Month Archives: July 2010

Geron Cleared by FDA to Endanger Patients

by David Prentice

July 30, 2010

Geron has apparently been released from its safety hold by the FDA, and intends to go ahead with its dangerous clinical trial injecting human embryonic stem cell derivatives into newly-injured spinal cord patients.

Whether Geron actually moves ahead with its trial (not a single patient has yet been injected) remains to be seen. In fact, because the treatment can only be done within the first two weeks after the injury, the potentially endangered patients are still walking around.

Even many pro-embryonic stem cell scientists have expressed concerns about Geron’s trial, that it is

not proven even in rats, and could cause harm to the patients. Dr. John Kessler, chairman of neurology and director of the stem cell institute at Northwestern University, has said:

We really want the best trial to be done for this first trial, and this might not be it.”

And Dr. Kessler is not alone in his trepidation about the Geron trial. Geron seems bent on endangering patient’s health as well as their very lives, to make a political point and help their bottom line (their stock price went up soon after their press release).

Meanwhile, in terms of real effectiveness, even for patients injured years previously, adult stem cells have already shown published scientific evidence not only for safety, but for the reality of successful repair of spinal cord injury in patients.

The Beautiful People

by Jeanne Monahan

July 30, 2010

Our own Tom McClusky wrote a funny blog this week about DCs beautiful people. Today on a more serious note I would like to take up the topic of beauty and the dignity of the human person.

I am motivated by deep beauty. To me, that which is real, true and good is always beautiful. Part of what makes something beautiful is that it is inherently creative and mysterious. I believe that when something is contrived, it becomes less beautiful. For example, we can think of any number of famous actresses or TV personalities who undergo plastic surgery and emerge looking more artificial and, thus, much less beautiful.

Beauty frequently communicates a deeper reality. It has been said, “The most beautiful act in the world was Christ dying on the cross. Intended as an execution, Jesus death was the ultimate expression of love. It defined and illustrated beauty in its truest sense.

With this as our backdrop, I learned of a most unattractive, ugly reality this morning: there is now available to our American consumer a fertility clinic to create beautiful babies.

Ever worried about having an ugly baby? Fret not, a popular dating website exclusively for beautiful people has branched out to provide a fertility forum aimed at creating beautiful babies. Criticized by some as narcissism gone mad, the project was launched in June, shortly after BeautifulPeople.com booted out 5,000 people who gained weight and were deemed too ugly to remain members. Presented as a solution for parents who worry about having ugly children, the Fertility Forum is “like any charitable work,” according to managing director Greg Hodge, a goodlooking Brit.

There is so much wrong about this it is hard to know where to begin.

Clearly, one of the most amazing aspects of life is the way in which a human being is created. We take it for granted even as our society does everything possible to control and manipulate this ability. But the truth is that a human being is the miraculous co-creation of an act of love between his or her parents. It is one of the greatest miracles on earth that the act of love would bear fruit in the miracle of life. In doing so, parents become co-creators with God.

Every baby is a gift. A baby is not a right. It is a gift from God, its co-creator. He chose, deliberately, to make every little one conceived within a womb.

A baby is a creation. A unique masterpiece. That does not mean that in order to be beautiful a baby need possess perfect, asymmetrical features. One of the most attractive babies I have even seen was a little girl with Down Syndrome. This baby glowed and had a smile that lit up the room (and her parents lives).

Another masterpiece was my friends son who had a heart defect and lived only a few days after birth. If you could have seen how this newborn radiated, your heart would permanently be strengthened.

Manipulating how life is created to produce physically attractive babies is wrong. Not only does it take the Creator and loving act which envelopes conception out of the equation, but it attempts to control and manipulate what is, in essence, a miracle. It moves in the direction of defining human beings by their features, rather than by their dignity and personhood.

In the process of producing beautiful children, many (beautiful) embryos will be killed because they somehow did not measure up to the qualifications the sponsors were hoping for, or perhaps the parents only wanted one baby, but five were created, etc.

This is a dangerous trend one that will not have pretty consequences. Persons are not items to be designed for appearance or utility but are co-created to love and to be a unique reflection of their Creator.

Embryonic Stem Cells Evicted from Stroke Brain

by David Prentice

July 30, 2010

A recent report from Swiss researchers casts doubt on the ability of embryonic stem cells to treat stroke. Neural precursors derived from mouse embryonic stem cells were implanted into the brains of mice. After nine months, the implanted cells had engrafted and even extended axons into different portions of the brain, although the evidence indicated that the implanted cells did not develop into mature neurons but remained in an early developmental stage. When a stroke was induced in the mouse brains, the embryonic stem cells were actually expelled from the brain. The results, published in the journal Stroke, suggest that embryonic stem cells are ineffective at forming mature brain neurons and treating stroke damage.

In contrast, results with adult stem cells show effective treatment of stroke damage, and early results of a clinical trial with stroke patients are encouraging.

iPS Cell “Memory” and Stem Cell Confusion

by David Prentice

July 29, 2010

Two papers published online recently in Nature journals indicate that the technology to produce iPS cells (induced pluripotent stem cells) is still a work in progress, but also highlight the confusion among journalists and even some scientists about stem cells—iPS cells, embryonic stem cells (ES cells), and Adult stem cells..

iPS cells provide a relatively easy and inexpensive method for creation of ES-type cells directly from virtually any tissue source or individual. They were first developed in 2006 in mice by the Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka, and in November 2007 both Yamanakas lab and the lab of James Thomson in the U.S. showed that this same technique could work for human cells as well. The original technique to reprogram a normal to become an iPS cell involves adding four genes directly to a human cell such as a skin fibroblast cell, with the genes added using a viral vector.

The iPS cells behave like ES cells, but the technique does not use embryos, eggs, or cloning, making it an ethical way to produce “pluripotent” stem cells (cells that potentially might form any body tissue.) In contrast, the usual way to produce ES cells is by taking an embryo (produced by the normal process of fertilization, or by cloning, a.k.a. “somatic cell nuclear transfer”) and destroying the embryo to extract the ES cells (that’s why they’re called “embryonic” stem cells.)

[Click on the figure to enlarge]

One question that has been posed ever since iPS cells were first announced, is whether iPS cells are truly identical to ES cells. Besides looking and growing like ES cells in the lab, iPS cells have passed all the usual tests for ES cells to demonstrate their pluripotent character:

    -formation of teratomas containing various cell types when injected into mice

    -expression of “pluripotency” genes

    -formation of chimeric mice, and even whole mice, when combined with other cells to form new mouse embryos

    -differentiation in the lab to form specialized cells

Both of the new papers (Kim et al., rushed into online publication in Nature, and Polo et al. published online in Nature Biotechnology) compare mouse iPS cells against mouse ES cells on a deeper molecular level. Both groups found that iPS cells retain a sort of “memory” of their origins, at least for a while. Methylation of DNA, while not changing the DNA sequence itself, provides markers of which genes are turned on or off. These are “epigenetic” (as opposed to genetic) differences. The newly-created iPS cells retained some of these epigenetic marks from their tissue of origin, e.g., blood, skin, or muscle. When the researchers tried to make blood cells from the iPS cells, the ones whose origin was blood could make blood cells much more easily than the iPS cells from other tissues, actually easier than ES cells, but by the same token those iPS cells made from blood had a more difficult time making other tissues. Their residual “epigenetic memory” helped them return to their tissue of origin, but hindered their formation of different tissues.

Those results indicate that iPS cells do retain some memory of their original tissue. This would make it easier to study a particular disease in the lab if the iPS cells were made from that tissue, but could limit their use for other tissues or diseases (different iPS cells for different tissues or diseases might be preferable.)

Interestingly, the Kim et al. paper also went to the trouble of making cloned mouse embryos from which ES cells were harvested (“cloned” ES cells). In the comparisons, the “cloned” ES cells were more similar to traditional ES cells than were the iPS cells, though still not identical. The use of cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer) seemed a contrived add-on to make a political point. Nature’s blog picked up on the political message, and in fact, that political message was delivered in some of the interviews. George Daley of Harvard said:

Stem cells generated by somatic cell nuclear transfer are on average, closer to bona fide embryonic stem cells than are iPS cells. This has an important political message—we still need to study the mechanisms by which nuclear transfer reprograms cells, because the process seems to work more efficiently and faithfully. Learning the secrets of nuclear transfer may help us make better iPS cells.”

In point of fact, both papers show that the “memory” differences seen in the iPS cells gradually disappear with further time in culture, and/or with chromatin-modifying chemicals.

This was highlighted by the senior author of the Nature Biotechnology paper, Konrad Hochedlinger, who said:

Our paper comes to a similar conclusion that a retention of memory reflects the cell of origin and affects the capacity of the iPS cell to differentiate into other cell types. When we let the cells go through a lot of cell divisions, they lose the memory.”

Daley himself (a co-author of the Nature paper that added on the cloning aspect), admitted in a less political moment that the “memory” aspect of iPS cells could be overcome for their use:

Its a challenge to be understood and overcome. We already have strategies for overcoming this.”

This study in no way challenges the usefulness of IPS cells. They remain enormously valuable.

So the results are an interesting wrinkle in the continuing saga of iPS cells, indicating that freshly-made iPS cells need some maturing in the lab before they truly resemble ES cells.

But the media are still confused on the subject of stem cells. For years there were only ES cells (made by destroying embryos) and Adult stem cells (taken from tissues without harming the donor), then along came iPS cells. While iPS cells are made from adult cells and tissues, they behave like ES cells; they are certainly NOT adult stem cells. But some still can’t get the facts right.

For example, Newsweek had this erroneous title:

Developments in Adult-Stem-Cell Research; Adult stem cells have memories”

Likewise, the Washington Times misleading title:

Adult stem cells said to ‘forget’ retooling”

And ABC News got their title right but bungled the interpretation in the text, leaping from adult cells for iPS to adult stem cells that are currently used to treat diseases. They also included a quote from an embryonic stem cell scientist that indicated even he didn’t understand the topic of the story (iPS cells from adult tissues, not adult stem cells):

The take home message is that what stem cell biologist have been arguing for years is true — that we need to continue studying both stem cells, because we don’t know which cells can be used for which applications,” said Sean Morrison, director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology at the University of Michigan.

See the figure for the differences in stem cell types.

And take this link if you want to see some real patient applications of ADULT STEM CELLS.

Hip Hope Helps Hares Hop

by David Prentice

July 29, 2010

In a proof-of-concept study using a rabbit model, researchers have successfully regenerated a functioning limb joint grown naturally using the host’s own adult stem cells. Prof. Jeremy J. Mao and his team at Columbia University Medical Center, along with colleagues from the University of Missouri and Clemson University, published their report online in The Lancet. They fabricated an anatomically correct 3-dimensional bioscaffold infused with the protein growth factor TGF3, and implanted the scaffolds into rabbits that had their forelimb thigh joint removed. Other rabbits had scaffolds implanted without the added protein, or no bioscaffold at all. Four weeks later, rabbits that received the protein-laden scaffolds were able to resume normal movements, like rabbits with normal functional joints.

The treated rabbits had grown their own joint using their own adult stem cells. The authors said their findings showed regeneration “without cell transplantation.” The rabbits’ own adult stem cells were attracted to the scaffold joint site by the protein growth factor, “homed” to the location of the missing joint, and regenerated cartilage and bone in two separate layers.

The published results actually show two new findings: regenerating a limb joint for the first time, with the animals resuming normal function with the new joint, and also the regenerated limb joint being created from the animal’s own endogenous stem cells, not stem cells that are harvested and manipulated outside the host’s body. According to Prof. Mao:

This is the first time an entire joint surface was regenerated with return of functions including weight bearing and locomotion. Regeneration of cartilage and bone both from the host’s own stem cells, rather than taking stem cells out of the body, may ultimately lead to clinical applications.”

In an accompanying published commentary, Dr Patrick Warnke of Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia, described the work as “a renaissance of use of the host as a bioreactor and recruitment of the host’s endogenous cells, including stem or progenitor cells, for tissue regeneration”.

Professor Molly Stevens of Imperial College London said:

This is the latest study to have shown that there are stem cells in the body that can be harnessed to grow bone and tissue if they are given the right sort of signals.”

U.K. Embryo Authority to be Terminated

by David Prentice

July 27, 2010

The U.K. is reorganizing and consolidating a number of health-related quangos, as part of the remodeling of the National Health Service. One group slated to have its authority consolidated into a new agency is the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the HFEA (motto: “we never met an embryo experiment we didn’t like”). The U.K. Academy of Medicine has been charged with recommending a new structure. Hopefully a little respect for human life will be incorporated, but don’t count on it.

Reality Confronts Oliver Stone

by Rob Schwarzwalder

July 27, 2010

Oliver Stone has made commercially successful and patriotically challenged films for nearly 30 years. Starting with Platoon, he has made a career of highlighting Americas real or perceived failings and generally diminishing the greatness of our country.

His film “Platoon” portrays America’s war in Viet Nam as an exercise in murder and American soldiers as moral primitives. Stone merits personal credit for his heroism as an Army soldier in Viet Nam, for which he received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster. Yet his brave conduct cannot excuse the worst possible excesses of a relative handful of American servicemen as representative of those who served in Southeast Asia.

Wall Street” excoriates investment houses to the point that no parody of the film could ever so richly mischaracterize the nature of risk, initiative and profit more fully than does Stone (after making a boatload of money running-down the economic system that made his wealth possible, Stone has produced a “Wall Street” sequel that is due out soon). His sordid and uproariously conspiratorial “JFK” fosters the belief that President Kennedy was killed by factions of the U.S. government. Stones “Nixon” is a wife-slapping lush. For such efforts, Hollywood has bestowed Oscars upon him.

Stone’s is an upside down world, where nothing is at it appears. For Stone, hidden meanings, invariably dark, lurk behind every corner. Prosperity for some always means oppression of the many. Liberty is a word used by the powerful to hold-down the poor. And so on, ad nauseum. Whatever the roots of Stone’s twisted vision, its distortions have been popularized in one morally tainted film after another.

Today, Stone’s understanding of true evil has given even his Left-wing defenders pause. In an interview published over the past few days, he decries “Jewish domination of the media” and asserts that Hitler’s Holocaust is over-emphasized. He summarized his profound views of American international relations by saying, “Israel has (vile obscenity) United States foreign policy for years.” Even the liberal Huffington Post called this “Stone-Cold Jew Baiting.”

In Stone’s world, Hitler “is an easy scapegoat,” and Joseph Stalin, mass murderer extraordinaire, has to be “put in context.” Stone whose father was Jewish, interestingly - is also a great admirer of brutal dictators like Fidel Castro and fascist thugs like Hugo Chavez, about whom he has made a glowing documentary.

Stone subsequently has apologized for his anti-Semitic comments, but his odd fascination with vileness today caught up with him. Never one to let truth get in the way of his perturbed historical narrative, Stone was today confronted by a reality that finally wearied of him. It’s called decency, something with which the talented but twisted filmmaker is all too unfamiliar.

Let us pray that Mr. Stone will turn his formidable talent as a filmmaker to truth that is bracing but ennobling, beauty that might be hard-won but is still inspiring, and goodness that while not sugary still enriches - and that his evidently troubled inner life will be transformed by a grace God alone can give.

Vernon Baker, An American Hero

by Rob Schwarzwalder

July 16, 2010

Vernon Baker, winner of the Congressional Medal Of Honor for extraordinary heroism in the Second World War, has died at 90 at his home in tiny St. Marie’s, Idaho.

Baker was an African-American. He received his Medal of Honor (52 years after earning it) in a special White House ceremony, where President Clinton presented it to him.

Baker was only 5‘2”, but would not let his height, nor the bigotry he fought against, stop him from defending his country. A member of the all-black 92nd Infantry Division, his Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:

Then Second Lieutenant Baker demonstrated outstanding courage and leadership in destroying enemy installations, personnel and equipment during his company’s attack against a strongly entrenched enemy in mountainous terrain. When his company was stopped by the concentration of fire from several machine gun emplacements, he crawled to one position and destroyed it, killing three Germans. Continuing forward, he attacked and enemy observation post and killed two occupants. With the aid of one of his men, Lieutenant Baker attacked two more machine gun nests, killing or wounding the four enemy soldiers occupying these positions. He then covered the evacuation of the wounded personnel of his company by occupying an exposed position and drawing the enemy’s fire. On the following night Lieutenant Baker voluntarily led a battalion advance through enemy mine fields and heavy fire toward the division objective. Second Lieutenant Baker’s fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the Armed Forces” (Source).

Yet the military ignored him and other black heroes for decades until an Army-ordered review found Baker and six other African-Americans more than deserving of the nation’s highest honor for heroism.

Despite the bigotry he experienced as a young man - initially, he was even rejected by the Army itself - Baker said, Ive never seen color. I look out and I see America. I love you, America.”

Vernon Baker came back to a country stilled marred by racism, but he refused not to live the American Dream. He continued to serve in the Army and then, for two decades, worked for the U.S. Red Cross.

Baker moved to St. Maries for a simple reason: In the great Idaho outdoors, he loved to hunt. St. Maries is near beautiful Lake Coeur D’Alene and about two and one-half hours from Canada. It is one of the most lovely places in the United States, a fitting place for a gentleman-warrior like Vernon Baker to enjoy his final years.

He was married twice; his first wife passed away in 1986, and he leaves behind his second wife, Heidy - a German native. He and his first wife raised three children, and with Heidy he had a stepdaughter and a stepgrandson.

Vernon Baker also leaves a nation forever grateful for his sacrifice, his courage and his patriotism. His overarching legacy is to make every citizen of our country prouder to be an American.

Rationed Healthcare and Assisted Suicide

by Jeanne Monahan

July 15, 2010

Last week we learned that President Obama made a recess appointment of Dr. Donald Berwick to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Berwick, a man who has been called a one-man death panel, repeatedly has stated his support for rationed healthcare.

What will this appointment mean to those of us who believe that every life has dignity, regardless of its stage or health status? One clear concern, in addition to rationed healthcare, is assisted suicide.

A recent letter to the editor written by an Oregon doctor drove home this critical connection between assisted suicide and rationed healthcare.

…remember the names Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup. Wagner was an Oregon resident who died in 2008. The Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) refused to pay for a cancer drug to possibly prolong her life and offered to pay for her suicide instead. This position saved the plan money. Stroup had a similar experience. The plan would not pay for a drug to prolong his life and ease his pain, but would pay for his suicide. He said: ‘This is my life they’re playing with.’ In both cases, the Oregon Health Plan’s position was only possible because assisted suicide is legal in Oregon. With assisted suicide now at issue in Idaho, will you and your families be the next Randy Stroups? Will you be the next Barbara Wagners?

The decision regarding the legality of assisted suicide in the U.S. currently resides with the states. A number of states have chosen to make it legal, among them Oregon, Washington and Montana. Idaho currently is considering similar legislation.

Advocacy groups have waged strong campaigns in areas that potentially could legalize assisted suicide. In Pennsylvania, a group recently has been posting controversial billboards advocating for the legalization of assisted suicide. Another such advocacy group is Compassion and Choices,” which has been lobbying in Idaho.

Every person, regardless of race, age, health, etc., has an inherent right to life. Sadly, it is becoming more and more obvious as we begin to see the new healthcare law rolled out that the Presidents health care regime is not about respecting a person’s dignity or inherent rights, especially that most basic right to life from conception to natural death.

Myth And Fact: The Truth About Ella And How It Works

by Jeanne Monahan

July 15, 2010

Weve previously written about the Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) review of what is being labeled a new and more effective emergency contraceptive, ulipristal acetate, better known by its trade name, Ella.

The controversial drug is a very effective contraceptive, but lesser known is the critical information that the drug can also cause abortions and chemically and functionally resembles the one legal abortion pill in the U.S., mifepristone (RU-486).

There are many serious misconceptions about this drug under consideration for approval. To learn more, please see the following information compiled by FRC.

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