CHARLOTTE, NC—Recent news of a potential cure for baldness has prompted area resident Chuck Tell to change his views on stem-cell research.
"I've always said I don't believe in that Frankenstein-type research, but lately I've been thinking that there might be something to it," said Tell, a 43-year-old father of two and victim of male-pattern baldness. "If there are people out there who could truly benefit from that stem-cell stuff, who are we to deny them?"
While stem-cell research could potentially treat maladies ranging from third-degree burns to Alzheimer's disease, it is highly controversial because stem cells are often extracted from a human embryo. Tell acknowledged that he once opposed the practice on ethical grounds, stating that "a human life, no matter how undeveloped, is still a human life."
"When the [stem cell research] issue first came up a few years ago, Chuck said that destroying an embryo was just like murdering somebody," Tell's wife Denise said. "He found it immoral. He said it was 'harvesting innocents who can't speak for themselves.' For months, Chuck was a champion of 'the helpless unborn.' But I haven't heard him speak on behalf of the harvested innocents since he saw some news segment about stem cells curing baldness."
In the widely publicized study released by the journal Nature Biotechnology, "blank slate" stem cells were used to induce follicle- and hair-growth in mice. The one-time defender of placental rights said a Channel 9 Eyewitness News segment anchored by Debi Faubion caught his attention and inspired him to "come around to the value of stem-cell research."
The shift in thinking occurred just three days after Tell received a haircut that revealed a large, bare patch at the crown of his head. The bare patch accompanies the recently converted stem-cell-research advocate's receding hairline, of which he has long been aware.
"The study said that when these stem cells were put in mice, hair grew," said Tell, who has spent hundreds of dollars on hair-restoration products like Rogaine and Vive For Men. "And, you know, these human embryos are only a few days old."
Tell said the story "opened my eyes" to the revolutionary potential of stem-cell research. And, although he insisted on his continued belief in the "sanctity of unborn lives," he said he now also believes that "in considering such weighty issues, one must, as difficult as it is to do so, ask oneself to remember the rights of living, fully formed human beings."
"People who oppose the research aren't putting themselves into the position of those who suffer from… things that stem cells could cure," Tell said. "Right To Life people: What would you say if your son suffered from something that could be cured by stem cells? Something that was wrecking his life and robbing him of his self-esteem? Something that invited the ridicule of complete strangers and his own children? It's really important that you try and see both sides here."
Tell is one of many who would benefit immeasurably from new stem-cell-based therapies, Johns Hopkins stem-cell research director Leah DiPrima said.
"The promise offered by the use of stem cells is virtually boundless," DiPrima said. "There is no reason why stem-cell-based cures can't be found for such unfortunate afflictions as wrinkles, cellulite, excessive flatulence, chronic halitosis, and erectile dysfunction."
Tell acknowledged that a stem-cell cure for baldness may be years off, but he said his hope is that "future generations of baldness sufferers" can benefit from today's research.
"Many of these embryos are destined for oblivion anyway," Tell said. "Why not derive some positive benefit from their existence? People are suffering now, and people will continue to suffer in the future unless we recognize the overwhelming benefits of stem-cell therapy. I truly believe this."
Tell's personal physician, Daryl Farmer, said he was heartened by Tell's change of opinion.
"It's touching to see Chuck give so much thought to this very complicated issue," Farmer said. "Given his emotional honesty, I wish I could bring myself to tell him that the stem cells used in this study differ from the embryonic stem cells that sparked the political debate he originally engaged in."