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Defensive Ideologues Dig In

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on November 30th, 2007

Isaac Newton, responsible for some other great scientific advances in human history

In the wake of last week's development of patient-specific, pluripotent stem cell lines, I've read much pontification and punditry. Some is thoughtful, plenty is glib, and the occasional nugget is simply ridiculous. Here are three examples of the latter, all from entrenched embryonic stem cell research ideologues - with financial interests in the field - who are resorting to defensive posturing.

Leading the pack is Michael Werner, lobbyist for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, who laments that these "scientific discoveries are being politicized." Yet his job is to do precisely that: He spins scientific developments in ways that encourage politicians and other policy makers to enact policies friendly towards the industry that signs his paycheck.

Next up is Geron CEO Thomas Okarma, who said: "Most of the people who are doing this work and make the claim that this is going to change the therapeutic field really know nothing about cell therapy." This sentence clearly points to the actual researchers who developed the new techniques, including James Thomson. So to Okarma, whose repeated promises of clinical trials for embryonic stem cell therapies make them seem as imminent as Chinese Democracy, the very scientist who first isolated human embryonic stem cells "really know[s] nothing about cell therapy?"

Finally, in an attempt to downplay the new methods of deriving stem cells without embryos, Okarma's BFF Hans Keirstead said that embryonic stem cells (i.e., the type on which he holds patents) are "are the greatest single scientific advance in human history." I'll let that statement speak for itself. (HT to Wesley Smith on Keirstead)

DNA Dieting? It was only a matter of time.....

Posted by Jamie Brooks on November 28th, 2007

(Click on Image)

The United States is dealing with skyrocketing obesity rates at the same time we are becoming obsessed with thinness. This has created a market for Americans to be inundated with diet advertisements for quick fixes promising weight loss.

It was only a matter of time before biotechnology would promise people that it could help them get their sexy back while capitalizing on the multi-million dollar diet industry. Enter GenoTrim™, the "world's first DNA-customized nutritional supplement for optimal weight."

GenoTrim™ advertises that for $495 you can take the GenoTrim™ DNA test. This, it claims, will detect your genetic imbalances by analyzing what it calls the "sweet tooth gene," "nervous eating gene," "fat regulator gene," "new cell gene" and the "obesity risk gene." Then, for $99 dollars a month, you can buy a supply of genetically-guided nutritional supplements customized uniquely for you.

The asterisk mark following these statements should come as no surprise. The caveat: "The supplement is most effective when working in conjunction with a reasonable diet and exercise plan…These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration."

Personalized medicine sounds like a promising approach, but it is still too early to gauge how useful it will be. And, due to the fact millions of genetic variations may exist, identifying them all, and having an accurate understanding of how genes interact with one another may make the fruits of genetic medicine more distant than its proponents would like to admit. Nevertheless, the GenoTrim™ service has already launched, with an expected $70 million in sales over the next five years.

Obesity is certainly a health risk. But as the medical industry and the media increasingly embrace genetic explanations for almost every health condition, will the age-old adage of eating less and exercising more find itself in smaller and smaller print until it finally vanishes?



Biopolitical Times at One (plus) Year

Posted by on November 27th, 2007

This blog has reached - and slightly passed - its first birthday. To mark the occasion, each of us "regulars" chose our favorite posts written by the others. If you have some favorites from our first year, let us know in the comments.

by Jesse Reynolds
July 20th and August 3rd, 2007

Geron, the leading private firm trying to commercialize human embryonic stem cell products, has stated that clinical trials will occur "next year" - for the fourth year in a row.

by Jesse Reynolds
May 24th, 2007

A recent article on potential economic benefits from California's $3 billion investment in stem cell research relies on the over-the-top - yet widely-cited - scenarios spun in an economic analysis that was funded by the campaign to establish the state program . Not only that, the recent claim and the PR piece it cites share an author.

by Osagie K. Obasogie
May 18th, 2007

Judging from CNN's recent episode of "Paula Zahn Now," eugenics isn't the only pseudoscience threatening to make a comeback. CNN's Senior Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta took things to a whole new level.

Cloning human beings? The "inevitability" power play

by Marcy Darnovsky
February 22nd, 2007

It's one thing to hear about the "inevitability" of human reproductive cloning from kooks. But from the editors of Nature?

by Osagie K. Obasogie
November 20th, 2006

Last week's Nova had an intriguing segment on members of a rural Muslim Turkish family that, strangely enough, walk on their hands and feet. What's fascinating, however, is not simply that they are quadrupeds, but how some evolutionary geneticists are using this family to put forth theories on the genetic cause of human bipedality, or our ability to walk upright.

by Marcy Darnovsky
October 26th, 2006

This week's stem cell ads reach new lows of emotional manipulation in an already degraded debate. And with the help of YouTube, they're reaching stratospheric new heights in political influence.

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Conflict-of-Interest Scandal at California Stem Cell Agency

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on November 26th, 2007

John Reed

An all-too predictable scandal has erupted on the governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The details reveal improper and probably illegal influence on the use of public funds. The big picture is the structural design of the board, which requires that a majority consist of representatives of the very institutions that will receive grants.

Documents obtained by the California Stem Cell Report via a Public Records Act request indicate that board member John Reed, who is also the president of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, personally lobbied CIRM's staff about a grant to Burnham that had been initially approved for funding but was then rejected by CIRM administration on technical grounds.

Reed wasn't merely assisting CIRM staff members by clarifying a few details. They'd been in regular communication for seven months with their counterparts at Burnham in order to assess the eligibility of the grant recipient. They were about to announce the denial of the grant when Reed sent his seven-page letter. When a board member who is also president of one of the top grant-receiving institutions sends such a letter, emphasizing the "potentially damaging consequences" and "dangerous precedent" of a denial, he's not just providing helpful details. He's sending a strong message.

Reed should clearly step down as a CIRM board member. But he's not the only guilty party. He'd first asked for the opinion of CIRM board chair Robert Klein, who recommended that he write the letter. While Reed can, and does, claim that he didn't fully understand the prohibitions in CIRM's enabling laws concerning such influence, Klein can't claim such ignorance. Although he claims that he's now "learned something" about the law, Klein was its primary author.

We long ago called on Klein to resign - a position now endorsed by the Sacramento Bee and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights - in part because he repeatedly chooses back-room machinations and misleading statements over transparency and accountability. This is a continuation of that pattern. But we also originally opposed Proposition 71, which created CIRM in 2004, because it vested governance of $3 billion of the public's funds in the hands of those seeking to maximize their share of the funds. This week's development is a predictable result.

What's more, this revelation occurs on the heels of major technical advances in stem cell research that call into question the relevance of California's $3 billion set-aside for embryonic stem cell research.

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