Thursday, January 17. 2013
It happens almost every time. When I write a piece about embryonic stem cell research, I get an e-mail or comment, sometimes polite, most of the time not, that goes something like this, “If you were not such a scientifically-ignorant pro-lifer, you would know that Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) can make embryonic stem cells without harming the embryo at all. I am much smarter than you and now that you are enlightened with this revelation, you can support embryonic stem cell research like I do.”
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Monday, January 7. 2013
In an attempt to stop the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, two researchers sued the Obama Administration saying that the administration's funding of research that requires the destruction of a human embryo violates the Dickey Amendment. Unfortunately, while a lower court agreed that using tax-payer money to fund embryonic stem cell research is in conflict with the Dickey Amendment, higher courts have not agreed, and the Supreme Court has decided not to hear the case. So for now the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research continues.
But what is the Dickey Amendment anyway? Why does everyone refer to it when discussing the battle over embryonic stem cell research?
The Dickey Amendment, also known as the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, is a very, very important piece of federal legislation inside the Omnibus Appropriations Act that states:
SEC. 509. (a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for--Why is this little bit of a much larger piece of legislation so very important? Let's start with some history.
In 2001, President Bush, allowed federal funds to be used for research on human embryonic stem cells. Bush was the first president to allow tax-payer dollars to fund human embryonic stem cell research. But, these funds were restricted to research on human embryonic stem cell lines created before August of that year. Contrary to popular belief, Bush's executive order did not outlaw embryonic stem cell research nor eliminate funding altogether. It simply meant that from that point forward no federal tax dollars could not be used to fund the research on stem cell lines created by newly destroyed human embryos. Bush's policy was a compromise to allow some funding on existing embryonic stem cell lines without violating the Dickey Amendment.
Once elected, President Obama overturned Bush's funding restriction. Suddenly, our tax dollars could go to research on new cell lines created by ripping open human embryos. Obama's executive order only allowed funding for research on embryonic stem cell lines created from embryos left over from IVF treatments. Since federal funds still cannot go to fund research that creates or destroys human embryos thanks to the Dickey Amendment, with federal money researchers cannot destroy the embryos themselves. Instead, they can use federal money to work with embryonic cell lines created elsewhere by destroying embryos.
Theresa Deisher, co-founder of the Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute, and James L. Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research Institute claim that their research is negatively impacted by the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. They sued the Obama Administration saying that its funding policy violated the Dickey Amendment. Initially the courts agreed. In the decision, Judge Lamberth wrote:
“If one step or ‘piece of research’ of an E.S.C. research project results in the destruction of an embryo, the entire project is precluded from receiving federal funding,”Lamberth's ruling was overturned by a higher court and the Supreme Court has now refused to hear the case.
Because the Dickey Amendment is seen as the fly in the embryonic-stem-cell-research ointment, newspapers, lawmakers and scientists have called for the Dickey Amendment to be overturned. That would clear the way for unfettered money to all kinds of embryo-destructive research. If the Dickey Amendment is overturned our tax dollars can go to fund embryo farms where human life is created and destroyed as a research tool for scientists. It would also allow the federal government (that means you and your tax dollars) to fund the cloning of human embryos for use in research.
Think that the worst would never happen? Think there is no way that our tax dollars would go to Frankenstein-like experiments if the Dickey Amendment fell by the wayside?
Well, remember the scientists in Massachusetts who created human embryos cloned with cow, rabbit and mouse eggs in an attempt to harvest patient-specific embryonic stem cells? One could argue that the creation of human-bovine, human-rabbit, and human-mouse embryos clearly falls under the umbrella of stem cell research since obtaining embryonic stem cells was the goal.
And what about the scientists in New York that purposefully created embryos with the genetic disorder "triploidy" in an attempt to harvest embryonic stem cells? The work was funded by the New York Stem Cell Foundation and was called a "landmark finding" in stem cell research. Might that not qualify for federal funding of "stem cell research" as well?
Even the scientists in Oregon that recently created three-parent embryos lament that restrictions on the federal funding of their work are "standing in their way" of bringing the three-parent embryo to the clinic to "test the procedure in women." I am sure the funding restriction they refer to is the Dickey Amendment.
Unlike other countries, the United States has no federal laws regulating the creation, manipulation and destruction of human life for research purposes. All we have is a law against funding such research. This means that the research is allowed, we just don't have to pay for it. But that funding restriction is still important. The Dickey-Wicker Amendment is the last impediment to a government-funded Brave New World where human life is created, manipulated and destroyed in the name of science. A very important little piece of legislation indeed.
Monday, December 3. 2012
The complicated case of the patenting of discoveries using embryonic stem cells in Europe is full of irony, surprise and confusion.
It began with German embryonic stem cell researcher Oliver Brüstle who applied for a patent on his method of deriving neural precursor cells from embryonic stem cells. In Germany, research on embryos is banned, so Dr. Brustle fought for grant money to work on embryonic stem cells imported from other countries. As reported by Nature, Dr. Brüstle says his is Catholic:
Brüstle, who is a practising Catholic, had thought hard about his own moral position. He disagrees with the creation of human embryos specifically for research. But almost all human ES-cell lines have been derived from embryos leftover from fertility treatment that would otherwise have been destroyed. Brüstle maintains that using them for biomedical research rather than discarding them is the moral imperative.Brüstle, of course, is in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Catholic Church that is very clear that the destruction of any human embryo, even for a proposed good, is immoral. It is not a valid argument that these embryos “are going to die anyway” so we can destroy them for their parts. All of us humans are “going to die anyway.” Not a one of us is going to make it out of life alive. That does not give us license to prematurely end some human lives for harvestable biological material.
Enter the irony. The “Catholic” scientist who tried to patent a technique using embryonic stem cells was challenged by none other than Greenpeace. Greenpeace in Germany is opposed to the patenting and ownership of products of nature, so they challenged Brüstle’s patent.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Thursday, June 28. 2012
This is so typical of the media. The Vancouver Sun is reporting that, for the first time EVER, Type I diabetes in MICE has been reversed...with embryonic stem cells that is:
VANCOUVER -- For the first time ever, University of B.C. scientists have used human embryonic stem cell transplants to reverse Type 1 diabetes in mice with the disease, giving hope to about 300 million people around the world who suffer from the chronic disease.Sounds fantastic right? Embryonic stem cells cured Type I, also called Juvenile, diabetes in mice. Hooray!
Except five years ago the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a study where much the same was accomplished in HUMANS using a different approach and the the patient's own adult stem cells. This small Brazilian trial did not get much press in the United States, but U.S. Representative Dr. Dave Weldon tried to get the word out with this press release at the time:
WASHINGTON, April 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In yet another advance in adult stem cell therapy, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) today released a study in which 14 of 15 Juvenile Diabetes patients demonstrated significant improvement as a result of an adult stem cell treatment. According to U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, M.D. (R-FL), the study is significant in that it's the first attempt at using stem cells of any kind to reverse the effects of Type I diabetes in humans.But the embryonic stem cells in mice HAVE to be better right? Because the media says they are the BEST right?
Well let's see. If you read more carefully, the Vancouver Sun article reveals some interesting facts: 1. some mice were found to have cartilage and bone growing where the embryonic stem cells (ESCs) were injected and 2. the mice were designed to be unable to reject the ESCs that naturally come from another organism. Both are major obstacles to human trials:
Although the research showed that stem cells may one day provide a cure for diabetes, it also revealed hurdles to overcome before agencies like the Food and Drug Administration in the United States or Health Canada can approve the therapy.So once again, likely issues with rejection and strange tissue formation. At least the article mentioned it. But where was the mention of the above study in HUMANS with a patient's own adult stem cells, meaning no rejection and no weird tissue formation? Maybe the reporter didn't know about it. My question then is: why didn't she?
Well, I guess we have learned we cannot expect balanced reporting when it comes to stem cells. That would allow for the masses to actually be educated on the issue and that would be bad. (Because then we might ask our favorite charity, like the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, why they gave $2 million to adult stem cell research and $4.9 million to embryonic stem cell research in the same year.)
And with accurate reporting you wouldn't end up with such great bigoted comments like this one:
All those against stem cell research should be banned from getting any treatment derived from it. But we all know they will be first in line. Once again, religion holding back progress.
Tuesday, May 22. 2012
This is no surprise for those of us who were paying attention during the stem cell frenzy of the last decade. We remember the irony that in 2006, Michael J. Fox endorsed Claire McCaskill, Missouri democratic candidate for United States Senate. Fox told viewers of a TV ad that McCaskill supported stem cell research that could provide a cure for his Parkinson's disease. McCaskill, a Catholic, is a ardent champion of embryonic stem cell research. That very same weekend, researchers reported that they had injected rats with Parkinson's with embryonic stem cells directly into the brain. The symptoms of Parkinson's were greatly improved. Except the rats had the formations of tumors in their brains that showed signs of developing into cancer if the study had continued.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation is focusing on other ways to treat Parkinson's because stem cell therapies are "complicated." From commentary at New Scientist:
For years, actor Michael J. Fox was on the front line of the US's "stem cell wars", arguing that embryonic stem cells could cure conditions like his own – Parkinson's disease.
Monday, May 21. 2012
Parents from South Carolina have traveled to India and paid tens of thousands of dollars to have their 6 year-old son injected with embryonic stem cells. As, CNN's Drew Griffins reports that Josh Burnaman and Stephanie Krolick have taken their son Cash to India and had former obstetrician, Dr. Geeta Shroff, "treat" his rare condition with stem cells from a now destroyed human embryo. From the CNN story:
Cash Burnaman, a 6-year-old South Carolina boy, has traveled with his parents to India seeking treatment for a rare genetic condition that has left him developmentally disabled. You might think this was a hopeful mission until you learn that an overwhelming number of medical experts insist the treatment will have zero effect.There are so many red flags flying up in this story that I truly fear for Cash's safety.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Tuesday, January 24. 2012
Yesterday it was reported that a human embryonic stem cell derived treatment has improved the vision in two women. From The Washington Post:
For the first time, an experimental treatment made from human embryonic stem cells has shown evidence of helping someone, partially restoring sight to two people suffering from slowly progressing forms of blindness.The women are not reporting any adverse side effects and I do hope, for their health, that this remains the case. But researchers are cautious. Delving deeper, there are concerns that this improvement in their vision may be a placebo effect or that it will be temporary:
Lanza cautioned that the findings are preliminary, the improvements could disappear and complications could emerge. Nevertheless, he thinks the two cases will provide useful lessons for the field....This is a two-person, uncontrolled, non-blinded study, so preliminary reports of vision improvements are just that, preliminary.
A reader asked about the fact that it was reported that ACT extracted the embryonic stem cells without destroying the embryo. They perform what is called an embryo biopsy, removing a single cell from the early embryo and using that to create an embryonic stem cell line instead of ripping open and destroying the embryo all together. This same procedure is also performed in preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) where embryos are screened for certain genetic traits like tissue compatibility, genetic disease and gender.
I have heard it argued many times that because ACT can create embryonic stem cell lines this way, that it solves every problem any pro-lifers could ever have against embryonic stem cell research. It doesn't. Just because an embryonic stem cell line can be derived with an embryo biopsy does not mean that every embryo survives the process. (Actually, as reported by The Post, the embryo used for this stem cell line was later destroyed.) ACT, or any PGD practitioner, cannot claim that no embryo is ever harmed by such an invasive procedure. In fact, researchers have discovered that mice that were subjected to embryo biopsy as embryos were at high risk for neurological disorders as adults. These scientists called for more rigorous research on the long term effects of embryo biopsy. Let us keep this in perspective, life in a dish is already a precarious proposition. Extracting cells at such an early stage makes it even more so.
Friday, December 23. 2011
I am beginning to believe that it is true that Americans in general have no idea about how things really are in the rest of the world. For example, I am sure that many in the "Occupy" crowd have no idea that they are among the richest people in the world. The cancellation of the first human trial with cells derived from embryonic stem cells has brought out more American cluelessness. In an article on Katie Sharify, the last patient enrolled in the now canceled Geron study, one reader commented:
"If she is looking for a partner to take over the research, she should really be looking in Europe, France in particular has made significant advancements with stem cell research. This is another example of our government being held back because of extremists. Too often ordinary citizens suffer or die when there are cures or treatment that are held up by nothing more than politics."And there it is again. The erroneous, and unfortunately ubiquitous, idea that that the United States is sooooo far behind everyone else because we are not as "progressive" as other countries in ripping apart embryos and using them for the stem cell gold inside. If you believed everything you read on the Internet, you would think that it is an embryonic free-for-all everywhere else in the world, like France, and every country except the United States will benefit from cures and Americans will not. You could believe that, but it isn't true.
I know I have said all this before, but it is beyond important that I say it again. We Americans need to understand the truth about embryo-destructive research in America. The only restriction in the United States on research with human embryos on the federal level is funding research that destroys embryos. That means that in most states, researchers are free to create and destroy human embryos all day long for stem cells or any other reason. They can even clone human embryos. They can even clone human embryos with cow, rabbit and mouse eggs if they so choose. In reality there are no federal laws that restrict creating, destroying or cloning human embryos for research. There is only the Dickey-Wicker Amendment that prohibits federal monies from funding such research. Many people even want to get rid of that relatively tiny, but critically important, funding restriction. In other words, you can experiment on human embryos all you want in the United States, you just cannot use tax-payer dollars to fund your research if it involves embryo destruction.
Compare that to the embryonic stem cell research policy in France that was just renewed. In France, human embryonic stem cell research is banned. Read that again Mr. SF Chronicle Commenter: in France, human embryonic stem cell research is banned. French researchers can work with human embryonic stem cells if they have a special dispensation and only if the embryos are from another country and are left-over from in vitro fertilization. No embryos can be created for research. Which means cloning embryos for research is also prohibited. According to the Center for Genetics and Society's BioPolicyWiki page, France's 2004 law that guides research on embryos has the following core values:
Respect for the dignity of the human embryoWhat about Germany? Cutting edge Germany must have progressive laws on human embryonic stem cell research right? No again. In Germany any research on human embryos is totally prohibited. The 1990 German Act for the Protection of Embryos states:
1. Anyone who disposes of, or hands over or acquires or uses for a purpose not serving its preservation, a human embryo produced outside the body, or removed from a woman before the completion of implantation in the uterus, will be punished with imprisonment of up to three years or a fine.
Austria also bans embryonic stem cell research. Denmark and Italy prohibit the destruction of human embryos for embryonic stem cells but they allow for the importation of human embryonic stem cell lines from other countries. In fact here is a list of European Countries that, unlike the United States, ban the creation of human embryos for use in research: Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxemborg, Lativa, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romaina, Sewden, Slovenia, and Slokavia. This means all these countries have banned the cloning embryos for research, which the United States has not.
Tuesday, November 15. 2011
A reader recently asked the following fantastic question about the Catholic Church teaching on embryonic stem cell research:
While my views in connection with research are opposed to those of the Pope and the Catholic church, I am very open to dialogue. Simply for the sake of clarity (and not in any way seeking to criticise the church), please would you tell me the scriptural basis for the Vatican's opposition to research involving fertilised human ova? I am very familiar with how the ideas of Aristotle were incorporated into church doctrine under Aquinas, but not at all clear what the scriptural basis is or how opposition to research aimed at the alleviation of human suffering, and which cannot harm a human being (blastocysts are well short of a having a nervous system with which to suffer), squares with less abstruse requirements of the Christian life.I am no theologian, but I will try my best to relate the foundations of the what the Church says about embryonic stem cell research. The Catholic Church teaching on the beginnings of life are based on what embryology tells us about what results from fertilization:
"Although human life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed."So the Catholic Church acknowledges that a new human organism is created at fertilization which the Church also calls conception. (In recent years, practitioners of in vitro fertilization [IVF] have redefined conception as the implantation of an embryo in the uterus. This allows them to say that prior to implantation, an embryo has yet to be conceived. This implies that a new human organism begins at implantation instead of fertilization which is scientifically incorrect. The Catholic Church uses conception in its traditional usage, synonymous with fertilization.)
Even a child old enough to know about human reproduction realizes that his (or her) life as a human being begin the moment his (or her) father's sperm penetrated his (or her) mother's egg. A secular children's book on the biology of human reproduction from my local library is very clear that life begins at conception as well. It reads:
"But nine months before, when you first began, you were just one little cell, even smaller than the dot at the end of this sentence. Half of this cell came from your mother's body, and the other half came from your father's body."Essentially, the Catholic Church says that human life begins at conception not in spite of science but because of it.
So then why is the beginnings of human life such a hotly debated issue? I believe it is because the debate about when life begins is actually focused on the wrong question or rather questions. It is not a matter biologically of when a new human organism begins. That is an established fact. The real debate is about whether or not human life has value, whether or not an embryo or fetus has moral worth simply because he (or she) is human and whether or not every human life deserves respect and protection. When people say that life does not begin at conception I think what they are really saying is that they do not believe that embryonic life has value and that it does not deserve to be protected.
The Catholic Church teaches that the new human life that begins at conception has dignity and worth simply because it is human. Catholics know that human life is present from the moment of fertilization. We also know that all human life is intrinsically valuable. How do Catholics know that? Among the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses was the instruction not to kill. This prohibition from the taking of innocent human life, tells us that God Himself finds every human life valuable. Valuable enough to expressly tell us that purposely ending innocent human life is a terrible sin.
Even in a increasingly secular world, society understands that the taking of an innocent life is a moral trespass that cannot be allowed. Hence the prohibition of homicide in secular law. The basis of this understanding is the reality that human life does indeed have value simply because it is human.
There are others who want to qualify and restrict which human lives are considered valuable because of a particular agenda. The Catholic Church does not make any qualifications. Irregardless of point of development, Catholics acknowledge the inherent dignity in every human organism From the moment an embryo is formed to his (or her) natural death, the Church upholds the sanctity of all human life. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2270- Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.It often argued that while an embryo is a human organism, he (or she) is not a “person” and therefore does not have any moral worth. The Catholic Church rejects this argument because there is no point, other than conception, in human development where a human person suddenly appears. To designate any other point of development as the point where a human person emerges is simply arbitrary. Lee M. Silver, professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, does not believe an embryo is a person, but he wrote in his book Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family:
“Once fertilization is complete, there are no isolated moments along the way where you can point at an embryo or fetus and say that it is substantially different from the way it was a few minutes, or even hours earlier.”Everyone one of us is a continuous organism from the moment we are conceived to the day that we die. DNA is the gold standard for identification in every court of law. We are personally identifiable as a unique human organism by our DNA, from the moment of conception throughout our lives. It is illogical that we be treated as persons only for a part of that continuous process.
The Catholic Church is also very clear on the treatment of the human embryo. Since the human embryo is human life and has value simple because he (or she) is human any technology that does not respect the integrity and dignity of a human embryo is unethical. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
2274- Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.Because the Church teaches that every human life, regardless of its stage of development and has dignity and worth and should be cared for and healed as any other person, we Catholics hold that research that destroys or harms embryos is unethical. That research is unethical even if the proposed end is good. So embryonic stem cell research is wrong because it destroys human embryos to harvest cells. We cannot sacrifice one valuable human life to treat another. A Jewish Rabbi said it better than I could:
"People who oppose embryonic stem-cell research want a cure as much as you want a cure, but they do not believe that you can pick healthy fruit from a poisoned tree." -- Rabbi Marc Gellman, senior rabbi of Temple Beth Torah
Monday, November 14. 2011
This is gigantic news that should be on the front page but is instead relegated to the business section. (I am telling you. You want accurate stem cell news without all the hype? Read the business news.) Geron, the California company that was the first to get FDA approval for human trials with cells derived from embryonic stem cells has decided to shut down the trial and leave embryonic stem cells behind. From the New York Times:
The company conducting the world’s first clinical trial of a therapy using human embryonic stem cells said on Monday that it was halting that trial and leaving the stem cell business entirely.
This is good news showing what pro-lifers have said all along. Let's put money into ethical therapies that are farther along in development. But are the patients already enrolled in the study to see if embryonic-derived cells could help spinal cord injury showing results? No, according to Dr. Scarlett, Geron's new CEO:
So far four patients have been treated. Dr. Scarlett of Geron said that there were “no signs” that the treatment was helping the patients. But that was not expected in the initial trial, which was mainly looking at safety. And so far, he said, there had been no sign of safety problems.
No safety problems is good news for the patients in the trial. But Geron's retreat is sure to be a rallying cry to increase federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. If business is not investing their time and money into embryonic stem cells, then you have to question whether the federal government should be spending our money in this field. I would prefer to see my tax dollars going to adult stem cell research is that is undoubtedly "further along in development."
Thursday, October 20. 2011
You may or may not have heard that recently a European Union court has ruled that the extraction of embryonic stem cells cannot be patented because it destroys a human embryo. The court ruled:
“a process which involves removal of a stem cell from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage, entailing the destruction of that embryo, cannot be patented.”This ruling does not prevent researchers from destroying embryos for their stem cells, but does stifle some of the profit motive.
So who was it that brought this suit against the patenting of the destruction of embryos for their cells? Was it some pro-life group? No, it was Greenpeace. Yes, you read that right. Greenpeace of Germany lead this charge. Why? Here is a translation from German Greenpeace website:
Greenpeace had started this case in light of the debates about the European patent law. According to the EU patent directive, patents on human body parts, human genes and permits to plants and animals. Greenpeace, a number of objections to the European Patent Office has started, including patents on human embryos in eggs from the people, on human genes and on plant and livestock concerns. In parallel, an action against the patent of Oliver Bruestle before the Federal Court lodged after this had previously been contacted directly but was willing to change particularly contentious passages in his patent relating to the cloning of human embryos for the Dolly technique.I read this to mean that Greenpeace does not necessarily oppose the destruction of embryos for research. They instead are concerned about the trend of patenting naturally occurring products of the human body like cells and genes. These patents turn embryo, child and adult alike into patentable, harvestable and profitable biological material.
So I say, even though we may not be entirely on the same page, "Bravo Greenpeace." This Catholic agrees that patents on naturally occurring human genes, cells and parts are unethical because they reduce the human person to parts. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is also on board against the patenting of naturally occurring genes and taking the fight to the American courts.
Modern biotechnology sure does make strange bedfellows. Case in point, Hands Off Our Ovaries, a group of pro-life and pro-abortion women and men who do not want women to be exploited by scientists in the name of "stem cell research."
The fact that common ground can be found with organizations like Greenpeace and the ACLU is something I believe is important in the fight to protect human life.
Hat Tip: Jivin J
Monday, September 19. 2011
Mouse fibroblasts stained for lamin (green), tubulin (red), and DNA (blue). Flickr, GE Healthcare
So why is pluripotency desirable? Well, it was thought that best way to get any kind of cell that was needed for therapy was to start with a pluripotent cell and differentiate it into the cell type of interest. Scientists envisioned taking pluripotent stem cells and making them into any kind of cell they wanted.
The researchers profiled in "Skipping Pluripotency" are doing just that and skipping pluripotency altogether. They are taking one differentiated cell, like a skin cell, and turning it directly into another differentiated cell, like a neuron.
Why are researchers "skipping pluripotency?" Because the undifferentiated nature of pluripotent stem cells makes them unpredictable and prone to causing tumors. To use pluripotent stem cells to treat patients, researchers would have to take pluripotent cells and differentiate them into the cells needed. But if any of these cells retain their pluripotency, they may develop into tumors. This is exactly the reason embryonic stem cells are known to cause tumors in animal models.
Skipping pluripotency reduces the risk of tumor formation which means these kinds of cells made by direct conversion are not only easier to make but also may be safer for use in patients. From "Skipping Pluripotency:"
The discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) in 2006 opened the door to promising research and therapeutic techniques, such as the generation of disease models and the potential to replace cells damaged by neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. Derived from fetal or adult cells, iPSC strategies avoided the ethical issues surrounding embryonic stem cells. But they retained one critical drawback—the propensity for tumor formation. In the last 18 months, however, researchers have discovered a new reprogramming technique that could avoid that problem altogether: the direct conversion of one differentiated cell type to another.So far the scientists are only using direct conversion in mouse cells and only in the lab. They are working to make sure that directly converted cells work inside the mouse as well. Researchers also need to find safer ways to accomplish the direct conversion before using this technique clinically, but direct conversion holds great promise.
The important thing to take home is that these scientists want to continue developing a technique to skip pluripotency altogether. This challenges the idea that pluripotent stem cells are the most desirable in stem cell research. And since pluripotent stem cells are the kind that you get by ripping open embryos, this direct conversion technique further challenges the idea that stem cell research needs embryos at all.
Tuesday, September 13. 2011
Wednesday, July 27. 2011
In a reversal of a previous ruling, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth has rejected the case brought by two adult stem cell scientists to halt the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Theresa Deisher, co-founder of the Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute, and James L. Sherley, a biological engineer at Boston Biomedical Research Institute claim that their research is negatively impacted by the National Institiutes of Health funding of embryonic stem cell research. They rightly argue that the NIH has limited funds for stem cell research. Money that is granted to embryonic stem cell research is not only prohibited by the Dickey Amendment but is money that could be spent on adult stem cell research instead. The Dickey-Wicker Amendment is a very important piece of federal legislation that is part of the Department of Health and Human Services budget. It expressly prohibits the use of federal tax dollars in any research that creates or harms human embryos. The Dickey-Wicker Amendment was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996 and has been renewed every year since, When President George W. Bush funded embryonic stem cell research for the first time in 2001, he placed limits on which cell lines were eligible for funding. Bush limited funding to cell lines created before August of that year. This was an attempt to be in compliance with the Dickey-Wicker Amendment because funds could not go to any new lines where new embryos had to be destroyed. In 2009, President Obama removed Bush's restriction which opened federal dollars for work on new embryonic stem cell lines created by destroying more embryos.
Sherley and Deisher argued that funding embryonic stem cell research on new ESC lines is a de facto funding of the destruction of embryos. Last year Judge Lamberth agreed with Sherley and Deisher that expanding the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. Lamberth wrote:
Lamberth placed a temporary injunction on funds for embryonic stem cell research. The Obama Administration appealed the decision and Lamberth's injunction was overruled by a higher court. Sherley and Deisher then asked for a summary judgment which Lamberth announced today. He said was bound by the higher court ruling and had to dismiss the case. From the AP:
The dismissal of this suit is a defeat for those of us who do not want our tax dollars to pay for research that is only possible because of the destruction of the smallest members of our species. But this ruling is also reminder of the importance of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. Many other countries around the world have laws in place that protect the human embryo from exploitation at the hands of researchers. The United States has no such protections. The only thing the United States has is the Dickey-Wicker Amendment which prevents only the federal government from paying for research that creates and destroys embryos. Such research can proceed freely, just without our tax dollars. There are many who call for the demise of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. Without it the National Institutes of Health will be free to fund the creation of embryos, with IVF or cloning, for express use in research. When President Clinton signed the Dickey-Wicker Amendment into law in 1996 it was a time when everyone seemed to understand that the government funded creation and destruction of human embryos was a horror straight out of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. What a difference only 15 years makes.
Friday, July 15. 2011
Last year the FDA gave Geron approval to begin trials with cells derived from embryonic stem cells on patients with recent spinal cord injury. Now the second trial with embryonic stem cell derivatives has begun. This time two women with different kinds of macular degeneration have been injected with these cells in what is being called a trial to "treat" eye disease. From the LA Times:
Reading no further one might think that this trial is to cure these women of their eye disease. It is not. This is a Phase I trial which means it is for safety reasons only. In fact, this particular trial is not designed to "treat" any blindness:
Safety is a real issue with embryonic stem cells because they are widely known to cause tumors in animal models. So these women are volunteering for a very risky trial with no intended benefit to themselves. Dr. Suzanne Ildstad, a researcher who is working toward using a patient's own adult stem cells to treat eye-related disorders, is concerned about the safety of using embryonic stem cells. From an article in 2009 on the use of adult stem cells to treat macular degeneration:
Ildstad says there is growing concern in the use of embryonic stem cells. "There's been a real problem with cancer formation. I just reviewed a paper that was using embryonic stem cells in mice to try to regenerate tissue and they had 70% of mice die from teratomas (cancer), and so it's not a trivial challenge."
Wednesday, June 8. 2011
Back in 2004, California voted to fund embryonic stem cell research to the tune of $3 billion dollars, $6 billion with interest. Considering that no one had ever been treated with embryonic stem cells, Proposition 71 was an outrageous proposal. The priority for funding was to be given to embryonic stem cell research, including cloning human embryos to harvest stem cells, when adult stem cell research was already treating patients. It seemed impossible that such a large sum of hard-earned tax payer dollars was going to be spent on research that had yet to even receive an approval from the FDA for human trials. The people of California were promised cures and the citizens of the nearly broke state believed those promises.
Actor Brad Pitt expresses his endorsement of Proposition 71, the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2004.
Having worked in research in the University of California system, I had my suspicions that Proposition 71 was really about getting "free money" for scientists to tinker around with the beginnings of human life and to fund human cloning in the guise of stem cell research. I also knew that even if cures came about as quickly as the stem cell hype suggested, researchers would patent the discoveries paid for by Prop 71, then spin off companies, and charge the people an arm and a leg for the very treatments that they funded.
Now in 2011, 6 years later, there are still no cures from the embryonic stem cell research that was the focus of Prop 71. No one in the know thought there would be, but I bet the people of California believed the hype that cures where only around the corner. We are far from that. In fact there has been only one FDA approved trial with embryonic derived stem cells. And that is only approved for a handful of spinal cord injury patients and only to test for safety. Meanwhile, adult stem cell trials for spinal cord injury have documented results.
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) the regulatory body in charge of doling out the funs from Prop 71 has had its share of problems. Commenting on CIRM for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik had this to say:
During its bungled search for a new chairman, the state agency that funds stem cell research has failed to address criticism that its research is too narrow and its governance overly secretive, and that it has lacked integration with the state's overall research investment....
So CIRM wants more tax-payer funds for more speculative research. In an attempt to support research that may actually help real patients, the CIRM is funding more adult stem cell research. This is good, but it is disturbing that CIRM does not not seem to understand that California is broke to the point where schools are considering cutting a month out of the the school year to save money. To throw more tax payer money at unproven embryonic stem cell research is irresponsible. Hiltzik laments that the Prop 71 funds are focused on a very narrow area of research and that all of the board have some vested interest in the stem cell research arena. It is a bit like having the kids guard the cookie jar. He also points out where the money is actually going:
Californians did not realize that with Prop 71 they became venture capitalists funding speculative research that creates and destroys human embryos or that their money would be going to private universities like Stanford. I am certain that they do not understand that if cures do come, they will be paying the high cost along with everyone else. They won't be getting a break on cures from research that they funded. I hope Californians have learned their lesson and I hope other states will learn from their mistakes.
Monday, October 11. 2010
The first patient ever the US has been injected with cells derived from embryonic stem cells. From the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
By the headline you would think that no stem cell therapy had ever been attempted before. But my readers know better. Adult stem cells have been used for years to treat patients. In fact adult stem cells have already been through clinical trials in humans for spinal cord damage. Let me refresh your memory. From Dr. Jean Peduzzi Nelson's, testimony to Congress on the successes of adult stem cells in 2010:
I would like to tell you about 5 patients who have been helped by adult stem cells. These patients were either part of a clinical trial, and their results are now published in a peer-reviewed journal, or sometimes a similar procedure was done in a clinical trial that is now published.
This patient that was injected with embryonic stem cells has recently received a spinal cord injury. They must be in a terrible state. This initial trial is just to test safety of this treatment. I truly hope that this treatment does not make it worse and that no tumors develop.
The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is the body that regulates the $6 billion tax payer funding for mostly embryonic stem cell research in California. Recently they had a poetry contest to promote Stem Cell Awareness Day and they picked this gem:
There has been much to do about the sacrilegious nature of this poem because it is a direct literary allusion to the words that Christ spoke at the Last Supper. CIRM has since apologized for its religious insensitivity.
I do not want to discuss CIRM's apparent lack of foresight. (I think they should commiserate with the people at the 10:10 Project.) I want to talk about this poem and why I am scratching my head that they picked it to win.
This poem clearly acknowledges the sacrifice of the life of a human embryo in embryonic stem cell research. It acknowledges that this life is "small and simple" but a life nonetheless. It also assumes that the embryo would WANT to be sacrificed as Jesus willfully sacrificed his life.
And that is precisely what is dangerous about embryo destructive research: the ASSUMPTION that a human life wants and should be sacrificed for the greater good whether it can communicate that or not.
Who are they to decide that this embryo would have chosen to sacrifice its life instead of living its life? And if they can do if for an embryo can they do it for you as well?
A human embryo is a human subject that cannot give informed consent to give its life in experimentation. This was a clear mandate in the Nuremberg Code to prevent science and scientists from going beyond certain moral boundaries. We disregard the Code at our own peril.
It is telling that CIRM picked this poem. It tells me they know exactly what they are doing: ending human life "for the greater good." And more importantly, they are fine with it.
Hat Tip: Wesley J. Smith
Thursday, August 26. 2010
As a Catholic, I am morally opposed to all research on human embryos. Of course not all Americans agree. Some think ripping open tiny members of our species for parts is morally acceptable. To those, I have issued this challenge before and in the wake of the US Court ruling placing a temporary injunction on the use of tax payer money to fund embryonic stem cell research, I will issue it again:
There is no federal ban on research on human embryos. It is legal to conduct therapeutic cloning in most states. Companies and universities are free to create and destroy human embryos all day long. I wish that was not the case, but it is.
I have been told that I need to respect the opinion that human embryos are just a mere clump of cells and full of promise for cures. Well, respect is a two way street. If you want embryonic stem cell research, then you pay for it.
Don't make me, and millions of people like me who find research that relies on the destruction of human embryos morally reprehensible, support it with our tax dollars. When you do, you are forcing your belief that a human embryo has no value on me.
Monday, August 23. 2010
President George W. Bush was the first President to fund embryonic stem cell (ESC) research with federal dollars. To use tax payer money for such research, Bush put a restriction in place that stated that funds would only be available for embryonic stem cell lines created before August of 2001. This way funds could go to embryonic stem cell research without encouraging the destruction of more human embryos which is a necessary part of deriving an embryonic stem cell line.
Bush was attempting to fund the research without being in violation of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, signed into law by President Clinton, which states that federal dollars cannot go to the destruction of human embryos. The Dickey-Wicker Amendment, as I have stated before, is a very important piece of legislation that stands in the way of American tax dollars being used for the creation and destruction of human embryos solely for research purposes. The Dickey-Wicker Amendment states:
In 2009 the Obama administration, by Executive Order, removed the funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research put in place by President Bush. Our tax dollars cannot go to the actual destruction of human embryos, but Obama's policy creates an incentive for said destruction by paying for research on newly created ESC lines....from freshly destroyed embryos.
Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, today wrote a temporary injunction against Obama's funding rules saying that they are in violation of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. From the New York Times:
Judge Lamberth is correct, funding an embryonic stem cell line that is created by necessarily destroying a human embryo is by default funding the destruction of that embryo.
Where this puts the state of the funding of embryonic stem cell research is anyone's guess. What I am sure of is a new assault on the Dickey-Wicker Amendment by lawmakers like Diane DeGette (D-Co), who, without any real evidence, is a true believer in embryonic stem cell research.
Tomorrow there will be new calls to repeal Dickey-Wicker. But without the Dickey-Wicker Amendment our tax dollars would surely go to cloning and destroying human embryos for research. It is the last defense against a taxed funded Brave New World.
Keep your eye (and your prayers) on this one! I'll make sure to let you know when it is time to contact your representative and urge them to uphold the Dickey-Wicker Amendment
Monday, August 9. 2010
But that doesn't stop our elected representatives from trying to permanently ram the funding embryonic stem cell research down our throats by introducing legislation. Rep Diana DeGette is the worst offender. She and others have introduced HR 4808 which would turn the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research into law so that no future President can defund it.
Rep. DeGette is a true believer in ESC research, but once again, I have no idea why. I am not sure she does either. In the American Thinker today, Gene Tarne and David Prentice point out this very fact:
In their must-read-the-whole-thing piece, Tarne and Prentice point out other lawmakers who really do not know which end is up when it comes to stem cell science and yet still feel compelled to tell us what we need to fund. My favorite is this gem from Tom Harkin:
Oh the irony. But this is par for the course in Washington these days. If you say it enough times somehow it just has to be true. But what DeGette and Harkin and others like them do not realize is that while they argue that those against embryo destructive research are politically and not scientifically motivated, it is really they who are ignoring the science and pushing a political agenda.
Monday, March 15. 2010
Ohhh the irony. From the Washington Post:
Unfortunately, this gives some researchers incentives to destroy new embryos for their stem cells which is exactly what the Bush restrictions were trying to prevent. On the other hand, researchers are so wrapped up with trying to get funding for the Bush embryonic stem cell lines that the cry to federally fund human cloning with tax-payer dollars is relatively non-existent. For now.
Let us not forget that according to some who want unfettered federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the Bush lines were garbage. Apparently not!
Wednesday, February 3. 2010
This story is either super sloppy journalism or outright deception. KSFY in South Dakota reports that a South Dakota woman, Paula Barber received an embryonic stem cell transplant for her multiple sclerosis (M.S.) in Tijuana, Mexico:
Of course this report comes just as South Dakota lawmakers to considering making embryonic stem cell research legal in South Dakota.
I find this woman's claim highly doubtful. The FDA has yet to approve any trial using embryonic stem cells in the United States. It is possible that some crazy man in Tijuana is injecting unsuspecting patients with embryonic stem cells. More likely, Pamela was treated with adult stem cells and is either confused or lying.
But because of sloppy or deceptive journalism no one can fact check this assertion that she was treated with embryonic and not adult stem cells. The name of the doctor or the clinic that treated her is not in the report. Convenient. I did some research and found several clinics in Tijuana that are offering stem cell treatments. Not one is using embryonic stem cells. Stem Cell Biotherapy is using cord blood stem cells. The Regenerative Medicine Institute is using a patients own bone marrow stem cells to treat M.S. Same with ProgenCell.
On a greater level is the journalistic irresponsibility of KSFY by not checking to see if stem cell treatments in Tijuana are considered safe. A quick look would reveal complaints of Americans about their treatments in Tijuana. From the Washington Post:
Stem Cell Biotherapy has brought a lawsuit against Casey Navabi, their founder and former President, mentioned in the above Post article, for fraud, embezzlement and impersonating a doctor among other things.
Hat Tip: Jivin J
Friday, January 22. 2010
Wow! is all I can say after reading this editorial in the Investors Business Daily. I have always said if you want the best information on stem cell research look to the business sector. Here is an excerpt:
I also love how the word "embryonic" is either added or deleted depending on the desired effect. AS a result of ESC failures, Prop 71 money is going to where it should: adult stem cell research. And here is where Investors Business Daily tells us what they REALLY think:
Hat Tip: Jivin J
Sunday, December 20. 2009
Prop 71 was a California proposition that the tax-payers of California swallowed whole. They were told by advocates and celebrities if they approved the $3 billion for cloning and embryonic stem cell research, cures would be theirs. Never mind that is was simply easy funding for scientists at Stanford, UCLA and UCSF to tinker with human life at its earliest stages. Never mind that no one had actually been successful in cloning a human embryo and extracting stem cells. Never mind that embryonic stem cells had not even treated one patient. The advocates cried that it just HAD to be funded.
Prop 71 passed back in 2004. In 2009, human cloning for stem cells is overshadowed by induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), embryonic stem cells still have not received FDA approval for human trials, and the California tax-payers are holding the bill. And while these funds are now being put toward more ethically sound stem cell research, California is falling apart and cannot afford it. From Dan Walters opinion piece in the San Jose Mercury News:
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