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Enhancement: Of breasts and bottom lines

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on September 8th, 2008


Over at Our Bodies, Our Blog, Christine Cupaiuolo takes on the global pharmaceutical company that makes Botox and breast implants. The post, titled "Re-Framing Empowerment: Allergan, Breast Implants and a New, Improved You," looks first at Allergan's new marketing campaign.

The company is busy trying to portray "plastic bags filled with silicone or saline solution" as "sources of power, freedom, individuality and self-confidence." Its approach: Make "injecting, slicing and rearranging body parts" sound like treating yourself to a day at the spa. "Nearly 400,000 women did something fabulous for themselves last year," Allergan rhapsodizes in ads for its "Natrelle collection of breast implants."

Many women with breast implants have found them distinctly not fabulous. But studies on their risks somehow don't reflect the growing number of horror stories documented by the blogs, websites, and documentaries to which OBOB links. Could part of the explanation lie in the financial connections to the breast implant industry enjoyed by the authors of key studies on breast implant safety?

A review of previous studies recently published in the journal Annals of Plastic Surgery concluded that breast implants are safe. But the National Research Center for Women & Families notes that all four of the review's authors have financial ties to the breast implant industry, and that studies by the National Cancer Institute and the FDA "found significant increases in several illnesses among women with implants."

Previously on Biopolitical Times:





India in the News

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on September 3rd, 2008


In the last couple weeks, India's booming fertility industry has been in the news frequently:

Activists have petitioned the Supreme Court to stop major internet sites from running ads for sex selection. The activists, including Sabu George, previously have been successful ending similar ads in print publications. But now they are taking on Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.

Surrogacy in India is almost a half-billion dollar industry.

Paying for eggs is on the rise. Economically vulnerable women are more likely to provide eggs, and according to one expert, "desirable physical attributes such as fair skin and good features" result in higher payments. The report ended with:

Another donor pointed out that the agents typically try to locate prospective donors among the poor.

"As their husban­ds are easy to convince, they are approached first. However, with financial dealings involved in the process, husbands often force their will on their wives," she said­.

Another investigative report concluded that egg providers are often cheated and misled. Prospective parents are becoming more selective about the traits of potential sperm and egg providers. Yet India has no law regulating the assisted reproduction industry.





Eggs on ice: New profit center for the baby business

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on August 31st, 2008


A growing number of assisted reproduction companies are now promoting egg freezing and banking for women who are - or can be encouraged to become - nervous about their biological clocks. The Washington Post said in May 2007 that "at least 138" fertility clinics offer this service; a more recent estimate put the number at "more than 220."

This despite the fact that American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the fertility industry's own trade organization, put out a press release last fall titled "ASRM Urges Caution, Strong Counseling for Women Seeking Egg Freezing." ASRM says the technique is experimental - success rates are tiny, effects on the resulting children uncertain - and warns that for now it's appropriate only for women with cancer or other illnesses who may become infertile as a result of treatments for such as chemotherapy.

"Social egg freezing" has also been widely covered by media from women's magazines (Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan) to the business press (Wall Street Journal, Forbes) to the most mainstream of newspapers and broadcast outlets (New York Times, NPR, Newsweek, NBC Nightly News, ABC News). Much of the coverage could easily be mistaken for an infomercial - which explains why it's helpfully collected on the website of the egg freezing company Extend Fertility, whose tagline is "Fertility. Freedom. Finally."

An article this week in the Washington Post falls squarely into the infomercial genre - it fails even to mention the ASRM's cautions. For a far different treatment (not included on Extend Fertility's website), see the July-August newsletter of the National Women's Health Network. That article's title asks whether egg freezing is an example of "Marketing Ploys for Career-oriented Women." Unlike other coverage of social egg freezing, it observes that egg retrieval is invasive and risky for women. And it notes that

advocates of egg freezing use alarming statistics in a misleading fashion to encourage women to create unnecessary back-up plans based on an ineffective, expensive, and unproven technology.

Previously on Biopolitcial Times:





Politicized Prognostication on Pluripotency and Patent Portfolios

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on August 29th, 2008


Pointless apolitical prognostication in Puxatony, Pennsylvania

Yesterday, researchers at Harvard announced a major development towards the goals of regenerative medicine. Using mice, Doug Melton and his team transformed one type of cell into another, but they bypassed stem cells and embryos.  

These results are impressive. But some of the initial reactions were all too predictably polarized. Conservative opponents of embryonic stem cell research said that embryos are no longer needed. Liberal supporters, many of whom have downplayed progress in cellular reprogramming and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), asserted that the use of embryos remains essential.

I don't pay too much attention to these claims. Most of these stem cell ideologues have been saying the same thing for years, and will continue to do so, regardless of scientific developments. And most of them are non-scientists making arguments concerning competing lines of scientific inquiry. The scientists themselves, of course, support more funding and oppose most regulation, regardless of how they feel about the method in question.

Many of those ideologically committed to one side of the embryonic stem cell debate or the other believe that, although science plays a role, the debate will not be resolved through science, but instead through politics - and they are probably right. In that regard, the momentum of developments gives hope to the opponents of using embryos. If the trajectory continues, they'll soon have a strong case - but they're not there yet.

On a related note, I was surprised by the reaction of Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) to the development:

I'm stunned. It introduces a whole new paradigm for treating disease....

One day, this may allow the doctor to replace the scalpel with a sort of genetic surgery. If this can be perfected, it would represent one of the Holy Grails of medicine.
When induced iPS cells were first announced a year ago, Lanza went out of his way to highlight the new method's potential ethical shortcomings. In a letter published in Science and statements to newspapers, he highlighted the cells' potential to lead to clonal or chimeric humans, reliance on genetic modification through viruses, and likelihood of forming tumors in humans. This wasn't surprising: While iPS cells may at some point reduce or even obviate the need for embryonic stem cell research, they already represent the nail in the coffin for cloning-based work, on which ACT had banked.  

Why the drastic turn on Lanza's part? Perhaps the reporter used only the enthusiastic portion of his response, and left out his criticisms of iPS cells or ongoing preference for cloning methods. Or maybe Lanza sees the writing on the wall, and is positioning himself for his next job, as ACT is on the verge of collapsing. Or perhaps he has a financial stake: ACT has a large and complex intellectual property portfolio, and just last week it obtained an exclusive license on inventions concerning somatic cell reprogramming. The company "believes that the filing date and scope of the intellectual property on this important reprogramming technology could prove to be strategically significant in defining the somatic cell reprogramming patent landscape."



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