Spinal Confusion

...an attempt to clarify confusing and innacurate information in science articles

Friday, August 26, 2005

Another Stem Cell Fast One? Maybe not.

Steven Milloy, writing for FOX News, provides a report on the media's reaction to the recent Harvard stem cell announcement. He starts with:
The embryonic stem cell research lobby must think the rest of us are pretty gullible.
Not hiding his biases, he ends with:
Moreover, despite rather obvious and contradictory facts, the Harvard study is being positioned in the media as a way to do embryonic stem cell research without harming embryos — and the timing seems entirely political.

Last May, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would circumvent President Bush’s limits on the use of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. The Senate is slated to take up the bill in September and supporters say they have the votes to pass it.

But President Bush says he will veto the measure and bill supporters lack a two-thirds majority in Congress to override it — so far. All bets are off, though, if the embryonic stem cell research lobby can get away with morphing woefully premature and limited research results into “miracle cures around the corner.”
A quick search of Google News for articles not mentioning the difficulties he raises include prominent members of the embryonic stem cell research lobby, including Washington Times and LifeNews.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The First Step

September is the last month that any bills will be considered by Congress during this session, so we should try to have the vill voted on during the month. Write your Congressmen and urge them to bring the bill out of committee to a vote. They are home right now, so call their local office and see if you can set up a face-to-face meeting with them to discuss the bill. (Talking points will be created.)

Every Congressmen is important in this endeavor. The bill is currently stuck in the Health subcommittees of the House Veteran's Affairs Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as the full Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. If anyone from your state is on one of these committees, it would be important to contact them and see what can be done to get the bill moving.

Christopher Reeve's birthday was September 25, so let's push for it to be on Bush's desk by that date.

Friday, August 19, 2005

9 Year Anniversary

Today marks the ninth anniversary of the accident that left me paralyzed. Surprisingly it is not a depressing or sad day, not that my anniversaries ever are. Frustrating for sure, but otherwise a standard day.

However, one thing has been nagging me for the past two years or so: the song "14 Years" by Guns N' Roses will randomly pop into my head and it leaves me thinking "Will it really be fourteen years before I am 'fixed'?"

Today begins the five year countdown to my fourteen year mark, so I guess its time to create a five-year plan to be totally cured by then: August 19, 2010.

I hope to be functionally independent (i.e., having use of my arms, hands, wrists, and fingers) before that time, but I want it all by that date. How do we get from here to there?

Kids in the audience thinking embryonic stem cells, put your hands down.

First, we need to establish where "here" is. "Here" is the combination of the existing political and societal mindsets and the current base of scientific knowledge.

Let's start by breaking apart the political mindset as it currently exists. In one corner -- weighing in at 535 members -- we have Congress, who believe (by a simple majority) that embryonic stem cell research should be expanded. In the other corner, we have -- weighing in at one smirking Texan -- President Bush, who believes that his embryonic stem cell research policy from 2001 is as fine as a Texas steer.

What about society? Recent polls have consistently shown that the public is in favor of expanding the stem cell policy beyond the 22 currently available embryonic stem cell lines.

The science? It's available, and scientists are ready for an expanded policy. The science is not yet perfect, and that's one of the reasons scientists want it.

Conclusion? President Bush's veto wins out on expanding embryonic stem cell research by not having a sufficient number of votes to override his veto in the House of Representatives. StemPAC is hoping to take care of this little problem in the 2006 mid-term elections. Until then, the only shot federal funding of embryonic stem cell research has of being expanded is if ways are found to obtain embryonic stem cells without creating, harming, or destroying embryos.

So, embryonic stem cells are out until 2006. What else can we do?

Well, there are a few things.

The first is work to set up a network trained to run clinical trials designed to cure paralysis. Such a network would reduce costs for businesses attempting to run clinical trials, as startup costs associated with trials would be nearly eliminated. It would also remove the need to add (and fund) concurrent trials of competing therapies, as long as other trial criteria conform to an established standard.

Luckily, a bill exists to do just this: the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act. Unfortunately, it has received little attention from the media and Congressmen know nothing about it. Contact them and let them know about this bill. An important item to note is to include that the bill has nothing to do with stem cells, which is a true but little known fact.

Second, ask your Congressmen to support H.R. 3144 and fund research into non-destructive methods of obtaining embryonic stem cells.

StemPAC may fail in their efforts in 2006, pushing expansion of embryonic stem cell research back to 2008 at the earliest. Failure sucks, but it happens. Be ready with a backup plan just in case. Embryonic stem cells obtained by alternative methods will need to display the same properties and abilities as existing embryonic stem cell lines. That will take time, and it's important to begin the process sooner rather than later.

Finally, urge your Congressmen to support significant increases in NIH funding. An initiative was launched in 1997 under President Clinton to double the NIH budget. That goal was accomplished in 2002, but President Bush has directly forced its budget to stagnate since then. This move alone has stalled research more than any other action Bush has done during his terms.

In review, the five year plan is pretty simple.

* Establish a clinical trial network
* Push for increased NIH funding
* Work to elect pro-ESC expansion House members
* Support funding for alternative methods of deriving embryonic stem cells
* Support cure research, even non-ESC cure research

* Enjoy the benefits of a clinical trial network
* Push for increased NIH funding
* Support funding to prove alternatively derived ESCs are comparable to "regular" ESCs
* Try to pass an ESC expansion bill

* One way or another, stem cells are here to stay
* Push for increased NIH funding
* Work your butt off after receiving the cure to maximize recovery

* Enjoy a life without paralysis :)

August 19, 2010. Let's join together and achieve a cure by this date. Let's not make anyone suffer "14 years of pain" or "14 years that are gone forever" ever again.
It's been
14 years of silence
It's been
14 years of pain
It's been
14 years that are gone forever
And I'll never have again

Monday, August 15, 2005

LifeNews Mentions Transdifferentiation!

LifeNews.com is carrying a brief blurb entitled Stem Cell Programming Could Solve Stem Cell Research Dilemmas with quotes from Robert Lanza, vice president of Advanced Cell Technology, and Leon Kass, chairman of the US President's Council on Bioethics, in support of transdifferentiation. Specifically, a form called dedifferentiation that would be used to derive patient-specific embryonic stem cells from an adult cell.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

"We need to educate the public that science takes a long time."

Browsing through the Journal Science for articles on transdifferentiation yesterday, I came upon an article from June 2002 wherein Drs. Markus Grompe and James Thomson lamented the pervasive belief that not only can stem cells cure everything, but they can do so tomorrow:

"I think [therapies with transplanted stem cells] will eventually work," says Grompe. But "we've raised a lot of false hopes for quick fixes, and that's not going to happen." He and others say a closer comparison might be with gene therapy--greatly hyped 20 years ago but still without much to show for itself. James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who first isolated human ES cells back in 1998, agrees. "I'm not looking forward to the backlash 3 years from now when people say, 'What happened to stem cells?' " he says. What can scientists do about it? Says Thomson: "We need to educate the public that science takes a long time."
The last sentence remains true today. Three years later, Bush's policies have unwittingly saved researchers the backlash predicted by Thomson, but the backlash will come as long as people maintain unrealistic expectations.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Leon Kass: It's ethically neat

Hat tip to Kristen.

Kass: I would like to talk with you about reprogramming, because I think that’s where the gold is buried. Since the council’s white paper has been issued, we’ve been made aware of three major scientific reports that indicate to me at least that the reprogramming alternative is, A., hotly under investigation, and B., moving much more rapidly than we had any reason to suspect even two months ago when the report was issued.
Here Dr. Kass is referring to dedifferentiation, an ethically and scientifically viable way to obtain cells with embryonic-like properties. The interview focuses on the four options discussed in the May Bioethics Whitepaper. My favorite quote:

Kass: But if I’m a betting man, I’m betting on the thing we talked about at first, which is the reprogramming. It’s ethically neat, it doesn’t require genetic engineering, it doesn’t require eggs, and it can be done with the existing eligible-for-federal-funds cell lines that scientists are now using. And these very promising and exciting results from three independent laboratories over the last few months make me think that we’re going to hear an awful lot about this.
If I'm a betting man, I would say Dr. Kass has nailed the key to ending the stem cell debate.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Get Well, Dana

While I try to avoid blogging on things that do not specifically related to stem cells, I want to send my condolences to Dana Reeve. Her Doctors have given her an optimistic prognosis, and I hope everything clears up for her.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Opinion Piece in Huntsville Times Argues for Transdifferentiation

Making the standard Pro-Life argument, Tommy Glenn writes that scientists should use adult stem cells instead of embryonic stem cells for research. While his arguments are mostly the same as every other anti-ESC piece you will read, I was happy to see him mention transdifferentiation.

They are also discovering that adult stem cells can transdifferentiate, or become multiple cell types. This is similar to the ability of embryonic stem cells to develop into every cell type in the body.
It doesn't really take much to make me happy, I guess. :)

I wish he would have noted that transdifferentiation offers a morally acceptable way to obtain embryonic stem cells, but I have to give him points for being at least peripherally aware of the concept.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Charles Krauthammer Supports Reproductive Cloning?

Both in my writings and as a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, I have advocated this dual policy: Expand federal funding of stem cell research by using discarded embryos, but couple that with a firm national ban on creating human embryos for any purpose other than the birth of a human baby.
Ban creating human embryos, except for reproduction. I think this is a mis-print or typo.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Rush Limbaugh: Afraid?

His screeners may be.

Reading Rush Limbaugh's transcript from Monday's show (excerpts, via JillStanek.com) was an eye-opener. In essence, his argument was that embryonic stem cell proponents are Pro-Choice advocates who are only using stem cells to keep abortion legal.

Okay. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Opinions aside, he made this shocking statement:
In the meantime, in order to continue the [embryonic stem cell] research, what do you need? You need embryos, and where do you get those? Well, until the left figures out how to replace God, you only get embryos from procreation, and then you have to go in and abort the result of the procreation to get the embryo, abort, abort. You have to abort....
Given that this was the first time I have read Limbaugh's opinion on the subject, I was hoping to get his opinion on H.R. 3144, which attempts to obtain embryonic stem cells without harming an embryo. If he was unaware of the bill, I thought he may be interested in it.

So today about 1:50 PM (Eastern) I started to call his toll-free number (1-800-828-8228) to try and ask Mr. Limbaugh a simple question: If there was a way to obtain embryonic stem cells for research without harming embryos, would you support it?

For those who have never called a radio station, a call screener usually answers the phones to screen out obnoxious callers. Using skills honed as a pre-teen to win free CDs and assorted goodies, I persistently redialed and was rewarded with a non-busy signal.

"Cool! I'll actually get to ask my question."

The screener picked up after a few rings. "Hi, what would you like to ask Rush Limbaugh?"

"Hi, I would like to ask him a question about stem cells."

Immediately after "stem cells" left my mouth, I heard a click sound. Silence followed. Shortly thereafter, the "If you would like to make a call, please hang up and try again" recording started. Being a good boy, I followed instructions.

A few minutes of redialing later, the call screener answered again.

"Hi, I just called and I think I got accidentally disconnected."

Click. Silence. Recording.

Accident? I'm thinking not.

Either way, I will keep trying. I would like to know what Rush Limbaugh would say about H.R. 3144.

William F. Buckley, Jr. Gets It Wrong

In a piece appearing on Yahoo News, William F. Buckley, Jr. aims to clear up the confusion surrounding the stem cell debate. Sadly, he failed.

Let's take a look at what he says:
In the matter of the stem cells, we are asked to focus on two completely different things. There are the so-called adult stem cells, which derive from cells that would never develop in a human being. To take such stem cells and do nuclear transfer research is OK. Nobody is arguing that what you are doing is snuffing out a human life.
So far, so good.
By contrast, embryonic stem cells harbor life unborn, so that to take these and experiment with them is seen as experimentation with human beings. The ideal is to authorize the first kind of stem cell research but to forbid the second -- or, at least, to restrain it.
Embryonic stem cells themselves do not harbor life. Rather, embryonic stem cells are components of blastocysts.

A strong argument could be (and is) made that a blastocyst is a life or harbors life, but to argue that an embryonic stem cell harbors a "life unborn" is completely false.

Bush Stands Firm on Veto Pledge

From the Houston Chronicle, Bush again states that he will veto any bill that eases the restrictions he placed on embryonic stem cell research. The story is widely reported elsewhere, as well.

Nothing new here. H.R. 810 is dead.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Family Research Council Report on Adult Stem Cell Pluripotency

This is a good thing. The Family Research Council has released a "Fact Sheet" listing a few studies that have shown stem cells derived from bone marrow, pancreas, umbilical cord, amniotic fluid, and possibly the bloodstream have the potential to transdifferentiate into other types of cells. If more people focus on promoting this and getting this research funded appropriately (in the $100 million per year range), we can put to rest the entire embryonic stem cell debate.

Representative Roscoe's bill, HR. 3144, only allocates $15 million per year for research into the proposed alternatives. With the incoming taxes shaving $94 billion more than expected from the deficit, I think it is reasonable to expect that Congress can spend $100 million per year on research that will not only save numerous embryos from being destroyed, but will significantly improve the quality of life for those suffering spinal cord injuries while serving our country in Afghanistan and Iraq and the other 250,000+ spinal cord injured persons currently living in the United States.