Taking a Breath
Taking a Breath
Well, I’ve been away. First the news was all still veto related (which it mostly still is) and then my kid got sick. He can’t read yet so it’s necessary to entertain him. So there went any of my free time. Not to mention that it’s been over 100 for 4 days, making the study unbearable for most of the time.
He’s back to school today so I get a shot at catching up on all that’s happened. In the heat of the American stem cell issue I neglected to cover a similar battle happening in Europe; Tony Snow has now said OOPS; and there’s a smidgen of research.
Let’s go to the OOPS first, as it’s the most relevant to the issues. White House Spokesman Tony Snow says that he overstated the issue when he said that Bush considers stem cell research murder. The Los Angeles Times reports that Snow said Bush would not use the term “murder”; Snow had previously, in describing the veto, said that Bush was one of millions of people who consider such research murder. The Washington Post, in a lengthier story, suggests that the retraction may be due to the upcoming mid-term elections and Bush’s concern that he has alienated key members of the Republican constituency. Bingo! Ding ding ding! The Post says that Snow
said Bush rejected the bill because "he does have objections with spending federal money on something that is morally objectionable to many Americans."
Yeah yeah what about the war and the millions who find it morally objectionable? I’m not the only one who’s been commenting on that in the wake of the stem cell veto, and others have called the Lebanon-Israel war into the discussion, and the number of civilians who have died so far in that conflict. Frankly, I think that Bush did take an ideological stance, felt the backlash, and is now having Snow take the heat for a so-called mischaracterization. Politics as usual…
On to the EU.
Germany has been trying to ban funding for embryonic stem cell research across the EU for a while now. Italy and some Eastern European, largely Catholic, countries have also been opposed. One can hardly condemn the Germans—they have a terrible history to overcome, and of course they don’t want to do anything that might call their current ethics and humanity into question. History’s reach is long. And it’s unsurprising that Catholic countries would be opposed. Italy, Slovenia, and Germany eventually supported the EU proposal on funding embryonic stem cell research—one with many limitations—and it was passed yesterday after six hours of debate, according to the International Herald Tribune. The conditions include a ban on cloning for reproductive purposes, a ban on alterations to the human genetic code, an assurance that all research on embryonic stem cells would come from leftover in vitro fertilization embryos that would otherwise be discarded, and an agreement that countries which do not allow ESC research will not be required to do so now. The IHT quotes Stephen Hawking as saying that embryonic stem cell research with embryos that would be discarded is the equivalent of organ donation after a person dies—using something dead to help the living. The EU research commissioner said that the view of the majority of nations should be considered and not the view of those at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The debate continues to simmer in Australia as well, and I will try to keep up on that in the future.
A Reuters story reprinted on MSNBC reports on a study turning stem cells derived from fat into smooth muscle tissue. This is not exactly new news to readers of this blog—adipose stem cell research has been going on successfully for a while now. In this study, researchers at the UCLA Medical School isolated stem cells from fat and cultured them with appropriate growth factors, so that they differentiated into cells that could expand and contract. Obviously fat is a good source for obtaining plenty of one’s own stem cells—people have lots of it, and it’s easily harvested. The article also reports that researchers in the UK have identified a protein that keeps skin stem cells from dividing; when the protein is silenced, the cells grew and divided.
There’s also been some news about a new place in Texas to bank your children’s baby teeth, in the hope of extracting stem cells from the remaining pulp when they are needed. The Chicago Sun Times reports that stem cell researchers feel this is not a good idea scientifically; there is no good evidence at this point that the cells can be differentiated into anything other than tooth tissue (dentin), so parents banking in the hope of curing some other future disease or injury probably have false hopes. They also say that by the time the research on baby teeth stem cells is complete, research on other types of stem cells will have progressed to the point where the baby tooth stem cells wouldn’t even be needed because others will be able to do the same job.
I don’t think that tooth stem cells should be abandoned as an area of research—at the very least, being able to naturally reconstruct a tooth would be a great boon to many people who suffer from dental problems. And dental problems can lead to a lot of other health issues. But banking the cells seems premature and a waste of money at this point. The logic for banking would be that if you don’t bank them now you won’t have them later when they are needed, but I don’t think it’s a big risk given the state of other stem cell research. I also suspect, given the way kids handle their loose teeth, that many of the cells would be contaminated.