what excuse will they use now?
Embryonic Stem Cells Left in iPS Dust 05/23/2011
May 23, 2011 — A few years ago, scientists were clamoring for access to human embryos for stem cell research. Now, the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) from human skin and other adult tissues has sidetracked interest in embryonic stem cells. The momentum is clearly going with iPS. Is there any longer a need for embryonic stem cell research?
- Skirting controversy: “Stem cell research courts both controversy and support in the community- depending on your viewpoint,”began an article on Medical Xpress. “Now, for the first time, scientists at Monash University’s Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories (MISCL) have shown that they can make human stem cells from healthy adult kidneys without working on human embryos, circumventing ethical concerns around this research.” A side-by-side comparison showed the kidney cells were just as good as embryonic stem cells in producing various tissues.
- Chemotherapy-resistant bone marrow: Another article on Medical Xpress reported work at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center that stem cells from bone marrow can be genetically modified to resist damage from chemotherapy, helping cancer patients endure the treatment without harmful effects.
Previously, chemotherapy treatments for gliablastoma, a brain cancer, have taken a harsh toll on patients’bone marrow. “Our initial results are encouraging because our first patient is still alive and without evidence of disease progression almost two years after diagnosis,” a doctor said.
- Parkinson’s disease: Researchers from South Korea and Harvard have identified a “protein-based”human iPS cell” that appears promising for reversing nerve cell loss in patients with Parkinson’s Disease. Their experiments “reversed disease when transplanted into the brain of rats modeling Parkinson disease.” Though the article mentioned embryonic stem cells as one of the two sources of stem cells, it did not produce any evidence that embryonic stem cells are effective – only the iPS cells.
- Vision forum: Eye diseases such as “age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy and other retinal diseases” affect millions worldwide, an article on Medical Xpress said. Can iPS stem cells from human skin treat these devastating conditions? Apparently so; “Scientists from Schepens Eye Research Institute are the first to regenerate large areas of damaged retinas and improve visual function using iPS cells (induced pluripotent stem cells) derived from skin,” they said. A paragraph in the article shows that many vision researchers would prefer to avoid ethical controversies with embryonic stem cells:
While Tucker, Young and other scientists were beginning to tap the potential of embryonic and adult stem cells early in the decade, the discovery that skin cells could be transformed into “pluripotent” cells, nearly identical to embryonic cells, stirred excitement in the vision research community. Since 2006 when researchers in Japan first used a set of four “transcription factors” to signal skin cells to become iPSCs, vision scientists have been exploring ways to use this new technology. Like embryonic stem cells, iPSCs have the ability to become any other cell in the body, but are not fraught with the ethical, emotional and political issues associated with the use of tissue from human embryos.So far the tests are being done on mice. “The two scientists say their next step will be to take this technology into large animal models of retinal degenerative disease and eventually toward human clinical trials.”
5. Amniotic fluid health potion: In a paper on PLoS One,1 Chinese researchers announced success deriving multipotent stem cells from amniotic fluid of pigs. They were able to get these stem cells to differentiate into nerve, fat, and heart tissues without producing teratomas (tumors). They said, “These optimal features of pAF-MSCs provide an excellent alternative stem cell resource for potential cell therapy in regenerative medicine and transgenic animals.”. Even in China these researchers were aware of the controversy. They said, “human amniotic fluid may be a new source of pluripotent stem cells without any ethical concerns associated with human embryonic stem cells (hES cells) research.”
6. Umbilical vein health potion: Another paper in PLoS One by the Salk Institute showed success at getting induced pluripotent stem cells from human umbilical vein endothelial cells.2 Their process was“rapid and highly efficient,” they reported, and produced stem cells that were “indistinguishable from human embryonic stem (ES) cells with regards to morphology, pluripotent marker expression, and their ability to generate all embryonic germ layers in vitro and in vivo.”
7. Progeria find-and-replace: An exciting discovery at Salk Institute shows the potential of adult stem cells to do “find and replace” operations on diseased genes, such as those with progeria, a degenerative disease that causes premature aging. PhysOrg explained the process:The gene-targeting approach developed by Suzuki and his colleagues relies on the use of so-called helper-dependent adenoviral vector to deliver large mutation-free DNA molecules into cells. Once there, these replacement pieces initiate a process known as homologous recombination, which works a bit like the “find-and-replace” command in a word processor. If a piece of DNA is long enough, it will find and line up with the same sequence in the genome and swap places.“The process was remarkably efficient and we couldn’t detect any undesired off-target effects such genomic instability or epigenetic abnormalities,” says Liu. “What’s more, it allowed us to show that we can correct multiple mutations spanning large genomic regions.”The team used adult mesenchymal stem cells and iPS cells from progeria patients to test the genetic editing procedure. The article said that these cells have been shown to differentiate into a wide variety of tissues, including“adipocytes, osteoblasts, chondrocytes, cardiomyocytes, adipocytes, and, as described lately, beta-pancreatic islets cells.”
8. Regeneration takes a village of cells: Don’t expect to grow a new arm with stem cells. In an article onScience Daily, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that, at least for zebrafish, multiple cell types are needed to regrow a lost fin.
9. Crop yields: Plants have stem cells, too – and not just in their stems. Researchers at Texas Agrilife Research are studying stem cells in Arabidopsis to learn how to make plants produce more fruit, seeds and leaves, according toPhysOrg.Have embryonic stem cells made any headway toward cures? It’s sometimes hard to tell in news reports. Science Daily ran a story from Monash University about research on how stem cells in the embryo differentiate into muscle tissue, for the purpose of helping the elderly who suffer from age-related muscle wasting conditions, but did not indicate whether human embryos were involved in the research. It appears they studied chicken embryos to watch what happens as the stem cells develop into muscle, not for the purpose of injecting embryonic stem cells for treatment.
A paper in Nature about embryonic stem cell research appears limited to understanding transcription in normal animals,3 without any mention of potential applications for human health. Similarly, an article on Science Daily discussed how scientists at the University of Pennsylvania are trying to understand how embryonic stem cells differentiate in living organisms. While the press release stated that “Investigators want to make embryonic stem cells for liver or pancreatic beta cells for therapies and research,” there was no indication that the team has come anywhere close to that goal. “By better understanding how a cell is normally programmed we will eventually be able to properly reprogram other cells,” one of them said. Once again, embryonic stem cell therapy looks like a pipe dream.
Is there a “state of the stem cell” address? An overview of stem cell research was provided by Erika Check Hayden in Nature,4 who said, “The field of induced pluripotent stem cells has grown up fast. Now it is entering the difficult stage.” She focused on the promise of iPS cells which are changing the face of biology. “Like human embryonic stem cells, iPS cells could potentially be used as therapies, disease models or in drug screening,”she wrote. “And iPS cells have clear advantages: they can be made from adult cells, avoiding the contentious need for a human embryo, and they can be derived from people with diseases to create models or even therapies based on a person’s genetic make-up.”
From there, Hayden described some of the “growing pains” of iPS stem cell research, but never mentioned any case in which embryonic stem cells are clearly superior to the ethics-friendly iPS cells. The ease of reprogramming adult cells into pluripotent stem cells has led to a gold rush of research into promising therapies. In spite of the fact that (as often happens in biology), “things are not as simple as we thought,” it was noteworthy that the thrust of Hayden’s article was about the strong momentum in the iPS research community. The silent subtext is that embryonic research has apparently lost a lot of steam.
1. Chen, Lu, Cheng, Peng, and Wang, “Isolation and Characterization of Porcine Amniotic Fluid-Derived Multipotent Stem Cells,”PLoS One 6(5): e19964. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019964.
2. Panopoulos, Ruiz et al, “Rapid and Highly Efficient Generation of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells from Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells,”PLoS One 6(5): e19743. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019743.
3. Pastor, Pape, Huang et al, “Genome-wide mapping of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine in embryonic stem cells,”Nature, published online 08 May 2011, doi:10.1038/nature10102.
4. Erika Check Hayden, Stem cells: The growing pains of pluripotency,”Naturepublished online 18 May 2011; Nature 473, 272-274 (2011); doi:10.1038/473272a.
It has been very encouraging for people who value ethics to see adult stem cell research take off, leaving embryonic stem cell research in its rear-view mirror. But what if it had turned out the other way? What if embryonic stem cells were actively producing cures? Experimenting on human embryos would still be unethical. A basic principle of ethics is that ends do not justify the means (see commentary from the 09/03/2010 entry). The past decade of stem-cell research has shown that some scientists’ greed for fame and money outruns their interest in ethics. It takes a concerned public to keep science in check, because scientists are only human, prone to the same moral lapses as the rest of us.Next headline on: Cell Biology • Health •Politics and EthicsEverything you wanted to know about spider webs is in the 05/25/2005, except their evolution.
“Enlightenment” History of Science Being Rewritten
May 22, 2011 — It’s a common myth that enlightenment atheists gave birth to the scientific era by casting off the darkness of the Christian middle ages and replacing magical arts like alchemy with the scientific experimental method. Historians of science know better. A couple of recent articles help set the record straight.
Alchemy has long had a bad rap, but that is beginning to change. Professor Lawrence Princippe (Johns Hopkins University) has spent 30 years investigating the writings and experiments of alchemists, and has concluded that many of them were “real scientists” doing valid work in chemistry. Among the respectable practitioners were Robert Boyleand Isaac Newton.
This does not mean that the methods of alchemists deserve a comeback, or that their belief that base metals could be turned into gold should be taken seriously, but rather that for their time, they were pursuing real scientific questions with the limited materials available to them. Sara Reardon described the growing recovery of alchemy’s reputation in Science.1
In a Nature blog,1 James Hannam, historian of science and author of The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolutionwrote to correct misconceptions about the relation of Christianity to science. Right off the bat he made a list:
The ongoing clash of creationism with evolution obscures the fact that Christianity has actually had a far more positive role to play in the history of science than commonly believed. Indeed, many of the alleged examples of religion holding back scientific progress turn out to be bogus. For instance, the Church has never taught that the Earth is flat and, in the Middle Ages, no one thought so anyway. Popes haven’t tried to ban zero, human dissection or lightening rods, let alone excommunicate Halley’s Comet. No one, I am pleased to say, was ever burnt at the stake for scientific ideas. Yet, all these stories are still regularly trotted out as examples of clerical intransigence in the face of scientific progress.
After dispensing with the myths, he listed positive cases of the church supporting science. Churches supported the teaching of science and even built observatories into cathedrals, for example. Hannam then pointed out that Christians did science as an act of worship when it was unprofitable. He mentioned a historical point rarely considered:
It was only during the nineteenth century that science began to have any practical applications. Technology had ploughed its own furrow up until the 1830s when the German chemical industry started to employ their first PhDs. Before then, the only reason to study science was curiosity or religious piety. Christians believed that God created the universe and ordained the laws of nature. To study the natural world was to admire the work of God. This could be a religious duty and inspire science when there were few other reasons to bother with it. It was faith that led Copernicus to reject the ugly Ptolemaic universe; that drove
Johannes Kepler to discover the constitution of the solar system;
and that convinced James Clerk Maxwell he could reduce electromagnetism to a set of equations so elegant they take the breathe [sic] away.Hannam went on to describe how the Middle Ages, dominated by the Church, was actually a time of innovation and progress. Even the Dark Ages that preceded it was a time of advance, he said, in spite of the depression caused by the fall of Rome.
Why, then, do so many people get the idea that Christianity and science are opposed? Hannam presented a brief conspiracy theory, pointing out that the conflict of science with religion arose only during the “enlightenment” (his mock quotes and non-capitalization).
Voltaire and his fellow philosophes opposed the Catholic Church because of its close association with France’s absolute monarchy. Accusing clerics of holding back scientific development was a safe way to make a political point. The cudgels were later taken up by TH Huxley, Darwin’s bulldog, in his struggle to free English science from any sort of clerical influence. Creationism did the rest of the job of persuading the public that Christianity and science are doomed to perpetual antagonism.In closing, Hannam said that both “science and religion are the two most powerful intellectual forces on the planet,”pointing out that “Both are capable of doing enormous good, but their chances of doing so are much greater if they can work together.” He ended by congratulating Lord Martin Rees winning of the Templeton Prize as a “small step in the right direction.”
1. Sara Reardon, “History of Science: The Alchemical Revolution,”Science, 20 May 2011: Vol. 332 no. 6032 pp. 914-915, DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6032.914.
2. James Hannam, guest blogger for Soapbox Science, a blog of Nature, May 18, 2011.
Hannam’s article is a small step in the right direction, but he joined in the tar-and-feather-the-creationists game. He blamed them for the “ongoing clash” today (as if they started it), and blamed them for“persuading the public that Christianity and science are doomed to perpetual antagonism” as if the Dawkins crowd is lily-white innocent in that regard. He might as well blame the Christians in the Roman arena being attacked by wild animals and crucified for causing the “ongoing clash” with Nero.
There is no more despised group in academia today than creationists. Alchemists get more respect than people who take God’s word as a historical account of origins, even though the great scientists Hannam listed, including Copernicus, Kepler, Newton and Maxwell all believed it. Maybe it takes centuries to get respect back after it has been shredded by bulldogs.
If it weren’t for the political power they wield, evolutionists are far more deserving of the disdain they regularly dish out to creationists. Read John Sanford’s book Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome and wonder how intelligent people could ever bring themselves to believe that mutations would create progress in fitness, and continue to believe natural selection built all the wonders of life, decades after it was demonstrated by evolution-believing secular population geneticists to be unworkable. Re-read Jonathan Wells’ book Icons of Evolution and wonder at how intelligent people could continue to trot out such wimpy and fraudulent examples as evidence for evolution. Watch Darwin’s Dilemma and stand aghast at how a Darwinian theory so utterly falsified by evidence could be forced onto students as the only theory deserving of a hearing. Do you want to despise a group who believes myths, has an agenda, refuses to face facts, ignores falsifying data, accepts their world view by faith, is intransigent and pugnacious? Look no further than the Darwin Party.
The comments after Hannam’s blog entry are interesting. Several readers trained in TH Huxley’s bulldog kennel tried to go after Hannam for not being vicious enough against the evil, wicked, stupid creationists. One argued the old faith-vs-reason canard, another the NOMA line. Hannam responded that “some of the attitudes on display in this thread are actually damaging to the cause of science” because “many people here wear their hostility to religion on their sleeves.” While not defending creationism or intelligent design per se, he had more blame to lay at the feet of atheists: “Evolution is so tainted by its association with atheism” that many cannot analyze it objectively, he said, “And yet, new atheists keep trying to make matters worse.”
The history of science is nuanced and colorful, defying simplistic narratives. Hannam at least acknowledged that. Princippe is a very knowledgeable and persuasive narrator of the history of science in his Teaching Company lecture series, but listeners should be warned that, for all the good historical facts he shares, he ends up presenting a thoroughly Darwinized theistic-evolutionary solution to science-and-religion issues (probably because a Johns Hopkins professor could not survive in academia with anything else) Academia is rigged to always keep Darwin on top.
Hannam and Princippe both know there are faults to find among the religious and non-religious, fools and heroes and (more often) great thinkers with flaws. As for this site, we are not here to defend the abuses of the Catholic church nor their positions on scientific questions either current or historic. Kepler, Newton and Maxwell and most others in our list were Protestants (that makes sense only after 1517), but Christian theism of any stripe is arguably friendlier to science than atheism, which cannot justify reason emerging from hydrogen, and thus has to plagiarize Judeo-Christian presuppositions to get off the starting line.
As for Sir Martin Rees getting the Templeton Prize, he is about as deserving of praise for “progress in humanity’s efforts to comprehend the many and diverse manifestations of the Divine” (01/26/2006, 06/25/2010,08/16/2005) as Darwin would have been. The guy is a sold-out Darwinist and atheist, like Dawkins but with a little less vitriol. Don’t hold your breath till the real ones making progress (Behe, Dembski, Meyer and others in the ID camp) win the prize. Remember the Nobel “Peace” Prize that Yasser Arafat got for progress in blowing up Jews? Good grief, what a mixed-up world.
Next headline on: Philosophy of Science • Politics and Ethics •Bible and Theology
Take the time one day to peruse the history of the scientific method, the opening of Universities to the common man, the application of logic and reason to investigation because a Logical God would be assumed to have created a logical Universe. It was a belief in rationality because of a belief in God that caused men like Grossteste to change the course of Western history.