Perry, Allies Lay Groundwork for TX Stem Cell Industry

Over the last two months, Rick Perry, a state representative with multiple sclerosis and the spine surgeon who performed the governor's July 1 adult stem cell infusion have been laying the foundation for the commercialization of the controversial procedure in Texas.

In the month before Dr. Stanley Jones injected Perry with his own lab-grown stem cells during a spinal fusion — designed to speed recovery of the possible presidential hopeful’s back injury — lawmakers passed a health care bill that quietly authorized creation of a state adult stem cell bank. That amendment was added, with input from the governor’s office, by Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, who has MS and says he is about to start receiving stem cell infusions from Jones as part of a new human trial.  

And in the weeks since Perry’s stem cell infusion, the Texas Medical Board has held a stakeholder meeting — largely at the governor's and Jones’ direction — to discuss how to regulate the procedure in Texas. It’s pretty clear where Perry stands: Two days before last week’s Medical Board meeting, Perry sent a letter to the board chair espousing the economic and life-altering potential of adult stem cells and asking members to recognize “the sound science and good work that is already being done” as they consider new regulations.

Injecting patients with their own stem cells is a hotly debated practice: While some physicians swear by the procedure’s restorative properties, others argue it has little clinical evidence of success. The procedure has sparked a national debate over where doctors’ medical autonomy ends and FDA regulation begins.  

Central to the debate in Texas is Jones, a Houston orthopedic surgeon and personal friend of both Perry's and Hardcastle's who believes he was cured of debilitating arthritis by having an infusion of his own stem cells in Japan. Jones is working, along with a Korean company best known for cloning dogs and marketing “stem cell cosmetics,” to launch the adult stem cell business in Texas. 

A first step could be a stem cell bank. The amendment Hardcastle stuck onto an omnibus health care bill during June’s special session authorizes the state’s health and human services commissioner to establish an “autologous” adult stem cell bank — meaning a place for patients to store their own stem cells for future use.

Hardcastle said the governor’s office didn’t ask him to carry it — as the only member of the Legislature with MS, he said, it’s been on his mind for “a long time” — but one of the governor’s staffers did advise him on it. Somewhat involved, Hardcastle said, was Jones, who has already removed some of Hardcastle’s stem cells to prepare them for re-injection.

A spokeswoman with the Health and Human Services Commission said the agency is in the very early stages of considering whether to create the stem cell bank. A few weeks ago, the agency received a letter from Houston Reps. Beverly Woolley, a Republican, and Senfronia Thompson, a Democrat, expressing their “serious concern” with the measure, for fear it might hinder the work of public and private scientists.    

Meanwhile, Texas Medical Board spokeswoman Leigh Hopper said the regulatory agency held a stem cell stakeholder meeting last week — “at the governor’s behest, via Dr. Jones” — to start dialogue about adult stem cell treatments in Texas. The question? If Americans are — like Jones — increasingly flying all over the world to get promising stem cell treatments, shouldn’t Texas be a scientific and economic center for it?

Perry wrote as much in a letter he sent to Texas Medical Board president Irvin Zeitler Jr., two days before the stakeholder meeting, and three weeks after his own infusion.

“It is my hope that Texas will become the world’s leader in the research and use of adult stem cells,” he wrote.  

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