tony, then sent him home and gave him only a few months to live. But Tony wasn’t done. He was admitted to a clinical trial run by Dr. Richard Burt at Northwestern University.  In that program, Tony’s own adult stem cells made the difference, getting him back on his feet and back to work.


Do Something Beautiful for Life

by David Prentice

August 12, 2013

The March for Life is inviting pro-lifers worldwide to do something beautiful for life, to honor the memory of Nellie Gray. Nellie Gray passed on to her heavenly reward last year, on August 13, 2012. She founded the March for Life and was a tireless champion for unborn lives.

Besides a memorial mass on August 13, 2013, the March for Life is encouraging pro-lifers to do something beautiful for life—Pray, Advocate, Write, Volunteer, Share a video about Nellie, or something else, just a small thing—to commemorate Nellie Gray’s heroic work and help build a culture a life.

You can learn more at the March for Life website. Please remember Nellie Gray and do something beautiful for life!

Conference on Managing an Unexpected Prenatal Diagnosis

by David Prentice

July 17, 2013

If you’re in the Chicago area, consider attending a one-day conference this Thursday, July 16. For those not able to be there physically, the conference will also be livestreamed on the internet!


Managing an Unexpected Prenatal Diagnosis: Critical Considerations for Counselors, Clinicians, and Friends”

Thursday, July 18, 2013

9 am – 4:30 pm (Central Time)

on the campus of Trinity International University, hosted by The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity

CME Credits Offered to On Site Participants

SCHEDULE and Registration at

Live Streaming at

for those watching on the internet, Q&A via gmail:

Growing Human Liver Tissue from iPS Cells

by David Prentice

July 5, 2013

Co-Author: Andrew Mullins

Japanese scientists have succeeded in growing chunks of functional human liver tissue in mice. The research, published in the journal Nature, constructed the human liver tissue using a combination of three cell types: induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), human umbilical cord blood stem cells, and bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells. The liver cells were induced to form from the iPS cells, while the other cells were used to form support tissue including cells for blood vessels. In the laboratory, the cells organized themselves into pieces of tissue, termed “liver buds”. When transplanted into mice, the “liver buds” showed some specific liver function, and also hooked into the circulatory system, allowing the liver tissue to survive and continue growing. The functional human liver tissue was also able to rescue mice from liver failure.

It’s still early in the study and development of iPS cell-derived tissues and organs, and the mice will be observed for some time to come to observe whether iPS cells, since they behave like embryonic stem cells, create tumors in the animals. Still, it’s a significant step forward for potential use of iPS tissues in laboratory studies, and a novel way to produce organ rudiments.

Back in 2006, McGuckin’s lab showed that they could grow pieces of liver tissue in the laboratory, starting with human umbilical cord blood stem cells. The adult stem cells found in umbilical cord blood, as well as the solid umbilical cord, appear to be very flexible in their potential use for various tissues.

In 2010, Wake Forest scientists showed that they could construct miniature human livers in the laboratory using adult precursor cells. That research technique differs from the new report for iPS cell-derived liver. The Wake Forest group started by stripping the cells off of normal liver tissue, forming “decellularized scaffolds” to which cells normally attach in an organ and which give an organ structure. The decellularized scaffold consist of extracellular matrix, including the proteins and other biomolecules on which cells hang in an organ and which can affect cell differentiation within that tissue. That matrix was then seeded with human liver precursor cells and human endothelial cells (which line and help create blood vessels.) The remade liver construct was grown in a bioreactor in the lab, and after a week demonstrated human liver tissue growth and function.

Another route to liver regeneration involves injecting adult stem cells into damaged liver tissue, stimulating regrowth of liver tissue. The technique has been used in limited clinical trials but has shown some success for adult stem cell regeneration of liver in patients.

Both techniques were recently reviewed by the Wake Forest group, as well as in-depth description of the decellularization method for liver construction. Non-embryonic stem cells continue to lead the way in the lab, as well as in the clinic.