Wednesday, December 19. 2012
Those of us who could read between the lines have always known that so-called therapeutic cloning, the creation and cloned human embryos with somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) and their subsequent destruction for stem cells, has always ultimately been about reproductive cloning, or cloning-to-produce children.
How do we know this? Well first, SCNT is the same technique that was used to create Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, and the countless other mammals that have been cloned since. Once scientists perfected SCNT in humans under the guise of "stem cell research" it was only a matter of time before the same technique was being offered on the menu at your local fertility clinic. President George W. Bush was right when he warned:
"Anything other than a total ban on human cloning would be virtually impossible to enforce. Cloned human embryos created for research would be widely available in laboratories and embryo farms. Once cloned embryos were available, implantation would take place. Even the tightest regulations and strict policing would not prevent or detect the birth of cloned babies."Second, if you paid close attention to the race to clone embryos for stem cells, you would have noticed that fertility docs were moonlighting in the cloning lab. Dr. Samuel H. Wood is a fertility specialist. His web page at the San Diego Reproductive Sciences Center says their facilities are "where babies come from" and yet at the bottom of Dr. Wood's list of publications is his paper on cloning human embryos. [French AJ, Adams CA, Anderson LS, Kitchen JR, Hughes MR, Wood SH. Development of Human cloned Blastocysts Following Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) with Adult Fibroblasts. Stem Cells. 2008 Jan 17]
IVF pioneer Robert Edwards is also in favor of cloning-to-produce children. He sees a similarity between IVF in the early days and cloning and believes cloning to help infertile couples have a child is a "clinical imperative."
Now that induced pluripotent stem cell technology (iPSCs) has replaced therapeutic cloning as the method to get patient-specific stem cells, talk about cloning should have disappeared. That is if cloning really was about the stem cells.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Monday, December 17. 2012
In our culture, we idolize scientists. Often John Q. Public fails to question what scientists are doing or the money they ask for because there is the assumption that scientists are altruistic. Even more often, anyone who does question the ethics of the research or the public policy that provides money to ethically-suspect research is labeled "anti-science."
We have no problem believing that CEOs or bankers would commit fraud, but put on a white coat and that becomes a difficult sell. Venerating scientists like they are rock stars, doesn't help.
And yet fraud in the scientific community is a problem. The Scientist outlines the "Top Science Scandals of 2012." A fascinating read filled with made-up data and fictional patients. One Japanese scientist fabricated data in 172 papers over his career. A particularly clever fraud perpetrated by scientists, was to refer journal editors back to themselves for reviews of their papers:
Rather than falsify data in order to get published, researchers have taken a new tack this year by writing glowing expert reviews for their own papers. When asked by journal editors to suggest names of experts in their field who were not involved in their research, at least four submitting authors suggested names and emails that then forwarded back to their own inboxes. The trend, first reported by Retraction Watch, was caught by one journal editor when author Hyung-In Moon, assistant professor at Dong-A University in Busan, South Korea, offered up names of reviewers with Google and Yahoo rather than university email accounts.Are all scientists unethical? Absolutely not. But we cannot continue to treat all scientists with kid gloves. Scientists are people too. They are just as subject to the temptations of ethically-suspect behaviors as bankers and CEOs.
Which is why I have always said scientists are scientists, not philosophers, not ethicists, and certainly not lawmakers. To suggest that we should leave the decision about what is moral scientific research up to the just the scientists is like suggesting we should leave what constitutes ethical business practices up to corporate CEOs.
Friday, December 14. 2012
So this t-shirt is a bit more obscure than my others.
This is the heat equation. Hence the "HOT." "q" is the energy, in the form of heat, either absorbed or given off by an object. "m" is the mass of the object. "delta T" is the change in temperature of the object.
"c" is a special variable called specific heat. Specific heat is intrinsic to a substance. It describes how easy a substance is to heat up. Metals increase their temperature fast with very little energy input. Everyone who has touched a metal spoon that has been sitting close to a burner has experienced the fact that metals have a low specific heat. Water on the other hand has a high specific heat meaning that it takes a lot of energy to raise the temperature of water. Anyone who has paid to heat a swimming pool or waited for a pot of water to boil has experienced the high specific heat of water.
So the amount of energy (q) needed to change the temperature (delta T) of an object depends on the object's mass (m) [a bigger object needs more energy] and its specific heat (c) [how easy the object is to heat up.]
In the immortal words of Paris Hilton, "That's hot!"
Wednesday, December 12. 2012
I have always felt that Iron Man was the anti-transhumanist super-hero. His chest-plate is there to prevent shrapnel from entering his heart, not as an augmentation of an already healthy body. And instead of building a better soldier, Tony Stark builds a better suit. A suit that can be taken off at the end of the day and at the end of a career. Apparently, Iron Man 3, which opens in May 2013, delves into a tranhumanist plot line where Tony is compelled to enhance his body as well. Subculture for the Cultured has the story:
Extremis focuses on a battle between Tony Stark and a reactionary named Mallen, who has taken a dose of a genetic enhancer called Extremis. In their first encounter, Mallen handily defeats Stark leaving him beaten and close to death. Tony realizes he has no chance of defeating Mallen as long as he lacks Mallen’s speed and genetic enhancements.Interesting. This plot illustrates what many opponents of transhumanism have said for years. Transhumanism is NOT ABOUT FREEDOM to do with one's body as one chooses. Once people begin to enhance their otherwise healthy bodies, the rest of us have to as well just to keep up. Tony has to enhance to survive and beat the bad guy. Enhancements equal a loss of freedom not a gain. Wake up. Coercion is part of the augmentation package.
Tuesday, December 11. 2012
I recently saw a Jon Stewart monologue that really got me thinking. Stewart was making fun of Fox News' "War on Christmas." Stewart asks how could there possibly be a "War on Christmas" when Christmas, as a holiday, has become so bloated that this year it finally took over Thanksgiving. In 2012, before the turkey was even cold, Americans flocked to the stores to buy Christmas gifts on the new consumer holiday called Black Thursday.
What other holiday gets so much media? My cable guide is filled with endless Christmas specials of my favorite shows. Christmas music gets its own radio stations dedicated to such crimes as "Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey" (I am Italian, by the way) and Justin Bieber's version of "The Little Drummer Boy." And we are subjected to some of the worst music ever made not just for a week or two, but for a whole month or more. (I feel so sorry for the people who have to work places that pipe in that garbage. I think they should strike.)
Stewart ends by telling Halloween to watch its back. A wise admonition since we all have seen Christmas decorations on display right next to Halloween costumes and candy.
Upon some serious reflection, I discovered I agreed with Stewart. There is no "War on Christmas," the increasingly secular holiday. How could there be when Christmas has expanded its waistline so dramatically that it has finally eaten Thanksgiving?
I realized that instead there is a "War on the Meaning of Christmas."
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Monday, December 10. 2012
The Scientist is calling a service called MyCell offered by Cellular Dynamics International (CDI) one of the top ten innovations of 2012. With MyCell Services, a researcher can send in a blood sample of a patient and get back a cell type of choice. MyCell Services uses induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology to reprogram the patient's cell back to a pluripotent state and from there CDI can differentiate those iPS cells into the cell type the researchers requests. From The Scientist:
Now, Cellular Dynamics International (CDI) is utilizing that technology to offer, via the company’s MyCell Services, iPSC lines from any patient of interest, as well as differentiated cell lines derived from the iPSCs.Now I know there is much controversy in the pro-life community over iPSC technology because, among other things, researchers have used a cell line in the reprogramming process that came from an abortion in the 1970s. Unfortunately this cell line is a common tool among cell biologists and is used in all kinds of research, not just iPSCs. I could not find any information on which cell line MyCell Services uses to grow their viruses for the reprogramming services they offer. If they have used a cell line from an abortion, even if it was performed decades ago, that does morally taint this innovation.
That being said, I want to point out what MyCell provides has been the holy grail of stem cell science ever since Dolly the sheep was cloned back in 1996: patient-specific cells of whatever type was needed.
Before iPSC technology, the way scientists tried to accomplish this goal was to collect hundreds of eggs from women, putting their health and fertility at risk, then clone human embryos with those eggs, then destroy those little lives trying to harvest the "patient-specific" stem cells inside. (Or they cloned human embryos with cow, rabbit or mouse eggs. Or they intentionally created embryos with a devastating genetic condition called triploidy.) Researchers insisted that this ethical disaster called "therapeutic cloning" was the BEST and ONLY way to get patient-specific cells of their choice.
iPSC technology has changed all of that. No eggs, no cloning, no animal-human hybrids, no human lives created, manipulated and destroyed. Researchers can now get patient-specific stem cells without these particular ethical issues.
Of course, if researchers in any kind of research are using cell lines of illicit origin, then the work is not totally free from moral problems. But this is a huge improvement over the "therapeutic cloning" vision of the mass cloning and destruction of embryos that stem cell researchers had less than a decade ago.
If we can encourage companies and researchers to totally stop using cell line of illicit origin (if they are using such tools) then we can truly rejoice over such an awesome innovation.
Friday, December 7. 2012
I thought I had heard just about every argument surrounding using human embryos in research. The other day I realized, I hadn't.
A friend of mine, who was reading Why Catholicism Matters by Dr. William Donohue, pointed out a passage where Dr. Donohue refers to a piece by Leon Kass, an ethicist of Jewish descent, called "The Meaning of Life in the Laboratory." Dr. Kass delves into the status of the human embryo and whether or not a human embryo is simply a "ball of cells" or something more. He writes this disturbing, but relevant passage:
On the other hand, we would, I suppose, recoil even from the thought, let alone the practice--I apologize for forcing it upon the reader--of eating such embryos, should someone discover that they would provide a great delicacy, a “human caviar.” The human blastocyst would be protected by our taboo against cannibalism, which insists on the humanness of human flesh and does not permit us to treat even the flesh of the dead as if it were mere meat. The human embryo is not mere meat; it is not just stuff; it is not a “thing.” Because of its origin and because of its capacity, it commands a higher respect.Human caviar. A disgusting, repulsive and horrifying thought for pretty much everyone. Why? Because the human embryo is a human organism, just as we are, albeit very early in development.
Dr. Donohue, in commenting on Kass' analogy, states the obvious:
If the proponents of embryonic stem cell research were served human embryos as a delicacy, or human caviar, would they partake? If not, why not? Because of a natural aversion to cannibalism? Does that not concede the point made by the Catholic Church?Indeed.
Tuesday, December 4. 2012
So the long and twisted court battle over the patenting of genes is finally going to the Supreme Court. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has rightly sued Myriad Genetics and the US Patent Office over the granting of patents on naturally occurring human genes.
DNA represents the physical embodiment of biological information, distinct in its essential characteristics from any other chemical found in nature. It is concluded that DNA’s existence in an ‘isolated’ form alters neither this fundamental quality as it exists in the body nor the information it encodes.Of course Myriad appealed and the appellate court came back with a ridiculous ruling that DNA isolated from the body was fundamentally different than it was inside the body so it qualified as an invention.
The case then went to the Supreme Court, without hearing arguments, who kicked it back down for reconsideration. The lower court again, out of its mind, found that isolated DNA from the human body was a patentable invention.
Now the highest court in the land has finally agreed to hear arguments over what I believe is the systematic claim of ownership of the human body.
As someone who has isolated more DNA from people than you can imagine, I have a suggestion for the ACLU lawyers. Myriad, a company that tests women for variations in the "breast cancer genes" BRCA I and II, is claiming that isolated DNA is so fundamentally different that it is in the body that it is something they can own. If I were a lawyer for the ACLU, I would ask Myriad whose name goes on the tube of isolated DNA. Guaranteed the patient's name is on the tube. In fact, a good lab will have two patient identifiers on every tube, the patient's name and a number assigned to their sample.
If isolated DNA is fundamentally different from it is in the body that it becomes a patentable invention, then why would Myraid bother to identify the sample at all? Why not just put "Myriad" on every tube and call it good?
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 >>
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