Friday, October 4. 2013
I worry for young people these days. I know every generation says that about the one that follows, but today's youth may face a world where simply being human won't be good enough. Augmentation may be required to participate in society. A cyber-brain here, a bionic limb there with some genetic engineering and a few nanobots sprinkled in for good measure. Being without such tech integrated into their bodies may be a one-way ticket to second-class citizenship, maybe even slavery. Choosing to live as God created them could become a great sacrifice.
I have argued many times that once we must violate our bodily integrity with technology, not to get ahead, but to just keep up, that is the moment when we no longer are masters of our technology. That is the point where technology is our master. That is when we become slaves to the things we have created.
Ironically, the very technology that might enslave the human race is being sold today as the only thing that can liberate us. Case in point, this interview with "Elysium" and "District 9" director, Neill Blomkamp, where he is clear that, to level the playing field, we must genetically enhance. Blomkamp told The Guardian:
You'd literally have to change the human genome to stop wealth discrepancy.... The only way things will change is if we're smart enough to develop technology that can think us out of this, meaning augmenting ourselves genetically to be smart enough to change sh**.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report>>
Wednesday, October 2. 2013
I have said many times that we abandon the embryo at our own peril. Once we allow some human organisms to be ripped apart for their cells, then we all start to look more and more like harvestable biological material.
No where is this more apparent than in the debates about organ donation. Donating organs in the event of death used to be considered something that should be completely voluntary and without incentive. But because the demand for organ outweighs the supply, more and more we are hearing that organ donation should be "opt-out" instead of "opt-in" where doctors presume consent unless otherwise specified and family members have no say in the matter.
After all, you are a bag of organs that could be used better elsewhere.
Ted Rall, American columnist and cartoonist, goes one step further and says organ donation should be mandatory, no "opt-out" allowed, and the government should just take organs for those who need them. From "Mandatory Organ Donation":
On the other hand, it is estimated that 18 people die every day due to a national shortage of organ donations. This crisis can be solved.First of all, of those 2.5 million American deaths every year, only a very small percentage of those would be eligible for organ donation. A patient has to have suffered brain death where their brain is no longer functioning but, with the help of a ventilator to keep oxygen flowing, their heart is still pumping blood keeping their other organs intact.
Does anyone really want a bunch of government employees running around hospitals deciding who is brain dead as who is not?
Even doctors get this wrong. Just ask Caroline Burns who woke up on the operating table as doctors were about to harvest her organs. Or Sam Schmid, a 20 year-old college student who woke up from his coma after doctors declared him brain dead and were prepared to harvest his organs. Or Steven Thorpe, a British teenager that was declared brain dead by four specialists. His parents were approached about organ donation, but they were sure that there was still life left in Steven. They persisted and Steven was reevaluated. Two weeks later he woke from his coma.
How many others like Caroline, Sam or Steven have been misdiagnosed as "brain dead?"
How would Caroline, or Sam, or Steven faired if the government had decided that their organs were better used by someone else? Would the cries of Steven parents have been heard? Or would the decision have ceased to be theirs?
That is the problem with making organ donation mandatory. The assumption really is that your organs are of better use somewhere else. Once brain death is "established" then you become a bag of harvestable biological material, a "hunk of flesh" according to Rall. You are no longer valuable other than for your parts. (Sounds like the plight of the embryo.)
And does anyone really trust the government to make those determinations?
I certainly don't.
Hat Tip: Deeps of Time
Tuesday, September 24. 2013
In the last year there has been a push in both the United Kingdom and the United States for permission to create children with three genetic parents. This technique, often called mitochondrial replacement (MR), is presented as a simple switching out the mitochondria in the eggs of women with mitochondrial disease. We inherit all of our mitochondria from our mother, so a woman with mitochondrial disease cannot help but pass that onto her offspring.
In reality, the technique is far from simple. The nucleus of a donor egg is removed and replaced with the nucleus of the woman with mitochrondrial disease. This creates a genetically-engineered egg where the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in the cytoplasm of the egg is from the donor and the nuclear DNA, the chromosomes we all learned about in biology, is from the woman with the mitochondrial disease.
The embryos created with IVF using these genetically-engineered eggs have the nuclear DNA of a woman and a man, like all other embryos, but would also have the mitochondrial DNA of the woman who donated the egg. These children would have the genetic material from three individuals.
In addition, these genetically-engineered children, well at least the girls, could not help but pass this engineering onto their offspring. This is a modification that would affect generations.
In the UK, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust all came out in favor of pursuing the technique saying that because the chromosomes were unaltered, mitochondrial replacement was analogous to "replacing batteries in a camera" and would have no effect on other traits in the children.
Also, there are suggestions that sex selection be used in conjunction with MR. If all the female embryos are tossed out and only male three-parent embryos are transferred to the womb, then the modification will not be passed on to further generations because only women pass on their mitochondria. This is would be a fail-safe in case some defective mitochondria hitch a ride with the nucleus into the donor egg or something else goes wrong.
During all of this debate, I have wondered where is all the data to suggest that this technique is safe. There is a delicate balance of signals between mtDNA and nuclear DNA. Where is the evidence that replacing mtDNA has no ill effect? How can we even be discussing moving forward with this kind of human genetic engineering unless it has been shown to be safe in generations of animal studies? Where are those studies?
A recent paper in Science exposes the reality that there is little data on this technique and the data we do have suggests that MR is not just like "replacing batteries."
So far the only primates created with this technique are four macaques that have only reached 3 years of age. Other animal models show that in males, a mtDNA-nuclear DNA mismatch has some serious effects that may not be apparent until adulthood:
Studies on model organisms, ranging from mice to fruit flies, indicate that MR can profoundly change the expression profiles of nuclear genes and affect a range of important traits such as individual development, cognitive behavior, and key health parameters. These studies also suggest that males of reproductive age are particularly sensitive to MR-induced effects....So here is the reality: many are willing to move forward with this technique in humans when 1. there are no primates created with this technique that have reached adulthood or even had another generation and 2. it is clear that mtDNA does have an affect on the nuclear DNA and a mismatch between the two could have serious effects that may not be apparent until later in life.
This would be pure human experimentation with little or no regard for the people who are being experimented on.
So I ask: When will it be enough?
At what point will we stand and say, "No more unethical experimentation on the next generation!"
When will we turn to parents and say, "Sorry but your desire for a child does not trump the health and safety of that child."
When will we turn to academics in their Ivory Towers and ask them why they have such little regard for the health and well-being of future children?
I would say now is a good time.
Friday, September 20. 2013
Earlier this year, Dr. Robert Sparrow published a paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics entitled "In Vitro Eugenics." In it, Sparrow explores the possibility of creating generations of human beings in the laboratory.
He explains that the stem cells from embryos could be used to make egg and sperm cells, which, in turn, could create more embryos.
This would bring human reproduction into the laboratory not just for one generation, but for generation after generation. Sparrow explains that these embryos would be "orphaned at conception." They "would have no genetic parents: There would be no living individual … who could be described as the genetic progenitor of such embryos."
Sparrow calls this new possibility in human reproduction "in vitro eugenics."
While this sounds like something that could only happen in science fiction, producing egg and sperm from stem cells is now a reality. Scientists have already accomplished this in mice and are discussing doing the same in humans.
Why would anyone want to create multiple human generations in a laboratory?
Sparrow suggests it could become a "method to bring into existence children with a desired genotype."
Continue reading at the National Catholic Register >>
Wednesday, September 18. 2013
One of the modern zeitgeists that scares me the most is the growing love affair with eugenics among the elite. Whether the masses are aware of it or not, elite ideas trickle down and infect our subconscious. More and more dropping from Ivory Towers are notes that say, "Eugenics is good," and "The problem last time was the state," and "Personal choice is the key to success."
These days eugenics, which means "good birth" is being presented as a worthy endeavor as long as there is no coercion from government. Parental choice is paramount and we are told that if parents can choose what kind of child they want, what kind of child would be a "good birth", then the horrors that accompanied eugenics last time (i.e. millions exterminated as "unfit") will not repeat themselves.
The latest push for this view is a paper entitled "Eugenics and the ethics of selective reproduction" by two UK academics, Stephen Wilkinson and Eve Garrard. They discuss at length what eugenics is and what it isn't and they conclude that eugenics is simply "the attempt to improve the human gene pool." Then they conclude:
But even where selective reproduction is eugenic (which it sometimes is) it does not follow automatically from this that it’s wrong (despite the fact that many instances of eugenics historically have been morally abhorrent). For provided that the means used are ethically acceptable, and that people freely consent, it’s not clear that attempting to improve population health (‘the gene pool’) is a bad thing for us to be doing. On the contrary, it seems on the face of it to be a good thing – given the high value that most of us place on good health, and on preventing ourselves and our loved ones from acquiring diseases or impairments.Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
NeoStem, a New York adult stem cell company that has partnered with the Vatican to increase awareness about adult stem cells, has been awarded two grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue their work.
NeoStem works with what they call VSELs (Very Small Embryonic Like cells) which are adult cells found in the bone marrow that seem to be pluripotent, or able to become most or all of the cell types in the body.
One of the grants is to study the effect VSELs have on skin wounds in mice that mimic symptoms of scleroderma. Scleroderma is an auto immune disorder that attacks the skin and other organs making them harden. Over 300,000 Americans live with scleroderma.
Continue reading at LifeNews>>
Wednesday, August 28. 2013
School is upon us. With two now in high school, I am beyond swamped. Senior pictures, registration, try outs...oh my!
To focus on the coming year and get a good start, I will be taking a couple weeks off of blogging.
In the meantime, peruse this excellent article on the iPSC human trial starting in Japan. Yours truly is quoted throughout. From Catholic News Agency:
Quest for ethical stem cells prompts moral questionsContinue reading at CNA >>
Wednesday, August 21. 2013
Back in May I wrote a piece for LifeNews on H.R. 2164, Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2012. This proposed legislation would ban all somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) in humans. The point I wanted to make was that many times "cloning bans" do not actually ban the cloning of human embryos; they just ban the transfer of those cloned embryos to a womb for gestation. I highlighted that H.R. 2164 would actually ban all SCNT in humans for both reproductive and research purposes and urged pro-lifers to support it.
Dr. Dianne Irving at LifeIssues.net took me to task for that piece. She has some good points. Her issue with H.R. 2164 is that it only bans SCNT when there are other ways to produced humans asexually. (Asexually means reproduction without the union of sperm and egg producing a genetically identical organism.) Dr. Irving writes:
The Taylor article itself, as well as the proposed bill, define "human cloning" only in terms of one kind of human cloning technique -- somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) -- a form of cloning, by the way, that most researchers have long abandoned because of the scientific problems involved. Instead they have been and will continue to do research using dozens of other different kinds of cloning -- none of which will be banned by this bill, all of which can be used both for destructive research purposes as well as for reproductive purposes.She is right. There are many other ways to asexually produce human embryos besides SCNT.
In hindsight, I should have mentioned that the legislation proposed is incomplete and only a step in the right direction. I struggle with keeping posts informative without being overwhelming for the average reader. I truly just wanted to get readers to be aware of the fine print in cloning bills.
I saw the support of a ban on SCNT, even though it is not comprehensive, just like I do a ban on late term abortions, or abortions based on sex or gender. Such legislation is not ideal, but a step in the right direction. Once a ban on one type of asexual reproduction in humans is passed, I felt it would likely be easier to implement more. Not ideal of course, but progress.
In private correspondence, Dr. Irving responded that she holds this is not a case of incrementalism. To legally define human cloning as just SCNT is problematic. To which she wrote:
...to formally define "cloning" per se as only SCNT in a legal document is to create a legal loophole for other kinds of cloning to continue.She has an excellent point that I had not considered. Will legislation that legally defines human cloning as SCNT only give a green light to other types of human cloning? This is an important question to consider when reading and deciding on human cloning "bans."
So besides checking to see if a cloning ban only bans a transfer of cloned embryos for reproductive purposes, we should also look carefully at the procedures defined as cloning. Are they sufficient to gain our support?
Clearly, the best legislation would ban any and all means of asexual reproduction in humans. Short of that, a pro-lifer must decide whether to support a human cloning ban with a limited definition of human cloning or not because such legislation may cause more problems in the long run by allowing other forms of human cloning to continue.
Monday, August 19. 2013
Could it be that people are starting to notice that the fertility industry puts parental desire and profits above the health and well-being of children?
Looks that way in the United Kingdom. The Telegraph reports on a study to reduce regulation costs where the authors recommend that fertility clinics be required to report complications:
Safety drive to stop IVF clinics putting profit before embryosIf only the lawmakers in the United States were willing to look closely at our fertility clinics which remain the "wild west" of the fertility industry around the world. Only in the United States would cost-conscious couples be able to get cheaper embryos made in bulk.
I think if we took a very close look at what goes on in the fertility clinic we would be shocked and horrified by the full scale commodification of human life.
Tuesday, August 13. 2013
Just in case you haven't had enough of the "ethics" coming out of Oxford these days, here are more disturbing musings by Oxford ethicist, Rebecca Roache. You may remember Roache co-authored "Human Engineering and Climate Change" with Matthew Liao where they explore engineering humans to have cat eyes or to be smaller as a way to combat "climate change."
On the Practical Ethics blog in a post titled "Enhanced punishment: can technology make life sentences longer?," Roache laments the "laughably inadequate" sentence of 30 years in prison for Magdelena Luczak and Mariusz Krezolek. Luczak and Krezolek were convicted of murdering Luczak's 4 year-old son, Daniel. Daniel was beaten, starved and basically tortured before his death. These are terrible acts of evil that rightfully inspire anger in anyone who knows about the case.
Roache points out that Luczak and Krezolek will get what Daniel never did: humane treatment.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Monday, August 12. 2013
Autism researchers at the Autism Center of Excellence in San Diego have found a network of genes that they say signal a risk of autism. A blood test for this “genetic signature” for children as young as 1 year old is in development.
A GENETIC “signature” of autism in babies as young as 12 months has been identified for the first time, an international conference is to be told.Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Monday, August 5. 2013
Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Barnaby Jack uses a mannequin equipped with an insulin pump to show the vulnerabilities of wireless medical devices.
Barnaby Jack was a "good guy" using his hacker skills to expose risks in these critical medical devices. His work raises serious concerns about the ability to wirelessly control medical implants by "bad guys." Clearly medical device makers need to address these flaws in implants for the safety of patients who need them.
Barnaby's work got me thinking about transhumanism. In the case of pacemakers and insulin pumps, these devices are needed for medical reasons. But transhumanists want such devices for their otherwise healthy bodies. Neural implants, nanobots, cyber-brains, all integrated into our organic systems.
Why would someone voluntarily expose their healthy body to a cyber-attack? Is it naiveté that nothing bad will happen? Is it a trust in companies that their products will be "hack-proof?"
The truth is we can't trust software companies to create hack-proof software. I doubt any of the enhancement devices that transhumanists dream about will be any different. I ask, "Why put your bodily integrating at such risk?" If you have a medical need that is one thing, but just to be augmented? I don't get it.
Of course, Bryan Singer, has already addressed this scenario in a fictional format. Singer, creator of The Usual Suspects and the X-men movies, has made a digital series on transhumanism called H+.
In H+, a company provides an implant that connects the user's nervous system to computers and the Internet. Everything we love about technology, social media, music, sports, all accessible directly to our brain without any other device. This implant may even replace doctors. It seems to be a technological triumph until someone creates a virus that remotely kills everyone with the implant.
Here are the first 6 episodes:
Wednesday, July 31. 2013
One of my friends, who doesn't really follow the biotech scene, said to me one time, "When you tell me to worry about it, I will worry about it." I replied, "Worry. Now."
Human cloning is not coming. It is already here. It is time to stop pretending that this is a problem for our children and grandchildren. This is our issue to tackle.
In the latest episode of BioTalk, Chelsea and I discuss the realities of human cloning and what we can do to stop it.
Tuesday, July 30. 2013
You remember Julian Savulescu, the Oxford "ethicist" who is telling parents that we are morally obligated to choose the child among many "possible children" that is determined by genetic testing to have the "best life." He wants us all to use IVF, whether we are infertile or not apparently, to create a batch of embryos and choose the best of the bunch based simply on their genetics. I have discussed Savulescu's wrong-headed, scientifically-suspect notion of "procreative beneficence" already.
Of course, in our "right is wrong," "wrong is right," "wait...there is no such thing as wrong anymore" culture, Savulescu won't be outdone in his race to CrazyTown. Some other Oxford "ethicists" want to take it one step further. (I am telling you, something wicked this way comes...out of Oxford.) Thomas Douglas and Katrien Devolder argue that parents should consider not just choosing the child that has the possibility of the "best life," but also the one that will be genetically better for the rest of society. They call their principle "Procreative Altruism."
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Tuesday, July 23. 2013
This is big news in the stem cell arena. Scientists from China have reprogrammed adult mouse cells to a pluripotent state with a few chemicals. Previously, researchers used genes inserted into the cells by an engineered virus which raised concerns about the safety of the technique for use in treating patients. But now these small molecules can cross the cell membrane without the aid of a virus and can reprogram the cell without the insertion of genes. The Scientist has the details:
Scientists first developed the ability to reprogram somatic cells into pluripotent stem cells—cells that could give rise to any of the body’s cells types—in 2006. However, the technique has required the insertion of “master genes” that could increase the risk of mutations and cancer, limiting its potential clinical applications. A new study published Thursday (July 18) in Science demonstrates the creation of pluripotent stem cells in mice using a cocktail of small molecule compounds that can substitute for the potentially dangerous genes.So CiPSCs are an improvement over previous methods to induce pluripotency. The next step is to try the technique in human cells and see if it works.
This may also eliminate a pro-life objection to iPCs. While iPCs provided an important viable alternative to therapeutic cloning and other embryo destructive research to obtain pluripotent stem cells, the viruses used to induce pluripotency in previous research were grown in a cell line that came from an elective abortion performed in the 1970s. The fact that researchers have used this cell line morally tainted the very important breakthrough. If viruses are no longer needed and researchers did not use cell lines of illicit origin in their work, it is possible that particular moral stain on induced pluripotent stem cells can be eliminated.
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.
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