Seething and Thinking

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4 Responses

  1. LAWRENCE KAPLAN says:

    Rabbi Shafran: I agree with you that the Times’ response was petulant and childish. Alas, it was not surprising. It seems that the Times’ anti-Bush animus trumps everything, even rejoicing over a major scientific breakthrough that as a major side benefit resolves some very difficult ethical dilemmas.

  2. David says:

    Here’s another intereting take on that ivory tower from this blog:

    Now They Tell Us…
    Posted by Ryan T. Anderson on December 11, 2007, 9:55 AM
    A few weeks ago we all heard the announcement of a major scientific breakthrough that allowed scientists to create the equivalent of human embryonic stem cells (called induced pluripotent stem cells) but without using or destroying embryos. Joseph Bottum wrote about the implications here, and I covered the story for the Weekly Standard.

    In the aftermath of this news, we’ve been hearing surprising things from the scientists. They now acknowledge that there really are moral concerns in embryo-destructive research, and that they’ve been concerned about this all along.

    So, just after the news broke, Dr. James Thomson–the scientist who first isolated human embryonic stem cells–told the New York Times: “If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough.”

    Now, in another New York Times story, we hear Dr. Shinya Yamanaka–the scientist behind the latest breakthrough–tell readers what motivated him to discover the new technique:

    “When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters,” said Dr. Yamanaka, 45, a father of two and now a professor at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences at Kyoto University. “I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”

    Someone should let the New York Times editorial page editors know. They recently opined:

    Any claim that Mr. Bush’s moral stance drove scientists to this discovery must be greeted with particular skepticism. The primary discoverer of the new techniques is a Japanese scientist who was not subject to the president’s restrictions.

  3. Larry Lennhoff says:

    I find it unlikely the Bush ban directly contributed to this discovery, which was made in Japan and was the direct result of research they did on embryonic stem cells. As Dr. Meyers of Pharyngula states:

    This discovery is probably going to become a political football in short order, with the far right politicians who have restricted American research into embryonic stem cells claiming vindication. However, let’s point out some realities here. Americans did not make this discovery; Japanese researchers did. It required understanding of gene expression in embryonic stem cells, an understanding that was hampered in our country. It’s going to require much more confirmation and comparison between the induced pluripotent stem cells and embryonic stem cells as part of the process of making this technique useful — science doesn’t take just one result from a few labs and accept it as gospel truth. And we definitely need to figure out better ways of switching the four genes on. Figuring that out will require more research into how organisms switch cells into the ES state in situ — we can’t figure that out from these cells with inserted, artificial gene constructs.

    Another essential point is that scientists are excited about this work because it opens up avenues for basic research into development and differentiation. These cells are NOT useable for therapies…the immediate, practical applications that the electorate wants from stem cell research. They also cannot be used for reproductive cloning, although that won’t trouble most people. These are cells with retroviral infections, potential unknown mutations, and that have genetic modifications that make them prone to collapse into cancers. We are not going to be able to grow new organs and tissues for human beings from a few skin cells using this particular technique. It’s going to take more work on embryonic stem cells to figure out how to take any cell from your body, and cleanly and elegantly switch it to a stem cell state that can be molded into any organ you need. What this work says is that yes, we’ll be able to do that, it isn’t going to be that difficult, and that we ought to be supporting more stem cell research right now so we can work out the details.

  4. Ori says:

    Larry Lennhoff, does this research have to be done on human embryonic stem cells? As far I know, nobody objects to research on chimpanzee embryonic stem cells on moral grounds.

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