T Nation

Science, Pro Lifers & Stem Cells

Very interesting post - the “liberals are pro-science, conservatives areanti-science” trope as a generality is a canard.

http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=904 (internal links omitted)

[i]Embryonic Stem Cells and Those Pro-Science Pro-Lifers

By Joseph Bottum
Tuesday, November 20, 2007, 7:22 AM

If the news of major breakthroughs in cell research should turn out to be correct, we are about to witness something like victory in the fight over embryonic stem cells.

And that will open a nest of interesting questions, beginning with this one: All those editorialists and columnists who have, over the past ten years, howled and howled about Luddites and religious fanatics thwarting science and frustrating medicine�??were they really interested in technology and health, or were they just using all that as a handy stick with which to whack their political opponents?

The news actually broke this summer, when Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka announced that he had found a technique to transform cultured mouse skin cells into cells nearly identical to embryonic stem cells. As Nature magazine, pointed out, if something similar works in humans, a simple skin biopsy could be used to create embryonic stem cell equivalents “without using embryos or even eggs.”

But the topic has bubbled up again with the report from the Daily Telegraph that Ian Wilmut, the cloner of Dolly the sheep and the world’s most famous biological researcher, is abandoning cloning. Instead, he’s chosen to follow Yamanaka’s lead: “a way,” as the Telegraph explained, “to create human embryo stem cells without the need for human eggs, which are in extremely short supply, and without the need to create and destroy human cloned embryos, which is bitterly opposed by the prolife movement.”

Yamanaka’s research has received at least one confirmation from an American team, and though the technical details of his “de-differentiation” method are not yet completely clear, the first reports are very promising.

Certainly more promising than cloning. A report in Nature last week�??much-ballyhooed by the press�??announced the confirmation by an Australian team of the successful cloning of monkey embryos for the creation of embryonic stem cells. But the reported success rate was just 0.07 percent, and the Japanese technique for de-differentiating fully formed adult cells back down to embryonic stem cells has already shown itself to work at a much, much higher rate.

In other words, scientists may now be able to have the embryonic stem cells weve been told they need for research�??without creating and destroying embryos to get them. If so, the argument is over.

Or, maybe, the argument is just beginning, for this news turns on its head everything in what the nation’s newspapers have delivered to us as a story of blinkered pro-lifers vs. courageous scientists.

The people who turn out actually to have believed in the power of science are the pro-lifers�??the ones who said that a moral roadblock is not, in point of fact, an outrageous hindrance, for scientists will always find another, less-objectionable way to achieve their goals. President Bush’s refusal of federal funding for new embryonic stem cell lines didn�??t halt major stem-cell advances, any more than the prohibition against life-threatening research on human subjects, such as the infamous Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, stopped the advance of medical treatments.

For those who attacked the pro-lifers in the name of science, however, things look a little different. As Maureen L. Condic explained to First Things readers this year in her careful survey, “What We Know About Embryonic Stem Cells,” the promises of medical breakthroughs were massively overblown by the media.

But there were reasons for all the hype. I have long suspected that science, in the context of the editorial page of the New York Times, was simply a stalking-horse for something else. In fact, for two something-elses: a chance to discredit America’s religious believers and an opportunity to put yet another hedge around the legalization of abortion. After all, if our very health depends on the death of embryos, and we live in a culture that routinely destroys early human life in the laboratory, no grounds could exist for objecting to abortion.

With these purposes now severed by the Japanese de-differentiation technique, which way will it break?

The answer is, quite possibly, toward a rejection of science by the mainstream press. Since the 1960s, abortion has skewed American politics in strange and unnatural ways, and the cloning debates are no exception. This morning in the New York Times, John Tierney has a long article called “Are Scientists Playing God? It Depends on Your Religion.” It’s a little unfortunately timed, given the news from England about Wilmut’s change of heart, but the theme is that American Christians and European post-Christians are unlike the Chinese, Koreans, and other Easterners with no history of opposition to science.

The whole idea seems more than a little peculiar, when one reflects on the birthplaces of modern science. And yet, Tierney sees something that is, from his perspective, genuinely hard to explain: the left in America and Europe supports destructive embryonic research, while it increasingly rejects genetically modified “Frankenfoods.”

Oh, he admits, there have been some “unlikely alliances.” As he notes, “When conservative intellectuals like Francis Fukuyama campaigned for Congress to ban embryo cloning, some environmental activists like Jeremy Rifkin joined them. A Green Party leader in Germany, Voker Beck, referred to cloned embryonic stem-cell research as ‘veiled cannibalism.’” But he can�??t quite see how his description of these alliances as “unlikely” undermines his thesis that there’s something philosophical that unites the Christian right with the post-Christian left, and makes them both different from the all-accepting Buddhist philosophies of the Far East.

Shake loose from the narrative of antiscience fundamentalists and pro-science liberals, however, and a different story starts to be visible. Abortion skewed the political discussion of all this, pinning the left to a defense of science it doesn’t actually hold. The more natural line is agitation against Frankenfoods and all genetic modification, particularly given the environmentalism to which the campaign against global warming is tying the left.

Narratives about positions on public policy are like enormous steamships: It takes a long time to turn them around. But if the news of stem-cell breakthroughs prove accurate, we may well see over the next few years a gradual reversal in news stories and editorials. Watch for it, now that abortion is out of the equation: Much less hype about all the miracle cures that stem cells will bring us, more suspicion about the cancers and genetic pollution that may result, and just about the same amount of bashing of religious believers�??this time for their ignorant support of science.[/i]

These stem cells involve the use of a virus to insert genes. Which means at present they will only be usable for research, not for therapuetic use. Also the process activates genes that are related to cancer and some of the mice used is tests with the cells developed cancers.

So it might not be that big of a break though. But at least research can get a boost.

I think that testicular stem cells are probably more promising for actual therapuetic use.

Another interesting post on these same lines:

http://rossdouthat.theatlantic.com/archives/2007/11/stem_cells_race_and_the_future.php

EXCERPT:

The stem cell news comes, interestingly, just as Will Saletan bravely attempts a summary of the emerging scientific consensus on racial differences in intelligence, another issue where the left doesn’t much care for science has to say. You could see this dovetailing with Jody’s point, and presaging a realignment in the Science Wars, away from the Bush-era debates and toward a landscape in which the mass media becomes consistently skeptical about scientific research on issues related to race and genetic engineering. But I’m not so sure. Among real lefties, maybe so, but the people who really pushed the “killing embryos will save your grandparents” narrative forward weren’t the types who usually crusade against frankenfood; they were moderate liberals, politicians and pundits alike, who saw an opportunity to tap into the talismanic power of “Science” to drive a wedge into the GOP coalition. And no matter what comes of the stem-cell debate, that talismanic power isn’t going anywhere - not in Western modernity, not by a long shot.

You’re getting your science news from “The journal of religion, culture and public life” and political/religious blogs?

Is this supposed to be a serious thread, or are you starting a new “Joke du jour” thread?

Thanks for the laugh anyway…

[quote]pookie wrote:
You’re getting your science news from “The journal of religion, culture and public life” and political/religious blogs?

Is this supposed to be a serious thread, or are you starting a new “Joke du jour” thread?

Thanks for the laugh anyway…
[/quote]

Front page in todays local paper. And it sure as hell ain’t a conservative paper.

[quote]The Mage wrote:
pookie wrote:
You’re getting your science news from “The journal of religion, culture and public life” and political/religious blogs?

Is this supposed to be a serious thread, or are you starting a new “Joke du jour” thread?

Thanks for the laugh anyway…

Front page in todays local paper. And it sure as hell ain’t a conservative paper.[/quote]

Will you be posting the rest of your post later? The part that actually makes a point is usually considered the most important one.

[quote]pookie wrote:
You’re getting your science news from “The journal of religion, culture and public life” and political/religious blogs?

Is this supposed to be a serious thread, or are you starting a new “Joke du jour” thread?

Thanks for the laugh anyway…
[/quote]

The genesis of thread was a comment on the news - the second post was a comment on the news and on the first post - the news story on the skin generated stem cells is all over - I’m sure you could find it.

For Pookie:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119556606750999184.html

[i]Advance in Stem-Cell Work
Avoids Destroying Embryos
By GAUTAM NAIK
November 21, 2007; Page A1

The promise of using stem cells to treat disease has moved a tantalizing step closer to reality, without the ethical shackles that have long hindered its progress.

In a compelling scientific feat, independent teams of researchers in Japan and the U.S. have created human embryonic stem cells without destroying any human embryos. Scientists said they “reprogrammed” mature human cells and returned them to a primordial, embryonic-like state in a laboratory dish.

The hope is to someday convert those cells into fresh heart, nerve or other tissue and transplant it into a patient to treat diabetes, Parkinson’s disease or other ailments.

Because the transplanted tissue would be derived from the patient’s own mature cells, it would share the same genetic makeup and wouldn’t be rejected by the immune system.

Previously, master stem cells that can turn into all other tissue types could only be obtained from embryos, in a process that destroyed them. Moreover, to provide freshly created tissue that wouldn’t be rejected by a patient’s body if implanted, the embryo had to be cloned from the patient. The new method would make both cloning and embryo destruction unnecessary.

“This is going to be the way forward,” predicted Sir Martin Evans, a British stem-cell pioneer who shared this year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine. “We’ve all been waiting for this.”

Although practical medical applications are years away, the findings are likely to spark a wave of similar experiments by other researchers that could propel the science forward.

The studies have already reignited a debate in Washington about funding of human embryo research, a subject sure to be an issue in the presidential contest. They are likely to bolster the cause of those who oppose embryo research, yet accelerate the pace of stem-cell research as scientists rush to build on the new approach.

Since mid-2001, the Bush administration has decreed that federal funds may be used for research using only 60 or so stem-cell lines obtained from human embryos, lines that existed at that time. Many Bush supporters, especially on the religious right, would like that constraint to remain, and possibly be tightened. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas and vociferous opponent of human embryo research, said the new experiments “identify a more promising embryonic-type stem-cell research method that also meets the ethical bar.”

Others saw it differently. “We applaud the breakthrough today but think it’s one of many approaches that should be explored,” said Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado. She is the chief architect of legislation to expand federal funding for stem-cell research – legislation twice passed and twice vetoed by Mr. Bush. Several states have moved to pay for stem-cell research themselves. California has pledged $3 billion over a decade.

One of the new studies, published in the journal Cell, was led by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, a pioneer in the reprogramming field. A second was published in Science by researchers at the laboratory of James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, who isolated the first human stem-cell line in 1998. Cell and Science are peer-reviewed journals.

In both cases, scientists inserted several genes into mature human cells. For reasons no one can yet fully explain, doing so reset the molecular clock – turning mature cells into embryonic-like cells. Even among researchers, the result has a touch of science fiction. “You have this extremely strong arrow of time, and it’s going completely backwards,” said Dr. Thomson.

The two teams separately showed that the embryonic-like stem cells they had created could also become heart, nerve and other human tissue.

A key step, not yet taken, would be to use freshly derived tissues to treat diseases in large mammals, such as monkeys, before attempting this in humans.

There are plenty of hurdles. To ferry the genes into the cells, both teams had to use dangerous viruses as a transport mechanism. Unfortunately, the DNA of those viruses can get incorporated into the genetic structure of the cells, potentially causing cancer or other unwanted side effects. Dr. Yamanaka and others are now racing to find a benign virus that won’t trigger those problems.

Before this research, many stem-cell scientists were mainly focused on the cloning technique that was used to create Dolly the sheep in 1996. Back then, a sheep’s egg was used to reprogram a mature sheep cell and return it to an embryonic state. However, the scientists didn’t harvest the cloned embryo for fresh tissue. Instead, it was taken to term, yielding Dolly.

Some researchers began to wonder whether they could avoid the use of both cloning and eggs and somehow reprogram a mature cell by introducing genes. In a breakthrough paper published in 2006, Dr. Yamanaka and a colleague showed how four specific genes could do exactly that in a mouse cell.

What they couldn’t do was implant the reprogrammed cells into other mouse embryos and have them accepted and incorporated into the mice that were later born – an important test to see whether the embryonic cells were really viable.

Then, this June, Dr. Yamanaka and two other research teams showed that they had surmounted this problem. Each team used the same four genes to reprogram a mouse cell and return it to its youthful, embryonic stage. When implanted into other mouse embryos, the cells produced healthy mice.

That result set off a global race among scientists seeking to replicate the mouse results with human cells. Almost nobody predicted that the human barrier would fall quite so quickly. “We were very surprised because human and mouse embryonic cells are very different,” said Dr. Yamanaka, who is also a senior investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco.

His discoveries have sparked a flurry of fresh research. Some scientists now are introducing different kinds of genes, in the hope of improving the reprogramming process. Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, says his colleagues want to see if they can pull off the same trick by using chemicals instead of genes.

“You have to give Yamanaka enormous credit. Most people, including me, wouldn’t have thought about using this approach,” Dr. Melton said.

Unlike cloning, “the wonderful thing about this approach is that it’s easy. You’re going to see lots and lots of labs give it a try,” predicts Robert Blelloch, a stem-cell biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who recently published his own reprogramming experiments based on Dr. Yamanaka’s breakthroughs.

Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly, has long been hoping to find a treatment for motor-neuron disease in people by using the same technology he used in his original sheep experiment. Now, he’s so impressed with the latest discoveries, he’s given up cloning in favor of the Yamanaka approach. “It seems we should all focus our efforts on reprogramming,” says Prof. Wilmut.

Cloning experiments still hold promise. Just last week, researchers in Oregon used the technique to create embryonic clones of monkeys. But such research on human cells is harder. Human eggs are in short supply, the technology is tricky and expensive, and funding isn’t easily available. A major scandal has hurt, too. In 2005, a Korean researcher published a study that appeared to show how he’d used the Dolly approach to create human embryonic clones. The claim turned out to be fraudulent.

By contrast, “any scientist with basic technology in molecular and cell biology can do reprogramming,” Dr. Yamanaka said.

Write to Gautam Naik at gautam.naik@wsj.com[/i]

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
All those editorialists and columnists who have, over the past ten years, howled and howled about Luddites and religious fanatics thwarting science and frustrating medicine�??were they really interested in technology and health, or were they just using all that as a handy stick with which to whack their political opponents?[/quote]

…is the kind of stupid comment I was addressing. No one is saying that the recent discovery is not news, or not newsworthy.

Most scientist actually working in the field contend that Bush’s policies have set the field back about 5 years.

Here, try getting your science news from people who actually do it for a living: http://tinyurl.com/2hl43m

Work your way through that, and pick up a clue or two while you’re at it.

So, commenting on what editorialists and columnists were saying over the past 10 years prompted this comment of yours:

[i]You’re getting your science news from “The journal of religion, culture and public life” and political/religious blogs?

Is this supposed to be a serious thread, or are you starting a new “Joke du jour” thread?

Thanks for the laugh anyway… [/i]

While, of course, the post was from the blog of an opinion journal.

So, the original post wasn’t “science news” but an opinion piece - kind of appropriate on an opinion forum. And no one was getting science news there. And the underlying story was science.

And who needs to get the clue?

[quote]pookie wrote:
You’re getting your science news from “The journal of religion, culture and public life” and political/religious blogs?

Is this supposed to be a serious thread, or are you starting a new “Joke du jour” thread?

Thanks for the laugh anyway…
[/quote]

So attacking the source is some sort of argument? Is there anything wrong with what was said? Or do you just prefer embryonic stem cells?
As far as I know they haven’t gotten embryonic stem cells to do shit anyway. It’s all potential, nothing actual. Other stem cells have actually been shown to be useful, embryonic stems cells have not.
Again, is there anything wrong with finding other ways to emulate the potential of embryonic stem cells with out destroying embryos?

[quote]pat36 wrote:
Again, is there anything wrong with finding other ways to emulate the potential of embryonic stem cells with out destroying embryos?[/quote]

Of course not. That was always a goal, from the very first time ESC research was done.

But that does nothing for your position. In fact, you need to reevaluate your views because now, we can take a cell, turn on 4 genes and bingo we have a cell that can potentially grow into a new organism, with it’s own heart, brain, etc.

If those cells are really equivalent to embryonic cells, then there’s no difference between one and the other. They’re either both suitable to use for research, or they’re both “ensouled” and represent equal potential for a sacred life.

[quote]pookie wrote:
pat36 wrote:
Again, is there anything wrong with finding other ways to emulate the potential of embryonic stem cells with out destroying embryos?

Of course not. That was always a goal, from the very first time ESC research was done.

But that does nothing for your position. In fact, you need to reevaluate your views because now, we can take a cell, turn on 4 genes and bingo we have a cell that can potentially grow into a new organism, with it’s own heart, brain, etc.

If those cells are really equivalent to embryonic cells, then there’s no difference between one and the other. They’re either both suitable to use for research, or they’re both “ensouled” and represent equal potential for a sacred life.

[/quote]

This may help understand the process (in mouse cells):
http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/357/15/1469

(Parenthetically, pluripotent stem cells have been developed from many tissues besides embryos. So this represents a small ethical change, but a big scientific achievement.)

As for “suitable for research…” Yes, I think.
As for suitable to grow for human use…No, I think.
And they are not equivalent to embryonic cells; they are re-programmed peripheral cells; it will take more research to demonstrate their epigenetic differences.

Why can’t or shouldn’t they be used for therapy? First, we cannot control these cells’ fate: we will not see synthetic livers on the web next Christmas. Second, call me a skeptic–no, wait, I already did that–but these cells have activated c-myc. Do I want one of the most powerful oncogenes inserted into foreign/self cells in my body? No, not until we know the downstream effects, and we can turn off these genes.

The ethical implications raised by Pookie and others are respected. Sometimes we use ethical arguments to undo technical choices. Sometimes, vice-versa.

[quote]pookie wrote:
pat36 wrote:
Again, is there anything wrong with finding other ways to emulate the potential of embryonic stem cells with out destroying embryos?

Of course not. That was always a goal, from the very first time ESC research was done.

But that does nothing for your position. In fact, you need to reevaluate your views because now, we can take a cell, turn on 4 genes and bingo we have a cell that can potentially grow into a new organism, with it’s own heart, brain, etc.

If those cells are really equivalent to embryonic cells, then there’s no difference between one and the other. They’re either both suitable to use for research, or they’re both “ensouled” and represent equal potential for a sacred life.

[/quote]

I didn’t state a position, but you do know well I am against stem cell research. I would argue though that the embryo is sacred not the cells that make it up. The problem is you have to destroy the embryo to get the cells. If that were not the case I wouldn’t be against it. Unless of course you believe in consciousness at a cellular level.

[quote]pat36 wrote:
I didn’t state a position, but you do know well I am against stem cell research. I would argue though that the embryo is sacred not the cells that make it up.[/quote]

At the early stages, when the embryo is comprised of a few dozens cells, there is nothing else but those components cells making up the embryo.

And while the science is not quite there yet, if we can make pluripotent stem cells from scratch, then nothing prevents their use to create a whole human being. You simple need a womb (until that can also be replaced artificially). Are you saying that humans created in one of those ways wouldn’t be “sacred”?

The problem is that those embryos are toast anyway. Using them for research at least ensures they’re not totally wasted. Not that it cares either way.

A lot of people make me doubt consciousness at the fully adult stage, so…

[quote]pookie wrote:

But that does nothing for your position. In fact, you need to reevaluate your views because now, we can take a cell, turn on 4 genes and bingo we have a cell that can potentially grow into a new organism, with it’s own heart, brain, etc.

If those cells are really equivalent to embryonic cells, then there’s no difference between one and the other. They’re either both suitable to use for research, or they’re both “ensouled” and represent equal potential for a sacred life.[/quote]

These people never had a problem with stem cells, just from where you get them.

A stem cell is not a fetus, nor vica-versa. Understand the science before you talk.

Stem cell research is important and the potential is great, but the benefits are overblown. You really needed stem cells from the person being treated anyway. The potential of rejection is too great.

[quote]The Mage wrote:

A stem cell is not a fetus, nor vica-versa. Understand the science before you talk.[/quote]

You should follow your own advice, because the exact point I’m making above is being discussed by molecular biologists on their blogs…

And never have fetuses been mentioned in the discussion. If you don’t even know the difference between a fetus and an embryo, you’re in a bad spot to lecture anyone about science.

[quote]pookie wrote:

Most scientist actually working in the field contend that Bush’s policies have set the field back about 5 years.[/quote]

This is very misleading and you know it. “Most” and “in the field” are ambiguous and “about 5 years” makes it sound like these people were nearing the end of their project timelines when in reality they have no idea how far away any given breakthrough actually is (and can’t know how far “Bush set it back”).

Most scientists felt Bush was equally or more “science friendly” than Kerry.

Bottom line, Bush made the right decision for the wrong reasons. The companies developing ESC technology are few and none have had any sort of “breakthrough” clinical success. More than one company has claimed they would be in the clinic with ESCs within the next year, many have been claiming it for more than a year. There are inherent disadvantages to ESCs that the proponents overlook (oncogenes being the least of them) or gloss over in favor of the “These cells can do anything!” sales approach that brings in $$$ from VCs and IPO underwriters and, ideally for them, taxpayers.

[quote]pookie wrote:

You should follow your own advice, because the exact point I’m making above is being discussed by molecular biologists on their blogs…

And never have fetuses been mentioned in the discussion. If you don’t even know the difference between a fetus and an embryo, you’re in a bad spot to lecture anyone about science.
[/quote]

Nanny nanny boo boo? Ok embryo. (Damn, all the arguments I didn’t make about semantics, but could have, and instead I kept my mouth shut.)

So let me restate that an embryo and a stem cell is not the same.

But you read a blog, and that makes you an expert. These blogs you are quoting are not scientific, but obviously political bitch sessions. Yes scientists do that too.

Just like this thread has been turned into your form of a Bush bitch session. Any excuse to attack Bush. Not paying attention to the fact that he did in fact fund research into stem cells, and his funding has actually lead to this discovery.

Fascinating how you can complain about a scientific advance.

[quote]The Mage wrote:

Just like this thread has been turned into your form of a Bush bitch session. Any excuse to attack Bush. Not paying attention to the fact that he did in fact fund research into stem cells, and his funding has actually lead to this discovery.[/quote]

The “stem cell debates” are always just Bush bitch sessions. Clinton signed the Dickey Amendment, Bush vetoed two bills changing the amendment, and congress ‘sat on their hands’. IMO, if you wanted to identify the source of the ‘problem’, you’d start with Clinton (possibly Dickey) and end with your local congressman for not overriding the veto.

But I guess Bush is in office now so we should blame him for using religion to adhere to the policy Clinton established.