Monday, April 30, 2007

Compensation to egg donors, in IVF and in stem cell research

While at a scientific meeting in the IVF area on April 29, I had an opportunity to ask many people (from California and elsewhere) about Proposition 71, Cha, and other matters. I could not find anyone who had heard of K.Y. Cha, or the issues surrounding the CIRM grant to a Cha entity (RMI). Somebody from Columbia University had heard of Rogerio Lobo (and of the paper in JRM), but all she remembered was that Lobo had been removed as author from a paper. The person did not know what the paper was about, or that K.Y. Cha was a co-author. Further, the Columbia person had no knowledge of the the Sames - Sezen matter. It's highly likely that there will be no traction in the Cha matter as to the grant by CIRM. Most people have not heard of the papers in Fertility & Sterility and in JRM, or even of the grant to RMI.

There was a "debate" about paid compensation for egg donors, of course mainly directed to women furnishing eggs for use in IVF, rather than for use in embryonic stem cells. One MD brought up the inconsistency between the furnishing of sperm by males and the furnishing of eggs by females. He did not mention that males can make more sperm, but a female cannot make more eggs. He did mention that ASRM has put forth a guideline for the maximum amount a female can be paid. There was not much discussion about the concerns of former California state senator Ortiz. I brought up Ortiz, and the issues with coerced "donation" of eggs in the Hwang Woo Suk matter. I also pointed out that the "economics" of compensated egg "donation" are different between IVF and stem cell research. The response of the MD was interesting. Rather than addressing the coercion matter in the Hwang case, he launched into a tirade about how people are using a bad example to attack legitimate research. Thus, the "Hwang as a bad apple" defense. A bioethicist responded that the economics are different between IVF and stem cell research, as if that answered the issue about coercion.

Merely, to return to Sames - Sezen a minute, the following is from a post on a blog (which appeared 26 Sept 06 AND which seems to presume that Sezen was engaging in fraud; the blog is Occam's Blog,

Thanks to Chemistry & Engineering News, the Sames/Sezen Scandal is back in the news. Yesterday the following letter from Paul Mengnjoh appeared on their site:

I was disappointed to read that Columbia University chemistry professor Dalibor Sames retracted four more scientific papers (C&EN Online Latest News, June 16). I wonder if this is a trend of a professor and student getting into serious trouble and putting the future of U.S. chemistry, which is the envy of the world, in jeopardy.

I was also surprised to learn that Sames was asked to police himself by trying to redo the experiments, while the student who conducted the experiments had moved on to a German university and was pursuing a doctorate in another subject area. Can someone at ACS explain to us what is really going on here? Should professors supervising graduate students in chemistry be more vigilant in monitoring what is going on in their labs and making sure our chemistry research is not tainted by students who are not careful in recording their findings in lab notebooks? The lab notebooks should be carefully examined before signing off on students' findings so that we don't have the situation that has happened at Columbia. I'm sure other ACS members would also like the answer to the questions I have raised here.

Of course, no one in the ACS ever "explained" what was going on in the Sezen matter.
The blogger continued:

Mengnjoh's letter hits on some important points; please allow me to elaborate. This matter cannot be isolated to the school, the faculty member or the graduate student involved in this situation. The chemistry community must take this grave situation as a warning of what atrocities can occur when the mentor-mentee relationship begins to break down. Assuming that Sezen's results are all but fake, her actions are simply inexcusable. The fact that these lies made it out of the Sames lab are a failure of its leaders, Dalibor, and his group as a whole.

The blogger acted as if the matter would create massive doubt about chemistry on behalf of the general public:

If it was pressure from Sames that drove her to fake these results, what drove him to put undue pressure on his students? Is he just naturally a slave driver? Or was it the ultra-competitive funding situation in the U.S.? Why didn't he look at her primary data? Did he?

These pressures affect more than just Sezen and Sames - they are truths of our world. To ignore this situation as a unique and unrepeatable conflagration of events is immature. This situation is what can result from the system that has been created. There are more graduate students like Bengu, and more faculty members like Dalibor, and if something isn't done to repair the system that allowed this to happen, then it will happen again. How many multi-paper retractions from a prestigious university do you think the general public needs to start doubting the entire field of chemistry?

One knows that "global doubt" in the general public caused by the Sezen matter, or many Sezen matters, will not appear. The matter of Hwang Woo Suk, which involved clearly fraudulent science in an area of great public interest (stem cells; SCNT) AND serious coercion of subordinates seems to be dismissed under the "bad apple" rubric. In fact, the citizens of California are paying another Korean research entity to undertake the same research (human SCNT) that Hwang purported to do. There is "no doubting" appearing in the general public about the entire field of human SCNT.

At the IVF meeting on April 29, I also talked with a cord blood person working in California. Even though Proposition 71 does not directly benefit his area, he still thought it was a good idea to be doing the research. He's never heard of Cha, Cha's IVF facility in LA, or of the CIRM grant to RMI. He did know of Branson's entry in cord blood.

For anyone interested, a discussion of the Cha matter by the Los Angeles Times is on IPBiz.


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