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Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

May 11, 2005



Turning sheep into living factories for human organs and tissues...


Creating ‘Human-Animals’ for Research

by Paul Elias


Ethics report endorses mingling human cells with lesser beings



These sheep are among those used in research at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“On a farm about six miles outside this gambling town, Jason Chamberlain looks over a flock of about 50 smelly sheep, many of them possessing partially human livers, hearts, brains and other organs.


“The University of Nevada-Reno researcher talks matter-of-factly about his plans to euthanize one of the pregnant sheep in a nearby lab.


“He can’t wait to examine the effects of the human cells he had injected into the fetus’ brain about two months ago....


“Doctors have transplanted pig valves into human hearts for years, and scientists have injected human cells into lab animals for even longer.


“But the biological co-mingling of animal and human is now evolving into even more exotic and unsettling mixes of species, evoking the Greek myth of the monstrous chimera, which was part lion, part goat and part serpent.


“In the past two years, scientists have created pigs with human blood, fused rabbit eggs with human DNA and injected human stem cells to make paralyzed mice walk.


“Particularly worrisome to some scientists are the nightmare scenarios that could arise from the mixing of brain cells: What if a human mind somehow got trapped inside a sheep’s head?


“The ‘idea that human neuronal cells might participate in “higher order” brain functions in a nonhuman animal, however unlikely that may be, raises concerns that need to be considered,’ the [National] Academies report warned.


“In January, an informal ethics committee at Stanford University endorsed a proposal to create mice with brains nearly completely made of human brain cells...


“Stanford law professor Hank Greely, who chaired the ethics committee, said the board was satisfied that the size and shape of the mouse brain would prevent the human cells from creating any traits of humanity.


“Just in case, Greely said, the committee recommended closely monitoring the mice’s behavior and immediately killing any that display human-like behavior....”


AP/ – April 29, 2005




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Peering inside the human far will we be able to see?


Mind-Reading Machine Knows What You See



“It is possible to read someone’s mind by remotely measuring their brain activity, researchers have shown. The technique can even extract information from subjects that they are not aware of themselves.


“So far, it has only been used to identify visual patterns a subject can see or has chosen to focus on. But the researchers speculate the approach might be extended to probe a person’s awareness, focus of attention, memory and movement intention. In the meantime, it could help doctors work out if patients apparently in a coma are actually conscious.


“Scientists have already trained monkeys to move a robotic arm with the power of thought and to recreate scenes moving in front of cats by recording information directly from the feline’s neurons. But these processes involve implanting electrodes into their brains to hook them up to a computer.


“Now Yukiyasu Kamitani, at ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, and Frank Tong at Princeton University in New Jersey, US, have achieved similar ‘mind reading’ feats remotely using functional MRI scanning.


Between the lines


“The pair showed patterns of parallel lines in 1 of 8 orientations to four volunteers. By focussing on brain regions involved in visual perception they were able to recognise which orientation the subjects were observing.


“Each line orientation corresponded to a different pattern of brain activity, although the patterns were different in each person. What is more, when two sets of lines were superimposed and the subjects were asked to focus on one set, the researchers could work out which one they were thinking of from the brain images.


“In a separate study, also published in Nature Neuroscience, John-Dylan Haynes and Geraint Rees at University College London, UK, showed two patterns in quick succession to 6 volunteers. The first appeared for just 15 milliseconds—too quick to be consciously perceived by the viewer.


“But by viewing fMRI images of the brain, the researchers were able to say which image had been flashed in front of the subjects. The information was perceived in the brain even if the volunteers were not consciously aware of it....” – April 2005


Diagnosing metastasis without locating the secondary tumors...


New Test for Cancer, More Sensitive than any Existing Techniques



“Speaking at the Institute of Physics conference Physics 2005 in Warwick, scientists will reveal a new test for cancer, more sensitive than any existing technique and capable of predicting for the first time whether a tumour has spread.


“Unlike existing techniques which rely on expert visual assessment or unreliable biochemical measurements, the ‘optical stretcher’ tests the physical strength of each cell and can give a diagnosis using as few as 50 cells, allowing doctors to test for cancer where traditional biopsies are dangerous or even impossible. The ability to measure the progress of a cancer by examining only the primary tumour should reduce the number of unnecessary and traumatic mastectomies in women with breast cancer.


“Professor Josef Käs  and Dr Jochen Guck from the University of Leipzig have been developing the new procedure for several years and today described how the system is being tested, both to screen for oral cancers and in the ‘staging’ of breast cancer tumours.


“Professor Käs  technique for the first time uses a physical characteristic of each cell—its stretchiness or elasticity—instead of its biological make-up, to decide whether or not it’s cancerous. Cancer cells tend to de-differentiate, losing the special characteristics of the organ where they started life. Because of this, they no longer need the rigid cytoskeleton which holds them in shape, making them stretchier than normal cells.


“Käs and Guck’s machine uses a powerful beam of infrared laser light to stretch and measure cells one by one. His optical stretcher differs from an existing tool known as optical tweezers in which the light is focused to a sharp point to grab hold of a cell. In contrast, the optical stretcher doesn’t use focused light. This allows laser beams strong enough to detect stretching to be used without killing the cell.


“‘Of all the physical properties of a cell,’ explains Professor Käs, ‘elasticity is the one which varies most dramatically between normal and cancerous cells.’ This makes stretching the most sensitive method known for identifying cancer. Just 50 tumour cells are needed in a sample for the optical stretcher to diagnose cancer, contrasting with traditional methods which need 10,000 to 100,000 cells. With such small samples, diagnoses can be made even before solid tumours develop, or where a traditional biopsy is problematic.


“More importantly, the optical stretcher can yield crucial information on the spread of cancer. The softer the cancer cells, the more likely they are to travel through the body and produce secondary tumours (known as metastases). Traditionally, doctors have had to check nearby lymph nodes for cancer cells. However, the optical stretcher can determine, just by measuring cells from the primary tumour, whether or not the cancer will spread. This is the first time that anyone has been able to diagnose metastasis without locating the secondary tumours....”


Medical Science News/ – April 12, 2005


Updating the cyborg project...


Jeepers Creepers, Bionic Peepers 



Second Sight Medical Products

“Scientists are helping blind people see again, one pixel at a time. If all goes well, an artificial retina could be commercially available within three years.


“Artificial retinas have been successfully implanted in six patients, allowing them to see light and detect motion, researchers announced at the 2005 annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


“Developed by researchers from the University of Southern California and the Doheny Eye Institute, the artificial retina pairs a tiny electronic eye implant with a video camera mounted on a pair of sunglasses.


“The implant, a four-by-four grid of electrodes, connects to damaged photoreceptors—rods and cones—on the patient’s retina. The electrodes stimulate the photoreceptors, which transmit signals to the brain through the optic nerve.


“Signals from the sunglasses-mounted videocam take a rather circuitous route to the electrodes. The camera translates the field of view into electrical impulses that are transmitted wirelessly to a microchip located behind the ear. In turn, the microchip is connected to the retinal implant by wires under the skin....


“‘These patients are blind because they don’t have the photodetectors,’ said lead researcher Dr. Mark Humayun, a professor of ophthalmology and biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California. ‘The implant jump-starts the remaining cells. You’re effectively coupling a blind person with a wearable camera.’


“According to Humayun, all the six test patients, who had been totally blind, are now able to detect light and sense motion.


“According to Humayun, all the six test patients, who had been totally blind, are now able to detect light and sense motion.


“The Argus will be commercially produced by Second Sight Medical Products, Humayun said. If all goes well, he expects the devices will be available by early 2008 at a cost of between $30,000 and $50,000....” – May 5, 2005


Understanding how to keep blood vessels healthy...


Scientists Dramatically Slow Organ Transplant Rejection



“Scientists may have found a way to dramatically slow organ transplant rejection by as much as several years.


“That’s the promising implication of an animal study carried out by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and the University of Florida (UF) published in today’s (May 2) issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


“The research team reported that they have identified the biological pathway of a potent molecule that could delay rejection of transplanted organs by preventing blood-vessel deterioration.


“‘One of the principal problems for kidney transplantation is organ availability,’ said Mark A. Atkinson, Ph.D., a study co-author and director of the Center for Immunology and Transplantation Research at UF. ‘That occurs in part because after several years, people with kidney transplants often lose function of the organ. With about 60,000 people on the waiting list for a transplant, it would help immensely to find a way to reduce a patient’s need for a second or third kidney....’”


Medical Research News – May 3, 2005


Reviewing the ethics of using human subjects in risky medical research...


Researchers Tested Drugs on Foster Kids



“Government-funded researchers tested AIDS drugs on hundreds of foster children over the past two decades, often without providing them a basic protection afforded in federal law and required by some states, an Associated Press review has found.


“The research funded by the National Institutes of Health spanned the country. It was most widespread in the 1990s as foster care agencies sought treatments for their HIV-infected children that weren’t yet available in the marketplace.


“The practice ensured that foster children—mostly poor or minority—received care from world-class researchers at government expense, slowing their rate of death and extending their lives. But it also exposed a vulnerable population to the risks of medical research and drugs that were known to have serious side effects in adults and for which the safety for children was unknown.


“The research was conducted in at least seven states—Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Colorado and Texas—and involved more than four dozen different studies. The foster children ranged from infants to late teens, according to interviews and government records.


“Several studies that enlisted foster children reported patients suffered side effects such as rashes, vomiting and sharp drops in infection-fighting blood cells as they tested antiretroviral drugs to suppress AIDS or other medicines to treat secondary infections.


“In one study, researchers reported a ‘disturbing’ higher death rate among children who took higher doses of a drug. That study was unable to determine a safe and effective dosage....”


AP/ – May 4, 2005


Why does the Second Bush Administration consider it “impolitic or unrespectable to make the pro-life argument in public?”


Bush’s Second Chance

by Hadley Arkes



“...[W]e have the most pro-life administration that has ever been assembled, and at the head of that administration is a good, sympathetic man, who is deeply reluctant to make the pro-life argument in public or to start the kind of discussion that might bring about real change. It has been suggested that the leadership for pro-life initiatives must emanate from the Congress. And from the Congress, in the next year, the measures I’ve outlined may indeed come forth. But if this President’s second term is anything like his first, we can expect that Congressional Republicans will receive little help from the top of the administration. This state of affairs leads to the following melancholy judgment. For pro-lifers Mr. Bush must be counted as a real friend. But by his example, he is establishing what must surely stand as the most corrosive lesson that could be taught in this country right now—that in the judgment of an accomplished political man, it is either impolitic or unrespectable to make the pro-life argument in public. Whatever else may be accomplished by the Bush administration, this implicit teaching can have only debilitating and destructive effects on the pro-life cause.


“We will not have long to wait to see the effects of these lessons. They are already playing a part in arguments over who should succeed President Bush and what the Republican Party will look like in the future. The pundits have been quick to point out that many of the ‘stars’ in the Republican Party—Giuliani, Schwarzenegger, Pataki—are ‘pro-choice.’ The pundits insist that pro-lifers had better come to terms with that fact. They should be willing to settle for pro-life gestures—say, an emphasis on adoption—instead of insisting on measures that would actually restrict the practice of abortion. But in all of this there is a curious inversion. Jesse Jackson and Richard Gephardt had been committed to pro-life positions in the years immediately after Roe v. Wade, yet when they sought to compete for the presidential nomination in the Democratic Party they were compelled to ‘grow,’ as they say, by becoming pro-choice. It is curious that there is no comparable expectation on the Republican side. Pro-choice Republicans hoping to rise in a pro-life party are not expected to ‘grow’ by becoming more pro-life, by at least looking for parts of a pro-life program they could incorporate in their own policy proposals. After all, the pro-life community has put forth moderate proposals, beginning with the move to protect children who survive abortions. Almost 70 percent of the public supports the ban on partial-birth abortions, and it figures that even more would support a move to withhold federal funds from hospitals and clinics that perform either that surgery or live-birth abortions. If these measures are acceptable to most Americans, why should they not be acceptable to the Giulianis and Schwarzeneggers? Is it not time for the so-called moderates to give some evidence of their moderation?


“The future of the pro-life movement need not depend on chance, or even the next presidential campaign. It is now in the hands of President Bush. By taking small steps over the next several months, he could insure that the Giulianis and Patakis will have to make their way within the framework of a deeply pro-life party committed to measures that are both clear in principle and gentle in application. All of this is possible precisely because of the campaign that President Bush waged and the career he has crafted for himself. But where he was overly cautious before, there is no need for caution now. He has generated his own political capital, and he is now uniquely placed to expend it. Happily, these measures, so modest in scale, would be virtually costless to him, while they would inevitably stir up conflict within the ranks of his adversaries. What prospect could be more tempting? And what end, in political life, more worthy of the art?”


Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College.  Professor Arkes is the architect of  the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act” (H.R. 2175) which became law in 2002.  His most recent book is Natural Rights and the Right to Choose (Cambridge University Press).


First Things – April 2005


The use and abuse of prescription stimulants...


ADHD Drugs Move into the Workplace


More adults with attention disorder rely on medication to help with jobs



Cory Clair suffers from attention deficit disorder.

“Like dormitories and dining halls, Adderall was something Cory Clair figured he’d leave behind in college.


“But when he went off the medication and started a new job in January, his mind began wandering at work—just as it did in class before he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and prescribed the drug, a common treatment for a related problem, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.


“‘I thought I’d have it for school, and then I’d be out and wouldn’t need it anymore,’ said Clair, who works in public relations in New York. ‘I was wrong.’


“After a few months of struggling to pay attention to coworkers and complete assignments on time, Clair finally made an appointment with a doctor and renewed his Adderall prescription, which his health insurance covers.


“‘The difference is remarkable,’ Clair said. ‘When you’re on it, you stay focused on what you’re doing.’


A lifetime disorder


“The kids of the ADHD drug boom are growing up, and some are finding that what they thought would be a school-age ailment may in fact last a lifetime. As they enter the workforce—and as older people are increasingly diagnosed—drugs for the disorder are becoming more common in the workplace.


“ADHD is seen in 3 percent to 5 percent of children, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. About half continue to experience symptoms into adulthood, said Louis Kraus, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush Medical Center in Chicago. Symptoms include distraction, forgetfulness, fidgeting, impulsivity and disorganization. Some patients, like Clair, are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder only, not including hyperactivity.


“ADHD drug sales have skyrocketed in recent years, and pharmaceutical companies are increasingly marketing their drugs to adults. U.S. retail sales of the total ADHD drug market more than tripled between 2000 and 2004, according to health care information company Verispan. From 2003 to 2004, U.S. sales of Adderall XR grew nearly 40 percent, while U.S. sales of Eli Lilly & Co.’s drug Strattera, which came on the market in 2002, nearly doubled.


“Experts disagree on whether the surge in sales is due to better recognition and publicity of the disorder, or doctors prescribing the drugs too leniently....”


The Associated Press/ – May 10, 2005


Previously diagnosed as in a persistent vegetative state...


Firefighter’s Miracle Recovery Rare In Long-Term Coma Cases



“Firefighter Donald Herbert is all over the news, having uttered his first words in a decade after suffering a severe brain injury while fighting a fire in 1995.


“Herbert’s doctor, Jamil Ahmed, MD of the University at Buffalo, tells WebMD that Herbert is medically stable and ‘much better than before. He is definitely out of the coma. He’s responsive, answering in “no” or “yes” with me, and moving all the extremities and shaking the hand.’


“Ahmed says Herbert’s family says Herbert has been more communicative with them, asking his wife, ‘How are you doing?’ and asking about his condition.


“The change came about three months after Ahmed prescribed medications targeting chemicals in the brain, including norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. The names of the medications were not disclosed, in keeping with the wishes of the Herbert family. Ahmed says the drugs are ‘mostly given to people who have attention problems, cognitive problems, Parkinson’s disease, and mood disorders.’


“Ahmed also told WebMD that Herbert’s condition may fluctuate. ‘He is not continuously answering questions and talking. It’s never happened before—a big change for him. We are hoping he should progress more....’”


WebMD/ – May 06, 2005


Assessing “the most powerful idol the church has had to face in the course of its history...”


The Moral Fog of Progress

by Nathan Gardels



“...[The] idea of being a human conditioned by limits is at a new threshold where the growing disbelief in an afterlife meets awesome technological advance. Why not do what we can to extend this life if it is all we have? We stole fire from the gods. Why not the breath of life? Who is to say medical science should not enter ‘the atrium between life and death’ as agony sets in? Why not meddle in the other end of existence, quickening?


“Why not clone ourselves? Why not change the genes we have? Why not build organ farms to create and harvest all those kidneys and livers so many people are waiting for as they suffer? What’s so wrong with the already extant trade in human organs? In the globalized marketplace if there is demand, who is to stop the supply?


“That we can’t answer these questions with any moral authority defines today’s epochal juncture. As Leon Kass and Czeslaw Milosz, the Nobel poet, have pointed out, liberal democracy, no less a consumer society wedded to a scientific world view, can offer no intellectual defense on its own terms of the person or of human dignity when faced with such questions. There is only a utilitarian reply. ‘Health’ and ‘saving a life’ are the only standards....


“Ivan Illich, the late philosopher and former vice-rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, took this view one step further by placing it in the context of the 21st century technological order. ‘What I fear,’ Illich wrote in NPQ in 1994, ‘is that the abstract secular notion of “a life” will be sacralized, thereby making it possible that this spectral entity will progressively replace the notion of “a person” in which the humanism of Western individualism is anchored.’ Illich goes on to argue that ‘a life’ defined no longer as ‘the miraculous sharing of God’s intimacy’ but as an ‘immune system’ to be medically managed is ‘the most powerful idol the church has had to face in the course of its history.’


“Just as the crumbled ground of human dignity yielded to totalitarianism in the 20th century, Illich views the ‘depersonalization’ of the technological order as preparing the path to a Brave New Biocracy in which all are reduced to patients managed from sperm to worm by the medical-industrial complex, staying alive rather than living. As Huxley, like Illich, sensed, this new enslavement would not be imposed, but self-willed in the name of happiness and progress....


“Disastrous judgments in battle are often attributed to the fog of war. It is the fog of progress that enshrouds our stumbling steps today.”


Nathan Gardels is editor of New Perspectives Quarterly.


New Perspectives Quarterly – Fall 2003


Worth considering...


Opening Stanza from Choruses from “The Rock”

by T. S. Eliot



The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,

The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.


O perpetual revolution of configured stars,


O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,


O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying


The endless cycle of idea and action,

Endless invention, endless experiment,

Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;

Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.

All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,

All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,

But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.

Where is the Life we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries

Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.



The Complete Poems and Plays: 1909-1950, by T. S. Eliot (Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1952), p. 96.




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