Tag Archives: stem cells cloning

Stem Cell Update II

Hot off the presses: a stem cell paper connected to the disgraced Hwang laboratory in South Korea has been just retracted for misleading use of  photos that were claimed to be of different stem cells, but were actually the same (doctored) photograph.

The NY Times had a good article a few months ago on spotting doctored photos; Adobe Photoshop is a very useful tool in laboratory work so you can zoom in on areas of interest or clear up some noise. Astronomers also alter the color scales so X-Ray photographs, for instance, correspond to our visible spectrum (you’ll see how some beautiful photos of astronomical objects are called "false color"–this is an example).

Alas, these powerful programs can also be used for cheating.

Stem Cell Update

Researchers in both the USA and Germany claim to have produced embryonic-like stem cells from testicular cells. The Germans published the results of their work on mice in Nature last week; the Americans claimed to have done similar things with human testes (ouch), but have not published in a peer-reviewed journal, but rather presented it at a conference. The group that did the work in America is also studying similar work on ovaries.

Presumably these cells can be entirely legitimate from a Catholic bioethical standpoint, provided that the germ cell (i.e., testicular or ovarian tissue) material is donated and procured in an ethical manner (which can get complicated, but we’ll leave that for another entry). The problem with embryonic research to date is that the process involves killing or harming human embryos, and perhaps involves involves cloning to boot. Since this embryonic-like cells are taken from adult donors, this intrinsic stumbling-block is removed.

In addition to avoiding that big ethical issue, this technique, if it works, would also avoid some serious technical barriers facing embryonic stem cells. If you give a patient stem cells derived from an embryo, you must either try to create a cloned embryo or else face the risk of tissue rejection. Human cloning has yet to done, now that Dr. Hwang was exposed as a fraud, and any therapy that involves such a concept faces quite a few issues with expense, technical validation, etc.

In other news, Geron Corporation, which holds the rights to the original human embryonic stem cell lines that Dr. Thompson derived at the University of Wisconsin Madison (thus sparking this whole debate) is preparing to launch a clinical trial of human embryonic stell cells on human patients–and just to clarify, unlike the embryonic-like stem cells that I mentioned above, these ones are derived from destroyed human embryos. I believe that this is the first such trial to happen in the USA in several years–in the last trial on Parkinsons Disease patients, the subjects’ symptoms got worse after getting the cells.

French Bishop Urges Vatican to Reopen Debate on Whether 1+1=2

Oh, wait, he just wants the Vatican to reconsider birth control. God save us from such an episcopate!

"Pope Paul VI banned contraception in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, arguing that sexual intercourse was meant for procreation and any artificial method to block a pregnancy went against the nature of the act."

"That encyclical prompted Catholics to leave the Church in droves and undercut papal authority. Many practicing Catholics now simply ignore the ban and some say it weakens the Church’s message on other moral issues such as abortion and bioethics." 

Say what?!? First of all, Pope Paul VI didn’t pull that ban out of thin air. The Church has always forbid contraception. The point of almost every papal encyclical, just like councils, is to clarify an eternal truth in modern terms. Paul VI only reiterated what the Church was already teaching to a generation itching for sexual license (among other stupid things). Secondly, the people who left the Church over this issue were never faithful Catholics in the first place. I mean, that’s a pretty flimsy excuse for leaving the guardian of the Deposit of Faith. Either you trust that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it or you don’t. Thirdly, if Humanae Vitae undercut papal authority, it’s only because the episcopate and the presbyterate failed miserably in their efforts (or lack thereof) to explain Catholic sexual ethics to their flocks, and continue to do so. Lastly, I’d very much like to know how the Catholic Church’s hestance on contraception weakens her message on abortion and bioethics. It’s all of a piece.

The primary ends of sexual congress are procreation and unification. To block conception is to interfere with both of those ends. Contraceptives, particularly barrier methods, interfere with complete self-giving (an element of unity). They also interfere with the natural product of intercourse, a child. Furthermore, all human life is precious and deserving of respect. Abortion, like contraception, treats conception as an undesireable side effect of a primarily pleasure-oriented act. It also murders children, the true primary product of what should be a love-oriented act. Likewise, embryonic stem cell research murders unborn children and justifies that act by redefining the beginning of human life to some unspecified time beyond conception. It also seperates the creation of humans from the natural procreative act, treating them not as children to be protected and loved, but as raw material to be consumed. Incidentally, these reasons are similar to those for why the Church opposes artificial means of conception, such as IVF. Abortion and ESCR both result from a contraceptive mentality. Denying that sex should be a life-giving activity allows one to justify both the destruction of life if it interferes with pleasure and the production and consumption of life for one’s own purposes.

This Reuters article is very much wrong in its protrayal of Catholic sexual ethics, and reproducing it without commentary or caveat was an irresponsible choice on the part of the editors at CathNews.

(For similar thoughts, head to  Pro Ecclesia * Pro Familia * Pro Civitate)

The Public’s Role in Regulating Scientists

I have had this entry brewing in me for a while, but a comment in a recent post helped me sit down and actually write it down.

G.K. Chesterton has a real talent for summarizing in a single quip something that bugs me but which I could never express as felicitously as the “Apostle of Common Sense”.

Specifically, there is the assertion that layfolk ought to let scientists create their own restrictions on research, and to do otherwise would lead to a new Dark Age, our country’s falling behind other nations like the South Koreans, etc. I just had the pleasure of reading Chesterton’s Eugenics and Other Evils – while biology has advanced quite a bit since ol’ Gilbert’s day, the basic bigotry and attitudes behind scientism and eugenics is the same. Perhaps we use fancier terms, but “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

From Chapter 4, “The Lunatic and the Law”:

“In short, unless pilots are permitted to ram ships on to the rocks and then say that Heaven is the only true harbour; unless judges are allowed to let murderers loose, and explain afterward that the murder did more good on the whole; unless soldiers are allowed to lose battles and then point out that the true glory is to be found in the valley of humiliation; unless cashiers are to rob a bank in order to give it an advertisement; or dentists to torture people to give them a contrast to their comforts [Jerry’s note: thank you, but no, dental visits are painful enough, and that’s even before I see the bill.]; unless we are prepared to let loose all these private fancies against the public and accepted meaning of life or safety or prosperity or pleasure–then it is as plain as Punch’s nose that no scientific man [Jerry’s addition: or any other class or profession] must be allowed to meddle with the public definition of madness. We call him in to tell us where it is or when it is. We could not do so, if we had not settled what is is.”

Now this of course is specifically about whether physicians could alone arbitrate what insanity is without any public feedback, but it does illustrate the general fallacy of handing over one’s judgment to a specific profession. At the turn of the 20th Century, Scientism was trendy, and folks were being tempted to hand over their judgment to the scientists who knew best. We are likewise seeing some pressure, not always from scientists, but from their very zealous lay defenders.

If you are very comfortable with delegating all issues of health, illness and well-being to physicians, then consider these other propositions:

  1. Oil exploration is a complicated technical process, and since we of the unwashed masses generally don’t have advanced degrees in chemical engineering or geology, we should let oil companies decide what our policies on exploration and resource extraction.
  2. Modern day retailing and marketing is complicated, so let us permit leaders in the field like Target and Wal-Mart guide us on federally regulating commerce and consumer protection.

But even if you are happy with letting the fox to decide what to do with the chicken coop, so to speak, there is the issue of defining what is a professional consensus. Let’s say that we let the biologists decide what to do with embryos. But who decides, precisely? Not all biomedical scientist agree on this issue (including a couple grad students who contribute to this blog…); do we need a majority, or a supermajority? And which scientific organizations should be consulted? (And if they say something you don’t agree with, or change their minds, will you assent to it? It’s fine and good when they’re on the same page as you, but it’s like any other vote, sometimes the votes don’t go your way).

The ugly fact is that you cannot let people run riot without public feedback and regulation. Walmart will play dirty if you don’t discipline them. Drillers and miners will destroy public treasures in order to get at profitable natural resources. Some researchers will defraud the public about cloning and other important research, like cancer or stem cells, if the stakes and pressures are sufficiently high to tempt them. A republic–heck any government that wants to last a fiscal year–needs forms of oversight and the means to enforce them.

A good article summing up this troubled priesthood we call the scientific community can be found at the SF Chronicle, that bastion of fundamentalist Luddite sentiment (HT: Amy Welborn).

Know Thy Enemy

"Know thy enemy and know thyself, find naught in fear for 100 battles. Know thyself but not thy enemy, find level of loss and victory. Know thy enemy but not thyself, wallow in defeat every time." – Sun-Tzu

Pittsburgh pro-lifers have an opportunity to not only know their enemy, but also to inform him of his foolishness.

You Are Invited!

Join Dan Frankel and the Hadassah Greater Pittsburgh Chapter for "Stem Cell Advocacy: Education and Action"

Time: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Date: Sunday, Feb. 12
Place: Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh
Levinson Hall, Squirrel Hill
Registration Cost: $5

  • Learn about the latest developments in stem cell research from Dr. Alan Russell
  • Understand how stem cell research can impact Pittsburgh’s economy
  • Hear about pending state legislation
  • Become an advocate and gain community organizing skills
  • You CAN make a difference in educating your neighbors and getting good laws passed.

With state and national developments in research and regulations, stem cell advocacy is becoming much more significant – this is your chance to learn more about this important issue!

To register, contact Hadassah as soon as possible. Send a $5 check (payable to Hadassah) to the Hadassah office at 1824 Murray Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15217. Please be sure to include your name, address, phone number and e-mail address.

Advance registration is required. Hope to see you there!

Representative Frankel is misleading when he uses "stem cells" in such a vague manner. He is an advocate of embryonic stem cell research, which is not only unethical and immoral, but also a waste of taxpayer money. It’s cured no diseases and is unlikely to cure any in the near future. If any folks go to this meeting, let me know how it goes. I’d love to go and present the facts to Mr. Frankel myself, but I may have other obligations to attend to.