Thursday, May 8. 2014
To grease the wheels of the transhumanist technological utopia it will take getting a generation on board with radically changing the nature of humanity. That is where popular culture comes in. In Episode 9 of BioTalk, Chelsea and I discuss the transhumanist images, both good and bad, in the media today.
Wednesday, April 30. 2014
On the heels of the announcement that researchers were able to clone two adult men and destroy those cloned embryos for stem cells, another group funded by the New York Stem Cell Foundation has published research where they cloned a woman with type 1 diabetes. NBCNews reports:
Scientists have used cloning technology to make stem cells from a woman with Type 1 diabetes that are genetically matched to her and to her disease.Let's be clear what was made and destroyed here. The article says a "blastocyst" so most people's eyes will gloss over, their brains will turn off and they will ignore what is really going on. A blastocyst is an early embryo, a human being. Every single person on this planet at one time was a blastocyst as well.
Cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) creates a cloned embryo. In this case, they destroyed that embryo for her parts.
This quote reinforces that fact that it is past time to outlaw all cloning in humans in the United States even for research purposes:
“I think this is going to become reality,” Dr. Dieter Egli of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, whose report is published in the journal Nature on Monday, told reporters. “It may be a bit in the future but it is going to happen.”Do we really want to be creating masses of cloned human beings to be spare parts farms, putting thousands of young women at risk for the eggs that are needed for cloning, when we can already make tailor-made embryonic-like stem cells from simple reprogramming techniques that do not require eggs or embryos?
Make no mistake, no matter what researchers say, cloning will not stop in the lab. I agree with both Gregory Pence and President George W. Bush that to think that is will not end in reproductive cloning is naive:
"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."A total ban on asexual reproduction in humans, which would include, but not be limited to, SCNT, is desperately needed to protect both nascent human life and young women from being exploited for their eggs.
Many people think that a partial ban on just reproductive cloning is good enough. As Bush and Pence pointed out above, it is not. Not only would legislation banning only the implantation of cloned embryos for reproductive purposes allow cloning to continue, but such a law would mandate that cloned embryos be destroyed for science. It would also give us a false sense of security that we "did something" about cloning when really it would be window dressing. Cloning would continue, becoming more and more efficient, and likely those cloned embryos will still end up in female volunteers. After all, some people see cloning as one of their "reproductive rights":
“My decision to clone myself should not be the government’s business, or Cardinal O’Connor’s, any more than a woman’s decision to have an abortion is. Cloning is highly significant. It’s part of the reproductive rights of every human being.”Do we really want to leave the legality of cloning up to the misguided notions we have about "reproductive rights"?
I certainly do not.
Wednesday, April 23. 2014
The 21st human chromosome is the smallest of all our chromosomes. It contains only a few hundred genes and is only 1% of our total DNA. As most people know, an extra chromosome 21 causes Down Syndrome. What most people did not know until research published this week, is that tiny chromosome has an effect across the whole human genome.
Instead of simply being an extra copy of each of the genes on chromosome 21, trisomy 21 has an effect on the expression of genes on other chromosomes. The Scientist has the story of the fascinating research that lead to this discovery:
The deleterious effects of trisomy 21—the extra chromosome behind Down’s syndrome—can be seen across the entire genome, according to a study published today (April 16) in Nature. While studying a pair of monozygotic twins in which only one person had Down’s syndrome, a team led by Stylianos Antonarakis of the University of Geneva Medical School in Switzerland discovered that trisomy 21 can affect other chromosomes.Understanding how the extra genetic material in those with Down Syndrome affects the rest of the DNA in the cell is a critical step toward effective gene therapy, so this is a major breakthrough.
What this discovery also reinforces what we are beginning to understand: genetics and gene expression is a lot more complex than just a sequence of DNA. There is a symphony of influences that affect how genes are expressed and even a tiny piece of DNA can alter the music. This quote really stood out to me:
“The mere addition of a small piece of DNA—about 30 megabases, or 1 percent of the genome—can disturb the entire transcriptome, all the genes of the genome. And not only disturb them, but disturb them in a specific and programmed way,” said AntonarakisIn other words, when it comes to genetics, small changes can have big effects.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Friday, April 18. 2014
For years Massachusetts company Advanced Cell Technology ACT) has been trying to clone human embryos. They have been working with somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), the same technique that cloned Dolly the sheep, in vain attempts to get cloned human embryo to grow long enough to produce embryonic stem cells. ACT has even tried using cow, rabbit and mouse eggs instead of human eggs to produce cloned human embryos.
Well, ACT has finally done it. Working with the research of Oregon scientists who last year announced that they had successfully cloned embryos using cells from infants and fetuses, ACT reports that they were successful in creating cloned embryos from 35 and 75 year old men.
Continue reading at LifeNews>>
Thursday, April 10. 2014
Today I will be on the Mike Janocik Show on Louisville's EWTN affiliate WLCR 1040 AM Holy Family Radio from 5:00 to 5:30 pm ET discussing why it seems that genetically modified foods are bad, but genetically modified humans are good. Click here to listen in live.
Tuesday, April 8. 2014
The Church has always been against third-party reproduction and that is because the Church has always been focused on the needs of the child and not on the wants of the parents.
Humans have a universal desire to love and be loved by our biological parents. That requires that we know and be known by our biological parents; a scenario purposefully denied those children of anonymous sperm or egg donation.
The Church knows that connection to our biological parents is part of the rights of a child. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
2376 Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage.This right is ignored by the fertility industry in order to grease the wheels of profit and give desperate parents what they want. After decades of creating children that can never know their biological progenitors, the cracks are beginning to show as more and more donor-conceived adults are speaking out. Here are just two snippets from AnonymousUs.org:
I look at history, and there are dads, I look at wildlife, there are dads, I look at society and there are dads. Dads are everywhere, maybe its media but I feel like I'm missing out. I feel like I will never know what it's like to be in the arms of a man who loves me unconditionally in a innocent non-sexual way, and who will be my other half. I will never know what it's like to bond with my other genetic parent, I will never know what it's like to look at the rest of nature and know I was conceived the way I was suppose to be...you know, outside a science lab....and not on a dish to be shoved into a refrigerator.And:
I have a tape of my donor's voice, answering questions. Some are deep queries about his personal beliefs, but others are trivial. Those are the ones that make me cry. Questions like 'what's your favorite movie?' He gave the same answer as me and it confused and delighted me. After hearing in him all the traits in me the rest of my family doesn't understand, I felt like i'd missed out on something spectacular, to be understood by the person partially responsible for my existence.... It seems odd and horrorible at the same time that two people who have never even laid eyes on each other have a child. I hate that my dad got paid. I hate that he was probably just some guy who was broke and needed a little bit of pocket cash. No matter how great of a guy he was, he just wanted the money. And even though I think about him all the time, he has no idea I that exist.Now, Dr. Keith Ablow has thrown down the gauntlet. In an opinion piece at FoxNews, Ablow calls for anonymous sperm and egg donation be outlawed. Why? Because it violates the rights of the very children it creates:
Without seemingly having given it much thought at all, our society now allows tens of thousands or more of men and women to create children who will never know one or sometimes both of their biological parents, because states allow these anonymous donations. And this policy inherently presupposes that bearing children who have no opportunity to know their biological fathers or mothers does not deprive them of anything that is inherently theirs – as a fundamental human right.Harsh? Yes. True? Another yes.
Ablow makes the necessary distinction between adoption, which is an attempt to solve a problem and anonymous gamete donation which creates and perpetuates a problem:
Anonymous sperm and ova donation solves no problem of any child. It is a convenience to adults who are encountering fertility problems and would prefer the convenience of jettisoning part of their child's true life history in order to commandeer that child from its true biological father or mother.Thank-you Dr. Ablow for speaking the uncomfortable truth. It is time our society put the health and well-being of children over the desires of perspective parents.
Wednesday, April 2. 2014
Transhumanism is everywhere. We are being steeped in it like a tea bag in hot water. Not all the images are favorable, but shows like Almost Human, Intelligence, and Lab Rats and movies like the Bourne Legacy, Her, and Transcendence keep transhumanist themes always percolating, especially in the minds of those who will be most affected, our children. Artificial intelligence, human enhancements, and genetic engineering were the stuff of science fiction when most of us were young. These are within the grasp of today's youth. Some would say they are inevitable.
To grease the wheels of the transhumanist technological utopia it will take getting a generation on board with radically changing the nature of humanity. According to a 2012 survey, the majority of tranhumanists desire immortality on this planet. And now there is a children's book called Death is Wrong to convince younger readers that death is an evil problem that needs to be solved. It calls death "the enemy of us all."
Continue Reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Tuesday, April 1. 2014
While it is April Fool's Day, this is for real. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, the Orgeon scientist that last year used somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) better known as therapeutic cloning to clone human embryos AND created human embryos with three-genetic parents, has new research published in Nature that has not gotten a lot of attention, but we should be aware of it none-the-less.
Mitalipov and his team have cloned mice. So what you say? Researchers have been cloning mice for years. This is different because instead of using eggs to clone those mice like in traditional SCNT, Oregon scientists used 2-celled mouse embryos. Contained in the egg are factors that can reprogram the nucleus of an adult cell and create a new organism with the same genetic make-up; what we know as cloning. It was thought that after an egg is fertilized and the resulting embryo divides, the embryo no longer had that same reprogramming abilities as the egg. Mitalipov has shown that at the 2-celled stage of the embryo those factors are still present.
From the Oregon Health and Science University website:
An Oregon Health & Science University scientist has been able to make embryonic stem cells from adult mouse body cells using the cytoplasm of two-cell embryos that were in the "interphase" stage of the cell cycle. Scientists had previously thought the interphase stage — a later stage of the cell cycle — was incapable of converting transplanted adult cell nuclei into embryonic stem cells.Why is this important? Human eggs are hard to come by making human cloning using eggs expensive and difficult. As quoted above, embryos on the other hand are "more accessible" making human cloning with existing human embryos more doable.
Mitalipov and his team will move on from mice and try this technique in monkeys and then in humans. The goal has always been to perfect human cloning for the research and, in my opinion, for reproduction.
BioEdge comments on the ethics of this research:
Embryos will be far cheaper as a raw material for research than eggs – but also far more controversial ethically.That is why this announcement is important. If Mitalipov is successful using this technique to clone human embryos for research (and he has been successful with his other research on embryos so far), two embryos will be sacrificed in the cloning process instead of just one. It is doubly evil.
And considering that cloning is not necessary anymore for obtaining patient-specific stem cells it is even more insidious. Induced pluripotent stem cell technology can create patient-specific pluripotent stem cells without creating or destroying one embryo, let alone two.
Wednesday, March 26. 2014
Ray Kurzweil predicted in his book, The Singularity is Near, that we will be mostly non-organic beings by the 2030s. In the 2030s, I will be getting ready to retire and take care of my grandkids. My children will be starting their families. In other words, not in the distant future, but in this lifetime. So now is the time to take notice of emerging technologies because they will be upon us before we know it.
One of the ways that transhumanists envision that man will live forever is by interfacing the human brain with computers, uploading our consciousness into the digital realm. A new movie "Transcendence", starring Johnny Depp, will tackle this very scenario. The plot:
Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him. However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed—to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can…but if they should. Their worst fears are realized as Will’s thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.Here is the trailer:
I cannot wait to see this film, and not just because Paul Bettany is in it. I am hoping it goes beyond simply the technological aspects of artificial intelligence but sparks a discussion about what it means to be an organic human, full of flaws and limitations, and yet sublimely beautiful at the same time. That is true "transcendence." The "I can't feel anything" line is promising.
If this film does turn out to be a true cautionary tale as the trailer seems to suggest, then I hope we all take note. "Gattaca" was a visionary movie that was filled with warnings about embracing genetic determinism. We didn't take heed and are now deciding which lives get to be lived simply by genetics alone. Maybe "Transcendence" will be different.
Friday, March 21. 2014
“Thank you, Professor Lejeune, for what you did for my father and my mother. Because of you, I am proud of myself.”Unfortunately, today, a prenatal diagnosis of an extra 21st chromosome is a death sentence to many with Down Syndrome. We have come so far in our understanding of the disorder but gone down the wrong path in dealing with it. There is a seek-and-destroy mission being waged instead of an all out push for treatments to deal with the challenges that face Down Syndrome patients and families.
So why is "happy" the word of the day? A recent study revealed that 99% of adults with Down Syndrome report being happy with their lives. That is a number you will never find in any "normal" adult population. A diagnosis of Down Syndrome means an almost certain guarantee that a child will be happy. Is that not what all parents want for their children?
And yet society acts like it did before Jérôme Lejeune's discovery, with fear and ignorance. The Jérôme Lejeune Foundation asks us to act on behalf of all persons with Down Syndrome, both in and out of the womb:
The oft-quoted statistics of terminations following prenatal diagnosis are tragic testimony to the lack of acceptance we still face in our modern culture of inclusion. How can we have, on one hand, sociological data that show overwhelmingly the happiness and love children with Down syndrome bring to families; and yet on the other, consuming fear and fatal rejection by a majority? Today we should not only advocate for those living with Down syndrome – but also for those who were not given a chance to live. Even more, we should insist on getting good information into the hands of mothers and fathers who face the terrible decision whether or not to terminate, and try to spare them the consequences of a choice that often brings so much sadness and despair.This video can do in a few minutes what a lifetime of words cannot: show the precious lives that are lived with a little bit of extra genetic material. Pass it on because the world needs to know the truth about happiness in a life with Down Syndrome.
Wednesday, March 19. 2014
In light of my recent piece in the National Catholic Register "Genetically Modified Food: Bad; Genetically Modified Humans: Good", Chelsea asks, "Why are we going to great lengths to raise awareness about and regulate the use of GMO in our food supply, while largely ignoring the direct genetic modification of human beings??" A great question we discuss in the latest episode of BioTalk.
Tuesday, March 11. 2014
This is a great read for anyone who worries about the various reprogramming techniques for creating stem cells. I would include myself in that category. Dr. Maureen Condic, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine, makes an excellent case at Public Discourse that stem cells are not embryos.
She highlights the important distinction between true "totipotency" that can give rise to a developing organism and the common usage of "totipotent" which is often employed to describe a cell that can differentiate into all the different tissue types including placenta. The former is a zygote that has the ability to become a multi-celled embryo, then a fetus and so on. The latter are just cells that can become all different cell types, but lack the organizational ability of true totipotency. Dr. Condic writes:
The term “totipotent” is used in the scientific literature in two radically different ways. The strict sense of totipotency refers to a one-cell embryo or zygote that is “capable of developing into a complete organism.” The second, weaker sense of totipotency refers to the ability of a cell to differentiate into any of the cells or tissues of the body, including cells of the placenta. A zygote is “totipotent” in both senses, yet pluripotent stem cells are “totipotent” only in the second sense.Dr. Condic reveals that stem cells, even ones that can become all the tissue types of the body and placenta as well (often called "totipotent" cells in the media), are not embryos because they lack the ability to complete an organized development. If placed in a womb such stem cells would create tumors, not a fetus. She argues that we should call stem cells that are plastic enough to become all the tissue types including placenta "plenipotent" to differentiate them from both pluripotent stem cells and truly totipotent embryos:
In contrast, a cell that can produce but not organize all of the cells of the body (including cells found in the placenta) is not an embryo. If transferred to a uterus, it will produce a tumor, not a baby. Such cells are sometimes referred to as “totipotent” in the second, weak or cellular sense, a misuse of the term that causes great confusion for many non-scientific readers. I have proposed the term “plenipotent” (from the Latin plenus, or “full”) to distinguish such cells from pluripotent stem cells (i.e., stem cells that do not produce placental tissue) and to avoid confusing mere tumors with actual, totipotent embryos.The egg (more properly called an oocyte) has critical factors that guide development. Reprogrammed stem cells, since they are not made from or use eggs, lack those factors and so therefore are not embryos. In contract, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), also known as cloning does create embryos because an egg is used in the cloning process.
Dr. Condic concludes:
Totipotent zygotes are distinct from pluripotent or even plenipotent stem cells because they undergo development. The ability to both produce all cell types and to organize them into a coherent body plan is the defining feature of a totipotent human organism. And totipotency critically requires multiple factors derived from oocytes. Human embryos can be produced by fertilization or by cloning, yet both of these procedures start with and require the cytoplasmic factors contributed by a human egg. All other scientific techniques that result in embryos containing mixtures of stem cells start with an embryo produced by either fertilization or by cloning.
Thank-you Dr. Condic for such a complete and illuminating explanation.
Hat Tip: The Mike Janocik Show
Monday, March 10. 2014
In the November 2012 elections, voters of Washington state had to decide on Initiative 522. I-522 would require food sold in the state to be labeled if any of its components were produced by genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Proponents made a necessary distinction between selectively bred plants and animals and those that are GMOs. Selective breeding has been standard practice in agriculture since man began herding animals and growing crops. GMO plants and animals are those that have a genetic makeup that would not occur naturally through normal breeding. For example, a plant that has had a gene inserted that gives it resistance to weed killer and a cow that has been cloned so it is immune to mad-cow disease are GMOs.
It was a contentious battle, with supporters of I-522 telling consumers that genetic engineering has unintended consequences and that ingesting GMO products may make us sick. Proponents insisted that we have a right to know what is in our food.
Ads against I-522 did not suggest food made from GMOs was perfectly safe or that the concerns of food purists were unfounded. The opposition focused on the wording of the initiative and on the impact labeling would have on the price of food.
I-522 was defeated with 45% of voters supporting the initiative and 55% opposed. A similar initiative in California, Proposition 37, also did not pass. In 2012, California voters were 49% in support of labeling food made from GMOs; 51% voted against Prop. 37.
Analyzing these votes, it is apparent that nearly half of the voting residents in California and Washington are concerned about eating GMOs and want to be informed about which foods contain GMO products. A poll conducted by ABC News found that 65% of Americans either believe GMOs are unsafe to eat or are unsure about their safety, and 93% of those polled believe that the government should require labeling.
At the same time, in another West Coast state, genetically modified human embryos are being made with little objection from the general public.
Continue reading at the National Catholic Register >>
Tuesday, March 4. 2014
(Image from New Scientist)
Monday, March 3. 2014
Last week the House of the Oklahoma State legislature overwhelmingly passed the Protection of Human Life Act of 2013. This act prohibits the destruction of human embryos for research and prohibits research on cells that were obtained from the destruction of a human embryo.
No person shall:Continue reading at LifeNews>>
Tuesday, February 25. 2014
My husband watches the new TV show "Intelligence" starring Josh Holloway (previously Sawyer from Lost) as Gabriel, a man with a rare genetic mutation (or some such) that allowed the U.S. government to put a chip in his brain. This chip gives Gabriel unlimited access to the Internet directly into his consciousness. As an agent for a super secret intelligence agency, that comes in super handy. Gabriel, the best of all guys, uses his enhancement only for good. He saves people and catches bad guys and he looks good doing it. Gabriel is the quintessential enhanced American hero reminiscent of Captain America, just without the tights and shield.
In a recent episode, Gabriel has to enter a middle eastern country to rescue two American journalists sentenced to death for being spies. A former U.S. president tags along to distract the middle eastern government with diplomacy while Gabriel breaks the journalists out of prison using his enhancement to hijack security cameras and pinpoint his targets' exact location.
After many twists and turns, the objective of their mission complete, the former U.S. president asks Gabriel why he would let the government put that chip in his head.
Gabriel answers, "Because I love my country."
And there it is. A good American would do anything for his country, including volunteering to be an experiment and allowing the government to violate his or her bodily integrity with a microchip in the brain.
And why not, when we ask those who serve our country to place their lives at risk? Why not ask them to alter their bodies, with possible permanent side effects, to make the job easier? Why not if it means an American victory?
Many Catholics do not see the harm in such enhancements for our soldiers and intelligence agents. In a discussion at a Catholic blog about genetically enhancing soldier's eyes to have night vision like a cat, one commenter saw no moral issue with such an intervention. Why would we not give our soldier's such an advantage?
But is that treating the soldier as a person or a means to an end? What about the possible side effects? The human brain is not wired to "see" in the dark permanently.
Why not instead equip our soldiers with the best in night vision goggles that they can take off at the end of the day and at the end of a career?
Do we really need to ask those that serve American interests to radically alter their bodies?
But I am afraid that with shows like "Intelligence", the seed had already been planted. I doubt any parent turned to their child after Gabriel announced that he loved his country and said, "This is a fun show and that was a nice sentiment, but in reality it would be immoral for a government to do that to one of its citizens."
Not everyone is buying what shows like Intelligence are selling. Here are some comments from viewers on IMDB:
my next question however is: "when will they find the unusually large mass in his brain next to that constantly radiating chip?"This gives me hope that some Americans are thinking critically about radical enhancements and the physical and moral implications of the "super soldier."
I fear though that not enough of us are dissecting such mainstream depictions of transhumanism, especially when they are placed in such a patriotic package.
Sunday, February 16. 2014
On February 25th and 26th, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be having a meeting to discuss allowing the technique that creates embryos with three genetic parents to proceed to clinical trials. The "three-parent" embryo technique is also called mitochondrial replacement, maternal spindle transfer, or oocyte modification.
In an effort to "treat" mitochondrial disease, this technique would intentionally modify IVF embryos to have the genetic material from three persons. This modification is also one that will extend beyond the children produced and will be passed onto future generations. (For more information about "three-parent" embryos read my article at the National Catholic Register.)
Over 40 countries have banned such inheritable genetic modifications. Regrettably, the United States has no such laws and it is up the FDA to regulate the practice. They are currently taking written opinions on the subject, but only until this Tuesday, February 18th. The FDA needs to hear from the public on this issue.
This is a pivotal point in human history. Will we allow the intentional genetic modification of our children and grandchildren? I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say the future of our species depends on how we answer that question.
Please tell the FDA what you think. The contact information given on the advisory panel web page is Gail Dapolito, Fax 301-827-0294, e-mail: gail.dapolito[at]fda.hhs.gov or Rosanna Harvey, Fax 301-827-0294, e-mail: rosanna.harve[at]fda.hhs.gov
Here is the letter I wrote to the committee. Please feel free to use any or all of it.
FDA Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapies Advisory Committee:Alternatively, the Center for Genetics and Society has a letter you can sign. They suggest embryo screening as a "safer" alternative which pro-lifers cannot agree with, but overall the content of the letter is excellent. The Center for Genetics and Society is a progressive organization. It is important that the FDA hear from all points on the political spectrum. This is one issue that both the left and right can agree on.
Wednesday, February 12. 2014
After the ground-breaking news last week that Japanese scientists were able reprogram adult cells to embryonic-like cells in mice by simply bathing them in weak acid, the next step was to try this with human cells. The technique is called "stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency", or STAP.
With lightening speed, Dr. Charles Vacanti and his team at Harvard Medical School has announced that they have created STAP human cells. New Scientist has the story:
Talk about speedy work. Hot on the heels of the news that simply dipping adult mouse cells in acid could turn them into cells with the potential to turn into any cell in the body, it appears that the same thing may have been done using human cells.The Independent also reports that more tests are needed to see if these stem cells are for real:
"The process was very similar to the one we used on mouse cells, but we used human dermal fibroblasts that we purchased commercially," Dr Vacanti said. "I can confirm that stem cells were made when we treated these human cells. They do the same thing [as the mouse cells].Clearly this breakthrough has yet to be proven or published in a peer-review journal, but that does not mean that we should not be concerned.
Unlike induced pluripotent stem cell technology (iPSCs) that uses a different method to reprogram adult cells, STAP, in mice, looks like it produces totipotent cells, not just pluripotent cells.
What is the difference? Pluripotent cells cannot become placenta and so could not implant and grow a new organism if placed in a uterus. Totipotent cells can become placenta and so are able to implant and grow into a fetus.
The only other place we find totipotent cells is directly after fertilization. In other words totipotent cells, are very early embryos. New Scientist, in an earlier story, explains why this is such a big deal:
"The team haven't just made pluripotent cells like embryonic stem cells," says José Silva from the University of Cambridge, "they appear to have made totipotent cells." This means the cells have been rewound to a state with even more flexibility than pluripotent cells, which means they should be easier to manipulate. The only cells known to be totipotent – able to form an embryo and a placenta – in the body are those that have only undergone the first couple of cell divisions immediately after fertilisation. "They are like precursors to embryonic stem cells," says Silva.So if STAP produces totipotent cells in humans like it seems to do in mice, then STAP would be a way to clone human beings. And, these would be true clones, not like the ones produced so far with somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) which have DNA from the egg used in the cloning process.
Vacanti admits the possibility of using STAP for cloning to The Independent:
Asked whether it would be possible in theory to follow on from the mouse research to show that skin cells could be turned into viable human embryos – effectively a clone of the donor of the skin samples – Dr Vacanti said: "This is an offshoot, an unintended consequence, so the answer is 'yes' …. This would be the natural conclusion, but I won't be the one that does it."I have no doubt that someone will dare to go where Dr. Vacanti says he won't; especially since the United States has no federal laws against human cloning for research or for reproduction.
Whether or not STAP produces stem cells in human cells still has to be proven and whether those stem cells are pluripotent or totipotent remains to be seen.
What is clear is that, if all it takes to clone a human being is taking a skin cell and placing it in an acid bath, then the world as we know it is about to change drastically.
It may be the only time, but I agree with Robert Lanza:
"The reprogramming step seems to be quite simple, it could be very inexpensive technology for reproductive medicine," agrees Lanza. "But it has more potential for abuse than iPS cells. It'll be interesting how this all plays out, but if it's possible to do this in humans, it changes everything."
Wednesday, February 5. 2014
Today more and more people are whole-heartedly embracing eugenics. They probably don't know it as eugenics, but every time a human life in the womb or in the lab is cut short because his or her genetics is not up to snuff, that is undoubtedly eugenics.
Many associate the eugenics of old with a lack of compassion and with government coercion. Today's eugenics, in contrast, is perceived as an exercise of free choice and a compassionate endeavor. In modern sensibilities, tossing out embryos or aborting fetuses with genetic disorders, even disorders that will not surface until adulthood (with time for a cure to be found), is the right, moral and smart thing to do.
And yet, modern eugenics is as devoid of compassion and as coercive as the early 20th century variety.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Wednesday, January 29. 2014
Scientists in Japan have developed a way to cheaply and easily take adult cells from mice and reprogram them back to a pluripotent or embryonic-like state. They demonstrated that these cells were capable of becoming all the cells in a full grown mouse.
They call the technique “stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency” or STAP. Unlike, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that use viruses to reprogram a very small percentage of adult cells back to pluripotency, STAP uses stressors like acid baths or physical pressure to quickly reprogram a much larger portion of cells.
Monday, January 27. 2014
IVF advocates desperately want us to believe that biology is irrelevant when it comes to "family," but the testimonies of countless donor conceived children, prove otherwise. In episode 7 of BioTalk, Chelsea and I discuss the ironic legacy of third party reproduction: that couples are so desperate for a child to love and yet concern for what’s good and right for the child itself is actually put last.
Wednesday, January 22. 2014
This personal narrative by Ali Margo at ELLE about her experience with the fertility industry will break your heart. She chronicles her two rounds of IVF that end with a call from the clinic telling her that all 20 of her embryos are dead. Read between the lines and you will find greed, exploitation and snake-oil. Margo paints a very unflattering picture of a billion dollar industry that she points out has a 70% failure rate. Here are some excerpts from "$47,000 Dollars Later, I Have No Baby: The IVF Scam":
“You think your uterus is why you’re here, but that’s not why you’re here,” the fertility doctor said, sitting behind his desk in a crisp white lab coat, his name embroidered in bright blue thread. His smile was broad and slightly distorted. He reminded me of a car salesman.20 embryos dead! Price for human life! Indeed, is this what medicine should be?
In the end, Margo says she is not considering adoption because IVF has taken away all of her money and her hope. Prayers are needed for her family, including her lost little ones.
Bravo to Margo for telling the truth about her experience and not sugar-coating it. She is the first writer I have read that has called IVF a scam. Hopefully, she will not be the last.
Wednesday, January 15. 2014
Everyone knows that sex-selection is rampant in the places like China and India where ultrasound and legalized abortion mean that roughly 160 million women are "missing." What many people do not know, or refuse to acknowledge, is that the practice of aborting girls just because they are girls is growing in the West as well.
A study done by Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund, of UC Berkeley that looked at U.S. 2000 Census data. They found that among U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian Indian parents there is a male bias especially in third children. They report, "If there was no previous son, sons outnumbered daughters by 50%." And they concluded, "We interpret the found deviation in favor of sons to be evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage."
A study of 2 abortion clinics in the San Francisco Bay area that service a high South Asian immigrant population found shocking evidence of sex selection. Forbes reported that not only did 89% of pregnant women who were carrying girls abort their child during the study period, but there was evidence of coercion, sometimes violent, by husbands and in-laws to do so.
This is would be expected in the United States where sex selection is completely legal in most states. But in the UK, sex selective abortion is illegal. Surely, the law is enough of a deterrent.
It does not seem so. The Independent looked at the UK's recent census data and found that in certain immigrant groups, girls have gone "missing."
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Monday, January 13. 2014
After my many years of writing about stem cell research, I am still shocked when the media get the facts horribly wrong. I guess that comes from the assumption that to report the news, one must actually understand the subject matter.
After last month's confusion over whether research that produced mini-kidneys in the lab used induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) or embryonic stem cells, this Associated Press report caught my eye. It is about an Oregon doctor that has had his license suspended over stem cell treatments he was performing. Read this:
In 1998, researchers discovered how to derive stem cells from human embryos, and in 2006, they determined how to induce some specialized adult cells to take on the genetic characteristics of stem cells. These are called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSC.This reporter is clearly confused. Regular adult stem cells, which have been used to treat leukemia and lymphoma for decades, are found naturally in bone marrow and other tissues. In contrast, iPSCs are adult cells, like skin cells, that have been reprogrammed back to an embryonic-like state. So while adult stem cells are naturally found in many parts of the body, iPSCs are embryonic-like stem cells that are created in the lab. iPSC technology is relatively new and is not being used to treat patients. As far as I know, there is only one clinical trial going in the world right now using iPSCs in humans.
Because iPSCs are pluripotent, or able to become most or all of the 200 cells types in the body, they carry the same safety risks as embryonic stem cells. Regular adult stem cells, like those that come from bone marrow, do not carry the those risks because they are not quite as plastic as embryonic stem cells and that is why adult stem cells have already been used for decades to treat patients for a multitude of conditions.
So iPSCs are not what "doctors are using when they do bone marrow transplants."
Honestly, I do not know how the public is expected to be able to navigate the issues surrounding stem cell research if basic news reports can get the facts so muddled. Once again the media, whether intentionally or not, misleads the reader. Just more reason for us to be skeptical of what we read in mainstream news outlets and look deeper for different sources of information.
Wednesday, January 8. 2014
Ever since the dawn of embryonic stem cell research, the media has rarely gotten the facts straight. Either the reporter is unaware of the scientific and moral differences between adult and embryonic stem cells or he has an agenda to push. Some news outlets were so bold as to call embryonic stem cells "early" stem cells to make sure their readers were kept in the dark about where exactly "early" stem cells originate.
A recent breakthrough in stem cell science was reported as starting with skin cells when it looks to have actually used human embryonic stem cells.
A couple of weeks ago it was widely reported that scientists in Australia were able to grow a mini-kidney from stem cells. Many news outlets stated that the researchers began with skin cells. Reports hinted that the researchers used induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology to reprogram the skin cell to an embryonic-like state and then coaxed those iPSCs into self-organizing kidney cells. Here is an excerpt from The Telegraph:
The breakthrough, published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, followed years of research and involved the transformation of human skin cells into an organoid – a functioning "mini-kidney" with a width of only a few millimetres.And one from the Sydney Morning Herald:
A mini-kidney has been grown in an Australian laboratory from what were originally skin cells, boosting hopes for the future treatment of kidney disease.It was the mention of "embryonic" stem cells in that last line that had me scratching my head. If this was an induced pluripotent stem cell advance, why weren't the stem cells described as "embryonic-like" instead?
I then found this transcript from an ABC News report that says these kidneys were grown from embryonic stem cells not skin cells:
SAMANTHAH DONOVAN: The research team was led by Professor Melissa Little from the University of Queensland and also involved scientists from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Monash University.The abstract for the paper titled "Directing human embryonic stem cell differentiation towards a renal lineage generates a self-organizing kidney," also says that embryonic stem cells were used:
In this study, we have successfully directed the differentiation of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) through posterior primitive streak and IM under fully chemically defined monolayer culture conditions using growth factors used during normal embryogenesis.So it seems some news outlets mislead us. I doubt this was a deliberate attempt to confuse the public. This may be a genuine case of confusion about the differences between ESCs and iPSCs on the part of the media.
Nonetheless, it is becoming more and more difficult to piece together what research is ethical and which is not just from mainstream media reports.
We pro-lifers are going to have to get biotech savvy and search out original sources to be sure.
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