Stem cell research: How to lose a technology lead

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by james_bond_3rd, Oct 25, 2006.

  1. A pragmatic conservative would argue against embryonic stem cell research based on the following reasoning.

    The adult stem cell research has produced a great deal of successes, while embryonic stem cell research has had little to show. Therefore, we should keep on doing adult stem cell research, and let's not offend the religious zealots by insisting on (useless) embryonic stem cell research.

    They just don't know how science works.

    Take a look at the history of automobiles. The first engine driven vehicle was built in 1770, weighed 8000 pounds and had a top speed on 2 miles per hour. This was as useless as one can get in an invention. This thing was so heavy it would crush the road it rides on. The only way to run it was on a rail. Why would anyone try to do research on such a beast, when a horse drawn cart is light, convenient, and many times faster?

    Indeed, when many attempts were made in England to develop a practical vehicle that didn't need rails, a series of accidents and propaganda from the established railroads caused a flurry of restrictive legislation to be passed. The development of the automobile therefore bypassed England. It is curious that this was just about the time when the leadership in science and technology changed from England to France (and later Germany).

    A frenchman named Etienne Lenoir patented the first pratical gas engine in Paris in 1860 and drove a car based on the design from Paris to Joinville in 1862.

    Selectively restricting scientific research based on random political agendas is the surest way to lose your technological edge. Japan, South Korea, and China will happily take the lead away from us.
  2. Another point about comparing embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Instead of going into boring details, let me use a loose analogy.

    Suppose that you're asked to write a book. The tools you're given are a pen (with some ink), and a stack of books (already printed with words). Your approach is to sort through the books, find the occasional blank pages, pull those pages out, and write on them. Of course the process of pulling the pages out will damage quite a few of them. So you're left with very few usable pages even after a lot of work. Do you think you'll have time to do any writing at the end?

    OTOH, you see that your boss is shredding thousands of pages of blank, unused, high quality paper every day. You managed to catch a few of these pages blown you way by the wind, and found that you can write on it just fine. But before you could even write a chapter on it, you are told that no, you're not allowed to take any unused paper because the company policy is that any paper unused must be shredded.

    You tried to argue that you could save a lot of time and money by using the unused paper instead of tear blank pages from old books. Your boss pointed to the fact that you have made a great deal of progress by converting old book covers into covers for your own book, and even recycled a few nice graphic art pages. Meanwhile, the fresh paper have not made any real contribution to your new book...
  3. Maybe I'm wrong here, but.....

    At one time, embryonic stem cell research held the advantage of being able to make themselves into any type of cell.

    But since 2002, researchers can now use adult stem cells, and make them into any type of cell, and they have the advantage of non-rejection. And of course, let's not forget that venture capitalists are putting their money into ASC research.

    Is that right?You seem to be knowledgable on the issue...

    Question - who is restricting research? Or has Bush just against gov't funding of the issue, and not restricting it?

    Also, what makes better sense, backing ASC research, which has already shown many successes - or ESC reasearch, which in 50 years, shows none?

    Did you know that a South Korean woman, paralyzed for 19 years, was given adult stem cell injections into the injured part of her spine, and now can walk with the aid of a walker? Did you know that 2 paralyzed American women were treated with adult stem cells in Portugal, and now have movement and some feeling?

    So who has politicized the whole issue? Conservatives? Or have the scientists enlisted the aid of the liberal attack dogs.....
  4. You completely missed the point of my posts. This is understandable because most people do not know how science works. The benefit of open-ended research is vitally important in the advance of science. No one, even great minds like Einstein, knows where the next breakthrough will come from. Using politics to prohibit certain area of research is the surest way to lose the entire scientific endeavor.

    You have two main points, 1. adult stem cells work better than embryonic stem cells; 2. Bush didn't prohibit research, only stopped federal funding for it. Let me address each one.

    1. I tried to address this point in the earlier posts in a way not too boring but since you missed my point so let me be more direct here. There are several types of stem cells. They can be classified according to their potency:

    * Totipotent stem cells are produced from the fusion of an egg and sperm cell. Cells produced by the first few divisions of the fertilized egg cell are also totipotent. These cells can differentiate into embryonic and extraembryonic cell types.

    * Pluripotent stem cells are the descendants of totipotent cells and can differentiate into cells derived from the three germ layers.

    * Multipotent stem cells can produce only cells of a closely related family of cells (e.g. hematopoietic stem cells differentiate into red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, etc.).

    * Unipotent cells can produce only one cell type, but have the property of self-renewal which distinguishes them from non-stem cells.

    As you can see, the earlier in the differentiation process the more potent the stem cells are. Adult stems cells are almost never able to become a cell of a different type. Although recent research has been able to convert some adult stem cells into another type, this process is painstakingly difficult, with a very low success rate, and often with hidden problems that we still don't know about.

    Embryonic stem cells, OTOH, are just like white paper. You can change them into anything you want. The difference is really like running on rails (adult stem cells) and running anywhere you like (embryonic stem cells). The earlier, and easier successes of the adult stem cells is very similar to the earlier successes of the railroad. Imagine what the world would be like today if we banned the research on cars because railroads were successful. England made this mistake 170 years ago. Do we want to make the same mistake again?

    2. Question of federal funding for research. Currently there is almost no private/industrial funding for basic science research. Pharmaceutical R&D never works on things where fundamental scientific questions are still unknown or unanswered. They are only interested when there is a specific drug target.

    State funding for research has always been a tiny part of any university's research budget. It is usually used to supplement federal funding. Without federal funding, states will be reluctant to support a project over a long term because their political priorities are often at odds with long term investments in scientific research that is unlikely to bring regional benefits.

    Even worse, according to the rules, a scientist must clearly separate his/her work with embroynic stem cell research and any federally funded research. In reality, this is nearly impossible. So the only choices the scientists have, are either not do any embryonic stem cell research, or not get a penny from the federal government. In this age, refusing all possible federal funding is professional suicide. So in this sense prohibiting federally funded research has little difference than banning the research outright.