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Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

May 25, 2005



Renewing the battle over embryonic stem cells...


House Passes Embryonic Stem Cell Bill


Separate GOP-backed measure on adult stem cells sails through



President Bush has said he would veto a bill that further funded embryonic stem cell research.

“After impassioned debate, the House passed a controversial bill Tuesday that would expand public funding for embryonic stem cell research—a measure President Bush threatened to veto last week.


“The vote was 238-194, short of the two-thirds supermajority of 290 necessary to override a veto. The measure now goes to the Senate.


“The House then overwhelmingly passed a Republican-backed proposal that would use federal money to study stem cells taken from adults and umbilical cord blood, instead of using human embryos.


“The vote was 431-1. One Republican voted against the bill, which was supported by Bush.


“The first bill passed would extend funding to research on embryonic stem cell lines that were nonexistent in 2001, when Bush limited funding to lines in existence at the time.


“According to scientists, many if not all of the previous lines are now contaminated and unusable.


“The biggest support for the bill came from Democrats, with 187 votes. Fifty Republicans also voted for the measure. Fourteen Democrats opposed the bill, along with 180 Republicans....” – May 25, 2005




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Advancing the science of human cloning...


Korean Scientists Clone Stem Cells



“South Korean scientists have created the world’s first human embryonic stem cells that are customized to injured or sick patients, a major step in the quest to grow patients’ own replacement tissue to treat diseases.


“These same scientists last year became the first to clone a human embryo, sparking international clamor. But those cloned stem cells—the building blocks that give rise to every tissue in the body—were a genetic match to a healthy woman, not a sick person. And it wasn’t easy: It took 242 donated human eggs to grow just one batch.


“Now the Seoul scientists have cloned patient-specific stem cells, important if doctors are to develop cell-based therapies that won’t be rejected by the body’s immune system. The technique worked with males and females, as young as 2 and as old as 56—all suffering either spinal cord injuries, diabetes or a genetic immune disease, the researchers report in Friday’s edition of the journal Science. [20 May 2005 Vol. 308 No. 5725]


“And the Korean lab found faster and safer ways to cull stem cells, using far fewer donated eggs—about 20 per try. They also eliminated use of mouse ‘feeder cells’ that have been used to nourish most human stem-cell lines, thus easing concerns about contamination.


“Any therapy is still years away from being tested in people....”


Associated Press/Las Vegas Sun – May 19, 2005


Britain becomes the second country to produce human clones...


UK Scientists Clone Human Embryo



“British scientists say they have cloned the country’s first human embryo.


“The Newcastle University team took eggs from 11 women, removed the genetic material and replaced it with DNA from embryonic stem cells.


“The aim of this kind of work—the subject of fierce debate—is to make cloned embryos from which stem cells can be used to treat diseases.


“Meanwhile South Korean scientists say they have created stem cells to match individuals for the first time.


“Stem cell lines were created by taking genetic material from the patient and putting it into a donated egg.


“The resultant cells were a perfect match for the individual and could mean treatments for diseases like diabetes without problems of rejection....


“Criticising the Newcastle research, Julia Millington from the ProLife Alliance said cloning for research purposes was profoundly unethical.


“Josephine Quintavalle from CORE said: ‘No matter how it is created, a human embryo’s destiny should be to live and not to be turned into human stem cells....’”


BBC News – May 20, 2005


Reflecting on the moral issues underlying the cloning debate...


Go Forth and Replicate

by Eric Cohen


The age of human cloning has arrived



“Conscience is a slippery thing. In 2001, during the first few months of the Bush presidency, America engaged in a debate about the ethics of embryo research. The policy question was narrow: Should the federal government use public funds to support stem cell research that involves embryo destruction? But everyone knew that the issue was actually much larger—about whether we should be the kind of country that uses some (nascent) lives to benefit others, the kind of country that plunges ahead in revolutionary new areas of biotechnology without establishing clear moral limits.


“Research advocates made their case by saying that thousands of embryos in fertilization clinics were ‘going to die anyway,’ and that of course no one was suggesting we create human embryos solely for research. The ethical argument was unconvincing—being destined to die hardly turns human beings into things, otherwise no one would feel safe in a nursing home. But at least the research advocates endorsed the notion that there was a line they did not want us to cross.


“Today, most advocates of embryonic stem cell research offer no limits and seem to accept no compromises. Last week, a team of South Korean and American researchers announced a successful experiment: They had created scores of cloned human embryos that they then destroyed to produce 11 stem cell lines. So we have truly entered the age of human cloning. Any competent team of researchers in a laboratory anywhere in the world can now create cloned human embryos to the blastocyst stage—and then try to implant them in efforts to initiate a pregnancy. If they fail, they can—and some will—try and try again. To be sure, there will be many grotesque failures along the way to cloned babies—just as there were when Dolly the cloned sheep was created. And the children who make it to birth will inevitably suffer deformities and health problems. But the first cloned child is coming soon, and with it a new, terrible moment in the history of modern science....”


Eric Cohen is editor of the New Atlantis and resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.


The Weekly Standard – May 30, 2005


Designing our descendants...eugenic thinking now dominates the field of assisted reproduction...


New Technique Boosts IVF Success to 80 Percent


Embryo screening may help older women hoping to get pregnant



“Screening embryos can increase the success rate of older women having fertility treatment, a leading fertility expert said on Thursday.


“Dr. Yury Verlinsky, of the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago, told a medical conference that screening embryos before transferring them to the womb increased the take-home baby rate from 11.5 percent to 81.4 percent.


“‘We’ve been advocating preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to be done for every IVF (in-vitro fertilization) cycle,’ he said.


“PGD is used to detect single gene disorders such as cystic fibrosis, a hereditary lung disease, during test tube baby treatments.


“But Verlinksy told the Sixth International Symposium on Preimplantation Genetics in London that the technique could also be used to select the embryo that is most likely to implant in the womb and result in a live birth....” – May 19, 2005


Should doctors have the final say on end-of-life decisions?


Doctors Warn Over Right-to-Life 



Leslie Burke won the original case

“A judge’s ruling on the rights of terminally-ill patients could put doctors in an ‘impossibly difficult’ position, the GMC has told a court.


“Leslie Burke who has a degenerative brain condition, won a landmark ruling last year to stop doctors withdrawing food and drink when he cannot speak.


“The 45-year-old feared General Medical Council rules on artificial nutrition may allow his wishes to be over-ruled.


“But the GMC has taken it to the Court of Appeal as it wants clearer guidance.


“Artificial nutrition is classed as a form of treatment by the GMC and, therefore, last July’s ruling, which was hailed as a breakthrough for the rights of terminally-ill patients, raised questions about medical intervention....”


BBC News – May 16, 2005


For additional information on Leslie Burke’s legal battle to ensure that he is not denied food and water when he is no longer able to communicate, please visit his website.


Redefining the practice of medicine in terms of consumer wants...


Medicine Goes to the Mall: Enhancement Technologies and Quality of Life

by Carl Elliott



“Over the past several decades we have seen the emergence of 2 related movements in American health care. The first is an emphasis on improving patients’ quality of life. The term ‘patient’ is arguable here, however, because the quality of life in question is not necessarily that of people who are sick. A growing number of medical technologies are employed to improve the looks, performance, and psychological well-being of people who are healthy. Over the past decade or 2 we have seen the development of Paxil for shyness, Rogaine for baldness, Viagra for impotence, Provigil for sleepiness, Adderall for poor concentration, Meridia for excess weight, Botox for wrinkled faces, Humatrope for short stature and Sarafem for premenstrual discomfort—and that short list does not even include the tools in the surgeon’s kit, that include rhinoplasty, blepheroplasty, breast augmentation, or ETS surgery for blushing or excessive sweating. Prescription drugs and surgery are not just for sick people anymore. They are for anyone who has a willing physician, good health insurance, and a robust checking account.


“The second (and related) movement is the submission of the American health care system to the machinery of consumer capitalism. This is not just a matter of the rise of managed care corporations, for-profit hospital chains, and direct-to-consumer drug advertising. It is a change in the ethos of medicine. American doctors and patients are viewing medical care as a market commodity provided to consumers who are able and willing to pay for it. Now that a market model has taken over, the practice of medicine has become driven not just by what patients need, but also by what consumers want....”


American Medical Association – Feb 1, 2005


Brain-booster in a bottle...


This Pill Will Make You Smarter



“Having problems performing in the sack? Take Viagra. Got the jitters before that important presentation? Try beta blockers. Need to stay awake to finish that assignment? Pop a Provigil pill.


“For those prepared to pay, the growing list of ‘lifestyle drugs’ is shifting the boundaries of what bodies and minds are capable of. Now a small clinical trial of the class of experimental drugs known as ampakines suggests these brain-boosters are destined to blur that line still further by offering improved memory.


“The success of the unrelated drug Provigil (also called modafinil) has proved there is a huge market for drugs that can improve mental performance. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved it for treating narcolepsy, sleep apnoea—disrupted breathing during sleep—and the sleepiness caused by shift work. But it is widely taken ‘off-label’ by healthy people to stay awake and alert. Sales of the drug, produced by Cephalon of West Chester, Philadelphia, have more than doubled since 2002, and continue to skyrocket.


“Some may feel uncomfortable with the increasing availability of such pharmaceutical pick-me-ups, but others see them as no different from performance aids such as palmtop organisers. ‘Stimulating your brain with a reminder on a Blackberry doesn’t seem that different to me from stimulating your brain with a drug,’ says Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia....” – May 14, 2005


Reflections of a scientist who would use technology to upgrade humans...


The Fusion of Man and Machine

by Kevin Warwick



Kevin Warwick displays a chip implant attached to the main nerve of his arm.

“By 2020 exciting advances in bio-interfacing will make it possible for a wider range of diseases to be treated electronically.


“Initially Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy will be successfully dealt with. But the effects of multiple sclerosis, paralysis and motor neurone disease will also be much reduced as the individual is enabled to control their environment and even drive their car, by their thoughts alone, using implanted technology.


“Other problem areas such as senile dementia and schizophrenia could perhaps be tackled in a similar fashion.


“The whole area, termed E-Medicine, will spawn a plethora of new companies.


“As well as being used for therapy, the use of implant technology for enhancement will also become more acceptable.


“Initially there will be a backlash among those who consider the prospect of being able to ‘upgrade themselves’ ethically inappropriate.


“But once the technology has been proven and is commercially available at relatively low cost, it is expected that the range of people making use of it will increase dramatically.


“Memory enhancement, an increased range of senses, dieting control and thought communication will all be on the market, while technology to allow for multi-dimensional thought will be at the planning stage.


“All of these upgrades will be based on a direct link between a human and a machine brain.


“In this way the ever increasing power of machine intelligence can be used to provide an improvement in human capabilities, rather than allowing intelligent machines to make important decisions.


“Nevertheless the use of networked intelligent computers to control all the financial markets will present a worrying trend—it will no longer be clear who exactly is making the key decisions; a machine based on human criteria, or a machine based on purely machine criteria been learnt through market experience....” – May 16, 2005


Please consult Kevin Warwick’s website for additional information on his work in robotics and cybernetics.  The site includes photographs and more information on his efforts to become a cyborg.


It will only help people who have some movement...


Bionic Arm Operation a Success



“A 46-year-old stroke victim has become the first person in the world to have ‘bionic’ implants fitted to help restore her lost hand and arm movement.


“Fran Read from Poole in Dorset, had the pioneering procedure at Southampton General Hospital on Friday.


“Dr Jane Burridge, leader of the project, said: ‘Everything seems to have gone well and the latest procedure is a success.’


“Ms Read hopes she will eventually be able to return to playing netball. 


“The hairdresser is the first to undergo the procedure, which involved electrical micro-stimulators being implanted into her left arm close to nerves and muscles that have not been used effectively since her strokes.


“The five tiny cylindrical devices were inserted under a local anaesthetic by surgeons at Southampton General Hospital two weeks ago.


“Since then, they have been allowed to settle in Ms Read’s arm and on Friday she was fitted with a radio frequency cuff or coil that will relay signals from a computer and then to the micro-stimulator.


“‘The micro-stimulators will receive instructions that will mimic messages the brain usually sends to the muscles....’” –  May 13, 2005


Aubrey de Grey and the immortality project...


I'm Going to Live Forever


Some scientists predict that today’s children will be able to live for more than 1,000 years. Is immortality just around the corner? Bryan Appleyard peers into a hair-raising future without death.



“Somewhere in the world today lives a child who will change everything. Imagine this child is called Sally. Today is her 11th birthday. She lives in Esher in Surrey. Her parents are happy and wealthy. All her grandparents are old, alive and well.


“I’ve given her this background for specific reasons. Sally is a girl because women live about five years longer than men. She is 11 because, at that age, she has successfully navigated the diseases of childhood and her body has yet to endure the effects of ageing. She lives in Esher because it is one of the high life expectancy areas of one of the richest countries in the world....


“In short, Sally’s life prospects are optimum for a human child in 2005. According to current projections, she can expect to live well into her eighties. But it’s not going to be like that, because Sally is not going to die until 3194....


“He [Aubrey de Grey] is generally regarded as the leading theorist of anti-ageing technologies or, as he calls them, Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. He is convinced the first thousand-year-old human has already been born. He is convinced because of his theory of ‘escape velocity’ which, he says, almost nobody has taken into account....”


Times Online – March 13, 2005


Worth considering...


When Science Becomes a Superstition

by Bryan Appleyard



Bryan Appleyard

“...[S]cientific knowledge is certainly cumulative, but it is certainly not the case that it accumulates in one correct direction. We don’t know where the end may be. At any one time we may be racing down a blind alley. And, even if we reached what we thought was the end, how could we be sure we were really there? Human knowledge can seem very true for an awfully long time before it is shown to be false or incomplete — look at Ptolemy, look at Newton. We need not a vanity of the present but a humility of history. Geneticists often say we know more than the Nazis so we won’t make those mistakes again. But how much more? And how much would be enough?


A new superstition


“That amounts to a practical warning against scientific hubris. But it points to a deeper, spiritual issue. We know, as Wittgenstein indicated, that all this science seems perversely to evade what we care most about. Tell me my complete molecular anatomy down to my last DNA base pair, tell me every electrical pathway in my brain and you tell me nothing. Or rather you tell me only what is most inessential to my being in the real world of values, emotions and other people. And yet evolutionary psychology seems to be saying that it can tell us about those things. But it can only explain them within a certain material context, it cannot explain them away. The illusion that it can is just that—an illusion. And if we talk ourselves into accepting that illusion, then, inevitably, we reduce our sense of ourselves.


“The general point is that, in selling so effectively its advance into the human realm, science is fostering a form of superstition. The superstition is that we can, indeed, rationally categorise and explain our condition. This is no more likely to be true now than at any time in the last two or, indeed, ten thousand years. It just seems that it might be true because, in so many areas, science has proved so improbably effective....”


Bryan Appleyard is a special feature writer and columnist for the Sunday Times (London). He specializes in writing about the relationship between science and culture and has published two books, Brave New Worlds and Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man.


The entire article, which was originally published in the October, 1999 issue of The Pastoral Review, is available online




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