The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

October 25, 2007



The vision of the new field of regenerative medicine...


An Arm and a Leg?


Lizards Can Replace Missing Limbs - Someday Maybe We Will, Too



A two-chamber heart, which begins beating after about four hours, is produced using a Hewlett-Packard Inkjet Printer.

“Medical scientists recently scored a major breakthrough when they successfully implanted several people with the world’s first laboratory-grown bladders. But what about regrowing parts on the outside of the body, like fingers, arms or legs? After all, some lizards and fish can do it. What have they got that we don’t?


“A handful of researchers around the country are working to find out. Last year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s experimental science wing, doled out multi-million dollar grants to launch two teams of scientists in pursuit of a specific goal: figure out how salamanders regenerate severed limbs, and make mice perform a similar trick. Meanwhile, the Army will soon begin an attempt to regrow the fingers of several war-maimed soldiers.


“The military has thousands of reasons to be supporting such cutting-edge wound research, in the form of the ever-mounting number of severely injured soldiers being shipped home from Iraq and Afghanistan. From the American Revolution to the Persian Gulf War, the ratio of wounded to killed soldiers held steady at about 2.5 to 1. In recent years, however, advances in body armor technology have saved countless soldiers’ lives—but even the best Kevlar vests still leave limbs exposed. One result is that the maimed-to-dead ratio has shot up to 9 to 1. That translates into an awful lot of veterans missing pieces of their bodies.


“The salamander, the creature highest up the evolutionary scale capable of regrowing its appendages, gives a tantalizing example of the healing that might be possible for such amputees. The little lizard can fully regenerate its limbs, tail, jaws and parts of its eyes....”


PBS/Wired Science – October 23, 2007


Editor’s Note:  A fascinating three-minute video of Dr. Anthony Atala’s regenerative medicine lab at Wake Forest University is available online (the video is preceded by a short ad).  Dr. Atala’s lab has produced seven lab-grown bladders that have been successfully transplanted to humans.  They are currently working on projects that involve some twenty different human tissue types.




Please forward this e-mail to anyone who might be interested in staying abreast of the rapidly changing developments in biotechnology and the related area of bioethics.  For more information on The Humanitas Project, contact Michael Poore, Executive Director, at 931-239-8735 or .  Or visit The Humanitas Project web site at



“Numerous large studies have shown that each birth will reduce your risk by ten percent and each year of nursing by at least four percent.”


Want Protection From Breast Cancer? Have Some Babies

by Dr. Miriam Grossman, M.D. 



“October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, ladies. Time for pink ribbons, fundraising, mammograms, and that familiar list of lifestyle changes you can make to decrease your risk.


“I bet most of you can recite it in your sleep: examine yourself monthly, watch your weight, exercise, eat berries, vegetables and fiber. Don’t smoke or drink excessive alcohol. Avoid red meat and fatty foods.


“Those are the guidelines etched in our brains, women young and old, desperate to dodge the dreaded bullet that will strike one in eight of us. But as you stock up on blueberries and sauerkraut, please know one more thing. The ‘lifestyle’ choice that provides the best protection from this epidemic has nothing to do with diet, cigarettes, or booze.


“You won’t find it highlighted in women’s magazines or health websites, but it’s the mommy track that provides the greatest protection against breast cancer....” – October 16, 2007


Could there be a connection between the pill and the potential for robo-sex?


Why People Will Soon Be Marrying and Having Sex—with Robots



“People could be falling in love and having sex with robots in a few decades and even marrying them, according to a British artificial intelligence researcher.


“David Levy, originally from London, has made the controversial forecasts about the future of human-robot relationships in his Ph.D. thesis.


“In ‘Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners’, he argues that current trends in robotics and artificial intelligence mean the leap to humans and robots forming relationships is not far away.

Once robots become more like humans, David Levy believes romance between the two, and even sex and marriage, will be possible


“Mr Levy, also an International Master in chess, believes robots will soon appear so like humans in the way they look and act, in their personality and how they express emotions, that many people will fall in love with them....”


Daily Mail – October 12, 2007


“‘Mommy makeovers’ imply that mothers have been disfigured and can be fixed only with scalpels and a wad of cash.”


Erasing ‘Stigma’ of Being a Mother

by Kathleen Costello



I call it my twin skin.


That’s the jiggly area around my abdomen serving as a daily reminder of the hard-earned 54 pounds that enabled me to carry two six-pound babies at once. The weight is long gone, but the twin skin remains.


It’s common for women to retain excess weight or gain a dress size or two after giving birth; this is only natural, considering the toll pregnancy takes on every part of a woman’s body! But it’s becoming more and more common to regard these cosmetic changes as unnatural.


A recent article in The New York Times detailed the increase in ‘mommy makeovers.’ This is the term many plastic surgeons use for procedures such as tummy tucks, liposuction and breast lifts—with or without breast implants....


“But treating women who have borne children as if their bodies are unnatural is a relatively recent marketing trend....”


Star-Gazette – October 22, 2007


Screening out less than perfect babies—the ideology and practice of eugenics has not disappeared...


Babies with Minor Disabilities Aborted



“More than 100 babies with minor disabilities, such as a cleft palate or club foot, were aborted in one area of England in a three-year period, statistics reveal.


“The data records that 54 babies with club feet, 37 with cleft palates or lips, and 26 with extra or webbed fingers or toes were aborted in south-west England between 2002 and 2005.


“The figures, provided by the South West Congenital Anomaly Register, have heightened concerns over the number of babies aborted due to minor defects which could be corrected with simple surgery....”


Telegraph – October 24, 2007


The ghost of eugenics still haunts Cold Spring Harbor Labs...


Watson Loses Cold Spring Harbor Post

by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee



Picture of Watson

Credit: Wikipedia

Ig-Nobelist? James Watson is in hot water over his remarks on race.

“James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, has made many controversial remarks over the years. But telling a British newspaper that, in effect, blacks are intellectually inferior to whites seems to have landed him in unprecedented trouble. Last evening, as public criticism of those remarks swelled to a crescendo, the Board of Trustees of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in Long Island, New York, stripped Watson of his title as chancellor of the 117-year-old institution.


“Watson has been at CSHL for nearly 4 decades, having become its director in 1968. He became president of the lab in 1994 and chancellor in 2004. Although not involved in the lab’s day-to-day administration, Watson undoubtedly remains its most celebrated public face—so much so that its fledgling graduate school bears his name.


“But now the institution is trying hard to distance itself from the 79-year-old Nobelist....”


ScienceNOW Daily News – October 19, 2007


Why no one should have been surprised at James Watson’s latest outrageous statements...


The Eugenics Temptation

by Michael Gerson


“James Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who helped discover the structure of DNA in 1953, recently pronounced the entire population of Africa genetically inferior when it comes to intelligence. And while he hopes that everyone is equal, ‘people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.’


“Watson’s colleagues at the Federation of American Scientists found his comments ‘racist, vicious and unsupported by science’—all true. But they could not have found those views surprising. In 2003, Watson spoke in favor of genetic selection to eliminate ugly women: ‘People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great.’ In 2000, he suggested that people with darker skin have stronger libidos. In 1997, Watson contended that parents should be allowed to abort fetuses they found to be gay: ‘If you could find the gene which determines sexuality and a woman decides she doesn’t want a homosexual child, well, let her.’ In the same interview, he said, ‘We already accept that most couples don’t want a Down child. You would have to be crazy to say you wanted one, because that child has no future....’”


The Washington Post – October 24, 2007 (free registration required)


More progress using adult stem cells...


‘Bionic’ Nerve to Repair Injured Limbs

by Roger Highfield



“Accident victims could one day have their severed nerves ‘rewired’ with the help of stem cells extracted by liposuction.


“University of Manchester researchers have transformed fat tissue stem cells into nerve cells - and now plan to develop an artificial nerve that will bring damaged limbs and organs back to life. If all goes well, trials on the first patients could begin in ‘three or four years,’ said Prof Giorgio Terenghi.


“In a study published in the journal Experimental Neurology, Dr Paul Kingham and his team at the UK Centre for Tissue Regeneration in Manchester isolated the stem cells from the fat tissue of adult animals and differentiated them into nerve cells to be used for repair and regeneration of injured nerves.


“They are now about to start a trial extracting stem cells from fat tissue of volunteer adult patients by liposuction, which is relatively easier source than bone marrow, in order to compare in the laboratory human and animal stem cells.


“Following that, they will develop an artificial nerve constructed from a biodegradable polymer to transplant the differentiated stem cells. The biomaterial will be rolled up into a tube-like structure and inserted between the two ends of the cut nerve so that the regrowing nerve fibre can go through it from one end to the other....”


Telegraph – October 18, 2007


A settlement that avoids the critical question: “Do pharmacists have a legal right not to perform services that violate their beliefs?”


‘Morning-after’ Pill Deal Reached


Pharmacists, state accept rule change



“A Solomon-like settlement reached in a lawsuit over access to ‘morning after’ pills would allow pharmacists with moral objections to opt out without preventing women from getting their prescriptions filled.


“Under the settlement, filed Friday without fanfare in the U.S. District Court in Springfield, Illinois pharmacies must fill prescriptions for Plan B and other emergency contraceptive pills ‘without delay,’ as Gov. Rod Blagojevich decreed in 2005. But individual pharmacists who believe dispensing the pills would violate their religious beliefs don’t have to get involved. Instead, the customer can receive the medication from the pharmacy owner or another employee after an off-site pharmacist approves the prescription by phone or fax.


“Plan B—a high dose of regular birth-control pills—can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Most doctors consider it a contraceptive, unlike RU-486, which induces an abortion.


“But ‘morning after’ contraception is unacceptable to those who believe life begins at the moment of conception. Although Plan B works mainly by interfering with ovulation or conception, it may also block implantation of a fertilized egg in the womb and thus destroy an early embryo....”


Chicago Tribune – October 11, 2007


When political correctness collides with individual autonomy...


$mokers Pay the Price




Then, a great newsman. Now, an insurance liability.

“So much for the old stereotype of a fedora-wearing reporter pounding out copy on deadline, cigarette dangling from his mouth. Or the days of sportswriter Oscar Madison chomping on his cheap stogie.


“Starting next year, employees of my company will have to pay a $100 per month fee (that’s $1,200 per year) if they smoke. Or if anyone in their family who gets health insurance from the company smokes....


“Naturally, this makes me wonder what other unhealthy sins will be surcharged in coming years.


“Will there be fees for alcohol use? Eating fast food? Having high cholesterol? Not adhering to proper weight/body mass guidelines...?”


South Florida Sun-Sentinel – October 10, 2007





Issues of health, privacy, and personal freedom...


Company to Workers: Shape or Pay Up

by Mike Celizic


Indiana employer defends plan to charge employees who smoke, overeat



“Packing a few extra pounds? Still smoking like a chimney, despite all the evidence it can kill you?


“Well, if a new practice an Indiana company is putting in place catches on, one day soon your employer could demand you pay a price for your unhealthy lifestyle.


“Like a growing number of companies, Clarian Health Partners has for a number of years had a program that rewards employees for getting healthy. But now, Clarian is telling its workers, it’s time to shape up or pay up....”


MSNBC/ – August 10, 2007


Biohistory:  Can ethics and propriety resist vulgar commercialism and scientific curiosity?


Secrets of the Grave


“Earlier this year, Italian researchers announced the results of an unusual homicide investigation. They had collected evidence in a unique place—a chapel—and the victims (Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and his second wife, Bianca Cappello) had been dead for more than 400 years. Modern forensic science showed they’d been poisoned by arsenic and had not died of malaria, as reported at the time.


“Across the globe, scientists are using the latest medical and forensic techniques to investigate the behavior, diseases, causes of death and lineage of historic figures. Beethoven’s hair has been analyzed to locate genes related to musical ability and to see if lead poisoning caused his eccentricities. Einstein’s brain was tested for a genetic predisposition to aneurysm. And DNA analysis indicated that Thomas Jefferson fathered a child with his slave Sally Hemings.


“‘Biohistory’—the combination of biological testing and history—is one of the most exciting new fields of scientific inquiry. But it also raises serious ethical questions. I entered the field when officials of the Chicago History Museum asked me to help create guidelines for genetic research. The museum’s collection includes the blood-drenched cloak that Mary Todd Lincoln apparently wore on the night of her husband’s assassination. Museum officials wondered whether it was legal—or ethical—to do DNA testing on the cloak’s blood....”



Worth considering...


From The Alternative Tradition in American Political Thought

by Patrick Deneen



“In keeping with [the] biblical understanding, [Wendell] Berry believes an economy that commends narrow and thoughtless forms of specialization does not represent the proper form of work; it is, in fact, bad work....


“Not only does the complexity of the modern economy make the likelihood of perceiving the various connections between different kinds of worth exceedingly difficult; before even arriving at that recognition, modern economic theory in fact discourages such thoughtfulness by its tendency instead to encourage short-term, individualistic, value-based (i.e., relativistic), and resource-exploitative ways of thinking. Thoughtlessness is our default position and a tendency that is only exacerbated by the resulting complexity of the extreme specialization resulting from the available kinds of work.


“In contrast to the modern tendency toward abstraction, Berry calls for thoughtfulness in all its forms: thoughtfulness is, above all, our shared vocation and constitutes what Berry calls ‘good work.’ Good work involves our thoughtful reflection on the sources of life and the consequences of our work. Such work does not entail our full comprehension of all the constitutive efforts that go into the creation of a head of supermarket cauliflower or any product of a complex economic system. Good work, rather, entails the effort to see through a glass darkly toward the whole of which we are all constitutive members. Such an effort, in the first instance, acknowledges the existence of an Aristotelian and biblical whole: it forces upon our consciousness a recognition that we act not merely as partialities nor as autonomous or monadic individuals but as members of a large living organism of civilization. It forces to our consciousness recognition that, by acting in certain ways, we assent to—or potentially withhold our assent from—the destruction of that whole. We move beyond thinking that there is an environmental crisis—since the ‘environment,’ Berry insists, is a formulation that, unlike ‘nature,’ suggests an entity ‘out there’ and separate from us—and instead experience that crisis as ‘a crisis of our lives as individuals, as family members, as community members, and as citizens.’ We begin to understand how our actions implicate us in the whole, how we are inextricably linked in the creation of a common culture—or the undermining of that culture—and in the forging of a common good, or, more likely, the neglect of that good in the absence of commonality.


“This form of thoughtfulness constitutes the human vocation: in contrast to Adam Smith, who claimed that the wealth of nations is built, above all, on increasing subdivisions of labor that necessarily blind us to the connection of our work to the broader good of society, Berry insists that good work consists in the obligation to reflect thoughtfully upon the connections we necessarily share, not only with one another, but with humans past, present, and yet un-born. Our ‘human vocation’ calls on us to participate in ‘responsible membership’ in the world. Berry chastises participants of the modern liberal economy for ‘a profound failure of imagination.’ He continues by insisting that ‘most people now are living on the far side of a broken connection, and that this is potentially catastrophic. Most people are now fed, clothed, and sheltered from sources, in nature and in the work of other people, toward which they feel no gratitude and exercise no responsibility.’ Properly understood, vocation results in the widespread invigoration of imagination.... Through thoughtfulness and imagination, we can achieve what he calls ‘practical wholeness’....”


“The Alternative Tradition in American Political Thought,” by Patrick Deneen, is one of the essays included in Wendell Berry:  Life and Work. This outstanding collection of essays on the work of farmer, poet, essayist, and fiction writer Wendell Berry was edited by Jason Peters and is published by The University Press of Kentucky (2007).




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Copyright © 2007