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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

ESCR Booster Shovels the Bull



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Big Biotech is shoveling tens of millions into a propaganda campaign to convince the American people to embrace ESCR and human research cloning. Toward these ends, a new book is being published by an academic house called The Stem Cell Wars, by Eve Herold, Director of Public Policy Research and Education at the Genetics Policy Institute--an ESCR boosting think tank. If the answers Herold gives in this publicity Q and A interview are any indication, the book is going to be (unsurprisingly) filled with junk biology and bold assertions that are either inaccurate or scientifically unverified. I don't want this entry to get too long so I won't hit every point I could. But the entire interview is rife with spin. Here are a few examples with my comments in bold:

On why ESCR is supposedly better than adult stem cell research: "There has been a lot of research on adult stem cells, and rightly so, because they do seem to have some healing potential. And they've been very successful at treating some blood diseases. The problem is that they're quite limited compared to embryonic stem cells. So far, scientists have found that adult stem cells can give rise to only a limited number of other cell types. On the other hand, embryonic stem cells are the 'master' cells of the human body. They are pluripotent, meaning that can give rise to any of the body's 200 cell types, so they can treat many more diseases."

Ah, the usual crapola about ASCs. But readers of this blog know that adult stem cells are at least multi-potent, meaning they can become many types of tissue, and are already treating more than 70 human maladies in early human trials, including heart disease, MS, spinal cord injury, cancer, etc. (Human trials do not, of course guarantee that the therapies will work. But ES cells are in zero human trials.) Meanwhile, we don't know that ES cells are pluripotent and "can give rise to any of the body's 200 cell types" because it hasn't yet been done. In science, such affirmative assertions are inappropriate until the matter has been proved. So far with ES cells they get bunches of cells of different kinds in a dish and therefore have to tweeze them out, not the same thing at all. (I know of one cell type that has been able to be derived from ES cells on demand.) Moreover, even though mouse ES cells have been around for more than 20 years, they still haven't been able to use them to effectively treat a single condition.

Herold speaks admiringly of Hwang's cloning technology: "One thing I did learn from touring his lab is that the Koreans really were making strides in cloning technology, or at least were well positioned to do so. Their claimed specialty in the way of gently removing the nucleus from an egg cell, which is less damaging than earlier methods, was real. I saw this being done in front of my eyes (on a magnified video monitor) in Dr. Hwang's lab, when a researcher took an egg cell, poked a hole into its outer membrane, and then gently squeezed it until the nucleus popped out. Before this method was developed, researchers would suction the nucleus out, which inevitably removed some of the cell's cytoplasm, or the material floating around outside of the nucleus. There's a reason for that cytoplasm to be there, and keeping as much of it intact as possible probably contributed to the lab's great success in cloning animals."

Read my lips: It didn't work! Hwang went through more than 2000 eggs using his technique and was unable to create one cloned embryo.

How SCNT works: "Any time you transplant cells into a patient's body, they have to be genetically matched, just as transplanted organs do. Otherwise, there is a risk of rejection. Therapeutic cloning is the only way known to create embryonic stem cells that are a sure match for the patient. It involves taking an egg and removing its nucleus, as I described before, and then fusing the egg with an adult cell, usually a skin cell taken from a patient. The nucleus of the skin cell, which contains the patient's DNA, then becomes the nucleus of the egg cell. The egg is activated to begin dividing and as it does so, it creates embryonic stem cells that carry the patient's DNA. This means that brand new, pluripotent, 'master' stem cells are being created that are the best possible match for that patient."

No, it does not create embryonic stem cells. It creates an embryo from which ES cells can--in theory--be derived. Remember, this hasn't yet been done, either. I would also point out, since Herold won't tell you, that an even bigger problem with ES cells is that they cause deadly tumors in animal models--which makes them unsafe for human use. Even if cloning were to solve the rejection issue, it does nothing to address the tumor formation problem.

Herold pretends to be boosting science with her book and interview. But she is really undermining science by disseminating scientifically inaccurate information to win a political debate. If her book is anything like her publicity interview, it is a massive spin job proving once again that science is devolving into a special interest willing to use lobbyists' techniques of spin and obfuscation to win a political debate in order to garner billions in public funding.


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