If you’ve read this outrageous WaPo op-ed that basically says you can’t expect moral behavior from scientists who are glorified baby-killers, you might appreciate this rebuttal at the Give Up Blog. The foundation of the fundiecrat anti-science article is that 1) Hwang Woo Suk was bad, therefore all stem cell/cloning research is tainted, and 2) alternative techniques (most of which they don’t seem to understand) and adult stem cells will give us all the answers we need.
Which actually leads into this week’s “ask a science blogger” question:
On July 5, 1996, Dolly the sheep became the first successfully cloned mammal. Ten years on, has cloning developed the way you expected it to?
What’s we’re learning is that cloning is a very hard problem. Development is more than just blindly replaying a program encoded in the genome: there’s all this information in the cytoplasm and the environment and in the history of the cell that is critical to forming the organism. The nucleus of the egg and sperm are specially prepared in highly specific ways to carry out the task of development, and what we’ve got right now is a set of hit-or-miss chance strategies that get a transplanted nucleus into a state that approximates that of a freshly fertilized zygote…we think. We don’t really know for sure, since the way we evaluate it is to see if the clone can grow to adulthood, and only a small percentage of the clones make it.
The way we should think about it is that totipotency is a highly specialized differentiated (I know, I’m turning that word topsy-turvy) cell state—we don’t know how to turn any random cell into a cortical pyramidal cell or an epithelial cell lining a nephric tubule, and making an egg cell is a similarly complex end result of some natural developmental engineering.
That’s why the ill-informed editorialists of the WaPo are all wrong. We don’t know what the limitations of adult stem cell lines are. We don’t know exactly what’s involved in generating the totipotent state. We need to understand the genetics and epigenetics of the embryonic stem cell, and we can only do that with basic research on embryonic stem cells. Telling biologists to content themselves with playing with adult stem cells or cells generated by novel and artificial (but interesting!) new techniques doesn’t replace the core knowledge we can acquire only by studying the cell state we want to be able to replicate.
That answered a question I hadn’t realized I should be asking. Thanks.
The whole article pissed me off, and the whole thing could be refuted point by point, but the one that irked me the most was this characterization of women:
“Hwang’s violation involved the exploitation of women, who undergo a risky and unpleasant procedure — first, ovarian hyperstimulation, then the insertion of a needle into their ovaries to procure the wanted oocytes — with no medical benefit to themselves.”
Replace the stuff between the hyphens with “having a needle stuck in your arm and vital fluids drained” or “lying motionless for two hours with needles in both arms” and he’s just eviscerated blood and platelet donation. An awful lot of modern medicine is predicated on people undergoing risky and unpleasant procedures that are of no benefit to themselves. It’s called altruism. Some people do that. Even atheists.
Here’s a better “ask a science blogger” question (or series thereof):
When will embryonic stem cell research start producing its much-(over-?)promised cures? Adult stem cell research has already produced dozens upon dozens of cures for humans while ESCR remains wallowing in the animal-testing stages because of serious problems with getting the stem cells to cooperate. At what point do researchers give up and say, “This isn’t going to work. Let’s concentrate our efforts, time and money to ASCR.”
“Dozens and dozens” from adult stem cells? I must be really behind on the research – please provide a list of those dozens of cures.
I would also like to see some sort of qualification of the “dozens and dozens” of cures from adult stem cells.
Having worked on both AS and ES cells as well as currently working in a cloning lab I can tell you that we are a long way away from knowing what is going to be the best method. I’m convinced that, as usual, it will be a mixture of techniques tailored for each application that will work in the end.
As PZ said the egg and sperm are highly complex and derived cells and we still don’t know everything that makes them unique – hell there are whole classes of RNAs that we have just discovered that we don’t know much about yet (miRNAs and piRNAs) but that are critical for function (and for cloning).
The work on deriving “ES-like cells” reported this week is interesting but a long, long way from showing that we can do away with ES cell work.
We do need to continue work on all avenues. I think AS cells have a large potential and my work has shown some cool levels of plasticity BUT we need the work on ES cells as well.
Dozens and dozens of cures huh? A list please.
Not anytime in the near future. I simply can’t believe that someone would pitch a science so clearly in it’s infancy because ‘we aren’t getting it to work’. If and when the ASC prove effective at doing what ESC do then we can revisit this discussion but as it is it would be doing humanity a diservice to simply retire the effort now.
I’d also like to see these “dozens and dozens of cures”. I’d love to be able to focus my research on these. I must have missed these in all the journals and conferences… Damned pubmed – I knew it was part of the liberal media and evil atheist conspiracy!
The Post has since published a contrary opinion, which is a definite improvement.
Well, I don’t spend my time worrying about the eyes of God, but I don’t consider an embryo equal to Nelson Mandela either. I don’t even consider an embryo equal to Charles Manson or Osama bin Laden. I’d give more rights to a *dog* than to an embryo.
Casual destruction has less to do with it (in my view) than the embryo’s lack of a brain or any analogous structure, though.
Well said, Mr. Kinsley.
It’s too bad the Post didn’t think to publish these essays side by side rather than allowing the previous tissue of lies to appear unrebutted, though.
I weep for all of you. Can’t any of you use Google effectively? Seriously. It’s an extremely simple search that takes all of 2 minutes. Indeed, you must be either “behind on the research” or the victims of “the liberal media and evil atheist conspiracy.”
List of ASCR treatments vs. ESCR treatments with oodles of references.
PZ Myers says
Oh, please. You’ve got to be kidding me. Those are links to an anti-choice propaganda site. What they do is skim the literature for any mention of adult stem cell research linked to a disease, and count that as a “treatment”, even if it isn’t…but they don’t apply the same standards to embryonic stem cell research.
I know Jason is a dishonest little turd, but this is a new low even for him.
Steve LaBonne says
I love that Kinsley “moral sincerity” quote. That’s the George Bush / Leon Kass school of bioethics in a nutshell.
John Emerson says
Jason is a nice example of the winger ability to keep talking no matter what. They seem to have no reality sense, and no concept of winning or losing an argument. To them it’s like a typing contest.
I looked at the list Jason cites, and I see words like “study,” “possible” and “potential,” which don’t equal “treatment,” in my book. Besides, a fair number involve include chemo, hardly an advertisement for ASR.
You read all these papers, Jason, or just the titles?
And this is typical far-left behavior from you, PZ. Total time from my posting the links to you responding: 11 minutes. Hardly enough time for you to have seen my post, gone to both links and actually have read anything of substance. So instead, you’ve chosen the ever so irrational “It’s anti-choice propaganda! Jason’s a wingnut! Don’t listen to him!” approach. Very mature, PZ.
Well, that’s what I get trying to talk to people whose skulls are as thick as Micheal Moore’s – well, everything!
Doesn’t that depend on how quickly we can read? I would personally expect to be able to visit a site and gain a fairly good understanding of what its message was and how it worked in five minutes’ reading.
I actually want to add to this part. If ASCR is used to try to treat a disease or condition and there is success, then yes, it is a treatment. Perhaps if more time, money and effor were put into ASCR instead of the fantasies of ESCR, then these treatments would improve and more treatments would be discovered.
And that’s all that you have with ESCR, too: fantasies. Even if whatever “standards” you perceive being applied to ASCR treatments were applied to both, you still wouldn’t get a list of ESCR treatments.
If you think that’s what has happened here, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you, too. No, I’ve no doubt that PZ read hardly any of the information in the links – if he read them at all – and instead decided to see what kind of website the information was found on. He probably found some minor thing or another to latch onto in order to dismiss the entirety of the website as “anti-choice propaganda” (despite the fact that the website hardly mentions the words “abortion” or “pro-life” at all). He may have just done this or was previously familiar with the website.
If you actually looked at the references (and understood them) you will see that 123 out of the 137 references refer to what is essentialy bone marrow transplantation – usually after immunoablation. This will work for people who are immunocompromised from radiation therapy or have severe autoimmune diseases but this is not a general panacea by any stretch of the imagination, nor will it do anything for the kinds of neurodegenerative diseases etc that we are looking to ES cells for.
Plus these patients have to be maintained on immunosuppressive drug for the rest of their lives – ES cells do not appear to generate an autoimmune challenge.
The other 14 are more interesting – the corneal reconstruction is cool although calling the amniotic membrane work adult stem cell transplantation is stretching things a lot – the membrane serves to protect the deepithelialised cornea so that the patient own cells can have a chance to reinvade and recolonise the corneal surface. The use of the oral epithelium to replace the corneal epithelium is a very interesting paper – unfortunately the paper is not great and it has not (yet) been replicated (believe me people have tried – a lot!)
The transplantation of neural stem cells into Parkinsons and stroke patients is also very interesting. Unfortunately clinical effectiveness is in the range of a few percent and appears to be as a result of the ability of the transplanted cells to prevent death of endogenous cells via secretion of growth and anti-apoptotic factors rather than functional engraftment – the cells don’t appear to make functional connections (as yet).
The X-linked SCID trial is also not a great one to use – this is a gene therapy trial (another big no-no for the religious) and resulted in two cases of lymphoma with one fatality as a direct result of the therapy.
Let me explain these results to you in very simple terms: adult stem cell therapy has a good chance of working where there is an accessible pool of stem cells available – i.e. i n tissues that are rapidly turning over, both in response to injury and from natural turnover – that is the blood (RBCs = anemia, WBCs after immunoablation) and the epithelia – cornea and skin. It is not as promising for organs and tissues that do not have this facility to the same degree i.e. brain, pancreas, bone, heart, etc.
In addition there are not enough donors for these to work for every patient, even ignoring the problems of graft vs host disease.
Once again I will reiterate – we need research on both avenues. The reason for the disparity of theraputic trials is not due to the inherent inferiority of the two techniques (which are complimentary) but due to the relative maturity of the fields. We have not had human ES cells for very long and only recently have we been able to generate them in such a way as to be able to use them in therapy (i.e. without using non-human feeder cells). An advance which came about after Bush’s motatorium, so none of his legal lines (most of which never existed in the first place) can be used for any therapeutic purposes.
Actually, as a biologist I would expect that mister myers woould be able to read a list of studies much faster than any of those who aren’t. And I bet he’s familiar with the site from others sending it.
But, hey, i know it’s much better to throw all those embryo’s into a dumpster than maybe learn something from them.
Remember, god loves the dumpster more than you.
Interesting link. The second one.
I wouldn’t call any of these cures necessarily though. The first link isn’t worth a crap and Dr.YAk pretty much summed up the other references and the argument.
Likewise this is a pretty big reason to continue with the research using ESC’s.
Robert P. George:
“As the doctrine of the resurrection of the body makes clear, human beings are saved and exist in eternity as bodily persons, not as disembodied souls.”
Peter Barber says
Please, Jason, don’t let the tears short out your keyboard.
Anyway, no.16 in the list of treatments to is earth-shattering in itself. ASCs can cure breast cancer? Have you asked yourself why a new cure for a neoplasm which affects nearly 10% of women is conspicuously unreported in the medical literature, let alone offered to millions of women in oncology clinics every year?
Robert P. George in a nutshell:
The genetically complete, distinct, dynamically unified, self-integrating human organism that we currently identify as, say, the sixtythree-year-old Father Richard John Neuhaus is the same organism, the same human being–the same person–who was once a twenty-eight-year-old civil rights and anti-war activist, a precocious sixteen-year-old high school student, a mischievous adolescent, a toddler, an infant, a fetus, an embryo.
He forgot to mention that the dead Father Neuhaus will, if he survives the resurrection, be the same person too. Isn’t that special.
You mean Ann Coulter? Limbaugh? O’Reilly? Falwell? Robertson? Dobson? Hannity? and on and on.
This was not an editorial by the WaPO, it was an oped which they published – much the same as when the Strib published Eaton’s IDiocy.
I assume, Jason, that you also go to infertility boards and write about how horrible fertility treatments are? Because if you want to look for wholesale destruction of embryos, fertility treatment centers are the place to be.
Sixpak Chopra says
Wow! It didn’t take Jason very long to get to “Michael Moore is still fat!”
I propose a new Internet Law:
I call it: Moore’s Law
Erhmmm … no, wait a sec … let me work on that a bit more …
Keith Douglas says
I also find it amusing that anyone could think a Democratic party supporter (as PZ has suggested in the past) was a member of the “far left”. But I’ve commented on that before.
As for the actual subject of the thread, it seems to me (based on my cursory lay impression) that the problem with a lot of the stem cell research is that it is jumping the gun – it is moving too fast into attempts at technology with insufficient basic and appied science done first. (The same problem is true in a lot of pharmaceutical research and other areas, so it shouldn’t prove surprising.)
Wow, Jason, that list’s even more impressive than the one Ann Coulter plagiarized for her “science” chapter. Maybe you should point it out to her… that list of “references” with no actual explanation of what any of them mean sounds right up her heavily-footnoted alley.
I think those “dozens and dozens of cures” must be held in the same reference as homeopathic,and other cures. My nephew has Crohns disease. I’ll bet he didn’t know that it is curable. I better tell him.
How easily the gullible willingly lie.
PZ, I didn’t understand the part of the op-ed about how ivf-clinic embryos will not be good enough for scientists (because of the need for “genetic customization”). Is that an actual issue or a red herring to conflate the stem-cell issue with human cloning?
Also, is it correct to even call them embryos when cryopreservation is done by clinics at the day-5 blastocyst stage? (if I understand the process correctly; my own ivf cycles did not have any cryopreserved blastocysts left over).
Alright, here’s my impression of the majority of you.
“I can’t hear you! LALALALALALALALALALALALLALALALALALA!”
Pretty good, eh?
Took longer than it takes you people to get to “Booosh is dumb! Booosh lied, people died! My Pet Goat!”
“I think those “dozens and dozens of cures” must be held in the same reference as homeopathic,and other cures. My nephew has Crohns disease. I’ll bet he didn’t know that it is curable. I better tell him.”
Hey, lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater! The papers that Jason cited are genuine, and very interesting and clever applications of the technology. They are just not the dozens and dozens of cures that Jason falsley claimed, nor do they invalidate the work done on ES cells any more than research on trauma medicine invalidates that done on cancer therapy.
I’m still wating for Jason to explain how his list of references – which he has obviously read in great detail means that research on ES cells is unnecessary… I must admit I don’t expect much.
Oh, Chance, thanks for the link – I’d missed that one.
Â¡El Gato Negro! says
Thees may be on topic, albeit tangentially.
How Conservatives Argue
Si, SeÃ±or Moore ees een there as well.
Muy divertido, no?
I study these cells, ESC and ASC. Your list is completely disingenuous. It is almost all just references of bone marrow transplantation, which is effectively the transfer of hematopoietic stem cells (which has been around for 50 year). About 15 years ago they started to figure out how bone marrow transplantation worked and that it was the hematopoietic cells (now mobilized by G-CSF – see your “mobilized peripheral blood” papers) by Irving Weissman’s group at Stanford. No one is disputing the ability of bone marrow stem cells to make blood. That is what they do. The difference, and potential of ES cells is that they can differentiate into anything, unlike adult stem cells, which can differentiate mainly into blood. They are great cells, no ones knocking them, they do great stuff, but they also do very bad things. Like cause graft vs host disease.
Anyway, you think you’ve got this great list that’s shut us up but you simply don’t know what you’re talking about.
ES cell research further has been hindered by this administration, we probably would have more than the one clinical trial we now have (by Geron corp, google it) if we had the ability to create more lines, and ideally generate banks (or individualized lines) that could be compatible with large segments of the population.
Finally, many of these studies reflect things that were tried but were never developed into effective treatments. I study medicine too, and doctors are desperate for treatments using any kind of stem cells. Adult cells just haven’t panned out well in clinical studies for their transdifferentiation capability, for instance in my field JCI just published this editorial about the failure of bone marrow stem cells to mitigate myocardial infarction. Worse, the cells didn’t persist, and instead of helping often disrupted conduction or created new pacemakers in the heart causing fibrillation. There were a lot of other problems with the use of ASC in this case, but your suggestion that they are a cure-all or are on par with ES cells is just false, false false.
Thanks for linking me PZ (hope this comment goes through).