Monday, January 01, 2007

Condic questions research support for embryonic stem cell research

Maureen L. Condic discusses the current state of embryonic stem cell research in the Jan. 07 issue of First Things.

Of the Hwang fraud, wherein two false reports were published in the journal Science, Condic wrote:

The elusive prize to generate the first human clone appeared to be won in March 2004, when a South Korean group led by Hwang Woo-Suk reported in the prestigious professional journal Science that they had generated a human stem cell line from a cloned human embryo. A year later, in June 2005, this same group sensationally reported that they had successfully generated eleven patient-specific stem cell lines from cloned human embryos and had dramatically improved their success rate to better than one in twenty attempts, bringing cloning into the realm of the possible for routine treatment of human medical conditions. Hwang was hailed as a hero and a pioneer, and his reported success evoked an almost immediate clamor to remove the funding restrictions imposed by the Bush administration on human embryonic stem cell research, lest America fall hopelessly behind South Korea in developing therapies.

By fall 2005, however, the cloning miracle had begun to unravel. Colleagues of Hwang raised serious concerns about his published studies, launching an investigation into possible scientific fraud. By December, it was conclusively shown that all the claimed cloned stem cell lines were fakes. To date, no one has successfully demonstrated that it is indeed possible to clone human embryos, and, based on the failed attempts of Hwang and others, human cloning is not likely to be a simple task, should it prove possible at all.

IPBiz notes that the first Hwang paper in 2004 concerned transfer of nuclear DNA of a female into an egg of the same female. Hwang has not yet admitted that this paper was fraudulent. The second Hwang paper (published in paper format in June 2005) concerned the transfer of nuclear DNA of a given person into the egg of a different person. Condic did not discuss the fact that there was no public criticism, within the United States, of either paper until December 2005. The criticism that led to Hwang's downfall originated in South Korea.

IPBiz notes that the third sentence of Hwang's second paper in Science [308 Science 1777] states: By generating hESCs from human NT blastocysts, in which the somatic cell nucleus comes from the individual patient --a situation where the nuclear [though not mitochondrial DNA] genome is identical to that of the NT donor--the possibility of immune rejection might be eliminated if these cells were to be used for human treatment.

Condic did discuss the egg donation issue: Investigations revealed that Hwang had used thousands of human oocytes for his unsuccessful attempts, not the hundreds as he had originally claimed.

Given that no one else has succeeded with human SCNT, Condic observed: Thus, the optimistic contention that “therapeutic cloning” would fix the immune problem facing potential embryonic stem cell–based therapies for humans seems thus far entirely unsupported by the scientific evidence.

Condic raised issues of the use of cloned tissue: The limitation in our ability to determine which cloned embryos are of sufficient normalcy to generate medically useful replacement tissue is one that no research can address unless scientists develop some kind of test to determine in advance which cloned embryos are normal enough. Developing such a test would almost certainly require the horrific scenario of growing human embryos to a sufficient state of maturity that the normalcy of their developing tissues could be empirically determined. This would mean implanting cloned embryos into surrogate wombs and then aborting them at specific times to examine the embryo’s development. Based on this information, it might be possible (although difficult) to identify features of very early embryos that predict whether they are capable of generating therapeutically useful tissue. Whether Americans are willing to accept the unknown (yet potentially large) risk of being treated with stem cells of undetermined (and essentially undeterminable) quality or whether we would prefer to accept the kind of experimentation on human embryos and fetuses that would be required to ensure embryonic stem cell safety are questions of profound social and moral importance.

Condic raised the issue of tumors: It was unambiguously clear five years ago that embryonic stem cells robustly form tumors (teratomas) when transplanted into adult tissues, and this remains the case today. Teratomas are benign tumors that contain a variety of differentiated cell types (hair, teeth, muscle, etc.).

Condic questioned the justification for public support of embryonic stem cell research:

In light of the serious problems associated with embryonic stem cells,” I noted in 2002, “there is no compelling scientific argument for the public support of research on human embryos.” Serious scientific challenges are, by definition, problems that have stubbornly resisted the best attempts of science to resolve them.
For the past five years, researchers have had completely unrestricted funding to conduct research on animal embryonic stem cells, and yet the serious scientific problems remain. They have had every conceivable tool of modern molecular research available to them for use in animal models, and yet the serious scientific problems remain. Millions of dollars have been consumed, and hundreds of scientific papers published, and yet the problems still remain. The promised miraculous cures have not materialized even for mice, much less for men.

Of the issue of scientific honesty, Condic writes:

In June 2004, Ron McKay at the National Institutes of Health acknowledged in a Washington Post interview that scientists have not been quick to correct exaggerated claims of the medical potential of embryonic stem cells, yet McKay justified this dishonesty by stating: “To start with, people need a fairy tale. Maybe that’s unfair, but they need a story line that’s relatively simple to understand.” Isn’t it time Americans recognize the promise of obtaining medical miracles from embryonic stem cells for the fairy tale it really is?

IPBiz previously discussed the "fairy tale" incident.

This author has written about the Hwang fraud in 88 JPTOS 239 (March 2006).

[IPBiz post 2313, 1 Jan 2007]


from the Washington Post on 1 Jan 07:

House Democrats intend to pass a raft of popular measures as part of their well-publicized plan for the first 100 hours. They include tightening ethics rules for lawmakers, raising the minimum wage, allowing more research on stem cells and cutting interest rates on student loans.

But instead of allowing Republicans to fully participate in deliberations, as promised after the Democratic victory in the Nov. 7 midterm elections, Democrats now say they will use House rules to prevent the opposition from offering alternative measures, assuring speedy passage of the bills and allowing their party to trumpet early victories.


Scientists at MIT`s Centre for Biomedical Engineering have created a new three-dimensional scaffold that may one day replace the ubiquitous Petri dish for growing stem cells.

Shuguang Zhang, associate director of MIT`s Centre for Biomedical Engineering, and his Italian colleagues created the designer scaffold from a network of protein nanofibers, and it is more like a living body than any other cell culture system.

Each protein nanofiber used for making the scaffold was 5,000 times thinner than a human hair, and contained pores up to 20,000 times smaller than the eye of a needle.

They say that they were able to grow a healthy colony of adult mouse stem cells on the new scaffold, and that too without the drawbacks of 2-D systems.

"I believe that in the next 20 years all cell cultures will be in 3D with the designer scaffolds, and most textbooks about cell biology will have to be revised when people obtain results from 3D cell culture studies," Zhang said.

--> IPBiz notes that if the Stanford Law Review is believed, textbooks will have to be revised to note that Gary W. Boone is the inventor of the integrated circuit. Preferably, people will learn that the Stanford Law Review is not to be believed.


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