Spinal Confusion

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

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Why Must Though Forsake Me, Bloomberg?

Bloomberg has a semi-decent piece up describing the current state of embryonic stem cell bills in Congress. If you have been following the issue, you may be able to understand what they're saying. If you haven't, good luck.

But that's why I'm here, to clarify these issues in my normal cheerful way. Let's begin.
Bush has prohibited federal funding for any research using material from newly created human embryos since 2001. While Frist has promised to bring a measure before the Senate to overturn Bush's ban, a plan to begin debate this month has been stalled.

Scientists inject embryonic cells with genetic material, creating regenerative tissue that in theory could be implanted in patients to cure diseases from Parkinson's to juvenile diabetes. The Republican Party's evangelical Christian base is opposed to the research because human embryos are destroyed in the process.
There's a subtle segway here that isn't explicitly clear.

The first paragraph accurately describes Bush's 2001 ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cells, but it is incomplete. Bush's ban only relates to ESCs derived in a manner in which an embryo is destroyed. One proven "alternative" method to obtain embryonic stem cells comes from Kevin Eggan. In 2005, he fused an adult cell with an ESC, which produced a "cloned" ESC -- all without creating or destroying an embryo. Research using these ESCs would be eligible for federal funding.

Now the segway, and the inaccuracies. Bloomberg reports that the Evangelical Christian base opposes this method. In actuality, they do not. Those who are against expanding Bush's restrictions oppose it because they are against detroying embryos.

The procedure Bloomberg describes does not rely on the destruction of embryos, so I have to think they meant transferring an adult nucleus into an enucleated egg, in which case an embryo is created. Evangelicals do, largely, oppose this.

The article goes on to discuss the political maneuverings of various Senators about this issue. Sam Brownback (R-KS) wants a week long discussion on bioethics where opponents can introduce legislation to block expansion of the research, and he thinks he has the 51 votes necessary to do so. Tom Harkin (D-IA) thinks, when push comes to shove, a number of fence-sitting Republicans will vote in favor of expansion.

Senator Frist (R-TN), staying consistent with his previous statements, said he would like to consider "a range of bills and amendments" when the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act comes to the floor for a vote. I am (no surprise) hoping the Respect for Life Pluripotent Stem Cell Act is one of those bills.