“ScienceBlogs” is one of the examples I give when I’m trying to explain the anti-life, anti-religion atmosphere that is pushed (like a religion itself) in our universities and by the Powers That Be in science academia and publishing. I think I may have identified one or two of the bloggers as believers (proof that miracles happen?), but no one identifies as pro-life or even respectful of us.
Normally, the community in the 66 blogs over at “ScienceBlogs” talk to each other, but I read them to see what’s going on. Since I have a tendency to tilt at windmills, occasionally I post. The gang over there is so unhappy with the breakthrough on embryonic like stem cells from adult stem cells that it’s almost like reading up on the Clintons at one of the Pink or websites. (Watch out for the language.)
I posted a reply to the atheist blogger (look for the “Red A” banner suggested by Richard Dawkins), PZMyers, who wrote some silliness at his blog, “Pharyngula” today. (I ignored the nonsensical non sequitur that the President hadn’t shown any interest in alternative fuel – I can remember months of jokes about the saw grass and there’s a Kennedy blocking the wind farms on the East Coast, for Pete’s sake.) But I did point out that there’s been no impediment (other than in the funding of Ph.D. candidates who moan about staying up ’till 2 AM – standard for pre-meds and interns in the old days) because of the Bush administration policy on stem cell research.
One poster replied with 500 words to convince me that “fertilized eggs” do not have any moral standing, cloned human embryos would not be cloned humans and that reprogrammed, mesenchymal or any of the other ethical stem cells do not have the promise that embryonic stem cells do. Along with the problem of how long it takes to direct embryonic stem cells.
First, an egg ceases to be an egg when it’s fertilized. At that point, it’s an embryo.
Third, again, you’ve got to keep up: James Thomson has said that the reprogrammed cells, “are probably more clinically relevant than embryonic stem cells,” he explains. “Immune rejection should not be a problem using these cells.””
In the near future, the treatments will come from stem cells and precursor cells – it probably won’t be necessary to start at the embryonic stem cell or pluripotent stem cell stage. While each line of multipotent adult stem cells is more limited than the ideal embryonic stem cell line, there are many kinds of multipotent lines. I expect the lessons we learn from the Yamanaka and Thomson techniques to be used to begin at these more differentiated cells, which can be directed faster and easier than the pluripotent cells, with their innate pathonemnonic tendency to form tumors.
In the long run, we hope to prove John Gearhart right: he’s been on record for 5 (Washington Fax, November, 2002) years that, “Stem cells won’t be used as therapies, but will spawn them.”
Just as we use stimulating factors to encourage the production of blood cells, rather than transfusing as often as we once did, the plan is to learn to turn the necessary genes on to produce the specific transcription factors that will stimulate stem cells. We’ll learn about “tropic factors” like the brain-derived neurotropic factor that seems to regulate the development of nerve cells and nerve repair.
5 years ago, we hadn’t found all the stem cells and precursors that we know about, now. We didn’t realize that women continue to make oocytes after birth, that there are neuron stem cells and precursors, that we can make functional liver tissue masses from umbilical cord blood. We certainly didn’t know as much as we do – and how little we know – about Oct4 and the other regulatory homeodomains. We didn’t understand about niches and the vital role of the physical environment and conditions beyond those chemicals.
The poster does use one of my favorite phrases, however: “We stand on the shoulders of giants.” He forgets that that will be true for our children of the future, also.