A couple times while driving down Interstate 270, passing through Gaithersburg (home of NIST where Latter-day Saint and DNA scientist John Butler works), Rockville (home to dozens of biomedical reseach companies such as Celera Genomics, and historian and scientist Greg Prince‘s Virion Systems), and Bethesda (home to NIH), I’ve heard the following radio ad:
They’re the original mavericks. Leaders. Reformers. Fighting for real change. John McCain will lead his Congressional allies to improve America’s health.
STEM CELL RESEARCH to unlock the mystery of cancer, diabetes, heart disease.
STEM CELL RESEARCH to help free families from the fear and devastation of illness.
STEM CELL RESEARCH to help doctors repair spinal cord damage, knee injuries, serious burns.
STEM CELL RESEACH to help stroke victims.
And, John McCain and his Congressional allies will invest millions more in new NIH medical research to prevent disease. Medical breakthroughs to help you get better, faster. Change is coming. McCain-Palin and Congressional allies. The leadership and experience to really change Washington and improve your health. Paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee.
It raises a couple of questions: Why are the Republicans running on John Edwards’ platform? And on what are they promising voters in other parts of the country that they’ll spend “millions” (as in thousands of millions, known to non-mavericks as “billions”)?
There are a lot of opinions, hopes and fears regarding stem cells. Some believe that a host of terrible, debilitating diseases and injuries will be cured, and that that is worth any foreseen cost. Others hope that developments in deprogramming adult cells into a multipotent state will give all the hypothetical benefits of embryonic stem cells without the ethical issues. My fear is that stem cell therapy will be replaced by progenitor cell therapy.
I believe it will be found that stem cells that are a completely blank slate will not be the most effective to transplant; they won’t just conform and develop in desired directions according to where they are implanted. What will be better, and for some purposes the only thing that will work, will be to harvest cells at an intermediate stage of differentiation, cells that will produce neurons but not insulin-producing islets, or vice versa. See for example this paper last year out of the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair, “Transplanted neural progenitor cells survive and differentiate but achieve limited functional recovery in the lesioned adult rat spinal cord,” Regen. Med. 2007 Nov;2(6):929-45:
To determine the extent to which SCNPCs [spinal cord neural progenitor cells] may contribute to spinal cord repair SCNPCs isolated from rat fetal spinal cord were expanded ex vivo and transplanted into the adult rat spinal cord after a dorsal column crush lesion.
[. . .]
SCNPCs were harvested from the spinal cord embryonic day 14 (E14) Fischer 344 rat (Harlan) embryos. The spinal cord from the level of the hindbrain to the forelimb was removed from surrounding connective tissue.
The “clumps of cells” used for this experiment had brains, limbs, and spinal cords that were removed so that their cells could be transplanted into adult rats. From these two links (first, second), it seems that a 14-day-old rat embryo is at an equivalent stage of neural development with a human embryo seven weeks post conception, a point for the human at the cusp of being a fetus, with all organs present in an early stage of formation. The only place such things can be created is inside a mother’s womb. We may be down the road to the day that aborting a two-month-old embryo (with healthy, vital tissue, not poisoned) will be regarded as an act of civic virtue on a par with organ donation. That’s my fear.