Saturday, October 16, 2010

Time to con the pollies again: a cutting-edge cloning project!

And then there is the other story in the SMH today - License sought to make cloned human embryos

Passing strange that the chaps in Melbourne should wait until a month before the next federal legislative review is due, and then make their exciting announcement of a cloning trial. Just too caught up with other things since 2006? Bit busy; perhaps discouraged that their colleages in Sydney (and the rest of the word, for that matter) have not been able to get a single stem cell from their cloned embryos? Obviously nothing to do with fabricating a sense of significance around this redundant science in time to dupe the MPs yet again.

Fooled by hype and emotional blackmail ("how dare you stand in the way of a cure for my ...insert disease category.... child!") in 2003, browbeaten by emotional blackmail and hype in 2006 - yes, it is entirely possible that the MPs will again go supine before the solemn claims of scientists that "we really need to research everything" if we are to make the lame to walk and the blind to see.

No, for once, dear representatives, get clear that this science is not only a vile corruption of our humanity - intentionally creating embryonic human life for the sole purpose of destructive research - but is as dead and dated as Dolly. We are in a magnificent new era, the era of Yamanaka's iPS direct reprogramming, where the exact stem cells that cloning hoped to obtain, but never did, have now been obtained in spades by an ethically uncontentious method. Cloning has lost the only justification it ever had, and the one serious argument that got it past the Parliement in 2006.

Again, this article from the SMH's science reporter has some rigour in not dodging the nature of cloning - as the making a a living human embryo with the sole purpose of research . Note the correct description in the article:
In this procedure a person's DNA would be put into an egg to produce a days-old
cloned embryo from which embryonic stem cells could be extracted.

Some sound reporting on the Geron experiment

Deborah Smith of the Sydney Morning Herald is a specimen of that rare species: a well-researched science reporter. It says a lot about general reporting on stem cell science that an article like today’s, below, should come as a pleasant surprise for its sober and careful presentation - and not only because this association gets to put its case.

An informed reader could quibble re no mention of the published ASC alternatives for spinal treatment, and re inadequate explanation that ANY experiment conducted with Geron’s ESC derivatives could be more profitably conducted with iPS derivatives, and likewise fall about laughing at the Prof from another planet who calls this Geron-come-lately non-event "the dawn of the Stem Cell age" - but overall it meets the requirements for intelligent scientific/bioethical reporting.

A race from lab to patient
Date: October 16 2010
Deborah Smith

The first test of an embryonic stem cell therapy in humans has left even the fiercest advocates nervous, writes Deborah Smith.

''IT'S been a long time coming,'' says Joanna Knott, chairwoman of SpinalCure Australia, about the ''exciting'' news that the world's first clinical trial in people of a human embryonic stem cell therapy has finally begun in the US.

Professor Andrew Elefanty, a stem cell researcher at Monash University, disagrees. ''I think history will judge it has been very fast.''

It is only 12 years since human embryonic stem cells - the immortal, master cells that can be converted into 200 different types of tissue - were first extracted from donated IVF embryos. Now cells derived from them have been injected into a person with severe spinal injuries in Atlanta. From lab to patient in just over a decade is ''truly rapid progress'', Elefanty says.

Dr David van Gend, an opponent of embryo research, however, says the trial by US company Geron Corporation is unnecessary and dangerous. ''It is an uncertain experiment, which has got even proponents of embryonic stem cell research worried.''


Scientist re Geron: "My gut feeling is that it's a scam"

Now I think Michael Fumento, writing at AOL, is too kind to Geron – but here is his take “in the wake of Geron Corp.'s ballyhooed experiment, which, while it's unlikely to do much to advance health, could do a lot for Geron's financial prospects.”

Thumbs up to the neuroscientist quoted herein: "My gut feeling is that it's a scam," he said.

Read on at

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Geron's futile fiddling finally approved

So the FDA has blinked, and the first patient has finally been injected with Geron's dubious nerve cells derived from IVF embryos. The race is on to see whether the immune suppressive drugs (required to induce tolerance of the foreign embryo's cells) or the still-risky cells themselves cause greater harm to these poor desperate individuals.

The media, true to form, sit at the feet of the embryo-cell masters, and accept uncritically whatever is spun at them. So, in the premier current affairs programme in Australia, the ABC AM radio show this morning, journalist Kim Landers reports:

“At a hospital in Atlanta, doctors have injected embryonic stem cells into a patient's damaged spinal cord.”

No, they have not. No ES cell (whether from IVF embryos or from cloning - and for that matter no iPS cell) can be put into a human being, because they form teratoma tumours in animals. For ‘authoritative confirmation’ of this fact, see the statement on the ISSCR web site (‘Top 10 Things to Know about Stem Cell Treatments’ at point 2):

“embryonic stem cells themselves cannot directly be used for therapies as they would likely cause tumors”.

Only adult stem cells can be put into humans, and have been in large numbers, because they alone are stable and safe in vivo.

Correct reporting would be that the Geron Corp ES cell trial in spine injury would NOT put a single ES cell into any patient; it merely uses ES cells (from IVF embryos) to generate “mature” (but genetically foreign) nerve progenitor cells for transplant. But here are the obvious questions:

o Since the same nerve cells could be readily generated from induced pluripotent stem cells ( iPS cells), with the huge advantage that they would exactly match the patient – and therefore not require immune suppressant drugs - why use embryos at all?

o Since scientists have already published trials using a patient’s own adult stem cells in spinal injury, with no tumours formed, and without requiring immune suppression drugs which the Geron study does require – why use embryos at all? [i]

Surely that is worth asking .

Kim Landers continues: “In phase one of this trial, doctors will establish only whether the treatment is safe to use. Geron will need to do more trials in the coming years to assess whether the treatment is effective in repairing spinal cord injuries.”

Correct, but not enough said to debunk the unjustified hype from Geron. There is still a concern that the “mature” stem cells in this trial may revert to ES cell status and cause tumours – that is why the FDA has for years equivocated over the proposal. In fact Geron has already said they will have to monitor the patients for 15 years to assess the danger.

The trial is only a Stage 1 test to see if tumours occur. It is not even pretending to be a ‘treatment’ – it is an uncertain experiment which has got even proponents of embryonic stem cell research worried that it could all be a rash miscalculation and backfire terribly.

Kim Landers: “In a statement, Geron's president and CEO, Thomas Okarma, describes this trial as a, quote, "milestone for the field of human embryonic stem cell based therapies".

Well he would say that… But what use is a milestone in a dead-end street? Cells from embryos are redundant in the era of direct reprogramming - iPS technology. ESCs cannot be used directly in humans, unlike ASCs; ESCs are foreign to the patient, unlike iPS cells, and are therefore of limited use even for research; iPS cells are easy to obtain, and ethically uncomplicated, whereas the Geron cells are only obtained from stripmining embryos.

Finally, for your entertainment, revisit the comical history of Geron announcing its ‘milestones’, usually corresponding to a temporary rise in their share price...

What an investment!

[i] Link to Adult Stem Cell Spinal Cord Trials: and and