Save rats? Kill people? GE looking for ways to further research

From comes this story about GE Healthcare, a subsidary of General Electric, and its efforts to use embryonic stem cell research to test drug toxicity and spare poor lab rats:

On June 30, GE Healthcare and Geron Corporation announced a multi-year alliance where Geron will provide GE scientists with an undisclosed amount of human embryonic stem cells.
The human cells will be used “to develop and commercialize cellular assay products derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) for use in drug discovery, development and toxicity screening,” according to a news release.
GE Healthcare, which is based in Britain, hopes that human embryonic testing will spare lab rats from having potentially toxic drugs in or on the animals.
“This could replace, to a large extent, animal trials,” Konstantin Fiedler, general manager of cell technologies at GE Healthcare, told Reuters.
“Once you have human cells and you can get them in a standardized way, like you get right now, your lab rats in a standardized way, you can actually do those experiments on those cells,” he added.

But this is all nonsense, says Dr. David Prentice, senior fellow for life science at the Family Research Council:

[Prentice said] that embryos must be killed before stem cells can be derived from them for research purposes.
“Human embryonic stem cell research is ethically irresponsible and scientifically unworthy, as well as useless for patients,” Prentice said.
Prentice explained that General Electric’s optimism in saving lab animals from testing by using hESCs is also largely unfounded.
“There is always going to be a problem on trying to rely just on cultured cells to do drug testing,” Prentice explained.

The problem, he said, is that many drugs are metabolized in the liver and other parts of the body and those metabolized substances then become the active ingredients of the drugs.
“Treating just cells in culture will give you some idea of toxicity or perhaps effectiveness on a certain cell type, but will not actually work for the whole organ, or the entire system, or the organism,” Prentice said. “So this is not going to replace all animal testing.

Prentice also pointed out that most of the research involving embryonic stem cells thus far has produced no valid therapies, while successful therapies for several diseases and conditions are already in place using adult stem cells, he said.

But, of course, the problem with adult stem cells, which have no ethical baggage associated with them, is that the president who said we must not put ideology over science has pulled government funding for that research.

ESCR debunked as Michael J. Fox, Oprah watch

On a recent Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Mehmet Oz explained how adult stem cells are proving to be a much more promising hope for finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease to Oprah and Michael J. Fox, who has been suffering from the disease since the early 1990s.

For Fox, I’m sure it must be good to hear Dr. Oz say that a cure could be found within the single digits (less than 10 years) and definitely within our lifetime. But it must have also been strange for him to sit there and hear Oz say that adult stem cells are a much better and safer method than embryonic stem cells since Fox has been a vocal proponent of that method. Dr. Oz doesn’t pull any punches, so there’s no room for “Yes, but…” kind of thinking concerning ESCR (embryonic stem cell research). Oz flat out says that the stem cell debate is dead (except for President Obama). He says that research in the past year (with adult stem cells) has proceeded dramatically to the point where there is much hope for not only Parkinson’s sufferers like Fox but those who have heart disease and other ailments.

Hopefully, since Obama is such good friends with Oprah he’ll pay attention.


HT: Josh Brahm


Click on the image to view the segment of the show
Click on the image to view the segment of the show

Don’t put your faith in science

To me, it is deeply disturbing when the president puts his faith in scientists, saying things like “promoting science isn’t just about providing resources — it is also about protecting free and open inquiry.  It is about letting scientists like those here today [on March 9] do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient — especially when it’s inconvenient.  It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda – and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.”

To divorce any kind of ideology from science is to give science a free rein that leads to frightening results. In a review of Pamela Winnick’s book “A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade Against Religion,” Wesley Smith points out what kind of work scientists are capable of when human life is disregarded. From his review published in the Discovery Institute’s First Things:

Early on, Winnick wrenchingly demonstrates the potential antihuman consequences of pursuing scientism’s view of scientific research. During the late 1960s and into the 1970s, scientists conducted human experiments on living fetuses, justified by the philosophical assertion that fetuses are only “potential” human life. 

One such experiment, which won the Foundation Prize Award from the American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology, is described by Winnick in sickening detail: “In a 1968 study called the ‘Artificial Placenta,’ a twenty-six-week-old fetus, weighing more than a pound, was obtained from a fourteen-year-old girl, presumably from a therapeutic abortion. Along with fourteen other fetuses, it was immersed in a liquid containing oxygen and kept alive a full five hours.” The study itself explains that the fetus made”irregular gaspmg movements, twice a minute, … but there was not proper respiration.” Once the pumping of oxygenated blood was stopped, however, “the gasping respiratory efforts increased to 8 to 10 times a minute …. The fetus died 21 minutes after leaving the circuit.”

So, for those of you who feel squeamish or think I’m overstating it when I mention Nazi doctors in regard to therapeutic stem cell research, I’d ask you to read that last paragraph again and remember that we’re talking about 1960s America and not 1940s Nazi Germany. Smith notes that the experiments were stopped when an outraged public and Congress — led by Ted Kennedy — demanded they be stopped. But we live in a different age where the drumbeat call for cures has drowned out any thought of human exceptionalism. In other words, it matters not that embryos are human, it only matters what cures can (possibly) be found.

The idea that science is somehow benign and trustworthy left untethered from any kind of ideological guidelines is naive and will lead to situations like the one described above. Smith, in his review of Winnock’s book, says science of is not the target in “A Jealous God” but rather a belief (scientism she calls it) that “promotes a stark materialistic utilitarianism as the way to achieve progress.” Science is not our savior, and we can never forget that.

Embryonic snake oil salesman

Charles Krauthammer, who doesn’t come off as a religious right wingnut, says Barack Obama’s address while reversing Bush policy on embryonic stem cell research was unserious:

This is not just intellectual laziness. It is the moral arrogance of a man who continuously dismisses his critics as ideological while he is guided exclusively by pragmatism (in economics, social policy, foreign policy) and science in medical ethics.

Science has everything to say about what is possible. Science has nothing to say about what is permissible. Obama’s pretense that he will “restore science to its rightful place” and make science, not ideology, dispositive in moral debates is yet more rhetorical sleight of hand — this time to abdicate decision-making and color his own ideological preferences as authentically “scientific.”

Read the rest here.

Update: The AP is the one playing politics on stem cell research

So, yesterday I posted about a story from two Associated Press reporters, Ben Feller and Lauran Neergaard, who couldn’t find anyone to quote about their objections to President Obama reversing Bush policy to restrict funding for embryonic stem cell research. What did they do? Find a scientist to better frame the debate? Nah.

Instead, they updated their story with a quote from Tony Perkins at the Family Research Council. Oh, wait, that’s the conservative Family Research Council:

“Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for experiments that require the destruction of human life,” said Tony Perkins of the conservative Family Research Council. “President Obama’s policy change is especially troubling given the significant adult stem cell advances that are being used to treat patients now without harming or destroying human embryos.”

After a cursory summary of the potential of adult stem cell research over the last eight years the article veers back to the left and states that scientists, not politics should judge. OK, who just inserted politics into this story? Anyone? Yes, that would be reporters Ben Feller and Lauran Neergaard (and, most likely, the anonymous editors) of the not-conservative Associated Press.

Now, to be fair, that quotation from Perkins might have been in the original story but was cut by an editor. But I’m going to say this anyway. Listen closely , AP: There are plenty of scientists (not politians or activists) who I’m sure would like to talk about their research with adult stem cells and give you balanced feedback about this. If you want to do your politics story and talk to people like Tony Perkins — who does have a point — then do it in another story with activists who are pro-embryonic stem cell research. And, if you really did talk and quote adult stem cell research scientists and then cut it, then shame on you.

But to frame this as a science-vs.-politics story is completely manipulative on your part. Again, your story (even updated) is still cheerleading.

The Associated Press: Your one-way news service

The Associated Press reported Friday that President Obama is expected to sign on Monday an executive order reversing restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

After reading this article, you may wonder what’s missing. The answer: Any kind of reaction from those opposing reversing restrictions. Instead, we are given the views of an anonymous senior administration official (the quote fragment “scientific integrity” which gives you an idea of how this administration totally misunderstands the issue), a stem cell researcher who favors embryonic stem cell research, Obama himself (from his views on the campaign trail when he announced his opposition) and a spokesman for a group that advocates embryonic stem cell research.

What can be said that might give pause for reversing the policy? Two paragraphs give the entire argument against it:

Such research is controversial because embryos must be destroyed to obtain the cells; they typically are culled from fertility-clinic leftovers otherwise destined to be thrown away. Once a group of stem cells is culled, it can be kept alive and propagating in lab dishes for years.

There are different types of stem cells, and critics say the nation should pursue alternatives to embryonic ones such as adult stem cells, or those found floating in amniotic fluid or the placenta. But leading researchers consider embryonic stem cells the most flexible, and thus most promising, form – and say that science, not politics, should ultimately judge.

This is followed by a comment by an embryonic stem cell research advocate saying that “science works best and patients are served best by having all the tools at our disposal.”

And I’m sure Josef Mengele would agree.

It’s disappointing that it took two writers, Ben Feller and Lauran Neergaard, to write an article that is basically propaganda for the embryonic stem cell research position. It’s not like there are no scientists to be found on the other side, but Feller and Neergaard didn’t make the effort to talk to them. Here would have been a good start, at least as far as better framing the argument from the other side. Instead, we get cheerleading from the AP.

Robert P. George: A citizen hero

Robert P. George was honored for his service to the nation serving on the President Council on Bioethics
Robert P. George was honored for his service to the nation serving on the President' Council on Bioethics

Robert P. George, who has served our nation on the President’s Council on Bioethics, was honored this week with the Presidential Citizens Medal for “exemplary deeds of service for the nation. It is one of the highest honors the President can confer upon a civilian, second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

The press release at the White House’s Web site said this about George:

With wisdom and integrity, Dr. Robby George has brought forceful analytic clarity to the study of America’s ideals and institutions. He has helped strengthen our Nation’s system of ordered liberty by exploring enduring questions of American constitutional law and Western political theory. The United States honors Robby George for his many contributions to our civic life.

Why should we care? We should because it was George who was among the scholars, reseachers, scientists and theologians who advised the president when he made his landmark decision to limit embryonic stem cell research to existing lines in 2001. George, who lectures on constitutional interpretation, civil liberties and philosophy of law at Princeton University, is a solid conservative who is pro-life and pro-family. In other words, he is the polar opposite of his Princeton colleague Peter Singer.

In a 2003 article in the Catholic Education Resource Center, it describes how George puts his own beliefs — and his mind — in gear wherever he operates.

George operates at high velocity, moving easily within the worlds of academia, politics, and religion. He serves on President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics, where, says council chairman Leon Kass, George brings “enormous integrity and decency. He is an absolutely lucid and careful thinker, deeply committed to the dignity of the human person from its earliest beginnings.” Like Socrates, Kass notes, George meets his interlocutors “on their own grounds but show[s] them that their arguments take them to places they don’t want to go.”

The idea that is repeatedly bandied about is that there is a disconnect between being a rational, thinking person and a person of deep faith. In answer to that, we can merely point to people like Robert George and how he lives his faith.


See President Bush’s address to the nation on Aug. 9, 2001, concerning stem cell research