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Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

September 4, 2004



When worries about steroids were in the “good old days”…


Olympics Doping



“These Olympics have already seen a marathon of drug tests, with some athletes banned for testing positive for illegal substances, some who disputed positive test results and others accused who’ve never failed a drug test. But as this ScienCentral News video reports [see sidebar in article for video], when gene therapy goes mainstream, today could seem like the good old days.


DNA Dope


“Training six hours a day to compete in Athens, U.S. wrestler Kerry McCoy says being drug-free is more important to him than winning.


“‘You really shouldn’t need anything else, and that’s just kinda the way I’ve governed myself and that’s the way I hope everyone in sports would do it,’ McCoy says.


“But University of Pennsylvania gene therapy researcher Lee Sweeney says his studies on mice convinced him that athletes may soon be tempted to tamper with their own DNA. His lab demonstrated that increasing the amount of a single gene in mice can enhance their muscle size, strength and ability to repair injuries. Because humans also have this gene, called IGF-1, Sweeney is working on developing the treatment for muscular dystrophy, but worries that it could easily be used for ‘gene doping.’


“‘We’re creating genes that make substances that never leave the muscle, so nothing’s in the blood, nothing’s in the urine,’ says Sweeney. ‘The only way you could detect it would be to go take a biopsy of the muscle. So it would be undetectable given the current regulations, given the fact that they can’t sample anything other than blood or urine. You’d actually have to get a piece of the muscle to realize that we’d actually introduced a new gene or new genetic material into it.’…”


ScienCentral News – August 12, 2004


The technical paper that discusses the case of the German boy born with the myostatin abnormality, pictured in the photo above, can be found in the June 24, 2004 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (“Myostatin Mutation Associated with Gross Muscle Hypertrophy in a Child” – subscription required).


From gene therapy to genetic enhancement…


Gene Doping,

by Dr. H. Lee Sweeney

Scientific American, July 2004


Gene therapy for restoring muscle lost to age or disease is poised to enter the clinic, but elite athletes are eyeing it to enhance performance. Can it be long before gene doping changes the nature of sport?


Editor’s Note:  Writing before the Olympic games began in Athens, Dr. Lee Sweeney, gene therapy researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, warned of a new form of doping that could be anticipated in future Olympic games, possibly in the 2008 games in Beijing, and certainly in the 2012 games.



“Athletes will be going to Athens next month to take part in a tradition begun in Greece more than 2,000 years ago. As the world’s finest specimens of fitness test the extreme limits of human strength, speed and agility, some of them will probably also engage in a more recent, less inspiring Olympic tradition: using performance-enhancing drugs. Despite repeated scandals, doping has become irresistible to many athletes, if only to keep pace with competitors who are doing it. Where winning is paramount, athletes will seize any opportunity to gain an extra few split seconds of speed or a small boost in endurance.


“Sports authorities fear that a new form of doping will be undetectable and thus much less preventable. Treatments that regenerate muscle, increase its strength, and protect it from degradation will soon be entering human clinical trials for muscle-wasting disorders. Among these are therapies that give patients a synthetic gene, which can last for years, producing high amounts of naturally occurring muscle-building chemicals….” – July 2004


…and it required changing only one gene…


Geneticists Rewire Muscles to Create a 'Marathon Mouse'



“California geneticists have created a ‘marathon mouse’ that can run twice as far nongenetically altered mice, and eat ravenously without growing fat.


“If researchers could similarly rejigger the genetic makeup of other animal or human muscles, they might usher in an era of super race horses and ultra-athletes, and tame the obesity epidemic.


“Even the researchers at the Salk Institute in California were surprised that simply changing one gene in the muscles could lead to such dramatic changes throughout the body, from the nervous system to the cardiovascular system.


“‘This change seems to rewire the entire system,’ said geneticist Ronald Evans, leader of the research team whose results appeared yesterday [Aug. 23] in a new online journal, the Public Library of Science, Biology. The results are exciting, he said, ‘in part because it seems some important benefits associated with exercising may be achievable without even working up a sweat.’…”


The Boston Globe/ – August 24, 2004


A more extensive summary and analysis of Dr. Ronald M. Evans’s research can be found at the web site of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


The technical paper describing Dr. Evans’s research can be found at PloS Biology (Volume 2 - Issue 10 – October, 2004).  PLoS Biology is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal published by the Public Library of Science.


It’s good news, but is it a trend?


First-Time Voters for Life


What a Pace Poll suggests about new registrants and abortion rights.



“According to a recent poll, new voters are trending pro-life on abortion….


“On abortion, Pace Poll researchers slice the new voter demographic into four groups. There are those who believe ‘abortions should be legal and generally available’ (21 percent); those who feel ‘regulation of abortion is necessary, although it should remain legal in many circumstances’ (23 percent); those who say ‘abortion should be legal only in the most extreme cases, such as to save the life of the mother, incest, or rape’ (41 percent); and those who think ‘all abortions should be made illegal’ (13 percent). The survey shows that, essentially, 44 percent of new voters are pro-choice while 54 percent are pro-life. Among first-time Latino voters, pro-lifers outnumber pro-choicers 61 percent to 34 percent; among blacks, the pro-life/pro-choice breakdown is 59 percent/42 percent. Self-described ‘moderates’ similarly tend to be more pro-life (52 percent) than pro-choice (45 percent).


“Pro-life views also have surprising traction among new voters who identify themselves as John Kerry supporters. A plurality (34 percent) of Kerry voters, not to mention pluralities of new independent voters (36 percent) and new undecided voters (35 percent), believe ‘abortion should be legal only in the most extreme cases, such as to save the life of the mother, incest, or rape.’ On the other hand, some 31 percent of Kerry voters say ‘abortions should be legal and generally available,’ the most extreme pro-choice position available. But still, first-time Kerry voters are more likely to be pro-life than they are to favor abortion on demand, according to the Pace Poll.


“These findings come on the heels of an April 2004 Zogby poll, which showed that 56 percent of Americans either believe abortion should never be legal or would restrict it to cases of rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is in danger. Zogby also revealed that more Americans consider themselves pro-life (49 percent) than pro-choice (45 percent). And according to a Gallup Youth Survey released last November, 72 percent of U.S. teenagers think abortion is morally wrong, 32 percent of teens would outlaw it entirely, and only 19 percent support abortion on demand....”


Weekly Standard – August 20, 2004


A chilling peek inside the “pro-abortion” mindset…


When One Is Enough,

by Amy Richards as told to Amy Barrett

New York Times – July 18, 2004


Editor’s Note:  Some readers thought this article was a parody when it appeared in the New York Times.  In the ensuing “firestorm,” Ms. Richards was condemned by pro-choicers for damaging their cause and by pro-lifers for the selfish basis on which she chose to abort two of her children.  The Times was forced to print a note of explanation that Amy Richards is not “an average, common mother who had no other agenda but to pour her soul out to the public.”  Rather, she is an abortion rights advocate who offered a candid look inside the “pro-abortion” mindset (see the Times comment at the end of the article).



“I grew up in a working-class family in Pennsylvania not knowing my father. I have never missed not having him. I firmly believe that, but for much of my life I felt that what I probably would have gained was economic security and with that societal security. Growing up with a single mother, I was always buying into the myth that I was going to be seduced in the back of a pickup truck and become pregnant when I was 16….


“Now I’m 34. My boyfriend, Peter, and I have been together three years. I’m old enough to presume that I wasn’t going to have an easy time becoming pregnant. I was tired of being on the pill, because it made me moody. Before I went off it, Peter and I talked about what would happen if I became pregnant, and we both agreed that we would have the child.


“I found out I was having triplets when I went to my obstetrician….


“My immediate response was, I cannot have triplets. I was not married; I lived in a five-story walk-up in the East Village; I worked freelance; and I would have to go on bed rest in March. I lecture at colleges, and my biggest months are March and April. I would have to give up my main income for the rest of the year. There was a part of me that was sure I could work around that. But it was a matter of, Do I want to?


“I looked at Peter and asked the doctor: ‘Is it possible to get rid of one of them? Or two of them?’ The obstetrician wasn’t an expert in selective reduction, but she knew that with a shot of potassium chloride you could eliminate one or more.


“Having felt physically fine up to this point, I got on the subway afterward, and all of a sudden, I felt ill. I didn’t want to eat anything. What I was going through seemed like a very unnatural experience. On the subway, Peter asked, ‘Shouldn’t we consider having triplets?’ And I had this adverse reaction: ‘This is why they say it’s the woman's choice, because you think I could just carry triplets. That’s easy for you to say, but I’d have to give up my life.’ Not only would I have to be on bed rest at 20 weeks, I wouldn’t be able to fly after 15. I was already at eight weeks. When I found out about the triplets, I felt like: It’s not the back of a pickup at 16, but now I’m going to have to move to Staten Island. I’ll never leave my house because I’ll have to care for these children. I’ll have to start shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise. Even in my moments of thinking about having three, I don’t think that deep down I was ever considering it….”


New York Times – July 18, 2004


The pro-abortion mindset from another angle…


Pro-Abortion Madness,

by Ted Olsen


The abortion lobby has abandoned its rationales amid pro-life gains.



“‘Activists on both sides of the gay marriage debate ‘have begun to speak of the issue as “the new abortion”,’ The Washington Post reports. But what ever happened to the old abortion? As it turns out, the past few months have seen extraordinary progress for the unborn, with abortion supporters looking more desperate than ever.


“The international front is full of good news. China is outlawing sex determination and sex-selective abortion, aiming to fix its gender imbalance by 2010. On the other side of the international political spectrum, the Netherlands has tethered its infamous abortion ship.


“Meanwhile, Britain is engaged in a soul-searching moment. First came the release of images from the new 3D/4D ultrasound scans—one shows a 12-week-old child ‘walking’ in its mother’s womb. Then came the shocking news of the abortion rate (up 3.2 percent from 2002), ‘cosmetic’ abortions (at least a dozen babies have been aborted for cleft lips and palates, in probable violation of British law), and medical advances. The author of Britain's 1967 Abortion Act, David Steel, said the law wrongly assumes fetuses can’t survive outside the womb before 28 weeks. ‘Since then,’ he wrote in The Guardian newspaper, ‘medical science has continued to advance, recording survivals at 22 weeks of pregnancy.’ In 1990, British pro-life groups pushed to move the law back to 22 weeks, but got 24. Now Steel wants it halved, to 12.


“Viability supposedly matters here as well. World magazine recently reported, ‘Forty states and the District of Columbia have post-viability abortion bans that are currently enforceable.’ Many of these state laws define viability too late: between 24 and 26 weeks. But in December, when Sen. Joseph Lieberman noted that the laws no longer reflect ‘extraordinary advances in medical science,’ he was condemned for eroding ‘choice.’


“Abortion advocates are increasingly abandoning science. ‘For a long time now, medicine has assumed too much importance in the abortion debate,’ Marina Benjamin wrote in The Scotsman. ‘If medical advances keep lowering the bar, we’ll soon be faced with a situation where socially motivated abortions are legally discriminated against.’…”


Christianity Today – September 2004


An experiment using adult stem cells…


Doctors Grow New Jaw in Man's Back



“A German who had his lower jaw cut out because of cancer has enjoyed his first meal in nine years—a bratwurst sandwich—after surgeons grew a new jaw bone in his back muscle and transplanted it to his mouth in what experts call an ‘ambitious’ experiment.


“According to this week’s issue of The Lancet medical journal, the German doctors used a mesh cage, a growth chemical and the patient’s own bone marrow, containing stem cells, to create a new jaw bone that fit exactly into the gap left by the cancer surgery.


“Tests have not been done yet to verify whether the bone was created by the blank-slate stem cells and it is too early to tell whether the jaw will function normally in the long term.


“But the operation is the first published report of a whole bone being engineered and incubated inside a patient’s body and transplanted.


“Stem cells are the master cells of the body that go on to become every tissue in the body. They are a hot area of research with scientists trying to find ways to prompt them to make desired tissues, and perhaps organs.


“But while researchers debate whether the technique resulted in a scientific advance involving stem cells, the operation has achieved its purpose and changed a life, said Stan Gronthos, a stem cell expert at the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science in Adelaide, Australia….” – August 28, 2004


When someone else dies because a patient and his doctors cheat…


Cutting in Line for Organ Transplants,

by Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.


Texas man's efforts to get liver undermine system



“Earlier this year Todd Krampitz, a 32-year-old from Texas, was battling cancer. His liver, riddled with a huge tumor, was starting to fail. Then a courageous family that had tragically lost a loved one made the vitally important decision to donate a liver.


“On Aug. 13, Krampitz received the organ and underwent transplant surgery. One might argue that the system worked and a young man’s life was saved. Except that in this case, the system did not work—the fact that Krampitz received a liver is unethical because he got his by cutting in line.


“There is a very long list of people in the United States waiting for livers. The list is run by the United Network for Organ Sharing, a quasi-public agency based in Richmond, Va., that operates with a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services. The national list was created so that everyone who needs a life-saving organ has a fair chance of getting one.


Circumventing the system


“At the time Krampitz received his liver, there were more than 17,000 people on the list who also needed a liver transplant, some more desperately than he did. More than a thousand of those patients live in Krampitz’ home state of Texas….”


MSNBC News – August 25, 2004


The science and the politics of medicine…


FDA Alters Tack On Children and Antidepressants



“A Food and Drug Administration reexamination of data linking the pediatric use of some antidepressants to increased suicidal tendencies has once again found a connection, and the agency is actively considering new warnings to highlight the risk.


“In a memo released by the agency as part of its preparation for an expert advisory panel meeting on the subject next month, FDA medical officer Andrew D. Mosholder said that he still sees a significant association between short-term use of antidepressants by children and an increase in their thoughts of suicide.


“The agency had reacted cautiously to Mosholder’s first report on the association in March and asked for additional outside analysis. Based on that new analysis of data from trials of antidepressant drugs, Mosholder found a similarly significant correlation—that children using the drugs were 1.8 times as likely to have suicidal tendencies as depressed children who took placebos….” – August 21, 2004


Worth considering…


From “Health Is Membership”

by Wendell Berry



“[The] metaphor of the machine bears heavily upon the question of what we mean by health and by healing.  The problem is that like any metaphor, it is accurate only in some respects.  A girl is only in some respects like a red rose; a heart is only in some respects like a pump.  This means that a metaphor must be controlled by a sort of humorous intelligence, always mindful of the exact limits within which the comparison is meaningful.  When a metaphor begins to control intelligence, as this one of the machine has done for a long time, then we must look for costly distortions and absurdities.


“Of course, the body in most ways is not at all like a machine.  Like all living creatures and unlike a machine, the body is not formally self-contained; its boundaries and outlines are not so exactly fixed.  The body alone is not, properly speaking, a body.  Divided from its sources of air, food, drink, clothing, shelter, and companionship, a body is, properly speaking, a cadaver, whereas a machine by itself, shut down or out of fuel, is still a machine.  Merely as an organism…the body lives and moves and has its being, minute by minute, by an interinvolvement with other bodies and other creatures, living and unliving, that is too complex to diagram or describe.  It is, moreover, under the influence of thought and feeling.  It does not live by ‘fuel’ alone….”


“Health is Membership” is one of the essays collected in Wendell Berry’s Another Turn of the Crank (Counterpoint, 1995).  The excerpt can be found on pages 94-95.




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