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This Week in the News: New Year's Edition

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on January 1st, 2009

Here are a few stories that we've not covered here at Biopolitical Times. You can stay up-to-date on the news with CGS's news compilation, available as a web page, RSS feed, or weekly email.

The Associated Press reports on the rise of do-it-yourself biotechnology in the garage.

Maura Dolan and Jason Felch authored another installment in the excellent series on the use of DNA in forensics in the Los Angeles Times.

Commercial surrogacy appears to be on the rise in Uganda.

The first study of long-term risks of providing eggs for assisted reproduction was published in Fertility and Sterility.

A 2003 Missouri law that provides public funds for life sciences research may need to be revised due to the 2006 passage of a state constitutional amendment to protect stem cell research. Cloning-based stem cell research was explicitly ineligible for funds under the original law. But the constitutional amendment prohibits any such discrimination by the state, even though cloning-based stem cell researchis not occurring in Missouri.

This is more than a week old, but it warrants a mention here: The Catholic Vatican issued its first lenthy statement on assisted reproduction since 1987. 

St. Petersburg Times Covers Clinical Trial Outsourcing to India

Posted by Osagie K. Obasogie on December 31st, 2008

When we think of Pulitzer prize winning newspaper series, we often think of the New York Times or the Washington Post. But a new special report in the St. Petersburg Times on clinical trials in the developing world should give the big boys a run for their money next year. Staff writer Kris Hundley traveled to India on a journalism fellowship and documented the extraordinary risks taken by some of the world’s poorest patients to test medicines destined for people halfway around the world.  

Recalling the harrowing personal experiences, harsh conditions, and institutional practices behind these endeavors, Hundley’s writings are as much of an indictment of the industry as the 2005 Bloomberg Markets article Big Pharma’s Shameful Secret that looked at the domestic side of things. Taken together, they raise a broader question: how much longer can the FDA allow new drugs’ safety and efficacy to be determined in this manner? 

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:

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