Thursday, July 18. 2013
Amazing news was announced in the field of gene therapy this week. Scientists in Massachusetts have taken the cells of a person with Down Syndrome and have silenced the extra 21st chromosome in those cells. The Guardian has the story:
Scientists have corrected the genetic fault that causes Down's syndrome – albeit in isolated cells – raising the prospect of a radical therapy for the disorder.The scientists used a gene normally found on the X chromosome to shut down the extra chromosome. Men have one X chromosome in their cells, and women have two. Only one X chromosome is needed for a cell to function, so the Xist gene inactivates one of the X chromosomes by covering it in RNA. Researchers were able to insert the Xist gene in the chromosome 21, which then silenced it.
This breakthrough could also be applied to other disorders like Edward syndrome which is trisomy 18, and Patau syndrome which is trisomy 13.
Researchers were very clear that any treatment from this technique maybe a decade or more away if at all. Anytime you insert DNA into the genome it is dangerous and safety needs to be the foremost concern.
That being said this is excellent news. This technique could possibly be targeted to cells in the body where an extra chromosome 21 causes problems. People with Down Syndrome can suffer from physical problems like gastrointestinal issues and blood cancers. Scientists envision using this technique, for example, in the bone marrow to prevent leukemia.
Of course this begs the question: Could such a technique be used early enough in development to turn off the extra chromosome in all the cells of the body? In theory, yes. If the modification was done in the embryo, then the modification may be incorporated into every cell during development. But that would require creating and manipulating life in a laboratory which we cannot support.
I know there are many who worry that breakthroughs like this imply that their beloved child with Down Syndrome needs "fixing" and that it is not good enough to love them they way they are. I am not a parent of a special needs child so it is incredibly difficult for me to comment on these very valid concerns. Making genetics my profession, I have always thought a person is more than just a sum of their genes. So for me, a person with Down Syndrome is so much more than their extra chromosome 21. The syndrome is not who they are. It does not define them. And so therefore I have never personally perceived treating the cognitive and physical issues associated with Downs as a rejection of their person.
I also do not believe that a person with Down Syndrome needs to be "fixed." But I could certainly see how such measures could be perceived as such. At the same time, we do not see treating other genetic disease like cystic fibrosis with gene therapy as "fixing" the person, but instead as "fixing" the disease. I think the same applies here. Gene therapy that allows children to live a healthy life is not a rejection of who they are.
And yet, every time I read about another such breakthrough in gene therapy, it is always bittersweet for me. After the initial hope there is despair. Despair for those who are denied the possibility of such a treatment because they were killed in the womb.
That is the problem with using abortion to "treat" genetic disease: it is the fallacious assumption no treatment will ever be developed or that no cure will ever be found. Instead of putting faith in the advancement of medicine, we instead deny children the promise of cutting-edge research by terminating their lives before they make it out of the womb. Death is never a real medical treatment. In death there is no hope.
So while this news is exciting and I pray that in the future it will improve the health of those with Down Syndrome, I also mourn for those who have been denied its promise.
Wednesday, July 17. 2013
It is a common misconception in America that in the rest of the world, scientists are free to work with embryonic stem cells all they want, and that in the United States, we are "far behind" everyone else because of President George W. Bush's funding restrictions. That simply is not true.
Unlike the U.S. that has no federal laws protecting human embryos, only restrictions on tax-payer funding for embryo-destructive research, both Germany and France had a complete ban on embryonic stem cell research. That is until France just recently lifted that ban. The only report I can find on the news is a video from Aljazeera that has this introduction:
The national assembly of France has voted to a lift a ban on embryonic stem cell research, which could pave the way for crucial scientific developments.Unfortunately, there are no other details. Are any restrictions left? Were any funding restrictions put into place? Will researchers now be allowed to clone and destroy embryos for stem cells when previously it was banned?
I can find no answers as of yet. But, this is truly sad. France really did have it right when they had these principles guiding the laws on embryo-destructive research:
Respect for the dignity of the human embryoThey used to be an example of how to keep medical progress moving with adult stem cell research while standing on principle to prevent the devaluing of nascent human life in medical research. Sadly, no more.
Monday, July 15. 2013
I live in Washington State. Born and raised mostly in California, I am a transplant to the Evergreen State and find a lot about life here puzzling. We are one of the most liberal states in the Union. We not only have legalized gay marriage and marijuana use, but also doctor-assisted suicide,. We cannot have phosphates in our dish-washing detergent, but grandma can grow her own pot. And when she gets diagnosed with lung cancer, she can ingest a lethal prescription provided by her doctor.
And Washington is way ahead of Obamacare. Health plans here have been required to cover birth control for years. Our state legislature has even considered expanding that to mandatory abortion coverage. I would not be surprised if in a few years Catholic hospitals in Washington will be required to perform abortions if they want to continue providing actual health care.
I find this all puzzling because, where I live, on the east side of the state, nearly everyone I know is a conservative. We have elected a Republican to the House of Representatives for the last 20 years. Unlike my sister-in-law, who lives in Seattle and now smells that distinctive odor of pot every time she goes on a hike, I have not seen or smelled anymore Mary Jane than before. And in a recent op-ed in a major east side paper, a granddaughter laments that while assisted suicide is legal in Washington, her grandfather could not find a doctor on this side of the state to prescribe the lethal dose.
There is a political line that exists in Washington state. It runs down the Cascade Mountain range that is geographically just east of Seattle. This means that the majority of the area of the state leans conservative. Because most of the population lives west of the Cascades, we all have to endure whatever liberal policies (or President) they vote for.
You could say that liberal ideas cannot rise up and over the Cascade Mountains. Neither can the clouds.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Wednesday, July 10. 2013
Two recent news stories signal hope for the treatment of HIV infection with adult stem cells. The first is a story about two men who had stem cell transplants for blood cancers and are now off anti-viral drugs because there is no trace of the HIV virus in either man. From USA Today:
Two HIV-positive patients in the United States who underwent bone marrow transplants for cancer have stopped anti-retroviral therapy and still show no detectable sign of the HIV virus, researchers said Wednesday.The reason this is news is because these were both stem cell transplants with normal donor stem cells. Previously, another man was cured of an HIV infection with a transplant with cells from a donor that has a rare genetic resistance to HIV infection.
Researchers were quick to stress that such a stem cell transplant would be too costly and complex to treat all HIV positive patients, but this news does give scientists novel ways to approach combating HIV infections.
The second advance is the announcement of a clinical trial that uses gene therapy and and a patient's own adult stem cells. Researchers are taking stem cells from an HIV-infected patient, genetically engineering them to be resistant to the HIV virus, and will then transplant those engineered stem cells back into the patient. From Fort Mill Times:
The HIV gene medicines company Calimmune announced today that the first patient has begun treatment in a Phase I/II clinical trial designed to determine whether a pioneering genetic medicine approach can help to protect individuals infected with HIV from the effects of the virus. The study, “Safety Study of a Dual Anti-HIV Gene Transfer Construct to Treat HIV-1 Infection,” utilizes a gene medicine called Cal-1, developed in the lab of Nobel Laureate Dr. David Baltimore and by Calimmune.This trial has been funded by the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) that was originally supposed to fund embryonic stem cell and cloning research but is changing gears and funding more adult stem cell research because adult stem cells are showing more promise in treating actual patients.
Monday, July 8. 2013
WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD. (That is if you want to read Inferno of your own free will.)
"I can tell you without a doubt that without some kind of drastic change, the end of our species is coming. And it’s coming fast. It won’t be fire, brimstone, apocalypse, or nuclear war . . . it will be total collapse due to the number of people on the planet. The mathematics is indisputable.”Wait. I have heard that before. Ah yes...first it was Robert Malthus in the late 18th century warning us of catastrophe because of overpopulation, catastrophe that has yet to happen. Then it was Paul Ehlrich, in his book The Population Bomb, (the cover of which asks, "Population control or race to oblivion?") who told us that because of overpopulation, there would be mass famine by the 1980s. I am sure Ehlrich thought his math was indisputable too.
Of course, Brown does not take the time to debunk the overpopulation myth. A quick look at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division report World Population to 2300 would have revealed that the human population is estimated to level out under 9 billion and then decline. Or a quick Internet search would have shown that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that by 2030 global food production will exceed the population growth. Ah details...they get in the way of a good fictional narrative where the world's problems can be blamed on the Catholic Church.
Anyway, Zobrist is a transhumanist that is eager for the advent of the "post-human," an engineered human that is resistant to illness, ignorance and death. Zobrist is afraid that the catastrophe of human overpopulation will destroy us all before we can become "post-humans" that can live better lives longer. Never mind that human overpopulation might actually be a problem if all humans could live for hundreds of years or even forever. Zobrist also commits suicide which seems as likely for a "want to live forever" transhumanist as it would be for a devout Catholic.
At first it seems that Brown treats transhumanism properly, as a dangerous philosophy that will create a two-tiered society where the rich are not just richer but also biologically superior. Brown even mentions the similarities between transhumanism and eugenics. Langdon, when he first hears of transhumanist ideas, says, "Sounds ominous.”
But from there everything goes downhill in a hurry. Turns out Sienna was Zobrist's lover and is also a transhumanist. She is the "good" kind of transhumanist. The super smart, compassionate kind that everyone can love. And when they finally find Zobrist's "plague" under Istanbul, it has already been released. It is not a plague after all; just a sweet little virus that renders one-third of the population sterile and the other two-thirds less fertile.
Once all the plot twists are revealed, the characters don't seem all that bothered with Zobrist's crime. They all kind of say, "Oh well. Damage done. But bigger problem solved. And no one had to die." The reader of Inferno is left thinking that the forced sterilization of 2.3 billion people without their consent is no big deal and I can imagine many readers may even secretly wish a non-fiction Zobrist would emerge to "save us from ourselves."
I was left feeling that Brown is a closet transhumanist. The reviewer for H+, the transhumanist magazine, had the same idea:
Despite the fact that he has his hero Langdon reply “Sounds ominous.” when he first learns about tranhsumanism, his transhumanist side kick and misunderstod [sic] heroine FS 2080 has the first name “Sienna”, a type of brown. This was a conscious choice of the author and not an accident obviously.While Inferno does expose transhumanism's links to eugenics, especially in the forced sterilization arena, the problem is that Brown leaves the reader wondering, "What is the harm?" I am sure the populace during the early 20th century eugenics movement felt the same about the forced sterilizations that went on in the name of "bettering mankind." Let us never forget that eugenics was the tinder for the Holocaust in World War II.
So while Brown seems to have no major beef with transhumanism, I still agree with Francis Fukuyama, economist at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, that transhumanism just maybe an idea that poses "greatest threat to the welfare of humanity."
Friday, June 28. 2013
I have been absent from blogging this week, forgive me. My hubby has been stranded with car troubles across the state and I have been left trying to navigate all the cooking, cleaning, yard work and endless summer sports camps and tournaments all by myself. In addition, I have been getting ready for a contingency of out of town guests coming for the weekend.
I have not been totally idle though. Chelsea (Reflections of a Paralytic) and I have recorded an episode of BioTalk and I have been reading Dan Brown's newest disaster, Inferno, in which transhumanism is a major theme, and I plan to write a review when I can sit down and take a breath.
It will be light blogging for the next week or so as well because the Taylors are headed out to the boon docks for a vacation. So stay tuned and in the meanwhile have a happy summer!
Thursday, June 20. 2013
Unlike many other countries, the United States has no federal restrictions on cloning. Scientists can clone human embryos as much as they want, provided they have the human eggs to do it, and in many states they could transfer those embryos to a female volunteer if they wanted.
The only thing that we have in the U.S. are funding restrictions. The very important Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a rider on the Omnibus Appropriations Act, prohibits any federal funding from going to research where human embryos are created or destroyed. This means that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a major source of funding for research in this country, cannot fund cloning research.
So the researchers in Oregon who where the first to successfully clone multiple embryos and extract embryonic stem cell lines did so with funds not provided by you, the American taxpayer.
While an outright ban on all somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) or other means of asexual reproduction in humans is preferred, those funding restrictions are the finger in the dike, preventing many other researchers who depend on federal funds from trying to replicate the "breakthrough" or even from examining the stem cell lines created by cloning and killing human embryos.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Thursday, June 13. 2013
After years of back and forth, the question of whether naturally occurring human genes are patentable has been decided by the Supreme Court. Most Americans are not aware that about a quarter of their genes have been patented by companies and research institutions over the last few decades by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The Supreme Court has made the right decision and unanimously decided that your genes are not patentable.
Continue reading at LifeNews>>
Monday, June 10. 2013
It is undeniable that we humans have an innate desire to know from whom we came. Many people who are adopted or have only one parent will tell you that they feel they are missing a piece of a puzzle. Genealogy websites like Ancestry.com exist because of our fascination with our genetic ancestors. Every time I see an ad for Ancestry.com, a place where you "Find your ancestors’ stories" and "Discover yours," I feel that tug to find out more about my grandparents and great-grandparents. My daughter's junior year project for high school was a presentation and paper on the immigration of both sides of her family to America.
Now imagine if you were purposely denied one half of your story by a powerful industry that runs on anonymity. And what if when you pointed out the intentional injustice, you were told that you should shut-up and simply be grateful for your life.
This is the experience for many a child conceived from anonymous donor gametes. The following is a excerpt from testimony that Alana S. Newman, founder of AnonymousUs.org, gave to the California Assembly Committee on Health regarding AB460, a bill in the California legislature that would require insurers to offer coverage for infertility treatments even to same-sex couples where the relationships are, by nature, not fertile. Such treatments often require donor gametes. Alana is bravely standing up for the rights of those intentionally denied what she believes is a fundamental right: the right to a relationship with one's biological parents. She writes:
The facts of my conception are that my father was paid to abandon me. There is no dignity in that. I suffered from debilitating identity issues, mistrust of the opposite sex, hatred and condemnation of the opposite sex, feelings of objectification – like I only exist as a play – toy for others, and feeling like a science experiment.Very few people like to hear that their choices have devastating consequences for others. If there is a place where voices like Alana's need to be heard, it is the fertility machine. Both infertile couples and the fertility industry must hear what she is saying. The desire for a child does not trump the right of a child to know his or her biological parents.
Wait a minute. I have heard that before. Oh yes, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
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.
Thursday, June 6. 2013
This week the Supreme Court decided that it is not a violation of the 4th Amendment for law enforcement to take a DNA sample from people who are arrested. The Court said that a cheek swab was no different than mug shots or fingerprinting; its purpose is to identify the person in custody. From the New York Times:
The police may take DNA samples from people arrested in connection with serious crimes, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.The court was deeply divided with four of the justices realizing that these DNA samples were for more than just identification. They were a fishing expedition for suspects in cold cases. Scalia wrote the dissent:
Justice Antonin Scalia summarized his dissent from the bench, a rare move signaling deep disagreement. He accused the majority of an unsuccessful sleight of hand, one that “taxes the credulity of the credulous.” The point of DNA testing as it is actually practiced, he said, is to solve cold cases, not to identify the suspect in custody.You may ask why this was even an issue since people who get arrested must be bad people right? Not necessarily. Do not equate being arrested with being convicted of a crime. For those convicted, taking a DNA sample is more than appropriate and an important tool for solving unsolved crimes. But just being arrested is wholly another thing. Many people are arrested for crimes they did not commit.
This was a bad decision for many reasons. First, Scalia is right. A DNA sample goes way beyond simple identification. That sample has information in it that the government does not have any business knowing about unless you are actually convicted of a crime. Try getting paternity, health or "criminal gene" information from a mug shot or fingerprinting.
Second, this overloads an already overloaded system. As this Washington Post piece points out:
A Department of Justice study estimated that around 900,000 requests for biological screening, mostly DNA testing, were backlogged nationally at the end of 2009, the most recent year for which data is available. Meanwhile, large numbers of kits from routine arrests may be making the problem worse, argued Brandon Garrett, a professor at University of Virginia School of Law.Garrett is right. Forensic DNA testing looks at short sequences that are repeated over and over. These repeated regions are called short tandem repeats or STRs. The places where these STRs occur are called loci. There are many variations in the lengths of STRs (I may have 5 repeats at a particular loci and you may have 8 ) and by looking at many different loci scientists create a kind of profile or human bar code that is unique to each individual. This technique is also used to determine parentage because you inherit half of your unique barcode from your mother and half from your father.
The problem comes from the fact that most DNA from a crime scene is not perfect. It can be degraded or mixed with DNA from other individuals. Sometimes labs can only match 9 loci to the DNA found at a crime scene.
Scientists are starting to question this assumption that 10-13 loci are enough to rule out the possibility of a random match to DNA other than the suspect. In other words, if 10-13 loci are not enough to make a definitive barcode, then a 10-13 loci DNA profile can actually match more than one individual. According New Scientist, a recent look into the possibility of random matches produced some serious results:
The first clue that something might be amiss came in 2005, when limited data was released from the Arizona state database, a small part of CODIS. An analyst who compared every profile with every other profile in the database found that, of 65,493 profiles, 122 pairs of profiles matched at nine out of 13 loci and 20 pairs matched at 10 loci, while one pair matched at 11 loci and one more pair matched at 12 loci. "It surprised a lot of people," says signatory Bill Thompson of UCI. "It had been common for experts to testify that a nine-locus match is tantamount to a unique identification."So in a sample of 65,000 profiles, 122 profiles matched at 9 loci, 20 profiles matched at 10 loci, and 1 profile matched at both 11 and 12 loci. According to Bill Thompson, experts have testified that 9 loci is enough for a unique profile. This comparison calls into question the assumption that 9-13 loci are enough to definitively match a suspect's DNA to that found at a crime scene.
And the more people law enforcement adds to this database, the more likely a false positive will result. Taking the DNA of arrestees does indeed "dilute the databases and weakens their power."
This ruling also makes the assumption that if you are innocent when arrested you have nothing to worry about. It assumes that forensic labs never make mistakes or never perpetrate fraud. Unfortunately that is not the case. Just last year a scientist in the Department of Public Health Lab in Massachusetts admitted to falsifying data in thousands of cases. The Scientist reported:
The results from roughly 34,000 criminal drug cases were put into question earlier this year, when forensic chemist Annie Dookhan at the shuttered Department of Public Health Lab in Massachusetts was discovered to have falsified records on samples she was assigned to process. Instead, she forged signatures and did not perform tests she recorded as complete, according to investigations. Suspicions may have first arisen due to her impressive output—she claimed to have processed 9,000 samples in a year, whereas colleagues only averaged around 3,000. As a result of her actions, a number of defendants may have been wrongly imprisoned, while others who may have been rightly accused were freed.Scientists are people too. We make mistakes and sometimes we commit fraud to further our careers. The power of DNA testing for forensics should be limited. DNA databases should consist of samples from those convicted of crimes not clogged with samples from anyone who has ever been arrested. The chances for misuse are just too great. Besides the 4th Amendment is supposed to protect us from "unreasonable searches and seizures." I think taking DNA from those not yet convicted of a crime qualifies.
Monday, June 3. 2013
I think writing is hard. I was a chemistry major not an English major. And the niche I made for myself (or maybe a ditch I dug for myself) in the blogging world commenting on the latest in biotechnology from a Catholic perspective is not an easy one. My ditch is frequently flooded with sewage. I made my bed. There are days I hate lying in it. (It maybe that I am particularly frazzled right now because of the end-of-the-school year frenzy that happens every June. All you parents know exactly what I am talking about. It is a yearly occurrence, but somehow I am always caught unprepared.)
There are things that readers can do to make writing more of a pleasant experience for me. I am sure other writers feel the same. Here are four favors that readers can do that would make blogging a little less frustrating.
1. Please don't just read the headlines.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Friday, May 31. 2013
Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD) has reintroduced a true ban on human cloning to the U.S. Congress. H.R. 2164, Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2012, would ban human cloning all over the U.S. This is actually a remarkable bill. Why? Because most other “bans on human cloning” do nothing of the sort.
I have always told my readers to beware of bans on human cloning. A lot of legislation that claims to ban human cloning does not actually ban human cloning. These laws just redefine cloning so that the cloning of human embryos for research can continue.
Somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT is the scientific name for cloning. With SCNT, scientists create cloned embryos using a cell like a skin cell and an egg. SCNT was the process used to create Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned using an adult mammary cell.
SCNT is cloning, but if you read the fine print of many a law that says it “bans human cloning” often SCNT in humans is NOT banned. Instead these phony bans allow researchers to continue using SCNT to clone as many embryos as they want. The phony “ban on human cloning” then just prohibits the transfer of those cloned embryos to a woman. The cloning of human embryos is still allowed; it is the attempt at pregnancy that is banned. These phony cloning bans are especially insidious because they require the destruction of the human embryos created with SCNT.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Wednesday, May 29. 2013
The scientific community seems to me to be obsessed with cloning. Even with induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology making cloning embryos for stem cell harvesting look like taking the long way around, they still are pursuing somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) the scientific name for cloning.
The announcement that a team in Oregon had successfully created embryos with SCNT (with eggs "donated" from young cash-stripped co-eds) and had extracted stem cells from these embryos (destroying them in the process) was news all over the world.
The findings were published in the journal Cell with unprecedented speed: accepted in 3 days, published in 12. As if it was the breakthrough everyone had been waiting for and Cell was going to speed up the normal review process to let the world know about it. Even though patient-specific pluripotent stem cells had already been created a hundred times over with iPSC technology, cloning had now arrived and the data just couldn't wait. How very nonobjective.
Now it seems some minor errors have been found, highlighting the crazy rush to publish. From Nature:
How fast is too fast for review of a scientific article? And who has the responsibility to ensure accuracy? Errors found in a widely acclaimed cloning study have rekindled those questions — and sent the lead author and the journal that published it scrambling to assure the world that the problems did not compromise the findings.No one is claiming that the cloning was fraudulent as it was in the case of Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk of South Korea, but this certainly does feel like deja-vu.
Cloning seems to bring the frenzy. I really don't think if it was just about stem cells that would be the case. I think the fact that these scientists created cloned embryos that grew long enough to extract stem cells (and may have continued to develop if they had not been destroyed) is the real news. That is what is truly garnering all the attention and is the reason why Cell rushed the paper.
It is time to realize that cloning is not about stem cells. It has always been an incremental push to reproductive cloning. A fact that has not gone noticed before. "Experts" in this Wired News article have called it "inevitable" as did George W. Bush who understood the implications of cloning embryos for research. In 2002, he said:
"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."I think that is the plan, Mr. President. I think that is the plan.
Wednesday, May 22. 2013
In manufacturing, quality control (QC) is very important. A manufacturer always wants to put out the best product and eliminate defective merchandise.
The same is true of IVF. With as many as 30 embryos created for every live birth, doctors are always on the look out for ways to separate the robust embryos from the "defective" ones to improve their success rates. Previously this was achieved by preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD.) In PGD, a single cell is removed from the days old embryo and tested for genetic anomalies. The ones that pass the test get a chance at being transferred to their mother's womb. The others...well they are defective so no need to mention what happens to them, right?
PGD is expensive and invasive to the embryo, so an IVF clinic in Britain has developed a new way to QC embryos: time-lapsed photography. Those embryos that reach a certain stage slower than their counterparts are deemed "high risk."
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Tuesday, May 21. 2013
I don't think I could have found anything less "scientific" from a website called "ScienceAlert." A group in Australia has taken up the challenge of reforming the laws regarding "left-over" IVF embryos there. Currently, many embryos are destroyed every year because of mandatory storage limits.
This group began the "Enhancing Reproductive Opportunity Research Project" to address the concerns of women over the destruction of their embryos mandated by law.
It sounds like a good idea. From ScienceAlert:
We found that current IVF rules on issues such as storage limits and destruction practices are intrusive and disrespectful. Mandatory time limits in some states compel destruction of stored embryos after ten years, for instance, while rules in other states prevent a surviving partner from deciding on the use or donation of embryos.So what did this group decide after surveying 400 couples in over 20 clinics across Australia? This:
We don’t believe that embryos should be granted a moral or legal significance in and of themselves as distinct entities. Rather, their value is relational – embryos matter because of what they mean to those for whom they were generated. This meaning is intensely personal, and infinitely variable.What? Embryos only matter because of how their parents feel about them? Their moral status is "infinitely variable?" What drivel!
I thought to myself who came up with this most nonobjective analysis of the moral and legal status of the human embryo? It looks to be a group of highly-educated women. I should have been tipped off when ScienceAlert reported that this was a "feminist-oriented approach." I wonder how this group would take to someone asserting that their worth was only defined by the value that men gave them.
Frankly, I feel insulted by this conclusion. Could a group of women with a feminist approach not come up with something with more objectivity and clarity? Is this not simply playing into the stereotype of women making decisions on feelings instead of reason? I know plenty of smart women who could come up with something more substantial and less capricious.
I suppose this is a symptom of the illness of our times. We live in a world where the unborn have no worth unless their parents "feel" that they do. It is true that in our arguably uncivilized society, the unborn's value is "relational."
We need to be reminded that we are not talking about human beings in the abstract, but real human organisms that just happen to be our own offspring. How disconnected have we become that we can call the value of our own children "infinitely variable?"
Friday, May 17. 2013
This is so incredibly sad for so many reasons. There is really nothing else to say. (I have already expressed my concerns about uterine transplants here.) From the UK's Daily Mail:
A woman who was the first to have a successful womb transplant from a dead donor has had her pregnancy terminated after the embryo showed no heartbeat, doctors in Turkey have said.
I mourn the loss of this little one. Eternal rest grant unto him or her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him or her. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
Wednesday, May 15. 2013
Once induced pluripotent stem cells hit the scene, human cloning slowly faded away. Why clone embryos with human eggs (exploiting women in the process) to get "patient-specific" embryonic stem cells when you can just take an adult cell and reprogram it back to an embryonic-like state? No eggs, no cloning, no creating and destroying embryos.
But I knew cloning was just hiding in the shadows waiting to resurface. Scientists are still trying to achieve this "holy grail" of human biology: the creation of human clones. Ones that will generate embryonic stem cells.
A team of scientists, including a fertility specialist (meaning IVF doc) from Japan, has done it. Not in some underground lab in China, but in the good old USA. Oregon to be exact. Nature has the story:
A paper published this week by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive biology specialist at the Oregon Health and Science University in Beaverton, and his colleagues is sure to rekindle that debate. Mitalipov and his team have finally created patient-specific ESCs through cloning, and they are keen to prove that the technology is worth pursuing....Let us be clear where Nature is not. These researchers did not create "cells" they created embryos which where then destroyed for embryonic stem cells.
Nature also says these cells are "perfectly matched" to the person who donated the adult cell that provided the nucleus for the somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT. (For a refresher on SCNT click here.) Embryonic stem cells from a cloned embryos cannot be "perfectly matched" because there is DNA leftover from the woman who donated the egg. (The only way the ESCs created would be "perfectly matched" is if a young woman provided the eggs to create her own clone.)
Speaking of young women, did you noticed where the supply of eggs needed for these experiments came from? Young, cash-strapped, college students enticed by the $3,000-7,000 compensation. I wonder how many of these young women experienced complications from their "donation." I wonder of any will lose their own fertility as some egg donors have.
I wonder also why, with iPSC technology, anyone is even pursuing SCNT anymore. I am not alone:
Still, Daley and most other stem-cell researchers have shifted to another method for creating genetically matched, patient-specific cell lines: reprogramming adult cells to an embryonic state to produce induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. First reported in 2006, the technique does not involve eggs, cloning or destruction of embryos. “Honestly, the most surprising thing [about this paper] is that somebody is still doing human [SCNT] in the era of iPS cells,” says Miodrag Stojkovic, who studies iPS cells for regenerative medicine and runs a fertility clinic in Leskovac, Serbia.Actually, I don't wonder. I have always thought that stem cells were a red herring. I see the end game to be reproductive cloning, or cloning-to-produce children.
Nature reports that Tachibana will publish why reproductive cloning is not possible. I would love to see that. Until today it seemed cloning for research was also "impossible." Unless the United States gets some federal legislation that bans SCNT in humans, we might just find out if reproductive cloning is in fact impossible or not.
Tuesday, May 14. 2013
A new bill introduced into the California legislature would lift the ban on paying women for their eggs
AB 926, the Reproductive Health and Research Bill, says that to encourage reproductive health and research in the state, women need to be compensated for “donating” their eggs, a hot commodity in the embryonic stem cell research and infertility arenas....
So why would California want more women to go through such a process just for research purposes? AB 926 gives a list of research that would benefit from having more human eggs, which includes reducing the high volume of multiple pregnancies in IVF. But there is some very disturbing verbiage in AB 926 including the assertion that research will benefit from the intentional creation of excess embryos.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Wednesday, May 8. 2013
Aussie boy: "Hey Ma, where are we going on vacation this year?"
Aussie mom: "We are doing something very special. We are going to circumvent the laws of our country and we are going to travel all the way to Thailand, stay in a fancy hotel for a week, and buy you a little sister!"
Aussie boy: "Good onya, Ma!"
If you are an Aussie couple dying to have a girl or boy, forget about the ban on sex-selective IVF and let Global Health Travel of Australia set it all up for you! Airfare, luxury accommodations and the child of your choice.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Monday, May 6. 2013
A very interesting discussion with Chelsea on the Church and biotechnology and how the Church is far more "forward" than the rest of society where we conclude that "It is not time for the Church to catch up to us. It is time for us to catch up with the Church."
Friday, May 3. 2013
Themes of how we will relate to each other when we live in Ray Kurzweil's singularity and are no longer oragnic, just disembodied consciousnesses uploaded to the digital world, have made it to Broadway. Well off, off Broadway at least. Broadway World reports on "Love Machine":
What do a small town girl flirting with a satellite, a robot giving a lecture about transhumanism, and a man uploading his consciousness into the digital ether all have in common? Love. Love Machine is created to reflect the current trend of the way humans have come to rely on technology. Below, BroadwayWorld has a first look at the piece, debuting at Incubator Arts Project on May 10!That should be really interesting. I wonder how to theatrically portray a disembodied consciousness and whether the audience will have any idea of what they are viewing.
No matter. Transhumanist ideas are here to stay. Next it will be a blockbuster musical-comedy about wayward artificial limbs and dreams of becoming re-embodied. I can see the headline: "Transhumans Take Broadway By Storm!"
Have you talked with your kids about enhancements yet?
Wednesday, May 1. 2013
An adorable two year-old has a new lease on life thanks to pioneering doctors, a charitable Catholic hospital and her own stem cells. Little Hannah Warren was born without a trachea, the passageway that leads to the lungs. Although a tube was inserted from her esophagus to her lungs to help her breath, doctors told her parents that she would likely die.
Hannah is now recovering from a trachea transplant. The trachea was made from a plastic scaffold and stem cells taken from her bone marrow.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Tuesday, April 30. 2013
From the theoretical horrors of "In vitro eugenics," to the real horrors of Kermit Gosnell's abortuary and the bombings at the Boston Marathon, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the evil in the world. To fight this despair, I have been bringing to mind all of the good things that are in my life. This morning I saw this on Facebook from the Generation Life page:
Being wary of quote attributions on Facebook, I looked into these words of the Holy Father and found that the phrase (from Romans 12:21) was conveyed through a telegram from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, on behalf of Pope Francis, to Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, to give encouragement to the people of Boston.
Ruminating on this wisdom, I wondered how to combat great evil. Maybe with the crushing weight of all of the good. I suddenly felt compelled to write down that mental list I had been compiling of the all the good around me. The big stuff is easy: my marriage, my children, my faith, my extensive support group of homeschooling Catholic moms, the perspicacious commentary of the Archbold brothers.
But, I wanted to go a bit further and look for the little good things, ones that are everyday gifts that I often take for granted. Here is a list, in no particular order and certainly not exhaustive, of the little, everyday, good things in life that I am so very thankful for:
1. warm hug from a toddler in fuzzy footy pajamas
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Monday, April 29. 2013
A study done by Swedish researchers has shown that couples that choose to adopt after failed IVF reported being happier than even couples who conceived naturally. From the Telegraph:
But a new study has found that, for those who go on to adopt, the earlier heartbreak can ultimately make for a happier family.Of course this finding goes against the profit-seeking strategy of the IVF clinics that will keep taking a desperate couple's money for multiple failed attempts to get pregnant. I doubt the clinics will tell couples that they could really happy if they would adopt. But the researchers think this knowledge should be conveyed at a much earlier stage. Co-author Professor Marie Berg:
"The results show that it can be important to consider adoption as soon as couples seek medical help for infertility, especially now that we know that adoption enhances quality of life.And some people are taking notice:
The researchers said it suggested that childless couples should be urged to consider adoption at a much earlier stage. It is a finding which boost the education secretary Michael Gove's drive to increase adoption rates in the UK.There is one giant elephant in the room though. How can adoption rates increase if we keep aborting millions of children every year? We don't often think of abortion as a driving force for couples to seek IVF, but with "unwanted" babies being aborted instead of given a chance at life with a loving couple, the heartbreak of being childless drive many to straight to the IVF clinic.
This study maybe an important finding for both women with "unwanted" pregnancies and infertile couples a like. Adoption does bring happiness.
Tuesday, April 23. 2013
Sometimes in science the best discoveries are those that are unexpected. Researchers in California were trying to get bone marrow stem cells to grow by introducing an antibodies to the cells. Instead the cells began to form neural cells. U.S. News & World Report has the story:
Scientists have discovered an antibody that can turn stem cells from a patient's bone marrow directly into brain cells, a potential breakthrough in the treatment of neurological diseases and injuries.Neural cells straight from your own bone marrow. Remarkable.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
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