The Humanitas Project


Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

October 31, 2006



Stem cell research—an update: 

  • “There are currently over 1100 FDA approved clinical trails going on in the United States using adult stem cells...

  • “There are none for embryonic stem cells....”


Adult Stem Cell Success Stories—2006

by Sarah Kleinfeld, David Prentice, and Bill Saunders



“The political battles raging in Congress and in state legislatures over whether to destroy human embryos in order to get embryonic stem cells have obscured an important fact. There is one kind of human stem cell research that everyone can and should support—that involving adult stem cells. Many scientists feel that adult stem cells, which can be found throughout the human body, even in infants, are the real hope for the future.


“James Sherley, associate professor of biological engineering at MIT, notes: ‘Adult stem cell research is predicted to beat the pants off human therapeutic cloning [and embryonic stem cell] research when it comes to yielding significant advances in cell medicine. And adult stem cells provide better approaches. These cells that naturally function in the regeneration and repair of adult tissues pose no ethical concerns.’


“As Sherley notes, there are no ethical problems with the use of adult stem cells because such cells can be isolated without the necessity of destroying an embryonic—or any other—human being first. Past doubts about adult stem cells are daily proving to be mistaken. Recent studies show that many types of adult stem cells are pluripotent, meaning they can develop into different tissue types, and appear to equal the ‘plasticity’ (or, in layman’s terms, versatility) of embryonic stem cells.


“In 2005, researchers at Tufts University successfully isolated a single cell type from bone marrow that can grow into heart muscle, blood vessels, and nerve-like cells. According to Dr. Douglas W. Losordo, one of the main researchers, ‘embryonic stem cells are going to fade in the rearview mirror of adult stem cells. [Bone marrow] is like a repair kit. Nature provided us with these tools to repair organ damage....’”


Sarah Kleinfeld is an intern, William L. Saunders is Director, and Dr. David Prentice is Senior Fellow with the Center for Human Life and Bioethics at the Family Research Council.


Family Research Council – October 16, 2006




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Adult stem cells used to produce mini-livers...


British Scientists Grow Human Liver in a Laboratory



Dr Nico Forraz (left) and Prof Colin McGuckin, (below) the tissue created in the lab is actually the size of a 1p piece

“British scientists have grown the world’s first artificial liver from stem cells in a breakthrough that will one day provide entire organs for transplant.


“The technique that created the ‘mini-liver’, currently the size of a one pence piece, will be developed to create a full-size functioning liver.


“Described as a ‘Eureka moment’ by the Newcastle University researchers, the tissue was created from blood taken from babies’ umbilical cords just a few minutes after birth.


“As it stands, the mini organ can be used to test new drugs, preventing disasters such as the recent ‘Elephant Man’ drug trial. Using lab-grown liver tissue would also reduce the number of animal experiments.


“Within five years, pieces of artificial tissue could be used to repair livers damaged by injury, disease, alcohol abuse and paracetamol overdose.


“And then, in just 15 years’ time, entire liver transplants could take place using organs grown in a lab....”


Daily Mail – October 31, 2006


“Those we would exploit, we must first dehumanize....”


Experimenting with Live Patients

by Wesley J. Smith


Some experts think it’s OK to use vegetative human subjects



“In the new novel Hunters of Dune, biotechnologists of the future create ‘ghoulas’—clones made from the dead—in breeding contraptions known as ‘axlotl tanks.’ About 100 pages into the novel, the reader is shocked to learn that axlotl tanks are really unconscious women whose bodies have been expropriated to serve the greater good as so many gestating vats.


“Happily, Hunters of Dune is science fiction. In the real world, we have a higher sense of morality and ethics. We would never use catastrophically disabled human beings so crassly. We understand that treating people as mere things violates the intrinsic dignity of the individual and the equal moral worth of all human life.


“Well, most of us do.


“Unfortunately, many bioethicists would feel right at home in a world in which unconscious people are converted into mere biological machines. Indeed, some of our most prominent bioethical and philosophical thinkers have published articles in the world’s most respected medical and bioethical journals proposing that unconscious patients (those diagnosed as in a persistent vegetative state) be used both as vital organ donors and the subjects of human medical experimentation....”


San Francisco Chronicle – October 22, 2006


Consumer eugenics—the drive to eliminate the “In-Valids”...


Reproduction Revolution: Sex for Fun, IVF for Children

by Jo Whelan



“In the science fiction movie Gattaca, the hero, Vincent, is an ‘In-Valid’—someone whose only crime is to be conceived in a moment of passion rather than in a Petri dish. His brother, by contrast, is a Valid, created by a process designed to ensure the optimum recombination of his parents’ genes. In-Valids are condemned to a life of menial jobs and discrimination. To realise his dream of becoming an astronaut, Vincent has to buy a Valid’s identity.


“It’s a scenario that is difficult to imagine from today’s viewpoint. Yet could we be moving towards an age in which entering nature’s genetic lottery is no longer seen as a desirable way to bring a child into the world? Might natural conception even come to be thought of as irresponsible, as bad as smoking while pregnant?


“Reproducing the traditional way is undoubtedly flawed. Worldwide around 1 child in 16 is born with a mental or physical disability due to a genetic defect, and most of us probably carry gene variants that predispose us to serious illnesses later in life. How much safer it would be to go along to the fertility clinic, have some embryos created and pick the one or two that will produce the healthiest baby....” – October 20, 2006


Is this study about prejudice against older mothers, or could it be about expanding the market for the fertility industry?


Older Women Make Grand Mothers, Say Researchers


Tuesday October 24, 2006



Adriana Iliescu, 67, holds her year-old daughter. When Eliza-Maria is 14, her mother will be 80. Picture / Reuters

Picture / Reuters

Adriana Iliescu, 67, holds her year-old daughter. When Eliza-Maria is 14, her mother will be 80.

“Age is no bar to being a good mother and there is no reason, from the child’s point of view, to stop pensioners becoming parents, researchers say.


“Women in their 50s and 60s who conceive after fertility treatment are just as capable of being good parents as their sisters in their 30s and 40s.


“The research will bring hope to thousands of women who have delayed parenthood and seek help late in life to have a family. Even though they run greater risks of complications during pregnancy and birth, once their children are born they are just as good at raising them.


“The finding will also boost research into egg freezing, which could allow career women in their 20s to store their eggs for use in their 40s or 50s or even later. If egg freezing becomes a practical possibility for the average woman, it could fuel a boom in demand for fertility treatment from 40 and 50-year-olds....”


The New Zealand Herald – October 24, 2006


Learning to customize chemotherapy treatments...


‘Personalised’ Cancer Drug Test


A gene test that predicts which cancer drugs will be most effective for different people is to be trialled in the US.



“Preliminary results suggest the test, which looks at the unique molecular traits of a tumour, predicts the best drug with 80% accuracy.


“The first clinical trial is planned in 120 breast cancer patients next year.


“If the results are good, the test could be applied to all chemotherapy-treated cancers, Nature Medicine reports.


“The researchers at Duke University, North Carolina, say the test has the potential to revolutionise cancer care by identifying the right drug for each individual patient....”


BBC News – October 22, 2006


The results with GDNF were astonishing...


Why Won’t They Let Parkinson’s Sufferers Take a Life-Changing Drug?



Determined: Parkinson’s sufferer Tom Isaacs

“When Tom Isaacs was 27 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The condition gradually destroys the brain’s ability to control the muscles—there is no cure.


“Determined to give himself the best possible prognosis, Tom embarked on a very personal journey to meet leading scientists in the hope of finding new treatments that would help him.


“Three years ago it seemed he’d found the answer: a new drug GDNF (glial derived neurotrophic growth factor). A group of Parkinson’s patients had been treated with GDNF at Bristol’s Frenchay Hospital and their transformation had been remarkable: sufferers who’d been trapped in a living hell were suddenly able to walk, talk and smile again....”


Daily Mail – October 31, 2006


Dangerous drugs that should be used only in closely monitored situations...


Anti-Psychotics Little Help for Alzheimer’s Sufferers



“Anti-psychotic drugs widely used to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are no more effective than dummy pills because intolerable side effects outweigh any benefits, according to a large study out Thursday.


“The drugs can help some, but overall, patients who took placebos benefited just as much as those on the three anti-psychotic medicines, says Lon Schneider, a geriatric psychiatrist at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles. He led the study, reported in The New England Journal of Medicine.


“Schneider estimates the drugs, called atypical anti-psychotics, are taken by more than half of Alzheimer’s patients at some time to treat aggression, delusions and hallucinations, although the medicines aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat these symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients....”


USA TODAY – October 11, 2006


Technological limitations shut down the cat cloning business...


No Nine Lives for Cat-Cloning Business


A cloned cat name 'Little Nicky' peers out from her carrying case, in this Dec. 22, 2004 file photo taken in Texas. 'Little Nicky' a successfully cloned cat, was sold to a woman  by Genetic Savings and Clone for $50,000. Genetic Savings and Clone,  a California biotechnology company that sold cloned pets, sent letters to its customers in September 2006, informing them it will close at the end of the year because of little demand for costly cloned cats.   (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

Tony Gutierrez / AP file

A cloned cat name "Little Nicky" peers out from her carrying case in this 2004 file photo taken in Texas.

Weak demand forces Genetic Savings & Clone to close its doors



“Even for the most devoted pet lovers, there’s a limit to how far they will go to have their favorite feline or canine for life.


“Genetic Savings & Clone, a biotechnology company that sold cloned pets, sent letters to its customers last month informing them it will close at the end of the year because of little demand for cloned cats. The company had recently reduced the price from $50,000 to $32,000.


“The letters said the Sausalito company was not accepting new orders for clones because it was ‘unable to develop the technology to the point that cloning pets is commercially viable....’”


MSNBC/Associated Press – October 11, 2006


Worth considering...


from The Perils of Indifference

by Elie Wiesel



“What is indifference? Etymologically, the word means ‘no difference.’ A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil. What are its courses and inescapable consequences? Is it a philosophy? Is there a philosophy of indifference conceivable? Can one possibly view indifference as a virtue? Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one’s sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals?


“Of course, indifference can be tempting—more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person’s pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbors are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction....


“In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony. One does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it.


“Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor—never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees—not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.


“Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment.


“And this is one of the most important lessons of this outgoing century’s wide-ranging experiments in good and evil....”



Elie Wiesel’s speech, The Perils of Indifference,” was delivered on April 12, 1999 to a joint session of the US Congress, which was attended by President and Mrs. Clinton.  Mr. Wiesel is a world-renowned author of over 40 books, most notably his memoir Night, which recounts his experience in the Nazi Holocaust.  He is the 1986 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.




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