Science

Sci·ence: a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws; systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. Posts in this category pertain to all matters regarding science.

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.

I Don’t Want To Hear It

Filed in Politics, Science, Social IssuesTags: Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is attempting to use Embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) research as a wedge issue in his re-election campaign. In so doing, it isn't surprising that he falls squarely in line with ESC proponents, by pandering to false-hope sensationalism and attempting to claim a moral/emotional high ground.

I've covered this ground before, and will continue to do so:

The Democrat senator told a panel of experts and advocates at Hackensack University Medical Center that the Republican majority leadership in the U.S. Senate has blocked a vote on his bill to allow funding for work on stem cell lines from new embryos.

The panel, which included Rep. Steve Rothman, D-Fair Lawn, was the first of three campaign stops in North Jersey for Menendez, who replaced Jon Corzine in the Senate and is running for a full term. Other panelists included advocates for research in Parkinson's disease, juvenile diabetes and blood cancers.

I wonder if any of these "advocates" support the Adult Stem Cell (ASC) research that is actually producing meaningful, useful, and promising results in these areas?

But it is the following pander by Menendez that irks me incredibly:

Menendez said the stem cell debate is personal for him because his 85-year-old mother suffers from Alzheimer's disease, one of many illnesses that future research might cure, he said.

"It's difficult to sit across from your mom and have her not know who you are," he said.

Note to Menendez: you don't own the moral high ground on this issue. And I don't want to hear it.

I am sick of Alzheimer's being used as the battle-standard of ESC proponents, and I am equally sick of ESC proponents claiming moral and compassionate superiority over their opponents because of Alzheimer's. The ESC proponents are not the only ones ever to lose a loved one because of Alzheimer's. I never truly knew my grandfather, because by the time I was old enough to have a relationship with him, he was already too mentally deteriorated from the amazing, sharp-witted, character-discerning, loving man my family knew him to be, due to the Alzheimer's that eventually claimed his life when I was a freshman in high school.

Further, it is very likely that I am genetically pre-disposed to Alzheimer's - so I have even more of a vested interest in medical advances and research that will hopefully one day understand and cure this horrendous disease. But I will be damned (and I mean that quite literally) if I put the value of my own life before anyone else's - and that includes cloned or frozen embryos.

I would rather die than destroy another human life - especially when that life would be destroyed for the purpose of research that has produced no meaningful results whatsoever, while other research, having no ethical concerns whatsoever, continues to progress and bring real results and real hope and promise.

Consistent with the Clone the Truth campaign, I am committed to ensuring that the truth about adult and embryonic stem cell and related research is made known.

Thomas Aquinas on Embryoes

Filed in Politics, Religion, Science, Social IssuesTags: Christianity, Cloning, Missouri, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

The spin:

St. Thomas Aquinas, the premier teacher in the Roman Catholic tradition, did not think the early fetus was a person - "ensouled," in his language. St. Thomas believed the early life in the womb received a spiritual soul - and became a baby - only after three to four months. Thus, embryonic cells in a lab dish or frozen away are certainly not "ensouled."

The reality

It is true that Aquinas did believe that the soul was not infused at the beginning of a pregnancy. This is because Aquinas followed Aristotle’s embryology (circa 300 B.C.) and believed that an embryo was not formed enough to receive a soul until well into its development. However, 21st century embryology provides clear evidence that everything the soul needs is present from the first moment of every human being’s existence - as numerous Catholic scholars have explained. Aquinas would undoubtedly accept this evidence and agree with the Church’s current teaching.

Further, St. Thomas also believed the intentional ending of a pregnancy at any stage was a sin - regardless of when the soul was present. Thus, he remains firmly within the tradition of the Church in respecting human life at all stages.

More parsing of the original op-ed, later.

Via John Combest.

Gene silencing directs muscle-derived stem cells to become bone-forming cells

Filed in ScienceTags: Stem Cells

More Adult Stem Cell (ASC) advances you won't hear about in the MSM:

Using a relatively new technology called RNA interference to turn off genes that regulate cell differentiation, University of Pittsburgh researchers have demonstrated they can increase the propensity of muscle-derived stem cells (MDSCs) to become bone-forming cells.

Why is this development important, you ask?

Cells can be divided into three primary classifications: endodermal (interior stomach lining, gastrointestinal tract, the lungs), mesodermal (muscle, bone, blood, urogenital), and ectodermal (epidermal tissues and nervous system). Bone and muscle cells are mesodermal tissue. For quite a while now, ASCs have demonstrated multipotency; this development brings the possibility of ASC pluripotency closer to reality.

Of course, if ASCs can be coaxed into pluripotency, the necessity for embryonic stem cells evaporates.

The practical result of the research:

Based on these results, the investigators believe that by turning off specific genetic factors they can control the capacity of MDSCs as a means of treating various musculoskeletal diseases and injuries.

And, the future benefit [emphasis added]:

"By understanding the genetic mechanisms that regulate a cell's propensity to differentiate into one type of cell line over another, we may be able to regulate their ability to generate bone for the treatment of various diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system, such as osteoporosis or severe fractures," said first author Jonathan B. Pollett, Ph.D., research associate, department of orthopaedic surgery, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

This isn't pie-in-the-sky hope; this is real promise.

Adult Stem Cell Advances You Don’t Hear About: Mending a Broken Leg

Filed in ScienceTags: Media Bias, Stem Cells

Here is an example of an adult stem cell (ASC) treatment truly on the verge of breakthrough: ASCs used to help mend a broken leg, in a situation normally requiring a bone graft:

About seven weeks ago, Dr de Steiger harvested bone marrow from Mr Stevens' pelvis.

A subgroup of stem cells that can transform into tissues including bone, cartilage and heart, were isolated and grown.

Last week, about 30 million of these cells were implanted in to the 5cm x 3cm hole in Mr Steven's left thigh bone, where they are expected to generate new bone.

The alternative to this pioneering procedure was a painful bone graft.

Using a patient's own cells avoids potential problems of the body rejecting foreign cells. However, it will be three to four months before the success of the operation is known.

This is what is referred to a clinical trial - something into which not one single embryonic stem cell (ESC) derived treatment has progressed. I wonder why the hot-and-bothered-about-stem-cells MSM haven't reported on this story?

Via Missourians Against Human Cloning.

Required Reading on Stem Cell Ethics

Filed in Politics, Religion, Science, Social IssuesTags: Christianity, Clone The Truth, Cloning, Media Bias, Sanctity of Life, Stem Cells

This interview of Bioethics Senior Scholar Dr. John Kilmer in Christian today is absolutely required reading.

Dr. Kilmer addresses two primary ethical considerations.

First, he addresses the ethical concern of destroying embryoes in order to obtain embryonic stem cells (ESCs) [emphasis added]:

However, one real concern is where we are getting these stem cells from.

We want to highlight the difference between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells because in terms of adult stem cells they can be obtained without harming the source from which they are being obtained. Whereas embryonic stem cells require destroying embryonic human beings from which they are taken.

But granting for the sake of time that human beings do begin at the embryonic stage – these would be the earliest stage of human being – then one ethical concern is that we do not destroy or harm human beings to obtain these cells. That is one core ethical dilemma.

Second, he addresses the ethical concern of truthful communication regarding stem cell research [emphasis added]:

One other great concern is about how this is being discussed in the media, public policy, and various arenas. The fact is that so often just the term ‘stem cell’ is used, and this promotes the idea that either you are for or against stem cell research. So the discussion may be narrower about some form of stem cell research, but by using the non-specific general term of stem cell, it implies that if you are not for it then you are hard-hearted, uncompassionate, and you don’t care about these people dying.

This is a serious ethical concern – an ethic of truthful communication. Far more has been accomplished with adult stem cell research than embryonic stem cell research. Apart from the ethical issues evolved in destroying embryonic human beings, adult stem cell research has produced results so it is simply not truthful to say that major embryonic breakthroughs are right on the verge and we should channel all our resources to embryonic stem cell research.

After devoting some time to comparing the ethical concerns of cloning, ESC research, and abortion, and then discussing some of the issues with federal and state-level politics, Dr. Kilmer addresses the issue of bioethics education and the church. Before I get to that discussion, though, I want to highlight some of Dr. Kilmer's comments regarding cloning: comments directly related to the Missouri Stem Cell Initiative, and to the tactics of the so-called Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures [emphasis added]:

So people recognise that for embryonic stem cell research to be really widely useful medically we would have to produce cells that are genetically matched to your body and the only way to do that is to produce an embryo that is a clone of you and destroy that embryo to get the embryonic stem cells that could be used in the treatment in you.

...

I’ll just add that ‘P.S.’ here – this is another example of where the really intentional miscommunication comes into play – because what happens now is proponents of embryonic stem cell research in some locations have begun to argue that ‘What we’ve done here isn’t really cloning. It is only cloning if you are having born babies.

‘But what we are doing in this research process (sometimes they just use the technical name for cloning which is called SCNT or Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer), we are just doing that and we are not engaged in cloning.’

Sound familiar? It should. But, as Dr. Kilmer points out [emphasis added]:

This is terribly misleading and really dishonest because the cloning process is completed once you have a new beginning embryo. The cloning is the description of the process by which you actually produce another human being, virtually a genetic replica of an existing human being and the rest is just that being growing and developing. The cloning is done at the point you have the early embryo.

So why would ESC proponents use such a tactic? Again, as Dr. Kilmer points out, the intent is to mislead [emphasis added]:

So to say that we are just going to define that ‘It is not a clone until it develops all the way through to birth and is born’ is just outrageous because it confuses people and makes them think that ‘Oh, that is reassuring, that what you are talking about in embryonic stem cell research doesn’t involve cloning then it may be ok.

Finally, the interview wraps with Dr. Kilmer's comments on the current state of the church with respect to the issue of bioethics, and the need for more church pastoral and lay leaders to become educated in bioethics:

I think that what is happening in the Church today is people are becoming more and more aware of bioethics issues, but I think they hear more about them through the culture and through the public than through the Church. I also think that the Church has been lagging behind the public in terms of informing people and in terms of helping people develop a Christian understanding and outlook on these issues so when they hear about them they have some ideas of how this connect to Christian faith.

Please, do read the entire article/interview.

Via Missourians Against Human Cloning.

More Stem Cell Initiative Misinformation

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

Several news outlets are reporting on the Missouri Stem Cell Initiative (the Initiative); unfortnately, most are getting the facts entirely incorrect. First up is this wildly innacurate statment found in a report from KMBC-TV 9 in Kansas City, MO [emphasis added]:

Talent had come under pressure from McCaskill to take a position on the proposed constitutional amendment. The measure specifically bans human cloning, but would permit all federally allowed stem cell research in the state.

The issue has created a rift among Missouri Republicans. Business and medical leaders strongly support the measure while religious and anti-abortion leaders have campaigned against it, saying the procedure amounts to human cloning.

First, the Initiative does not specifically ban human cloning; it specifically allows human cloning, and specifically prohibits the state legislature from prohibiting human cloning. The initiative intentionally re-defines "cloning" in a manner inconsistent with any biological, scientific, or other reasonable understanding or definition of the term. From the text of the Initiative:

38(d).6.(2) “Clone or attempt to clone a human being” means to implant in a uterus or attempt to implant in a uterus anything other than the product of fertilization of an egg of a human female by a sperm of a human male for the purpose of initiating a pregnancy that could result in the creation of a human fetus, or the birth of a human being.

For reference and clarification, below are several actual, accepted definitions of "cloning".

From Wikipedia:

Cloning is the process of creating an identical copy of an original. A clone in the biological sense, therefore, is a single cell (like bacteria, lymphocytes etc.) or multi-cellular organism that is genetically identical to another living organism. Sometimes this can refer to "natural" clones made either when an organism reproduces asexually or when two genetically identical individuals are produced by accident (as with identical twins), but in common parlance the clone is an identical copy by some conscious design.

From How Stuff Works:

Cloning is the process of making a genetically identical organism through nonsexual means.

From the Roslin Institute:

Depending on the age of the dictionary, the definition of biological cloning can be:

  • A group of genetically identical individuals descended from the same parent by asexual reproduction. Many plants show this by producing suckers, tubers or bulbs to colonise the area around the parent.
  • A group of genetically identical cells produced by mitotic division from an original cell. This is where the cell creates anew set of chromosomes and splits into two daughter cells. This is how replacement cells are produced in your body when the old ones wear out.
  • A group of DNA molecules produced from an original length of DNA sequences produced by a bacterium or a virus using molecular biology techniques. This is what is often called molecular cloning or DNA cloning
  • The production of genetically identical animals by 'embryo splitting'. This can occur naturally at the two cell stage to give identical twins. In cattle, when individual cells from 4- and 8-cell embryos and implanted in different foster mothers, they can develop normally into calves and this technique has been used routinely within cattle breeding schemes for over 10 years.
  • The creation of one or more genetically identical animals by transferring the nucleus of a body cell into an egg from which the nucleus has been removed. This is also known as Nuclear Transfer (NT) or cell nuclear replacement (CNR) and is how Dolly was produced.

From the National Acadamies:

Clone - 1) An exact genetic replica of a DNA molecule, cell, tissue, organ, or entire plant or animal. 2) An organism that has the same nuclear genome as another organism.

Cloning - The production of a clone. (For the purpose of this report, generating an individual animal or person that derives its nuclear genes from a diploid cell taken from an embryo, fetus, or born individual of the same species.)

From the National Institute of Health:

In biology, a clone is a cell or an organism that is genetically identical to another cell or organism... The verb "to clone" refers to the process of creating cloned cells or organisms. The process differs, depending on the kinds of cells used in the cloning procedure and the desired result. Usually, when scientists clone an animal, they take the nucleus of a cell -- which contains chromosomes made of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and proteins -- and place it into an egg cell (also called an oocyte) from which the nucleus has been removed. The egg cell then divides to produce an embryo that develops into an animal, if the procedures work as planned.

Now that we're clear on the actual definition of "cloning", we return to the wording of the Initiative, which far from specifically prohibiting human cloning, specifically prohibits the legislature from prohibiting human cloning, or research derived from human cloning [emphasis added]:

38(d).2.(7) All stem cell research and all stem cell therapies and cures must be conducted and provided in accordance with state and local laws of general applicability, including but not limited to laws concerning scientific and medical practices and patient safety and privacy, to the extent that any such laws do not (i) prevent, restrict, obstruct, or discourage any stem cell research or stem cell therapies and cures that are permitted by the provisions of this section other than this subdivision (7) to be conducted or provided, or (ii) create disincentives for any person to engage in or otherwise associate with such research or therapies and cures.

This inconsistency is not an honest oversight; it is an intentional attempt to mislead Missourians into constitutionally mandating that which they believe themselves to be constitutionally prohibiting. The justfication? What amounts to what the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures (the Coalition) describes as a sort of "common-law" understanding of "cloning" as meaning implanting a cloned embryo in the uterus and bringing to full-term the cloned baby.

I also just found this wildly incorrect statement on the Initiative's ironically titled "Setting The Record Straight" section:

Opponents of stem cell research claim that making stem cells in a lab dish is the same thing as "human cloning." Scientists and most other people disagree with that view and understand that "human cloning" means creating a duplicate human being - not making stem cells in a lab dish.

Supporters of the Initiative know full-well that stem cells cannot just be "[made] in a lab dish", and that the only way to derive stem cells is to harvest them from a human embryo - whether that embryo be sexually produced, or cloned.

Complicit in this deception, Claire MacCaskill is demonstrating her political opportunism with respect to the Initiative [emphasis added]:

"I don't think you can have the luxury of calling an issue personal or political just to muddy the waters when a tough issue comes along," McCaskill said Tuesday.

"To me this isn't that complicated," she said. "I support this research, I have consistently and enthusiastically, and I urge Missourians to do the same."

"Life does not begin in a petri dish. Life begins in a womb," McCaskill told KMBC.

This statement is so very wrong on so many levels. I hate to break it to you, Claire, but life can and does begin in a petri dish. Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT), the process by which embryonic stem cell (ESC) research proponents hope to use to harvest ESCs, is the same process by which Dolly the Sheep was cloned (as every single cloning definition reference listed above indicates).

Here is a good opportunity to point out that, once again, the Coalition's "Setting The Record Straight" gives intentionally incorrect information, in this case, regarding SCNT:

The two basic sources of ES cells are: (1) leftover fertility clinic embryos that will not be implanted in a woman's uterus and would otherwise be discarded and destroyed; and (2) the Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) process, which uses stem cells made in a lab dish with a patient's own cells and an unfertilized, donated human egg.

Again, the only way to derive embryonic stem cells is by harvesting them from an embryo - and the Coaltion knows it.

The result of SCNT is a zygote genetically identical to the somatic-cell donor.That the genesis of this zygote was asexual rather than sexual does not negate that, genetically and biologically, a zygote resulting from cloning a human somatic cell is, in fact, a human zygote. This human zygote - again, whether sexually or asexually produced - will, of its own volition, begin the process of mitosis, and will self-direct its development through the various stages from embryo to adult human. This self-volition of growth and self-direction of development is, essentially, the biologically accepted definition of "life".

From Wikipedia:

While there is no universal agreement on the definition of life, scientists generally accept that the biological manifestation of life exhibits the following phenomena:

  1. Organization - Living things are comprised of one or more cells, which are the basic units of life.
  2. Metabolism - Metabolism produces energy by converting nonliving material into cellular components (synthesis) and decomposing organic matter (catalysis). Living things require energy to maintain internal organization (homeostasis) and to produce the other phenomena associated with life.
  3. Growth - Growth results from a higher rate of synthesis than catalysis. A growing organism increases in size in all of its parts, rather than simply accumulating matter.
  4. Adaptation - Adaptation is the accommodation of a living organism to its environment. It is fundamental to the process of evolution and is determined by the individual's heredity.
  5. Response to stimuli - A response can take many forms, from the contraction of a unicellular organism when touched to complex reactions involving all the senses of higher animals. A response is often expressed by motion: the leaves of a plant turning toward the sun or an animal chasing its prey.
  6. Reproduction - The division of one cell to form two new cells is reproduction. Usually the term is applied to the production of a new individual (either asexually, from a single parent organism, or sexually, from two differing parent organisms), although strictly speaking it also describes the production of new cells in the process of growth.

    From Developmental Biology Online:

    The genetic view takes the position that the creation of a genetically unique individual is the moment at which life begins. This event is often described as taking place at fertilization, thus fertilization marks the beginning of human life. During this developmental event, the genes originating from two sources combine to form a single individual with a different and unique set of genes. One of the most popular arguments for fertilization as the beginning of human life is that at fertilization a new combination of genetic material is created for the first time; thus, the zygote is an individual, unique from all others.

    Back to MacCaskill's egregiously erroneous statement, now addressing her assertion that life begins in the womb: again, MacCaskill, if biology is too difficult for you to grasp, perhaps you need to stick to politics. Life begins at conception; no credible biologist will refute this fact. (To be perfectly clear: for sexual reproduction, a new life emerges the moment the haploid sperm and egg conceive, resulting in a new, unique, diploid cell - called a zygote. For either a sexually or an asexually produced zygote, life is evidenced at the first cell mitosis.) By the time the embryo reaches the womb, it has long-since established itself as a unique, individual life form.

    To be fair, I must once again disagree with Senator Talent, and challenge the assertion that Altered Nuclear Transfer (ANT) is not "cloning":

    Earlier this year, Talent withdrew as a co-sponsor of a Senate bill that would ban all embryonic stem cell research and impose a $1 million fine and jail sentence on violators. At the time, Talent said he backed another form of research -- called altered nuclear transfer -- that would not result in human cloning.

    The only difference between SCNT and ANT is that, with ANT, the somatic cell is altered such that certain gene expression, required for the embryo to develop past the blastocyst stage (the stage at which ESCs are harvested, destroying the embryo), is disabled/prohibited. Genetically, the somatic cell is still human. Genetically, the result from the ANT process is still a human embryo. Claiming that ANT does not produce a human simply because the embryo has been genetically altered to prevent its development past the blastocyst stage is analogous to claiming that genetically or hormonally preventing a child from developing through/past the adolescence stage renders that child non-human.

    The evidence that ANT results in a human embryo lies in the fact that ANT is intended as a method to harvest human ESCs. Only a human embryo can develop human ESCs. If the result of ANT were not genetically human, it would not develop human ESCs.

    Some use the specious argument that the result of ANT is no more living than the somatic cell used to produce it. Recall the definition of life: self-volition of growth, and self-direction of development. A somatic cell neither attempts to grow or develop. It is no longer a living cell once it is removed from its donor. The embryo produced by ANT, however, demonstrates that it is living by both undergoing mitosis of its own volition, and directing its own development.

    However, regardless of my disagreement with Mr. Talent with respect to our understanding of ANT, I understand the consistency of his position (incorrect though it may be). For one who thinks that ANT is not cloning, it is entirely consistent to support ANT while at the same time opposing the Initiative. Likewise, withdrawing support from a blanket ban on human cloning due to the belief that such a ban would prohibit ANT - under the assumption that ANT is not cloning - does not constitute a "flip-flop" on support for banning human cloning. Perhaps this position is too subtle for MacCaskill and this negligent KMBC-TV report to grasp.

    Via John Combest.

    Cooking For Engineers

    Filed in ScienceTags: Food/Wine, Geekery

    This site rocks!

    Via Casting Out Nines, who says:

    Cooking for Engineers is a cooking site (imagine!) with the detail-oriented geek in mind. All the measurements are in MKS units rather than tablespoons and cups. The recipes — and there are many of those — are formatted as little Gantt charts, which makes so much sense to those with a little operations research exposure, it’s scary. There are experiments — for example, comparing the results of cooking bacon by frying, broiling, or microwaving. Think of it as Alton Brown taken to his logical extreme. (AB is, by the way, my hero; I find that a disturbing amount of my classroom pedagogy is based on how he operates on Good Eats.) If you enjoy cooking but long for a more scientific approach — check it out.

    Politics and Ignorance Shape Journalistic Bias of Stem Cell Reporting

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

    I had a bit of difficulty getting to the meat of this opening article of a multi-part series to appear this week in the Columbia Missourian, as the article spends several paragraphs attempting to evoke an emotional connection to the two protagonists: each disabled, and each on differing sides of the Stem Cell Initiative issue. Note: I appreciate the reporter finding equal time for both sides of the issue; however, comparing and contrasting the stories of two disabled people with respect to this issue in no way contributes to putting forth the facts surrounding the issue. Doing so only serves to appeal to emotion, and could be construed to be using their respective disabilities to "sell" the story, much as the Coalition continues to use plight of the disabled in their attempts to gain support for the Initiative.

    Anyway, I'll pick up the article at the section titled "Is Breakthrough Possible?" Several statements need parsing:

    Both Rob and Kara Clardy are hopeful that stem cell research and passage of a constitutional amendment in November will yield results both for people suffering and for the state as a whole.

    First, once again, the issue is obfuscated by using the all-encompassing "stem cell research", when what is implied is "embryonic stem cell research." The distinction is small, but significant. I will address its significance in a moment. Second, this statement alludes to embryonic stem cell (ESC) research's dirty little secret: in the end, it's all about the money. Much more on that point in the days to come.

    Embryonic stem cell research has not produced any major results for humans, but scientists are excited about an experiment that John McDonald conducted on rats.

    ...has not produced any major results for humans? How about, has not produced any results whatsoever.

    While at Washington University, McDonald studied 62 rats whose spinal cords had been severed, thereby making them incapable of using their legs. Twenty-eight of the rats were treated with somatic cell nuclear transfer, the process used in embryonic stem cell research.

    Whoops; someone needs an editor. Perhaps the rats were treated with stem cells derived from embryoes resulting from Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT), but they were in no way "treated" with SCNT, which is a cloning method, not a treatment or therapy for a disease or disability. It is this kind of journalistic sloppiness that prevents the average person from understanding the issue fully. Intentionally or unintentionally (in this case, I suspect the latter), this kind of carelessness will result in an uninformed electorate going to the Missouri ballot in November, and deciding the fate of a constitutional amendment.

    “If we have this, we could find cures for Parkinson’s and diabetes, and we have a better chance of finding those cures that might emerge in fifteen to twenty years,” Neaves said. “We should declare once and for all that if a field of research is allowed by federal law, it shouldn’t be prevent [sic] by the Missouri legislature.”

    A dream long on hype, and short on reality - in other words: false hope. As indicated in this NewsMax article, any ESC-derived human treatment is more than a decade away - and that statement was made at the time when claims to have successfully isolated SCNT-derived human ESC lines had not yet been proven to be fraudulent. (That one step alone - successfully performing SCNT with human cells, harvesting ESCs from the resultant embryo, and isolating the stem cell lines - could add decades to any ESC-derived therapy/treatment timeline.)

    And about using stem cells to find curse for Parkinson's and diabetes? Adult stem cells have already been producing therapies for Parkinson's disease. (Note also that this second article - written in 2002, also addresses ASC-derived treatments for MS - the same disability from which the pro-Initiative protagonist in the Missourian article suffers. Oh, and it also mentions advances in ASC-derived diabetes treatments in mice.) Further, this article demonstrates that ASCs have proven superior to ESCs in both Parkinson's and diabetes, and at the same time debunks the hype of the very rat ESC spinal cord experiment referenced earlier.

    Moving on to the "Alternatives" section:

    Opposition to stem cell research most often has to do with the creation of embryos in order to destroy them.

    Embryonic. Opposition to embryonic stem cell research...

    Another alternative involves using embryos from fertility clinics. These embryos, which are usually destroyed anyway, could be used for SCNT, thereby averting the need to create new embryos.

    Whoops! Looks like that editor needed earlier is needed again. Embryoes are not used for SCNT, embryoes are the result of SCNT.

    Since our reporter still seems to be confused about this whole process, let me lay it out one more time. SCNT is the process of removing the nucleus from ("enucleating") an egg, and then implanting the nucleus from a somatic cell. (Cells are either somatic or gametic. Gametes are reproductive cells, and are "haploid" - only having half of genetic material of the cell donor. Somatic cells are non-reproductive cells, and are "diploid" - having the full genetic material of the cell donor.) Next, the joined cells are given an electric impetus, and if all goes well, the joined cells begin mitosis (cell division). At this point, the entity is biologically an embryo. At this point, SCNT has been used to clone the donor of the somatic cell, and the result of the SCNT process is an embryo that is a clone of the somatic cell donor.

    Next is the harvesting of ESCs. Regardless of how the embryo came about - whether through sexual reproduction (including IVF) or asexual cloning - the harvesting process is the same. The embryo is allowed to develop to the blastocyst stage, at which point the embryo consists of an outer layer that will later become the placenta, and an inner cell mass. At the blastycyst stage, this inner cell mass consists of undifferentiated stem cells. These stem cells are removed, thereby destroying the developing embryo.

    Moving on to "Hope for the Future" - I must point out once more:

    For now, Rob and Kara Clardy patiently wait and staunchly defend stem cell research.

    Embryonic. Patiently wait and staunchly defend embryonic stem cell research. The omission is especially important here. The Clardys are the article's Initiative supporters. The article's Initiative opponent likewise waits paintently and staunchly defends stem cell research; the critical difference is that the latter has had some the source of his hope yield some results, because he supports adult stem cell research.

    I haven't commented on the content of the beginning of the article, and I debated whether or not to do so, because I realize that any criticism of the position of the pro-Initiative protagonist could be perverted into shamefully attacking a disabled person's desire to find a cure for her condition, and that I lack the moral authority to question her position. However, after reading this compelling argument from Mary Meets Dolly that now is the time to stand on principle, I can't help but to challenge such a blatantly wrong position as espoused in this article.

    In the "Fighting Back" section:

    Kara and Rob Clardy, both self-described conservative Republicans, have weighed the arguments of their religion and their ideological positions, and they are confident that support for the issue is not inconsistent with their beliefs.

    I still have yet to see a Biblical defense of ESC research, but let's see what is presented:

    “The priest here in town has never said anything about this, but if he did, I’d go up and tell him that if the God I worship and love told me I was going to hell for supporting this, then I guess I’m going to hell,” said Kara Clardy, who was raised Catholic. “If it’s going to cure me, and I’m going to be able to spend time with my kids ... then I’d rather be able to do that, and have my kids have a better memory of life than (of) mom being sick all the time.”

    Well, I don't know what Bible she's reading, but my Bible says:

    5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. 6 "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.

    Genesis 9:5-6 (NIV)

    You shall not murder.

    Exodus 20:13

    It's the same problem I have with Arlen Specter's position: what makes him think that his life is worth more than that of the (several, untold numbers of) embryoes that would be destroyed in the yet-unproven hope of finding a cure or treatment from ESC research? Life is not ours to give and to take away, to choose who will live and who will die in the name of research, the "greater good", or any other morally relativistic reason.

    No offense intended, and all due respect, but, it's not all about "me". My Bible also says:

    For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

    Romans 12:3 (NIV)

    Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

    Philippians 2:3 (NIV)

    Contrast that position with that of the article's other protagonist, who has been wheelchair-bound for 20 years:

    “This became a driving force that I would speak about to other people,” he said. “There should be no exception to destroying a life in order to enhance mine or someone else’s.”

    McGarry empathizes with those who are suffering, but for him there is no question that the process is unethical and immoral.

    “In no way would I let them perform the surgery, even if there was a breakthrough, because of my beliefs,” he said. “It’s been 22 years, and I’d love a cure, but not at the expense of destroying a human being.”

    Can't say it better than that.

    Getting Past The Deception

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

    The deceptively named Missouri Coalition for Life-Saving Cures (the Coalition) isn't going to get away with their equally deceptive attempt to re-define cloning in order to pass a constitutional amendment to protect cloning.

    I can appreciate an open, honest, intellectual discussion - and I think that, generally, those actually performing Somatic-Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT - i.e. cloning) research espouse that intellectual honesty. For instance, as reported by the Columia Missourian, the pro-SCNT Diana Schaub, a member of President Bush's bio-ethics committee and the political science chair at Loyola College of Maryland, says the language in Missouri’s proposed constitutional amendment to protect stem-cell therapeutic cloning is deceptive:

    I certainly agree that banning cloning to produce children is a good idea, but I disapprove of deceiving voters into thinking that embryonic stem-cell research by means of SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer, the common method for stem-cell research) is not cloning.”

    (Emphasis added)

    Money section:

    According to Schaub, the scientific definition of cloning is: “the asexual production of a new human organism that is, at all stages of development, genetically identical to a currently existing or previously existing human being.”

    Somatic cell nuclear transfer, says Schaub, is the procedure for cloning a somatic cell, or body cell, and putting it into a nucleated [sic] egg (an egg in which the nucleus has been removed) and then stimulating that egg to produce cell division. The result is a clone, or an organism that has the identical genetic makeup to the donor of the somatic cell.

    In both cloning for children and cloning for cures, the initial process is the same,” Schaub said. “SCNT is a cloning technique.

    The deception, she says, is that the amendment defines cloning as involving implantation.

    “It pretends to ban human cloning in total, when in fact, it only aims to ban the cloning of a live born human child,” she said. “We should have an honest discussion about whether human cloning for research purposes, should it become possible, whether that’s a good idea or not.”

    That last sentence is the whole key: opponents of the Coalition don't want to prohibit the vote; we simply want to have an honest discussion and a vote based on facts, not deception.

    Faced with this straight-forward statement, proponents of the Coalition can do nothing but admit their deception, and sound sophmoric doing so:

    Alex Bartlett, a panelist and lawyer who was involved with writing the initiative’s language, disagreed with Schaub’s assessment. He said the ballot language, which seeks to ban the cloning or the attempt to clone a human being, outlines very specifically what cloning is and what it is not.

    “I think John Smith on the street or Joe Blow, when they think of cloning they are thinking of creating a human version of Dolly the sheep (the first cloned animal),” Bartlett said. “We tried to get at that and that’s we were preventing.”

    Translation: we're trying to dumb-down Missourians, in order to pass an amendment protecting the very thing that Missourians are against.

    I can think of at least two means for the Coalition to be intellectually honest:

    1. Clarify that the Initiative bans reproductive cloning, while protecting therapeutic cloning.
    2. Clarify that the Initiative does not ban cloning, but prohibits implantation of cloned embryos.

    The reason that the Coalition won't choose either of these options is that they know that neither, having truthfully identified the intent of the Initiative, would garner the support of Missourians required to pass a constitutional amendment.

    While the Columbia Missourian gets the facts out in a mostly unbiased manner, the Jefferson City News Tribune is still getting it wrong, and reporting with bias:

    The proposed ballot measure, entitled the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, includes language that would “ban human cloning,” which it defines as an attempt to implant into a woman a scientifically created embryo that did not come from a sperm and egg.

    But opponents call the title and ballot language deceptive and misleading for failing to classify a certain form of embryonic stem cell research, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, as the scientific equivalent of human cloning.

    SCNT isn't a "certain form" of embryonic stem cell (ESC) research; it is the form of ESC research. SCNT isn't the "scientific equivalent" of human cloning; it is the definition of cloning - it is the method of cloning, period. These qualifier phrases clearly portray the pro-ESC research bias of the reporter, and it is against this very bias that obscures the facts that I will continue to fight. But the mis-information doesn't stop there:

    Under that procedure, the nucleus of an unfertilized human egg is replaced with the nucleus from a skin or nerve cell. The altered egg then is stimulated to grow in a lab dish, and researchers remove the resulting stem cells.

    This last statement is wrong; missing is that the researchers can only remove (embryonic) stem cells because the result of SCNT is an embryo, and it is from this embryo - which is destroyed in the process - that stem cells are extracted.

    And on top of biased reporting, we see just plain wrong reporting:

    Not all the panelists supported the type of stem cell research likely to be voted upon in Missouri in the fall.

    Diana Schaub, a political science professor at Loyola College in Maryland and a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, sided with opponents of the proposed November initiative. She called the ballot language a “definitional sleight of hand.”

    Yes, that's the same Diana Schaub quoted above - very much in favor of SCNT and ESC research. The irony here is, Schaub is in favor of the research, but opposed to the language of the Initiative. Though, perhaps Schaub here is incorrectly identified as an opponent of the Initiative in order to discredit her criticism of that language?

    And in related news, the Coalition is suing a rival organization to have its web site taken down. Apparently, they don't like being Google-bombed:

    "They've stolen our Web site," said Donn Rubin, chairman of Lifesaving Cures. "They've stolen our codes, our pictures, our graphics" in what he alleged was an attempt to confuse Internet search engines and the public.

    In the words of Glenn: heh.

    Good luck with that...

    All sources via John Combest.