If you are a returning visitor, you'll see that we've dramatically overhauled CGS's website and blog. It's been a long time in development, but the features are worth the wait. For example, all of our publications, newsletter articles, blog posts, and news articles are now tagged with multiple topics, allowing the reader to easily find related material. We now offer several RSS feeds for the blog and other parts of the website: one for the blog, one for the news articles, one for the features, and one that aggregates everything. If you have been monitoring this blog via an RSS feed on the earlier platform, you'll need to update your reader.
We've also added sharing services such as del.icio.us and Digg. For now, you'll need to click on the headline of a blog post before sharing it via these services. We plan to soon add the share services at the end of each post on the list view of the blog.
One drawback, however, is that all comments submitted on the previous blog platform were lost. We apologize for that.
Please let us know of errors, or other comments, at info [AT] geneticsandsociety [DOT] org.
In a development eerily similar to the tragic death of Jesse Gelsinger, the FDA released a statement late last week reporting yet another gene therapy death - this time during a clinical trial run by Seattle-based Targeted Genetics. Broadly put, gene therapy is a biomedical technique designed to treat diseases by replacing damaged or nonfunctioning genes with ones that work. The patients enrolled in this clinical study were testing an investigational gene therapy product designed to treat arthritis. In the course of treatment, one patient suffered a severe adverse reaction leading to the trial's suspension. The patient died a few days later.Although few other details are available at this time, many questions are being asked such as why the FDA approved a clinical trial using a risky treatment to address a non-life threatening condition. Stay tuned to Biopolitical Times for updates on this matter as they become available. Check out the articles at the New York Times, Washington Post, and Reuters for more coverage. The FDA's statement can be found here.
Today, actor William Shatner, best known for playing Capt. James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek television series, gives a keynote presentation at Transvision, the annual meeting of the World Transhumanist Association. This selection is not surprising, not only because this year's theme is the humble "Transhumanity Saving Humanity: Inner Space to Outer Space", but also because transhumanists are clearly enamored with science fiction. Star Trek is a particularly popular franchise among those who hope that a qualitatively different future is at hand. In the various Star Trek TV series and movies, humanity overcame its fundamental weaknesses, united itself and other alien species, and established the United Federation of Planets to maintain peace and freedom throughout the galaxy. Soaking up such techno-utopian futuristic visions may lead impressionable boys, and impressionable men, to believe that developments such as mental uploading, immortality, and the Singularity really can solve all the world's social problems.
But I am curious if Shatner will remind his technophilic audience that, in the Star Trek canon, the development of human genetic engineering on Earth in the late twentieth century led to social domination by the enhanced "Augments," and subsequently a globally-devastating conflict, the Eugenics Wars.
Failing that, I hope that Shatner will at least refrain from serenading the audience.
Supporters and apologists for the American debacle in Iraq habitually promise that the situation will improve in the near future - if only support at home is maintained. A media watchdog group has noted that Thomas Friedman, The New York Times' foreign policy cliché-ist in residence, has been claiming that "the next six months" are a critical make-or-break period, and that he's been doing so for over three years. Subsequently, a progressive blogger dubbed one "Friedman Unit" (FU) as equivalent to six months of prognostication. Since then, pro-war statements by others have have been quantified in these terms.
Similarly, 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:
February 22, 2004: "The company believes it will be cleared to start the first stem-cell therapy in human tests next year, possibly for spinal-cord injury."
December 1, 2004: "According to Geron CEO Thomas Okarma, the company is aiming to file an investigational new drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting permission to begin clinical trials using glial cells derived from embryonic stem cells to repair damaged spinal cords in 2005 or early 2006."
February 25, 2005: "Next year [Hans Keirstead] and his corporate partner, Geron, plan to try treating people who have recent spinal cord injuries, in what would almost certainly be the first human trial of any therapy derived from such cells.
April 19, 2005: Okarma "said he believes the clinical trial could begin in mid-2006."
September 9, 2005: "Geron plans to begin clinical trials on acute spinal cord injury treatment in early 2006, according to chief executive officer Tom Okarma."
November 7, 2005: "[R]esearchers at Geron of Menlo Park want to take the next step -- in people. They hope to get federal permission to inject those cells into damaged spinal cords. The procedure -- which Geron intends to do next year -- would be the first human tests of a treatment derived from human embryonic stem cells, the highly versatile body cells that can be coaxed into becoming almost any tissue in the body."
June 17, 2006: "'I'm confident that we will be in the clinic next year with the first human ESC-derived product,' said Tom Okarma, chief executive of Geron."
August 4, 2006: "One company, in particular, Menlo Park, CA-based Geron, is taking the lead in developing experimental embryonic stem cell therapies and hopes to begin human trials next year."
May 9, 2007: "The first clinical trial of embryonic stem cells is on track to start early next year on patients with spinal cord injury. Geron, the California-based biotechnology company, will carry out the study on accident victims in six trauma centres across the US."
Obviously, the moral terrain is not equivalent. The militarists who misled the nation into war have proposed a variety of goals, all to be achieved at the barrel of a gun. Geron just wants to maximize profits by way of developing medical therapies. But much like war backers, embryonic stem cell researchers continually lobby for more federal funds. The result on the investment, they promise, is just around the bend - maybe as soon as one Okarma Unit (OU) from now.