Oct 23 2006

Embryonic Stem Cell Snake Oil

Published by at 2:02 pm under All General Discussions,Stem Cell Debate

Important updates at the end

Stem cell treatments could unlock a host of new therapies which could turn the tide on many of our toughest diseases. Basically the idea is to do a cell transplant so that genetic defects can be corrected with an infusion of new DNA or of new cells. The problem is that such a new concept in medicine, going well beyond the limb, tissue and organ transplants of today, will have all the challenges those therapies have plus many new ones. The recent Michael J Fox ad for the Democrat in MO has brought this promise and the frauds surrounding it into focus this election. So I am going to do another one of my long posts on a matter I know because it is right up my ally as a biologists and an engineer. Stem Cell research is the epitome of bio-engineering. It is an effort to manipulate life on a scale that is like nothing seen before. And no one is explaining this to the American people they way it needs to be explained. I will attempt to give it a shot.

I will do the science of the challenge, address the science and ethics of Embryonice Stem Cell Research (ESCR) and the killing of human beings, and the snake oil sales pitch that is being hoisted on America. I have to jump from one to the other, but these are the three problems with the debate today. And let me begin with the snake oil salesmen. Micheal J Fox is like so many people facing a terrible and uncorrectable change in their life. He wants out of it. He wants to change course. And he is desparate to try whatever he can to avoid the fate ahead of him. But he is not the bad person here. The criminals are the scientists who know better, who know Stem Cell research will not come in time to save him, who know that adult stem cell research (ASCR) and therapies have a better chance of success than ESCR, and that humans will be destroyed under ESCR unless we can create a pseudo embryo – but even then these are clones and still humans. It is these experts who are clearly not being honest with Fox, and whom I despise the most. They are lying to Fox and teasing him with false hope. So how do I know these are false hopes? The scope of the problem is so complex it baffles the mind, but there are many facts which are known, and not being explained.

The Anchoress, who I ‘met’ over the ESCR issue, has a good post out today highlighting the problematic results of ESCR to date. Especially the consistent problem of tumors and uncontrolled cell growth in response to ESCR therapies. ESCR is a process to integrate cells and DNA in a manner never before tried, and therefore poses a host of challenges. The challenges are manifold and follow the progression from an undifferentiated stem cell (a neutral cell type) to a target cell (a specific cell type like a liver, skin or nerve cell), and then to target tissue and organs (which are a collection of cell types which create the liver, and skin, etc). The first step is for the stem cell to translate into a target cell type. How this happens is completely unknown at this time. We know the general process involves a sequence of activating and deactivating genes under controlled chemical and evironmental conditions – conditions which change from step to step. But that is like knowing that to do brain surgery we need to open up the skull and repair damaged areas. Generally correct, impossible to implement if that is all we know.

When stem cells start changing in an uncontrolled manner you end up with the tumors and other uncontrolled cell growth. The mixing of the DNA from the embryo – which is a unique human individual – with the DNA of the patient leads to all sort of new genetic combinations that could take the stem cell process into any number of deadly paths. Few living organism just randomly throw the genetic code against anothers in this way (virsus are a telling exception). The process of procreation doesn’t work this way. Scientists know this, some just seem unwilling to fess up how different this Stem Cell process is from the natural one.

Thus the ESRC has to go from a totally neutral state to a target state without any flaws in order to work. With tens of thousands of genes that need to be sequenced correctly, each with all the right conditions going into and out of each step, we are discussing a problem with 100’s of millions of combinations to work out. Each experiment to work out one step could take years. Do the math. We may get lucky, but we need to know a lot more than we do today to safely control this process. That is why most therapies are crap shoots. Throw the stem cells into a mix of chemicals and conditions and throw them into the ‘patient’ and see what happens. What happens is a continous set of surprising and wrong results.

ASCR therapies do not suffer the same challenges. The reason is much of the combinations of sequences have been taken off the table because adult stem cells are partially differentiated. They are somewhere between a target cell and a stem cell. They can still adapt and reconfigure the cell to a new configuration. Basically their cell type is not locked in. This is why these cells tend to show better results. Fewer variables means a faster path to a solution. Math 101. Again, scientist know this to be the case, but somehow the snake oil salesmen never admit this to be the case or they simpy attempt to change the subject. That is why I despise them so much.

But the ethics are another big issue here. In adult stem cell research we use cells from the patient (hence the avoidance of tissue rejection and no risk of combining two DNA codes and creating dangerous, hybrid results). ESCR must destroy a human being, because the term ’embryo’ defines a stage of an individual’s life. Only human individuals have an ’embryonic’ phase. Human cells do not. Tissues and organs do not. You must be a distinct human being to be an embryo. A living organism is made up of cells, which make up tissue and organs and fluids (like blood). Embryos are not a group of cells like skin or an appendix. They are a living organism. Science so dictates and this is not open to debate. One can only display ignorance or duplicity (depending on their education in biology and medicine) to argue otherwise.

Strangely enough, this fact can be proven scientifically in a manner that can hold up in a court of law. The method is the same that is used now to convict or free people of murder and rape and other crimes. It is the DNA test. Since we can extract stem cells we have their DNA, and this can be tested against the mother and the father. And the results will be shockingly clear to those who don’t understand biology – but are obvious to those of us who do understand genetics. There will be not even the slightest possibility that an embryo can be considered part of the mother – its DNA is that different. While syblings can be close matches, children and parents are night an day. Of course half the DNA is identical to the parent, but half is not (being from the other parent). That makes the DNA test not even a close call.

DNA is the ultimate test of an individual, biologically speaking. We talk about species and subspecies, but we use DNA now to show one form of frog found on one side of the Amazon is a different species from an nearly identical frog on the other side. When the older measurements of zoology fall by the wayside (e.g., spine or no spine) in identifying the species of any organism, DNA is the final and arbitrating test. Therefore it is also clear an embryo has to be a human being of the species homo sapien sapien, and nothing else.

The DNA test, legally recognized in any court of law in the land, will demonstrate with 100% repeatability the human embryo is (a) human, (b) a unique individual of the human race, and (c) therefore an idividual human organism – a distinct human being. It is well past time these facts be brought to a court and established as a foundation for all policy issues. Because ignorance is not an excuse. Yes, this will roil the abortion issue, but this fact it is a complicating fact of life doesn’t make it any less true.

So why do these snake oil salesmen lie and say they need to kill human beings to save other (rich) human beings from the ravages of their own genetic defects? The fact is ESRC is not required on any human until they demonstrate they can take a stem cell and transform it safely into a state that will correct a genetic defect. Even a simple one (like baldness). This can be done in any mammal (rats, mice, apes) right now. And that is where is should stay until people demonstrate the can control this mixing of genes at a level were all sorts of bad genetic combinations can arise. But the snake oil salesmen know there is no Intellectual Property worth anything at the animal level. To make the billion$ they want they need to be first to the human therapies And so they want to experiment on humans in the hopes they may trip over the magic solution and fulfill their dreams of playing God (and getting well paid for the gig). That is another aspect of the ESCR battle which needs to be explained. As long as an embryo is not legally considered a human being, that human’s DNA is not considered theirs and untouchable by medical business interests. Another aspect the snake oil salesmen never seem to be able to be up front about. So they kill an embryo and steal the DNA and claim they own it (and all cures associated with it). Is there anything more horrific than this?

The ESRC debate has been floating on a sea of misinformation and myth that rivals the Global Warming debate. In the case of ESCR there is not doubt. Embryo’s are human beings. This can and should be proven in a court of law using the same DNA testing that is common today. Once that lie has been exposed, we can work to expose the other lies being sold by those ESCR proponents waving their cure-all snake oil. We do not want to see more victims like MJ Fox on TV begging for something that doesn’t exist. That ad was a terrible abuse of a suffering human being. This abuse needs to end so people know what the reality is.

Addendum: I want to address two posts from the Anchoress which demonstrate my points. They reflect the difference between the ESCR and ASCR approaches and their totally divergent results. But I tripped over somethings so ironic I had to point it out. The doctor, Steven Goldman, who just made headlines about the tumors caused in ESCR works for the Micheal J Fox foundation [scroll to the bottom]. Tragic irony. So while the easily expected devastating results from ESCR continue, the ASCR results show much more promise (and is an area being investigated by Dr. Goldman as well) and no long term issues. Why? The cells are from the patient so the mixing of DNA cannot cause surprises. ESCR claims embryonic stem cells do not cause tissue rejection. That is because they do not trigger the immune system right away and cause the patient to destroy the alien cells. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, as people with AIDS know. Their defense systems do not trigger either. This means any bad genetic intermixing may take days, months or years to show itself. And once it has survived for any period of time in a human, it can become part of a virus and spread to other humans. We are not knowledgeable enough to play God yet.

Update: It seems the good Dr not only works for the Michael J Fox (and Christopher Reeves) foundation, he is one of those who concurs with my view that the adult stem cell solutions are more manageable because the adult stem cells have progressed through some of their differentiation, but still remain pliable and therefore resources for replacement cells. Dr Goodman has used the gene in stem cells (not the stem cells themselves) which holds their differentiation at bay to create nerve “progenitor” cells that can remain in the precursor state indefinitely. This allows the cells to be suspended in a state indefinitely until they are applied to the patient’s damaged area and make the final transition to a neuron cell and possibly replace damaged cells. Here is his comment about the benefit from this adult stem cell path:

While stem cells receive a great deal of attention as a possible source of life-saving treatments, progenitor cells offer great potential, Goldman says. To be sure, progenitor cells lack a key feature of stem cells: Their potential to become nearly any type of cell. But what progenitor cells lack in potential, they make up for with commitment: They have already “decided” exactly what type of cell to become in the body, an advantage when treating a disease where one specific cell type is at risk. A patient with Parkinson’s disease, for example, may only needs to replace dopamine-producing neurons, while in patients with multiple sclerosis, only cells that produce myelin need be restored.

Clearly a leading neurologists working for Michael J Fox illustrates the fallacy of the ad Fox was in. Fox should be promoting Goodman’s ASCR work more and doing fewer political ads.

36 responses so far

36 Responses to “Embryonic Stem Cell Snake Oil”

  1. Conflations…

    It seems that stem cell research is back in the political spotlight as a result of the Michael J. Fox political advertisement. But that’s not where the fun starts….

  2. The Professor says:


    I have heard that embryonic stem cell lines can be patented. Do you know anything about this? It might explain why the snake oil pushers are exploiting victims like Fox so mercilessly: there’s a lot of money to be made exploiting a patent.

  3. AJStrata says:


    My understanding is as long as the organism is not deemed to be a human being (which is impossible, scientifically) then the DNA or cell line might be patentable. But you cannot ‘own’ a human being. That is why the Stem Cell folks are salivating at the idea. The abortion lobby has kept the myth alive for this legal mistaken identity. The good news is the DNA testing used in every court in the land to identify an individual human being associated with a crime will also show the embryo is not part of the mother – they have different DNA. That will cause the courts to recognize the human being at all stages of its existence.

  4. PA. TONY says:

    AJ – Give Big Dog a failing grade but give him some credit for bringing out the best in you and all the other excellent comments.
    Great learning for me last night reading until midnight. Great blog – you are on my hit list each night via Big Daddy Rush who put me on to you.

  5. me3150 says:

    What bothers me so much is that time and money is diverted to embryonic stem-cell research when we are on the verge of curing so many things through adult stem-cell research – including cancers of all types, spinal cord injuries, and diabetes.

    We hear so much about the diabetes epidemic, yet how many people know that adult stem-cell therapy has actually cured diabetes in mice? I am diabetic, as are my father and father-in-law, my children are at high-risk to become diabetic, and I am livid that we’re wasting our time on a wild goose-chase when we already have ethical ways to quickly convert adult stem cells into pretty much any kind of tissue we might want – without the risk of creating new cancers.

    Embryonic stem cell research is not about finding cures for diseases; it’s about learning what makes life work, in the hopes that we can eventually micro-manage everything about life. We’re all going to die sometime – even if we transplant a freshly-grown new brain and download it with the memory from the old brain. Which is what this is all leading to – a cross between genetics, microchip technology, and robotics, leading to man-made eternal life.

    Could you imagine what the world would be like if we had people living to 300 years? Would anyone ever retire? Would we want to have children during the last 200 years of our lives, or would we have exponential growth of over-100-year-old people and very, very few children at any given time?

    Both ends of the pro-death argument want to serve and extend the “productive years of life” at the expense of the very young or very old. Do the young and old really have nothing valuable to contribute?

    Human babies are about the most helpless babies in nature. Most animals can walk, find food, eat, manage excrement, etc within minutes or days after birth, but human babies need parents for a long time. Why do you think that is? Would life be better if we were just like amoebas – we divide and then voila! there’s another person equal to us in every way? Is there some higher good that comes from helplessness, dependence, and learning? Think about it.

    I agree with you AJ; we are not qualified to do God’s job. Whenever we try second-guessing Him we end up in doo-doo over our heads.

  6. PA. TONY says:

    AJ – Give BIG DOG a failing grade but give him some credit for bringing out the best in you and some of the other comments. Great learning for me last night. Big Daddy Rush put me on to your blog which I hit each night. Great blog. Keep up the good work.

  7. BIGDOG says:

    I asked and never got an answer from anyone of you.

    Are you against IVR?

    However what i did get was a bunch of innuendos, insults, inferences and to me ZERO points for discussion. Now you people ignored my question, but i will address each one of you and your false assertions first.
    I am not a liberal or a nazi. your inference of such is insulting and the you took what i said out of context because i corrected what said. Heres the correction, you basically misquoted me. I hate to break this to you, but experminenting on human beings goes far back in human history.

    My correction goes unnoticed so you basically twisted what i said. Very disengenious are your part.

    “To me any staging cellular process, outside the fun way, is not a natural occurence and therfore is not considered as natural occurence of life persay, but rather a cellular developement outside the mothers womb. After its process of cellular divisions; sometimes several embryos are reinserted back into the mothers womb for the now, in hopes for a natural duration.”
    I never claimed to be an expert or even having a BS in biology, you say you never persued. However say what you want about about my education, yet somehow your reading comprehension would say the same. You dont know me well enough to assert such bullshit into this. In fact you want to insult me into surrender….lol try again. You also misquoted me just like march did. See above in quotes.

    good doctor said:
    “As a physician and scientist I can tell you tha fertilize egg is not a staging experiment. No difference from fertilization in uterus. The sad point is that people like BD will kill a baby with no after thoughts but will scream if someone clubbed a baby seal.”

    WOW…this is truelly not a doctor. There are definite stages of development in the process and i never claimed it was an experiment. Your word not mine. Fertilization occurs in the fallopian tubes good doctor and not in the uterus. Your next lie really pisses me off and was very insulting. Your new name is doctor debunked.
    For enforcement said:
    “I find it remarkable that you don’t consider humans that were a product of IVR to be real people.”

    I never said that, you did. God you poeple have twisted it three different ways so far. So now that i have the time i will explain to you your own misleading accusations and how human cloning will NOT be part of this initiative.

    point 1.

    I asked about IVR for a very specific reason. By summation of some of the content of your attacks towards me i assume most of you agree IVR is ok with you. Meaning you agree with IVR process. As i mentioned earlier IVR and SCNT are kin to each other. Let me explain. They both are related by means of cellular biology, one is fertilized, the other isnt.

    In vitro fertlization (IVR) is a very lengthy process and is done in a controled enviroment. This is the unnatural part i am refering to. Not to mention they are maintained in laboratory dishes, in a nutrient mixture, acting as a substitute environment, otherwise provided in the fallopian tubes.

    I quote myself again “is not a natural occurence and therfore is not considered as natural occurence of life persay, but rather a cellular developement outside the mothers womb. After its process of cellular divisions; sometimes several embryos are reinserted back into the mothers womb for the now, in hopes for a natural duration.”

    Sorry i am very accurate in my description. Meanwhile back at the ranch….cellular stages begin to devolope.

    Egg cells, once fertilized, start a staging process of development…meaning embryonic stages of cell division begin after successfull fertilization, with 2 pronuclei. Typically, embryos that have reached the 6-8 cell stage are transferred three days after retrieval into the mothers uterus. The term embryo refers to the early stages of this development, after the zygote has divided at least once. This begins an 8-10 week embryonic process/cell divisions before a fetus is formed. Get this ‘doctor debunked’. I knew you would.

    SCNT is not about human cloning. Its all about creating cells known as therapeutic cloning…not duplicating humans. Anything else is total spin. Reproductive cloning….dolly the sheep….IVR is kin to SCNT, the only difference is one is grown inside a womb after fertilization and the Missouri initiative says SCNT embryo never sees the light of fertilization, because the SCNT process starts the cells to divide. SCNT stem cells are made with the DNA from a patient’s own cell, like a skin cell, and a donated, unfertilized egg that has had its own nucleus removed. SCNT does not involve the fertilization of an egg by a sperm and its medical uses do not involve the implantation of a fertilized egg or anything else into a woman’s uterus.

    According to the official text of the initiative.

    Section 2: .

    *(1) No person may clone or attempt to clone a human being.

    *(2) No human blastocyst may be produced by fertilization solely for the purpose of stem cell research.

    Ill end with this.

    6. As used in this section, the following terms have the following meanings:

    (1) “Blastocyst” means a small mass of cells that results from cell division, caused either by fertilization or somatic cell nuclear transfer, that has not been implanted in a uterus.

    (2) “Clone or attempt to clone a human being” means to implant in a uterus or attempt to implant in a uterus anything other than the product of fertilization of an egg of a human female by a sperm of a human male for the purpose of initiating a pregnancy that could result in the creation of a human fetus, or the birth of a human being.

    Have a great day!! i know i will and i bet noone responds with counterpoints. I bet i get attacked again. Bring it on tho….i always thought Repubs debate the issue not slam each other….RIGHT??

  8. BIGDOG says:

    Great i spent an hour posting and now it dont appear?

    Fuck it.

  9. BIGDOG says:

    In short there is no fertilization in SCNT and therefore your rebutals are a farce and your insults about my education,political afilliation, babykiller,nazi….etc. Pffffft!!!

    BTW im a republican.

    Oh and the good docctor doesnt even know where fertilization takes place. He says uterus…LMAO!!! try again for 100.

  10. fast richard says:

    Interesting discusion. Found my way here via CQ and the Anchoress.

    BIGDOG, don’t nitpick over typos. I’m sure THE GOOD DOCTOR meant in utero, as opposed to in vitro fertilization. Oh, and do calm down a bit.

    That said, I am not much troubled by the use of early embryonic cells for research. It is not self evident to me that fertilization is the point at which we should be considered either morally or legally human persons. Implantation, which I think is what BIGDOG was trying to argue for in his first post, is at least as important a milestone in human developement.

    I am inclined to view gestation as a continuum, with minimal moral implications of damage to a newly fertilized ovum, but that a nearly full term pregnancy is morally equivalant to a newborn baby. I am open to hearing arguments for the position that fertilization is the only, or most important milestone. I assume that the moral and legal arguments would be separate but related.

  11. BIGDOG says:

    Ok im fine now. My hour long post finally showed up.

    No the good doctor- doctor debunked, is wrong. No typo was made.

  12. user225937 says:

    These were excellant, if somewhat heated posts. The debate is something like the British Parliament. I have one question. Does anyone think that ESC will not be carried out no matter what happens anywhere in the United States. I believe that the cat is out of the bag on this. Some of the most advanced work is being done in Asia. What’s the plan to stop as opposed to slow down research in this area. I see none and very little prospect for any plan developing. We will know what ESC means to humanity because many labs in many places are working and will continue to work in this area.

    Big Dog, your hour long post was so good that I have copied it into my Google notebook on Stem Cells. You mentionned:

    “Egg cells, once fertilized, start a staging process of development…meaning embryonic stages of cell division begin after successfull fertilization, with 2 pronuclei”

    I am reading Ian Wilmut’s book , After Dolly. He pointed out that after fertilization two strands of DNA are located in two nuclei that combine are a time. I assume that is your pronuclei. It seems that the development of an embryo is not the instantaneous creation of an individual but is instead a gradual process with many steps that we are only learning now.

    Finally, after following the discussion, I see no answer to the problem of in vetro fertilization. From memory, I believe that 500,000 fertilized eggs are disposed of each year. What is the relationship of those eggs to abortion.

  13. AJStrata says:


    The ESC is ‘out of the bag’, but it will never succeed. The math alone is against it. Not to mention adult stem cell research has 72 therapies on process and ESC has zero.

    The sad thing is we will have killed humans for nothing. Nothing. Let that sit with you and digest it. We killed humans for nothing.

    The horror of what is going on will echo through the ages of humanity.

  14. Three blind mice … no more?…

    The Washington Post reports today on an experiment that restored the sight of blind test mice by transplanting cells from the eyes of healthy mice: Blind mice regained some ability to see after getting transplants of cells taken from the…

  15. shyisi says:

    I was once told a story about a dam breaking and the owner of a house that became quiclky flooded climbed up onto the roof and began praying desperately for God to save him. “Lord I know YOU will save me, please save me Lord!” As he prayed his neighbor Bill came drifting by in an old row boat. His friend yelled out to him, “Jump down Thomas, I will grab you out of the water and take you to safety.
    “No, no thanks Bill,” was Thomas’ reply. . . “GOD is going to save me.”
    “Are you sure Thomas? The water is rising fast!”
    “Go on, save yourself,” said Thomas waving his neighbor on. “I’ve prayed and I know that GOD will save me.” So off his neighbor paddled.
    The water began to wash over the side of the roof and Thomas moved to a higher platform near the chimney. Again he began to pray in earnest, “Lord God save me, save me please Lord. I trust and believe that you will save me!”
    At that moment a rescue helicopter whirled by, turned around and came back hoovering over Thomas. “We will lower the ladder to you mister, just grab it and hold on. We’ll get you to higher ground.” “No, no!” Yelled Thomas. “Thank-you but it’s not necessary because GOD is going to save me.” “Mister grab the ladder, the water is coming fast and strong. Begged the rescuer. “It’s okay, go and save someone who needs you- GOD will save me!” Again Thomas waved them off. Hesitantly the rescuers proceeded on to the next house.
    The water was licking at Thomas’ thighs by now and soon the current was so fast and strong that it whisked him away with no effort, drowning him.
    As Thomas stood before the judgement seat of God he was confused and angry and insisted God tell him why he had not come to rescue him in his time of need. “Thomas,” God said in a calming voice. I sent a boat and a helicopter to rescue you. But because my help didn’t come in the form you wanted or expected, you waved them both on. I tried twice to save you, but you never recognized my efforts.
    I have to wonder if this is what we are doing towards embryonic stem cell research when we fight against its development. We have been pleading to God for years to heal us from all the terrible diseases that plague us. He has sent us this miracle in the making, but because it is not coming in the form or way WE would expect God to answer our prayers- we are waving it on.

  16. […] that ESCR has not lived up to the hype. AJ Strata is much smarter than I am, though, and he goes into absorbing and fascinating detail on the issue of this research, and I urge you to read him. Also, he rightly identifies the […]