Month Archives: December 2009

Targeting Minority Embryos

by David Prentice

December 31, 2009

Two recent papers—one published online by the New England Journal of Medicine and one just published in Nature Methods—analyzed the genetic ethnic diversity of some of the existing human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines. One group examined 47 hESC lines, while another checked 42 hESC lines; there were 9 lines that both groups checked, for a total of 80 different lines investigated, including some of the most-used hESC lines and some of the few newly-approved hESC lines.

Not surprisingly, they found that most of the hESC lines represent a limited genetic ethnic diversity, primarily from European and Middle Eastern, as well as some East Asian, descent. The University of Michigan group seems to think this is surprising, but in truth it is not surprising and has been noted for years.

Why is this lack of genetic diversity not surprising? Thus far, the embryos destroyed for hESC lines are all taken from in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics. As many have pointed out for years regarding the hESC lines, the IVF technique is expensive, so the sample is self-selected for those who can afford the IVF practice. The sample is further restricted to those parents who are willing to sacrifice their so-called “leftover” embryos to science. They also found that more than one cell line came from the same embryo donors; again, common sense would have indicated that given the selection, this would be the case.

Perhaps the Michigan group was simply naive regarding their expectations of wider genetic ethnic diversity in the hESC lines. The source of the embryos is sometimes actually given in the published hESC papers, e.g., Thomson’s original 1998 paper noted “IVF clinics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and at the Rambam Medical Center”; and four of the five original lines did indeed come from Israeli embryos.

A 2003 publication discussing a potential American embryonic stem cell bank noted that

The existing human embryonic stem cell lines will not be sufficient to allow for equitable biological access”


Unless the problem of biological access is carefully addressed, an American stem cell bank may benefit white Americans to the relative exclusion of the rest of the population.”

Of course, their proposed solution at that time was to use SCNT cloning, or to recruit gamete donors so that embryos could be manufactured specifically for use in hESC harvesting.

Another group in 2005 noted the same problems:

However, because of their rarity, the chance of researchers fortuitously obtaining the relevant homozygous hES-cell lines needed for such a bank from in vitro fertilisation clinics is very low”

and suggested the same solutions—cloning embryos or soliciting gamete donors for specific creation of embryos to derive the desired hESC lines.

And another group in 2006 stated that for good matching in a U.S. embryonic stem cell bank

many thousands of hESC lines would need to be available”


the current hESC lines were obtained from only a few localities and thus are unlikely to reflect the ethnic diversity of the U.S. population pool.”

Of course, it’s also not a surprise that the embryonic stem cell researchers want more embryos, especially minority embryos, from whom to wring their embryonic stem cells. It’s never enough with some of these people. Supposedly having at their disposal several hundred new hESC lines was satisfactory, plus the open-ended promise from President Obama of as many fertility-clinic embryos as they would like. But Michigan’s Sean Morrison

will also make it a priority to derive new embryonic stem cell lines from underrepresented groups, including African-Americans.”

So, apparently Prof. Morrison is going to be stalking minority couples at IVF clinics, targeting their embryos for his lab. Or soliciting egg and sperm donors to create custom-made embryos specifically for the experiments. Or trying to make cloning work. All of this is legal in the U.S. But not all of this can garner federal taxpayer dollars. The next step, already propounded in a Detroit Free Press editorial (complete with the usual hype about “potential” embryonic stem cell medicine), is to do away with any federal limits on the use of taxpayer funds for human embryo research.

There are easier, better, and already-fundable routes, of course. One is creation of new iPS cell (induced pluripotent stem cell) lines, which can be created directly from virtually any tissue of any person. Morrison mentions this in passing in his paper, but Laurent et al. actually analyze several human iPS cell lines, and point out:

In fact, given that hiPSCs can be generated from hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) isolated from human cord blood, existing cord blood banks could become a valuable source of ethnically diverse cells for reprogramming into hiPSCs.”

But a real way to address social justice in the stem cell realm would be to focus on making more adult stem cell treatments available to patients. Such as treatments for sickle cell anemia, including for adult sickle-cell patients, and treatments for multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injury. Focus on the patients first.

A Christmas Orange for iPS Cells

by David Prentice

December 26, 2009

Ever get an orange in your Christmas stocking? Scientists working with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) got the equivalent of an orange in their Christmas stocking this year. Chinese and Austrian scientists reported on Christmas Eve that simply adding ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to the culture medium in which cells are grown increases by 100-fold the efficiency of mouse and human iPS cell production. IPS cells behave like embryonic stem cells, but no embryos, eggs, or cloning are involved in their production. Genes are added to normal cells, such as skin cells, that reprogram the cells to behave like an embryonic stem cell.

In trying to produce iPS cells, the group found that higher levels of reactive oxygen species were associated with low reprogramming efficiency. When they tested antioxidants, they discovered that vitamin C slowed cell senescence (cell aging) and improved reprogramming into iPS cells, but other antioxidants did not have the same effect. The results highlight a simple way to improve production of iPS cells and also give insight into the process.

The paper was published online in Cell Stem Cell.

FRC Statement on the Christmas Eve Passage of the Health Care ‘Reform’ Bill

by JP Duffy

December 24, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 24, 2009

CONTACT: J.P. Duffy, (202) 679-6800

Washington D.C.- This morning the United State Senate voted 60-39 in favor of final passage of HR 3590, the so-called “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins made the following comments:

Today’s Christmas Eve vote may signal the end of the debate in the Senate, but it’s far from the end of the debate at large. Since Senator Reid’s bad bill is substantially different from the House’s bad bill, the lower chamber will have to vote on the plan again. The Senate bill’s massive funding for elective abortions and the construction of abortion facilities are among the most radical differences. On Monday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted in an interview that the Senate health care bill will force ‘everybody’ in the exchange to pay an abortion premium. The so-called Nelson ‘compromise’ ensures that everyone will pay for abortion—no matter how the funds are divided up.

According to a new Quinnipiac poll, Americans—by a huge three to one margin—are overwhelmingly opposed to using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. Seventy-two percent of the country is now firmly on the side of Congressman Bart Stupak’s (D-Mich.) solution to ban the government’s financial involvement in the deadly procedure. House and Senate conferees would do well to heed that warning when they come together to iron out their differences with the final bill, else this bill could collapse because of it.

Disagreement over abortion funding is one of the many reasons this fight is far from over. Both House and Senate versions of the bill are seriously flawed. Both bills still allow rationing of health care for seniors, raise health costs for families, mandate that families purchase under threat of fines and penalties, offer counsel about assisted suicide in some states, do not offer broad conscience protections for health care workers and seek to insert the federal government into all aspects of citizen’s lives. Additionally, the bills would place a crushing debt on both current and future generations.”


Doctors Heart Adult Stem Cells

by David Prentice

December 23, 2009

More stories making the rounds about the recently-announced success of adult stem cells at treating heart damage. We noted the publication back on December 1, but additional news stories are coming out now. In fact, CNN has finally publicized the story of successful adult stem cell therapy for recent heart attack. Other news groups, as well as other participants in the study, are now publicizing the study showing that adult stem cells can help repair heart damage in patients. The research team is now recruiting patients into a Phase II trial of the adult stem cell therapy at 41 sites.

A second recent published report, in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure, found that infusing a patient’s own bone marrow adult stem cells after a first heart attack could reduce the risk of death as well as the risk of a second heart attack. The clinical trial, conducted at 17 centers in Germany and Switzerland, found that after two years, no patients treated with adult stem cells had suffered a heart attack while seven patients from the placebo group had, and that cell-infused patients were less likely to die or be re-hospitalized for heart failure.

Doctors love adult stem cells for cardiac problems, and patients do, too.

Kim Peek, the Real Rain Man, Has Died

by David Prentice

December 23, 2009

Kim Peek, the genius savant who inspired the 1988 Oscar-winning movie Rain Man, has died from a heart attack at the age of 58. Peek, born in 1951 in Salt Lake City, was diagnosed as severely mentally retarded and his parents were advised to place him in an institution and forget about him, and even that he should have a lobotomy. His parents thankfully rejected the advice. Thirty years later, he was classified as a “mega-savant,” a genius in about 15 different subjects, from history and literature and geography to numbers, sports, music and dates. He had memorized 12,000 books, including the entire Bible, but had difficulty with ordinary tasks like getting dressed and combing his hair. Peek could read one page of a book with his left eye and the other with his right, and could read a page in about eight seconds.

Dustin Hoffman, who won an Oscar for his role in the movie, interviewed Mr. Peek in preparation for the film, and helped him to overcome his deeply introverted nature. He and his father traveled extensively after that, showcasing Kim’s ability, and also showing that people with disabilities are still people.

Here is an insight into Kim Peek, when he was age 54.

Joseph Was an Adoptive Father

by Rob Schwarzwalder

December 23, 2009

The Incarnation was the single most unique event in both global and universal history.

With good reason: The Second Person of the Trinity being born of a virgin, then living a sinless life, dying an atoning death and experiencing a bodily resurrection, are events so astounding as to stagger the imagination. Since they really happened, being humbled and awed by them is altogether fitting.

There are a number of profound and probing stories associated with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The annunciation to Mary, the attendance of shepherds, the arrival of gift-bearing Eastern “wise men,” the birth in a manger and so many other incidents provide illumination to the Savior’s coming that more fully explain its unique meaning.

One of those stories is that of Joseph. Described in the Greek New Testament as a “tekton,” or skilled carpenter or stone mason, Joseph’s moral purity, respect for his betrothed and quick obedience to God’s calling provide a compelling description of this extraordinary man.

Yet often overlooked is another facet of Joseph’s life: He was an adoptive father.

We do not know from Scripture what kind of relationship Joseph and Jesus had. Yet we can surmise that God the Father must have prepared Joseph in an exceptional way to serve as an earthly father to His only begotten Son.

Adoptive fathers, and mothers, are still needed. The U.S. Agency for International Development says that in 2010, the number worldwide will be roughly 44 million. In our own country, the estimates of the number of orphans vary widely; according to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, about 125,000 children and youth in foster care are available for adoption because parental rights have been terminated.

My three children are adopted. They are not my wifes or mine biologically but before God and the law, they are as much ours as if they had been fashioned from our own bodies. We love them with the same depth all parents have for the children born to them.

Adopted children pose no greater or lesser challenges than biological children. Any stereotypes one has about adopted children can be dispelled quickly by the simple realization that concerns about an adopted child can readily be replicated about a biological child. Adopting older children can, of course, present unique challenges, and prayer and counsel should be sought before such an adoption just as they should before any major life decision.

The purpose of this short piece is not to induce guilt in anyone. God might not be calling you or your family to adopt. To suggest otherwise would be pretentious and even cruel. I simply would urge anyone reading this prayerfully to consider if adoption might be something toward which the Lord might be moving you.

The answer might well be no. But asking our heavenly Father for His guidance is always a good thing.

Joseph became the adoptive father of the most exceptional Child ever to live on our planet. May his conduct inspire all of us to consider what God might want us to do with respect to adoption in the New Year.

Plentiful Stem Cells from Umbilical Cord

by David Prentice

December 23, 2009

Pittsburgh researchers have published more evidence that the solid part of the umbilical cord is a rich source of adult stem cells (tissue stem cells/mesenchymal stem cells). The cells are obtained from a gel-like part of the solid cord, known as Wharton’s jelly, and from blood vessel walls. They note that the stem cells isolated from the solid cord can be grown to high numbers of stable cells, with potential to treat muscular, cartilage, and skeletal disorders. The results are published in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology.

Previously, several groups have isolated adult stem cells from the solid part of the umbilical cord and shown their potential. Scientists in Taiwan showed the ability to differentiate the cells into various lineages, including towards cardiomyocytes, have transformed the stem cells into islet-like clusters that secrete insulin and relieved induced diabetes in experimental animals, and have shown that the cells were beneficial to wound healing after spinal cord injury in rats.

A group at Kansas State University was one of the first to isolate stem cells from the solid umbilical cord, and have published an array of studies on the cells’ abilities, including forming neurons and neural cell types, alleviating Parkinson’s symptoms in an animal model, and demonstrating that the stem cells from umbilical cord do not elicit immune response; they have also published a review on the stem cells from Wharton’s jelly in the journal Stem Cells.

Restoring Sight with Adult Stem Cells

by David Prentice

December 23, 2009

A successful treatment that restored sight to eight patients using adult stem cells is actually getting some media play. We reported on this back on December 11.

Now it is getting noticed by the Times of London, the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Irish Examiner, the Indian news agency, as well as other British, Irish, & Indian news outlets, and even the Nature blog. So far no major news outlets in the U.S. are reporting the story, though.

Most of the current stories feature Russell Turnbull, who was squirted in his right eye with ammonia when he tried to break up a fight. Blinded by the attack, doctors used adult stem cells from Turnbull’s good eye to repair the damaged eye. A year and a half after receiving the treatment, Mr Turnbull is now pain-free with dramatically improved vision.

This has transformed my life, my eye is almost as good as it was before the accident, he said. Im working, I can go jet-skiing again, and I also ride horses. I have my life back thanks to the operation.

All eight patients who were treated report improved vision, reduced eye pain and a better quality of life. While none of the stories note that it was adult stem cells that were used, they do at least identify that the cells were from the patients themselves, and none try to claim these were embryonic stem cells.

Senator Landrieu Closes Office: Constituents Turned Away at the Door, Callers Reach Only Busy Signals

by JP Duffy

December 22, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 22, 2009

CONTACT: J.P. Duffy, (866) FRC-NEWS

Senator Landrieu Closes Office: Constituents Turned Away at the Door, Callers Reach Only Busy Signals

FRC’s Tony Perkins Calls Closure the “Height of Arrogance”

Baton Rouge, LA - This afternoon, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins attempted to deliver a letter to Senator Mary Landrieu’s Baton Rouge office only to be told by a federal marshal that her offices were “closed for the holidays.” Over 150 concerned citizens joined Perkins at a rally in front of Senator Landrieu’s office to urge the Senator to oppose the government takeover of health care.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins made the following comments:

We were stunned to learn why so many phone calls have been unanswered and met with continuous busy signals: As the Senate debates one of the most far reaching pieces of legislation in history, Senator Mary Landrieu has closed her office and her ears to Louisianans.

Senator Landrieu sent press aides to offer the Senator’s spin on the health care bill but she did not make a staffer available to receive letters or answer phone calls. Senator Landrieu knows that almost two-thirds of Louisiana voters oppose the health care overhaul. However, refusing to take their phone calls is insulting and the height of arrogance. Americans are outraged at the conduct of the Majority in the United States Senate and they should be.

If Senator Landrieu’s office had been open, she would have heard a clear message that Louisianans want her to stop this abominable health care bill that will force every American to support Planned Parenthood in the killing of unborn children, saddle families with higher insurance premiums, raise our taxes and deny our parents and grandparents the essential health care they need.”


Guess We’ll Spend

by Tony Perkins

December 22, 2009

Tony Perkins and a few other FRC staffers give their rendition of what the classic winter song, “Let it Snow” would sound like if it were written and performed by the current Congressional leadership…

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