Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential presidential candidate, underwent spinal fusion surgery in early July that included an injection of his own stem cells, a therapy that is unapproved by the FDA and costs tens of thousands of dollars.
While the Texas governor supports adult stem cell research, he is an opponent of embryonic stem cell research, a position held by the social conservative base.
As first reported by the Texas Tribune, Perry's surgery included "the innovative use of his own adult stem cells" and any cost not covered by health insurance was paid for by Perry, according to his spokesman Mark Miner.
The stem cell treatment was the doctor's first attempt at the surgery ever, and the lab responsible for culturing Perry's stem cells is a branch of a South Korean company that has become known for commercialized dog cloning, "regenerative" beauty products, and accusations of conducting "stem cell tourism."
According to the Texas Tribune, Dr. Stanley Jones, a Houston orthopedic surgeon and personal friend of Perry, removed two teaspoons of fatty tissue from the governor's hip and placed it in a culture, waiting several weeks before the stem cells expanded. Jones later injected the stem cells into the governor's spine and into his blood stream to help speed up the healing process.
On the day of his surgery, Perry tweeted, "Little procedure went as advertised. Blessed to be married to the world's best nurse. Thanks for all the prayers!!"
Perry has been a strong proponent of adult stem cell research, even urging the Texas Medical Board to consider enhancing the state's position on adult stem cell research. In his 2009 State of the State address, Perry called for greater investment in the adult stem cell industry.
"Let's get Texas in on the ground floor and invest in adult stem cell research, the one area of that field that is actually proven to expedite cures," Perry said. "Expertise in this emerging and increasingly promising field will not only bring healing to the suffering and create jobs for Texans, it will also establish an appropriate firewall protecting the unborn from exploitation."
However, Perry opposes any form of embryonic stem cell research, a position that resonates with the social conservatives in the GOP. Perry's 2010 gubernatorial campaign website touts his support for banning embryonic stem cell research, a position held by a majority of the social conservative base.
"Gov. Perry supports a ban on human cloning and has vowed to veto any legislation that provides state dollars for embryonic stem cell research," the website reads. "He has been a strong advocate of utilizing adult stem cells in their place. Adult stem cell research can provide much-needed solutions for Texans suffering from various tissue and organ disorders while protecting the unborn from exploitation. They are also proven more effective in research than embryonic stem cells."
The Family Research Council, which opposes embryonic stem cell research, said Perry's use of adult stem cell therapy will reinforce the success of adult stem cells and will show embryonic stem cell therapy is not needed.
"We're actually very pleased that Gov. Perry would make public the fact that he used his own adult stem cells as part of this surgery to assist the healing process," Dr. David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council, told ABC News. "People see that you don't need or want embryonic stem cells. You want, instead, those cells that work. Adult stem cells are ethical, but they're successful and they're working for thousands of patients right now, including, apparently, Gov. Perry."
But the Genetics Policy Institute, a public interest organization that supports all forms of stem cell research, warned that Perry should use his experimental therapy as an educational moment about consumer fraud in the stem cell field.
"As a public figure that availed himself of an experimental treatment, it behooves him to release to the public enough details about it to know that the treatment was legitimate," Bernard Siegel, executive director of the Genetics Policy Institute, told ABC News. "He needs to be aware of the consumer fraud that's out there and people who are desperate patients being lured to clinics, many of them abroad, that are selling snake oil and using the label stem cell to bring people in."
Last week, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit challenging the use of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.