April 11, 2007

Stem Cell Controversy And Bad Timing In Congress

The Senate will once again attempt to loosen the restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, applied in September 2001 by the Bush administration. They expect to gain a veto-proof majority for the upper chamber, but the House will likely split much more closely, and Bush has pledged to veto the legislation once it gets to his desk:

Launching an emotional political and ethical drama that is widely expected to climax with the second veto of George W. Bush's presidency, the Senate yesterday began a two-day debate over the use of taxpayer dollars for embryonic stem cell research.

The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, to be voted on late today or tomorrow, would loosen Bush's Aug. 9, 2001, ban on federal funding for research on stem cells that were isolated from human embryos after that date.

The House passed a nearly identical bill in 2005, as did the Senate in 2006. But Bush vetoed it, saying it crossed a moral line since human embryos must be destroyed to obtain the medically promising cells.

What has changed since lasty year? Majority control of Congress has shifted to the Democrats, and they perceive Bush to be even weaker than he was when he issued his first and only veto of his presidency. The science hasn't advanced for hEsc development at all. Researchers still have not implemented a single therapy from embryonic stem cells. One of the proponents of the bill, the firm Geron, says it will start the first US human tests of hEsc-based therapy "soon".

This time, the Senate will allow an alternative bill to get a floor vote. Sponsored by Norm Coleman and Johnny Isakson, it proposes to use stem cells from clinically dead embryos, hoping to bypass the ethical and moral dilemmas that have kept hEsc research from getting federal funds. Some researchers scoff at the proposal, saying that such cells would almost certainly be suspect even if still alive when extracted, but Coleman and Isakson argue that the alternative will never pass into law anyway.

Perhaps that's because stem-cell research continues to show that hEsc is not as promising as other techniques. The Los Angeles Times reports that human trials have shown that stem cells taken from the blood of diabetics can cure the disease:

Researchers have demonstrated for the first time that the progression of Type 1 diabetes can be halted — and possibly reversed — by a stem-cell transplant that preserves the body's diminishing ability to make insulin, according to a study published today.

The experimental therapy eliminated the need for insulin injections for months or even years in 14 of 15 patients recently diagnosed with the disease. One subject, a 30-year-old male, hasn't taken insulin since his stem-cell transplant more than three years ago, according to the study in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

The study suggests a new avenue for treating the intractable disease, in which the immune system destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Without insulin, patients can't metabolize sugar and run the risk of developing nerve damage, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure and blindness.

When hEsc advocates demand federal funding for their research, diabetes is one of the top arguments they make. Now it looks like medical science can coax the correct stem cells from the patients themselves, without having to grind up human embryos for a cure. Of course, one has to go through two-thirds of the Times' article to discover this, as Karen Kaplan takes her time in reporting the actual process in which the doctors derive the stem cells.

Congress is about to embark on an argument which has almost been made moot already. The presidential veto will only serve as the crowning moment for a Congress which insists on pursuing junk science as wedge issues.

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Comments (11)

Posted by syn [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 7:09 AM

It is creepy how insistant is the use of embryonic stem cells when there are other viable stem cells available.

It's creepy like desperate humans feeding off the dead to give them life.

It's bad enough having a law which dehumanizes the embryo, now we'll have political science confriming it's not human.

"As soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension, and man began to lose control of it." (Vaclav Havel)

Posted by jerry [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 7:18 AM

The drive by the Democrats and the usual crop of misguided Republicans to fund hEsc research is motivated by the greed of researchers who can no longer count on private investors to pony up the money for their pet projects when nEsc developments will yield certain profits now rather then maybe later.

It is no longer possible to make cost-benefit arguments in favor of hEsc. It is almost certain that anything you can do with hEsc you can do sooner with nEsc. There is no reason to open the door to treating human life as a commodity. hEsc proponents are only interested in the ongoing Socialist project of turning human beings into a disposable commodity.

I will repeat my offer to the usual suspects who support hEsc. I will forgo any treatments developed from hEsc if they will forgo any treatments from nEsc. Any takers?

Posted by musterion [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 9:06 AM

Actually, the article as currently posted on the TimesOnline website has the source of the stem cells in the second paragraph.

Second thought, why can't all of the researchers in ESC research go to George Soros for money? Heck, he's got boatloads. How about the Gates foundation? or many of the other "liberal" foundations.

Posted by Dirty Dingus [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 10:06 AM

I think that you are overstating the level of scientific knowledge with regard to stem cells embryonic or otherwise. As I understand it there is an immense amount of basic research that needs to be done before we can expect anything more than serendipitous treatments and cures.

We do not, for example, know how, when etc. embryonic stem cells lose their ability to produce all other cells, nor do we know how to identify a stem cell (embryonic or otherwise) except by observing it produce a stream of other cells. IMO we're at a similar point to where we were 100 years ago with radioactivity and atomic physics. We know some things about it, we have models of behaviour, but we don't have many clearly proven hypotheses or understanding about why stuff does what it does. Just as it took another 40 years or so to get to practical applications of radioactivity (and with two or three different atomic models in the meantime) its going to take while before we stitch together the mechanisms of stem cells and other key building blocks of genetics.

Some more on this over at my blog: http://www.di2.nu/200704/11.htm

Posted by Rose [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 10:08 AM

So! NOTHING in SCIENCE has strengthened the case for EMBRYONIC stem cell slaughterings for the production of CANCER.

There are just more Liberal politicians available to vote for the grab bing of more TAX DOLLARS for LIBERAL PROGRAM SLUSH FUNDS.

WOW! What amazing things the Liberals can do for us.

Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 10:59 AM

Musturion,

I count the paragraph where the source of the stem cells is revealed as number 24, the bottom paragraph of the first web page: After a day of rest, they were infused with their own hematopoietic stem cells, which took about eight to 12 days to establish new immune systems. While the patients were without functioning immune systems, they were given antibiotics to protect them from possible infections. It takes integration of #24 with two previous paragraphs (#21, #23) describing what hematopoietic means to infer that the cells used were not derived from the destruction of embryos.

And Dirty,

What we do know is that an embryo is a separate human being (regardless of what abortionists would have us think). Any forensic DNA test can eliminate its similarity to anyone other than an identical twin. Its cells, implanted in another human, produce a foreign tissue immune response (that's what the placenta is for -- to isolate the foreign tissues of the embryo from the potentially fatal immune response of its mother). No such problems with autologous stem cells -- those provided by the donor him/herself -- no immune response, and no antirejection drugs needed.

Your blog expresses opinion, but no science behind that opinion, other than the type that says "Hey, we won't know how good human skin is as lampshades until we try it." Your blogged opinion that no demonstrable good has yet come from "adult stem cells" is false on the face of the LA Times article, as well as an earlier test on heart tissue regeneration done in Brazil.

While Americans are fixated on Petri dish techologies (I call it that because non of the differentiated tissues grown have ever been implanted in a human being) involving stem cells of embryonic origin, the rest of the world has moved beyond that false path to the real one. The types of stem cell research being done with "adult" cells are not affected by Bush's moratorium (hopefully permanent) on embryonic stem cell research involving "new tissue lines" (thinkspeak for new dismembered embryos), and are showing fruit in nearly every trial attempted, both human and animal.

Posted by jerry [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 11:19 AM

DD:

You must have missed the news. Researchers have found that stem cells found in the amniotic fluid have the same properties as stem cells from embryos. Therefore there is no reason at all to pursue hEsc since every pregnant woman has a supply available for harvesting that does not involve destroying an embryo.

Posted by jiHymas@himivest.com [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 3:09 PM

Cap'n Ed: The presidential veto will only serve as the crowning moment for a Congress which insists on pursuing junk science as wedge issues.

I'm interested in your characterization of hESC research as "junk science".

Do you have expertise in this area? Are you relying on somebody else's expertise in this area? If so, whose?

Or are you simply assuming that anything to which you object on ethical grounds must necessarily be objectionable on scientific grounds?

Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 3:51 PM

Jerry,

The stem cells found in the amniotic fluid tissue type against the embryo. So, this is an autologous means of keeping stem cells (similar to "cord blood") for the fetus itself. Due to immune response issues, the science is now leaning toward autologous (self-harvested) stem cells as the best source for therapies based upon stem cells (a few months back I might have said "tissues" but we are now seeing results based on injection of the stem cells themselves into trauma sites, so "tissues" isn't the correct word).

The problem with these stem cells is the same as with embryonic stem cells -- they don't work well in other humans without the life-long use of anti-rejection drugs which compromise the immune system and occasionally fail anyway.

Posted by ajacksonian [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 6:10 PM

Now, here's the thing... if you are serious about dropping your number of injections downwards and don't smoke.... then go for inhaled insulin. I have and it has replaced my humalog use entirely and I only need basal injections twice daily. I wrote my views on stem cells in the previous foofaraw. I have since switched over to get rid of the injected mealtime insulin and find that actual, real, inhaled human insulin works just fine tyvm. I have some quibbles with the idiotic packaging that Pfizer does and they need to break their set packages up as even by their recommended at-start dose usage a good percentage will not use it up in the proportions handed out.

That said, promise me no promises.

What 'everyone knew' was that insulin could *not* get past the mucus or lung linings. Guess what? They were wrong for decades.

This has been literally sitting on the shelves since insulin was first crystallized for analysis back in the 1930's. And definitely with x-ray analysis, in which powdered crystalline material is necessary for a proper diffraction for the elements involved. It does not eliminate the need for basal insulin... but it removes the meal-time needs for injections.

No more promises.

Deliveries only accepted on cures. Because this community has been promised ever since the 1930's that 'a cure is just around the corner'. An effective and easy treatment has been sitting on the shelves.

Because of all the high-tech wonderment, one of the most effective and basic treatments has been completely and utterly overlooked that could have eased the pain and building of scar tissue on millions of diabetics for decades.

Posted by Mr Lynn [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 11, 2007 7:35 PM

Everyone, including pro-life folks, conveniently (or absent-mindedly) dodges the issue: Where are these poor embryos coming from?

The answer is from petri dishes used in in-vitro fertilization, an expensive procedure that generally results in the creation of 'extra' embryos besides the one that gets implanted in the womb.

This is selfishness run rampant. Rather than adopt a child, couples will eagerly destroy nascent human beings.

We can shortcut the debate over using these embryos for stem cells simply by BANNING IN-VITRO FERTILIZATION. If you don't create them, you can't use them.

Now what politician has the guts to propose such a solution?

/Mr Lynn