Those who have been following Perry's career may recall that, until recently, the governor suffered from a bad back. Then, on July 1, he underwent back surgery — spinal fusion and nerve decompression — and also received an unproven stem cell treatment.
That controversial and experimental treatment involved isolating stem cells from Perry's fatty tissue, then injecting the cells into the site of his back injury in the hope that they would aid in tissue regeneration and healing.
But there's no medical evidence that such stem cell procedures, which are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, work. What clinical study has been done on the technique has primarily involved animals, not humans, and the data that does exist in humans suggests no benefit beyond the placebo effect.
The FDA has not approved the use of adult stem cells for the treatment of any condition, aside from blood cancers and sickle-cell anemia, which are treated with bone marrow transplants; bone marrow contains blood-forming stem cells.
But Perry is such a fan of the idea that he not only got his friend and orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Stanley Jones, to perform the stem cell procedure on him (despite the fact that the doctor had no previous experience with it), but also touted it in his 2009 State of the State address and called on state leaders to invest in adult stem cell companies.
Reported the Texas Tribune:
Later that year, his Emerging Technology Fund awarded a $5 million grant to the Texas A& M Health Science Center Institute of Regenerative Medicine and $2.5 million to Helotes-based America Stem Cell to develop new adult stem cell technology.
Last month, three weeks after his adult stem cell treatment, Perry wrote a letter to the Texas Medical Board, which is considering new rules regarding adult stem cells, saying that he hoped Texas would "become the world's leader in the research and use of adult stem cells." He asked board members to "recognize the revolutionary potential that adult stem cell research and therapies have on our nation's health, quality of life and economy."
After his experimental procedure, many stem cell researchers expressed concern over the governor's actions, particularly because they could encourage desperate patients to seek treatment from quacks.
The Los Angeles Timesreported this month:
Worries about quackery are widespread among stem cell researchers. Speaking with the Los Angeles Times earlier this year, stem cell researcher Dr. Christine Mummery of the Leiden University Medical Center, in Leiden, Netherlands, said that she gets "desperate questions" from patients, some of whom consider spending tens of thousands of dollars for unproven therapies.
The best case scenario is that "nothing happens," she said. The worst case is that the patients die from their treatments. "The hype is so huge, everyone's looking at it as a solution for everything," she added.
As for the study of embryonic stem cells for the treatment of disease, Perry is opposed.
Since Texas Governor Rick Perry announced he was running for President on Aug. 13, the American public has learned a great deal about his stance on various health care issues. We’ve also learned that he tends to make decisions based on evidence involving an n of 1: himself.
While defending his 2007 attempt to make human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations mandatory for young girls in Texas, he pointed out that both of his parents were cancer survivors and proclaimed, “I hate cancer.”
When asked to justify continued spending on abstinence-only education, despite the fact that it didn’t seem to be budging Texas’ high rates of teen pregnancy, he said, “I can tell you from my own life that abstinence works.”
And finally, feeling recovered from his own lower-back surgery, which included a highly experimental stem-cell treatment, Perry went into overdrive, awarding $7.5 million to adult stem cell research and recommending that Texas become the first state to house a stem cell treatment facility, like the controversial centers that are found in China and Taiwan, among other places.
The governor’s health- and medicine-related record makes it difficult to predict how he would respond to health issues to which he had no personal connection. And one has to question whether he would be wise enough to favor evidence-based policies regarding the public’s health.
Here’s a look at Perry’s weird science.
(*For you non-science geeks out there, n represents the number of people in a scientific sample.)