Sunday, March 05, 2006

Don't ban minotaurs; people are not good lab animals

As discussed on "60 Minutes" on Feb. 26, researchers at UCal/Irvine placed differentiated cells from human stem cells into mice to demonstrate the potential of embryonic stem cell research in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

"60 Minutes" actually said stem cells, but that wasn't quite right. Keirsted's big point was about NOT using stem cells themselves. Further, the stem cell line Keirsted started with, H7, existed before 2001, and thus is not part of Bush's ban of 2001 on federal funding, although "60 Minutes" didn't mention that either. There were some other issues, not discussed on "60 Minutes," that are worth noting.

President Bush on January 31, 2006 proposed a ban on this type of hybrid human/animal research when he said:

"Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human/animal hybrids, and buying, selling, or patenting human embryos."

Chimeras have been around for a long time (note, for example, the title of the first Cohen/Boyer patent).

SCOTT ORR, in the Newark Star-Ledger, wrote on Feb. 26 (the same day as the "60 Minutes" show on stem cells):

Hank Greely, a professor at Stanford University's Center for Law and Bioethics, said the human race has nothing to fear from today's chimeras.
"What they are focused on is putting human cells, human stem cells, into animals for use as laboratory research tools. Nobody is trying to make a wolf man or a sphinx," Greely said.
"We could study tumors by putting them into people instead of humanized lab rats, but that would be wrong. People are not good lab animals."

Hmm, the magic words "research tools." Anybody remember what issue did NOT get decided in Merck v. Integra? That's right, no one knows if 271(e)(1) applies to research tools. Think about that for a moment.

Of Bush's proposed ban on hybrids [chimeras], Arthur Caplan: "I bet a lot of people thought he was going to ban Minotaurs and round up the mermaids."


Corporations need the real deal — you can’t sell something that doesn’t exist, after all — but research institutions are competing for grant money to continue research, and that can lend itself to fraud, says Jan-Eric Ahlfors, a former University of Massachusetts researcher and president of Total ReCord Inc. Worcester-based Total ReCord uses adult stem cells in development of regeneration products for the nervous system.

Ahlfors points to the case of renowned Seoul National University researcher Hwang Woo-suk, who claimed to have successfully cloned a dog and produced a stem cell line taken from a cloned human embryo. The latter claim was determined to be false.

“Researchers (sometimes) feel they need falsified data to stay alive (via grant money),” Ahlfors said. “That’s probably what happened in South Korea — one step at a time it just got out of control. Because he had succeeded in cloning the dog, he probably expected he could do it just as easily with humans, as long as he got the funding.”

And while Ahlfors says that fudged data is widespread, albeit good-intentioned [?!?!]— Hwang, after all, defended the science behind his claims — he said that most scientists pursue the highest standards, but that he is particularly circumspect in what he accepts as truth.

**Gee, the fudged data of Jan-Hendrik Schon was merely to advance the fortunes of Schon, hardly good-intentioned as to all the people who tried (unsuccessfully) to duplicate the work. Both Schon and Hwang defended "the science" behind the claims, but that does not mean it could be done by one of ordinary, or extraordinary, skill, at the time. Further, both Schon and Hwang were exposed by revelations of their fraud by co-workers to third parties. In neither case did the co-workers find the frauds "good intentioned."

If fudged data is widespread, the public, scientists, and venture capitalists should all beware. And, as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it: "The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons."

On how Woo Suk Hwang tricked the scientific world see

[IPBiz post 1308]


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