Dec 04 2007

Embryonic Stem Cell Snake Oil Continues To Flow

Published by at 8:57 am under All General Discussions,Stem Cell Debate

Just a reminder that I have a BS degree in Biology so I am fairly qualified to give my opinions on the Stem Cell debate. With that said, I do not use much of my degree in my career as Systems Engineer for NASA and the DoD – but I did do biological research under a PhD earlier in my life. Surprisingly, the essence of the stem cell debate doesn’t require a PhD to address.

I find the current crude and exaggerated claims by certain ‘scientist’ regarding stem cells unprofessional and without scientific basis. Especially the claims coming from those who are still fighting to kill young humans in order to make themselves rich and famous.

Before I go into the latest snake oil spewed in the Washington Post this morning let’s begin with the science of life and the forms of life. Science has broken the life forms on this planet down into Kingdoms of life (plant, animal, two forms of bacteria, fungi and protests – some argue 5 and some argue 6 kingdoms). The study of these kingdoms is further broken down into zoology for animals, Botany for plants, microbiology, etc. Before DNA had been discovered the biologists broke life into divisions from Phylum to Species based on features controlled by genetics. Genes control body structure and parts, and therefore the expression of these genes is the most obvious way to categorize life.

When DNA was discovered it was a salute to the scientific method that proceeded the discovery that the architecture of life was not changed all that much. The divisions from Phylum to Species remained pretty much intact. DNA gives a very detailed map of all physical traits so that identifying a species is trivial today. Even identifying individuals within a species using DNA is now easy and used regularly in court rooms across this country to determine guilt or innocence.

The uneducated would probably be surprised to learn that there is no “embryo” species in this architecture of life. All the species identified are organisms made up of individuals able to procreate and continue their genetic line. Organisms are unique in that capability and it is what sets them apart from other forms of life – the various structures which make up the organism. Cells, tissues, organs, limbs (for the animals – there are cells, roots, branches, leaves, etc. for plants) are components of organisms. Surprisingly you won’t find ’embryo’ in that list either. Embryos are not structures of organisms.

That is because the term ’embryo’ defines a stage of life, just as ‘fetus’, ‘baby’ and ‘adult’ do. The DNA pattern of an individual never changes from conception to death. It can be disrupted (cancers, radiation, etc) but the pattern you are conceived with stays with you. It is copied in EVERY cell of your body. Each cell type has different portions of the code ‘turned on’ so that a liver cell, or a nerve cell or a skin cell (all part of human organs BTW) are the resulting cell format.

When you were in your embryonic stage your stem cells were beginning to build your body parts. They create the nervous system, digestive system, muscle system, etc. They are cells that have all their DNA instructions turned off accept those required to multiply and live (DNA plays a role in hormonal and other cellular responses that happen day to day, which is why disruptions in the code can wreak havoc with a person’s quality of life). But they all only carry one pattern. That of the human individual created at conception – the process where maternal and paternal DNA fuse into a brand new, never seen before and never to be seen again, pattern of life.

So people who claim embryos are not human individual are only claiming their ignorance or their ability to lie (whether to themselves or others really is irrelevant when it comes to taking human life). People who claim embryos are just a bunch of cells are damning all humans to that same definition. Embryos are not a different species – they are a phase in the life cycle. They are not a clump of cells or some other structure of the host organism (sometimes known as ‘the mother’). Their DNA would show in any court in the land they are a unique individual (it is time for this case to start progressing through our courts). They are young humans. And whether you wipe out the DNA pattern by vacating it from the stem cells or you steal the cells you are destroying that life. That once-in-all-time pattern for that individual human.

We have now found a way to take skin cells – which have the complete DNA pattern identical to when the individual was an embryo – and turn the hands of time back to once again make them stem cells. We don’t have to kill humans to harvest stem cells to make spare parts for the ill and dying. But that is not enough for some filled with an apparent ghoulish greed for fortune and fame:

A new way to trick skin cells into acting like embryos changes both everything and nothing at all. Being able to reprogram skin cells into multipurpose stem cells without harming embryos launches an exciting new line of research. It’s important to remember, though, that we’re at square one, uncertain at this early stage whether souped-up skin cells hold the same promise as their embryonic cousins do.

First off the recent breakthrough is not a “trick”, it is a controlled and repeatable process which manipulates the genetic code to undo the specialization it took on when it went from stem cell to skin cell. It is very important to stem cell research to understand how to control the genetic pattern and what is expressed and when. This control determines what form the stem cell will take in the end. For example that is how – in a controlled manner – one takes stem cells and transform them into nerve cells to address neurological disorders and damage like that suffered by Michael J Fox and Christopher Reeve.

You can see the professional jealousy dripping from this piece. Controlling the expression to create targeted cures is not a ‘trick’, it is the whole point behind stem cell research. It is the uncontrolled, shot gun approach of most researchers – who simply throw stem cells into damaged or wounded areas – that produce the cancers and other tumors which are a notorious result of attempts at therapies based on Embryonic Stem Cells.

But these frustrated geniuses don’t stop there, they raise the claim the genetic pattern in skin cells will not produce the same ‘results’ as the genetic pattern in embryonic cells. They don’t say WHY this is the case, they just hint somehow the genes in the embryo will be better than the ones in the skin – which is absolutely ludicrous! In any individual organism it is the same DNA code in both cases.

The fact they do not explain why DNA from skin, or stem cells from skin, cannot activate and repair damage just the same as the exact same pattern in embryos is an indicator that there is something else bothering these two ‘scientists’. I have long suspected people want to use embryos not because they are the best starting point but because embryonic DNA can be patented and made a fortune off of.

The best starting point is adult stem cells. There are adult stem cells that are precursors to most every cell in the body. They have partially differentiated, so the steps from these midway precursors to a final target cell type are much fewer than the blank slate of an embryonic stem cell. This reduces the complexity of the process to reach the desired therapeutic results and therefore reduces the risk of dangerous abnormalities creeping in. Remember, cancers are caused by damage to the activation control sequences of the DNA, causing uncontrolled growth and screwed up expression of the DNA so useless cells take over from cells needed for critical bodily functions. When you have to control the sequences of DNA expression, the more steps you need to control the more chances something will go wrong in the sequence and cancer will be produced. Simple statistics and probabilities.

The other reason adult stem cells are a better starting point is the fact it is your DNA. Many lives do not make it through conception because mixing some genes can produce horrible results. This filtering process is handled quite nicely in nature by lack of conception, the genetic defect aborts the life early on. However, the Frankensteins of science cannot tell what will come of mixing DNA patterns until AFTER it has happened. Once you have been the victim you will know it was a bad mix of genes. Which is way too late for you – too bad. Adult stem cells taken from the patient or a close living relative will eliminate or minimize the chance bad combinations will occur.

One other point to make with this nonsense is adult stem cells are making enormous progress BECAUSE they are an easier starting point. There are many therapies out there right now curing people. Note the siren call of those still pushing for factories filled with soon to be dead human embryos:

Efforts to harness the versatility of embryonic stem cells, and alleviate suffering among people with an array of debilitating disorders, began less than 10 years ago. Since then, scientists have continued to pursue embryonic stem cells because of their ability to transform into blood, bone, skin or any other type of cell. The eventual goal is to replace diseased or dysfunctional cells to help people with spinal cord injuries, neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other conditions.

These goals are being met today with useable therapies based on adult stem cells. The DNA pattern to create each and every cell, organ, tissue or limb is in EVERY cell of the body. Skin cells are an endless supply of easy to access research material. Embryos are not capable of this kind of supply chain. We can keep skin cells alive pretty much indefinitely and grow them in sheets (used for burn treatments). That means endless supplies of source material for the products these two ‘scientist’ claim will come from embryos alone.

I go back to my original fear. Embryos are not yet legally considered human beings. Under our laws that means DNA taken from them can be patented and controlled by corporations. The only reason to take the much harder road of embryonic research, in my humble opinion, is to aim for patented cures where you can maximize the amount of wealth you can accumulate from the cure.

We can prove today that an embryo is a human being and an individual different from its mother based on the same DNA tests and processes used in courts across this country to identify individuals in crime trials. The legal precedent is there to be used to put this debate to rest once and for all. It is time some conservative group with money pick the test case (probably a double murder where one victim is still in the womb) to establish the fact mothers carry human individuals once they have conceived – not some other form or life or species. The DNA tests will be crystal clear on this matter. And once that is established the rights of ALL humans will be guaranteed under the law.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Embryonic Stem Cell Snake Oil Continues To Flow”

  1. Good Captain says:

    Thanks AJ!

  2. AJStrata says:

    See, not all people who believe in and live science are ghouls!

  3. SOG knives says:

    SOG knives…

    Interesting ideas… I wonder how the Hollywood media would portray this?…