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

From CNSNews.com 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.

Breakthrough: Restoring sight by adult stem cell treatment

Adult stem cell technology is amazing in what it can accomplish. The video below shows how sight is being restored using contact lenses coated with the person’s own stem cells. WARNING: There is eye surgery shown in parts that may be hard to watch for the squeamish.

That is great news. Josh Brahm comments on that and points out that you should be careful when reading stories about these breakthroughs. As a headline writer myself, I can say that biases aren’t always there when headlines are written. But I also know that subtleties can be lost when readers look at headlines and don’t read stories all the way through. Also, while headlines can be innocently vague, it does irritate me when stories are vaguely written or edited. That is shoddy journalism. Saying stem cell research when it is actually adult (or ISP) stem cell research is either laziness or brazen misrepresentation. Either way it’s wrong.

New ground being broken in Georgia on embryo adoptions

From the Christian Examiner:

ATLANTA — The nation’s first law governing the adoption of embryos is set to take effect in Georgia after being passed by the legislature and signed by the governor.

The “Option of Adoption Act,” which will go into effect July 1, will provide safeguards for both parties involved in an embryo adoption, which is a unique form of adoption in which a couple — often an infertile one — adopts one or more surplus embryos from a couple who has undergone in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

Embryo adoption allows the adopting mother to experience pregnancy and has been promoted by pro-lifers for years but, until now, has not been governed by the laws of any state. Significantly, the Georgia bill amends Georgia’s adoption laws to make clear that embryo adoption in fact is a form of adoption. The law also allows adoptive parents to file in court for a final order of adoption (for the child who is born as the result of the embryo adoption), which supporters of the new law say clarifies that the adopting parents are eligible for claiming some but not all of their expenses for the federal adoption tax credit, which this year is more than $11,000.

Although embryo adoption tends to be cheaper than traditional adoption it nevertheless can still cost several thousands of dollars.

Couples who undergo an embryo adoption in a state without such a law as Georgia’s must sign private legal contracts that treat the embryo as property. The new Georgia law defines an embryo as “an individualized fertilized ovum of the human species from the single-cell stage to eight-week development.”

The law has the support of the nation’s embryo adoption programs, including Nightlight Christian Adoptions, which runs the nation’s oldest embryo adoption program — the Snowflakes program.

“Science has outpaced our legislation in clarifying the rights of the parties in potential disputes involving embryo transfer between families,” Ron Stoddart, executive director of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, previously told Baptist Press. “There needs to be certainty, particularly before an embryo is thawed and implanted in the womb of an adopting mother.”

HT: Zach Nielsen

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.

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.

Science and religion: John Lennox, the merry warrior for Christ

John Lennox is an Oxford proffesor of mathematics.
John Lennox is an Oxford professor of mathematics.

John Dickson at the Centre for Public Christianity has posted a series of video interviews with noted Oxford professor of mathematics and Christian apologist John Lennox. Among the topics addressed were:

Who is John Lennox?
Introduction to the Professor

A Good God?
Hope for a mucked up world

Science, Atheism and Belief
Has science buried God?

Face off!
Debating Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens

Science, the Bible and belief in the 21st Century
Do you have to put your brain to one side to read the Bible?

Atheism and morality
Does atheism provide grounds for morality?

The evils of Christendom
Do the evils done in the name of Christ show that Christianity has failed?

Russian adventures
Professor Lennox discusses his experiences in Eastern Europe

Creator or the Multiverse?
Does the fine tuning of the universe point to God or an infinite collection of universes?

Christianity and the tooth fairy
Does science deal with reality and religion with everything else?

HT: Justin Taylor

Spider-Man? How about every man?

\According to new research, humans can see into the future ever so briefly, which explains why we are tricked by optical illusions.

Researcher Mark Changizi of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York says it starts with a neural lag that most everyone experiences while awake. When light hits your retina, about one-tenth of a second goes by before the brain translates the signal into a visual perception of the world.

Scientists already knew about the lag, yet they have debated over exactly how we compensate, with one school of thought proposing our motor system somehow modifies our movements to offset the delay.

Changizi now says it’s our visual system that has evolved to compensate for neural delays, generating images of what will occur one-tenth of a second into the future. That foresight keeps our view of the world in the present. It gives you enough heads up to catch a fly ball (instead of getting socked in the face) and maneuver smoothly through a crowd. His research on this topic is detailed in the May/June issue of the journal Cognitive Science.

The article goes on to explain that illusions occur because our brains try to perceive the future but reality doesn’t match our perceptions. The question that comes to my mind: Is this something that has evolved or is it one more way we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” ?

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HT: Centurion