Say What?

Filed in Politics, Science, Social IssuesTags: Clone The Truth, Cloning, Missouri, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

Among other things in this article on the one-year anniversary of Massachussetts' pro-embryonic stem cell (ESC) research legislation, I found this little gem [emphasis added]:

After years of honing his skills in Massachusetts, the 34-year-old stem cell researcher received an offer from a privately endowed research center in Kansas City.

There was only one hitch. In Missouri, Cowan said, he feared his type of research could land him behind bars. In contrast, he felt Massachusetts had put out a welcome mat.

Talk about sensationalism! "Land him in jail"? Really? Considering that none of the research being conducted in Massachussetts is illegal in Missouri, that fear is rather spurious.

Oh, and a side note: I would harbor a guess that the "privately endowed research center in Kansas City" mentioned in the article is none other than the Stowers Institute, founded by the same Jim and Virginia Stowers who are bank-rolling the Missouri Stem Cell Initiative.

The article has more of the usual mis-information. After generally getting the facts straight for most of the article, we come to the following critical failure:

At the heart of the stem cell debate is a procedure known both as somatic cell nuclear transfer or therapeutic cloning.

The basic science involves taking an egg from a woman, removing the 23 chromosomes that would normally match up with 23 chromosomes from a sperm, and replacing them with a full 46 chromosome nucleus from any cell of an adult, essentially creating a single cell clone.

The egg is then induced to begin reproducing until there is a ball of a few hundred stem cells that have the ability to transform themselves into any type of cell in the body. The goal is to use those cells to create cures or treatments for disease.

Good information, up to "single cell clone" - but then the article gets it wrong. That "single cell clone" is no longer an egg, but a zygoe: a single-cell embryo. The embryo proceeds through mitosis (cell division) and into the various stages of embryonic development. At the stage in question - the blastocyst stage - the embryo is comprised of inner and outer cell masses. The outer cell mass will later become the placenta, and the inner mass (which contains the stem cells) progresses into the fetal stages of human development.

In order to use those stem cells, the embryo must be destroyed. A "ball of cells" is not removed from the developing embryo; a developing human being is killed.

The article's conclusion falls under the category of "unintentional irony" [emphasis added]:

Despite his enthusiasm, Zon tries to temper public expectations about the research.

He said the short term goal -- over the next five years or so -- is to gain a greater understanding of human development and use tissue created through human embryonic stem cell research to experiment with potential treatments for diseases.

The longer term goal -- over the next 10 years -- is to create new cells to actually replace defective parts.

"We are just at the beginning," he said.

The only thing realistic here is the last sentence. Every indication is that any real progress with ESC research is, at a minimum, decades away. How giving the impression that meaningful results are 5-10 years away constitutes "tempering public opinion", I can't fathom.