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Gene Doping Conference Makes Headlines

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on December 24th, 2008

Illustration by Duane Hoffmann

The prospect of gene doping by athletes is widely condemned, and has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Olympic Committee. But a few "pro-doping" advocates regularly make the news [1, 2], as they did at a conference last week called "The Coming Age of the Uber-Athlete: What's So Bad about Gene Enhancement and Doping?"

The event was sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank that's been described as "one of the leading architects of the second Bush administration's public policy." AEI Visiting Fellow Jon Entine opened the conference and moderated one of its panels. He is the author of the provocative book Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It, and has speculated about "Jewish intelligence genes."

Among the speakers opposing gene doping were representatives of the US Anti-Doping Agency and the US Olympic Committee, and an Olympic champion hurdler who asked,

"How do you feel if it's your son or your daughter who wants to be an Olympian? Would you let your kid or your grandchild take what they have to take? Or do what they have to do?"

Theodore Friedmann, a University of California San Diego human gene therapy researcher who has been writing about the risks of gene doping in sports for several years, said that nobody knows whether athletes are currently attempting gene doping.

As to its risks, Friedmann said bluntly, "People are injured. People die.[Gene transfer] should be reserved for treatment of people with serious diseases."

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Public Opinion, Here and Abroad

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on December 22nd, 2008

In the last few days, two interesting public opinion polls were released. Here in the United States, the latest annual edition [PDF] of the Virginia Commonwealth University Life Science Survey yielded no surprises, as the results for relevant questions held steady: Embryonic stem cell research (57% in support, 36% opposed), cloning-based stem cell research (52% in support, 45% opposed), human cloning (17% in support, 78% opposed). In response to, "How clear are you, personally, on the difference between human reproductive cloning and human therapeutic cloning?," eight percent were very clear, 26% somewhat clear, 31% not very clear, and 33% not at all clear.

But this chart (below, click for full version) caught my eye the most. It captures the impacts of politics on opinions of a scientific research procedure. A few years ago, party affiliation had little impact on one's likely view of human embryonic stem cell research. But beginning around 2004, the year of California's Proposition 71 and exaggerated statements in the Presidential race, support among Democrats (and to a lesser extent, independents) crept upward and that of Republicans inched downwards.

Meanwhile, a research foundation affiliated with the large Spanish financial services firm BBVA issued its second study of public opinion on assisted reproductive technologies [PDF] in fifteen industrialized countries. For most questions, respondents were asked to rate the acceptability of various technological applications on a scale of 0 to 10. While there was significant variance among the countries, I was struck more by the consistency. For example, the acceptability of IVF for infertile couples ranged from 6.0 to 8.7, while the range for its use for sex selection was 0.9 to 3.5.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Gene of the Week: Shyness

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on December 19th, 2008

From CNN:

Research suggests that the degree of loneliness that any two people feel in a particular situation may vary widely, partly because of genetics. In fact, loneliness is half inherited, half environmental, says John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago's Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience....

Using data from more than 8,000 people in twin studies and sibling studies, in collaboration with the Netherlands Twin Register, Cacioppo and colleagues found strong evidence that genetics accounts for about half of the differences in loneliness among people in the study.

Previous Genes of the Week on Biopolitical Times:

Birds of a Feather

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on December 18th, 2008

In what may just be a match made in heaven, two controversial cloning-based stem cell research companies have formed a joint venture. In exchange for $500,000, Advanced Cell Technology will license its technology to generate blood cells from stem cells to Allied Cell Technology, a new venture majority-owned by CHA Biotech.

Advanced Cell Technology has been shouting for attention from the furthest fringes of respectable science for years. Founded by an ardent believer in immortality through science, it regularly has tried to prop up its faltering stock over the course of decade through exaggerated announcements. But despite recent adulatory coverage from Discover and Barbara Walters, it is running out of cash, and its stock hasn't been worth more than five cents since September. In the first quarter of 2008 alone, it lost more than $9 million on revenue of only $120,000. Four years ago, it moved its headquarters to California in hopes of getting a slice of that state's $3 billion stem cell pie, but has now returned to Worcester, Massachusetts. Now, there is little left of the company besides an intellectual property portfolio.

CHA Biotech is an American project of a large Korean health care company that operates several hospitals and a medical school. It got into hot water after its affiliated research institute was initially awarded a grant for research cloning efforts from California's stem cell agency. In the ensuing publicity, it emerged that the CHA Regenerative Medicine Institute was a California nonprofit in name only, and that its affiliated fertility clinic - whose offices were in the same Los Angeles office building, raising concerns about conflicts of interest in the acquisition of women's eggs for their cloning-based work - was facing serious allegations from a woman whose eggs had been improperly obtained and handled. CHA later "voluntarily" withdrew its grant application during the subsequent administrative review.

While Allied Cell Technology is purportedly a joint venture, the lopsided nature of the deal may be the first step towards a takeover.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

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