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Conflicts of Interest on Federal Stem Cell Committee

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on April 29th, 2008

Almost half the members of the federal government's panel that develops recommendations regarding blood stem cells  have conflicts of interest. This is according to research by the Integrity in Science project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

At least 11 of the 25 voting-members of Health and Human Services’ Advisory Council of Blood Stem Cell Transplantation have financial ties to cord blood-banking and transplantation industry despite a committee charter stating that such conflicts should be limited. The council, which meets for the second time today and tomorrow, was formed earlier this year to provide “expert, unbiased analysis and recommendations” on blood stem cell transplantation policy, regulation, and research. The committee’s charter prohibits Council members with financial ties to donor centers, recruitment organizations, transplant centers, or cord blood banks “from participating in any decision that materially affects the center, recruitment organization, transplant center, or cord blood bank.” It also calls on HHS officials to “limit the number of members of the Advisory Council with any such affiliation.” A Center for Science in the Public Interest survey of committee membership found that nearly half of the committee’s voting members have financial ties to the stem cell and blood bank industry.

For links and more information, see the latest issue the Integrity in Science Watch e-newsletter.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Sex selection: On sale here

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on April 24th, 2008

At some point I apparently signed up for email alerts from Genetics IVF, the assisted reproduction company that markets sex selection via the sperm-sorting technique called MicroSort. A few days ago one showed up in my inbox, with some good news, some bad news, and a sales pitch.

There's a temporary problem, the email said. MicroSort sex selection has been taking place under the auspices of a clinical trial, and the study has now concluded. So for the time being, there will be no more MicroSort.

But rest assured. Because GIVF cares so much about allowing its customers to specify a boy or a girl, it's offering a discount on sex selection using another technique: PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or embryo screening). In fact, it's offering PGD sex selection for the same low price that it charged for MicroSort sex selection.

Bracketing the sketchy ethics of sex selection by any method, what kind of deal is this? PGD requires IVF, with its hormone-altering drugs, invasive procedures, and hefty costs. Sperm sorting can be accomplished without any of that.

GIVF's website lists the cost of a sperm sort as $3400; other fees can bring the price of the procedure up to $6000. By contrast, PGD goes for $5000; a no-frills IVF cycle adds $8900, for a total close to $14,000. The bottom line: Sex selection using sperm-sorting brings in 5 or 6 grand for the company; PGD puts 14 grand in its coffers.

GIVF is looking for customers, as businesses must. Right now it needs to find people willing to do and pay whatever it takes to get that son or daughter. From a marketing perspective, who should it target?

According to a new analysis of data on Chinese, Korean and Asian-Indian families in the US from the 2000 census, the odds of having a boy increase if the family already has a daughter or two. I doubt it's coincidental that GIVF's email includes a photo, shown here, of two young girls who appear to be Asian.

Typically, advertising depicts the product on sale; fertility company ads usually show lots of babies. But these girls are older. Could it be that GIVF is showing its potential customers not the "products" it offers, but reasons to purchase its sex-selection services?

Washington Post on DNA Forensics

Posted by Osagie Obasogie on April 22nd, 2008

Check out these two recent articles in the Washington Post on DNA forensics, one on the eugenic implications of using genes to predict or explain peoples' behavior and the other on using DNA databases to conduct familial searches. Concerns about eugenics and the criminal justice system draw force from recent history, as the first article explains:

"Genes have had a rocky relationship with justice, dating at least to the early years of the last century, when eugenics laws encouraged forced sterilizations to break the cycle of "inherited criminality." "Shiftlessness, nomadism, pauperism all were assumed to have biological and genetic causes," said Jeffrey R. Botkin, a physician and ethicist at the University of Utah School of Medicine."

Stanford law professor Hank Greely is quoted in the second piece, providing an interesting example of how these developments can impact racial minorities:

"Greely estimates that at least 40 percent of the FBI database is African American, though they make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population. That is because in an average year, more than 40 percent of people convicted of felonies in the United States are African American, he said.

If the national database were used for familial searching, he said, and assuming that on average each person whose profile in the database has five first-degree relatives, authorities would be "putting under surveillance" roughly a third of the African American population, compared with about 7.5 percent of the European American population, he said.

"I don't think anybody's going to be falsely convicted," he said. "It's the time, hassle and indignity of being interviewed by the police. How much is that worth? How much does that cost a person? I don't know, but it's not zero."

In the News this Week

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on April 18th, 2008

The latest company to offer personal genome scans, Navigenics, opened a store front in the trendy SoHo neighborhood of New York.

In the UK, a provision in the controversial bill to overhaul that nation's oversight of assisted reproductive technologies was altered, so prospective parents could select for deafness during preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Selecting for "serious medical conditions" remains prohibited, but deafness has been removed from that category in the bill.

An international group of stem cell scientists and bioethicists warned politicians "not to block scientific inquiry into subjects such as stem cells and embryo research just because there is a difference of opinion on the ethics or morality of the work."

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