August
22
 

SINGAPORE RACES FOR STEM CELL SUPREMACY

 Singapore is jockeying for a position as a world leader in stem cell research. Researchers disgruntled with meagre funding or restrictive regulation in their home countries are moving to the island state. Faced with declining returns in electronics, the Singaporean government declared a few years ago that biotechnology would become one of the pillars of its economy. It has invested S$500 million into a "biopolis", a huge biomedical complex with the latest equipment (including an underground facility for 250,000 mice). A stem cell bank is under way.

Giving Singapore a competitive edge in this field are extremely liberal regulations. Back in 2002, its Bioethics Advisory Council declared that "a human embryo has a special status as a potential human being, but is not of the same status as a living child or adult. Such respect is however, not absolute and may be weighed against the recognised benefits arising from the proposed research." The utilitarian stance of the government's position… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
22
 

STEM CELL SCIENTISTS AND THE LAW

What should stem cell scientists do when their moral views clash with society's? First, set up an eminent persons committee and call for consultation and communication. This is what is being proposed by the so-called Hinxton Group of about 50 scientists, ethicists, journal editors, lawyers and policy makers, in an article in the leading journal Science. These include John Harris, of Manchester University, and Julian Savulescu, of Oxford University, both regarded as radical utilitarians.

Without too much optimism, the group calls for uniform international standards in the regulation of stem cell research. More achievable, however, is stopping "extraterritorial jurisdiction" over researchers, the ability of a government to prosecute citizens for crimes" which may be legal in another country. They insist that scientists who do work which is banned at home should not be punished if they do it abroad. This is a real issue for German scientists, because the extraterritorial reach of the law is written into Germany's constitution.

In… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
22
 

POLLS SEND CONFLICTING MESSAGES TO AUSTRALIAN POLITICIANS

Australian politicians are gearing up for a conscience vote on therapeutic cloning. Health minister Tony Abbott is doing his best to demonise it by raising the spectre of "human-animal hybrids" and condemning its supporters as "peddling hope". However, it is votes, not words, which will carry the day. The trouble is, what voters feel about this complex issue is itself a matter of debate. Opinion polls in Australia's public debate over therapeutic cloning have yielded very different results.

Back in June the respected Morgan poll claimed that 82% of Australians back the use of embryonic stem cells to treat diseases like heart failure and Alzheimer's. Eighty per cent favoured therapeutic cloning. However, the poll tended to overstate the possibility for cures -- especially Alzheimer's, which nearly all scientists acknowledge will not be licked with stem cells. Nor did it use the words "therapeutic cloning". Instead, the pollster described the procedure as "merging an unfertilised egg with a skin cell" without… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
22
 

BROWNBACK SETS SIGHTS ON OREGON’S ASSISTED SUICIDE

 Conservative US Senator Sam Brownback has introduced a bill which would bar doctors from prescribing federally controlled drugs to be used in assisted suicide. This is aimed directly at Oregon, where 37 patients died legally with the help of their doctor in 2004. "When the law permits killing as a medical 'treatment', society's moral guidelines are blurred, and killing could gain acceptance as a solution for the chronically ill or vulnerable," said Brownback. He does not expect the bill to become law this year, but he wants to use it as "a rallying point for those opposed to assisted suicide." (It might also rally conservatives to his presidential ambitions.)

Predictably, the prospect of a Washington do-gooder trampling Oregon law underfoot nettled the Seattle Times. It sputtered in an editorial that the senator from Kansas was not the third senator for Oregon and should not try to lead it down "the yellow brick road of righteousness".

click here to read whole article and make comments



 
August
22
 

TEEN WINS BATTLE TO TREAT HIS CANCER

A 16-year-old cancer patient in Virginia has reached an agreement with a court about how to treat his Hodgkin's disease. Abraham Cherrix and his parents were so distressed by his discomfort after one round of chemotherapy that they opted for the Hoxsey method, a type of Mexican natural medicine which most doctors regard as outright quackery. A court decided that they were being negligent -- despite Abraham's protestations that he did not want chemotherapy -- and ordered him to be treated. Now, after an appeal, a compromise has been reached: he can continue with the alternative treatment, so long as he sees a recognised cancer specialist. He will not have to have chemotherapy, but he might get radiation.

Although the case ended harmoniously, it raised thorny questions about patient autonomy, in much the same way that teenage abortions do. Does an intelligent teenager have the right to determine his own treatment and does the state or his parents have the… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
22
 

IN BRIEF: lessons, Hwang, New Orleans

Lessons: Investigators into the botched UK drug trial which left six men desperately ill have released an in-depth report. The drug, TGN1412, a monoclonal antibody, caused a massive immune response which flooded the volunteers' blood with inflammatory agents and triggered organ failure. The doctors say that the drug should have been used more cautiously and that the men should have been tested at least two hours apart, rather than at 10-minute intervals. click here to read whole article and make comments



 
August
15
 

DEBATE GROWS OVER ORGAN SHORTAGES

The United States, like other nations, is facing a huge shortage of organs. At the moment, there are 92, 400 Americans waiting for organs -- mostly kidneys -- but only 14,500 people donated them last year. People are waiting up to five years for a match -- longer than the median survival rate in many cases. Bad as this news is, prospects for the future look worse. One result of the so-called obesity epidemic is that the number of patients with kidney failure as a result of diabetes and high blood pressure will probably soar. The crisis is already provoking discussion of radical solutions. Some of these were raised at the World Transplant Congress in Boston last month.

Since most donors are dead, an obvious solution is to enlarge the pool of dead people. Most potential donors and their relatives believe that doctors take organs only from brain-dead people. However, redefining death as what happens when your heart beat… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
15
 

CAN WOMEN DONATE THEIR EGGS FOR RESEARCH ETHICALLY?

 As embryonic stem cell research comes under closer scrutiny in the US, UK and Australia, stem cell scientists are examining the ethics of egg procurement. Since most biologists doubt that an embryo is a human person, the possibility of exploiting women is the only major ethical issue which divides them. One of the misdemeanours of disgraced Korean stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk which most disgusted other scientists was that he forced some of his junior colleagues to donate eggs and bought other eggs illegally.

With this in mind, and no doubt its political battles as well, a task force of the International Society for Stem Cell Research has issued draft guidelines. These insist on informed consent for this uncomfortable and potentially fatal procedure. But they leave the door open to remunerating women for the time, discomfort and trouble involved in egg donation. The chair of the task force, Insoo Hyun, of Case Western Reserve University, argues in the leading… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
15
 

JAPANESE SCIENTISTS TURN ADULT CELLS INTO EMBRYONIC CELLS

Japanese scientists may be on the track of one of the great dreams of regenerative medicine: making an adult cell revert into an embryonic stem cell. If their results are confirmed and if the technique also works with human cells, it could defuse the bitter ethical and political debate about embryo research. Shinya Yamanaka and Kazutoshi Takahashi, of Kyoto University, found that four factors, or genes, turned the adult cells into cells which behave like embryonic stem cells. These passed the basic ID test: when injected under the skin of healthy mice, they formed teratomas, or tumours from the three germ layers of the body. Up to now it has been thought impossible to create an embryonic stem cell without resorting to cloning.

Yamanaka and Takahashi's work is still preliminary, of course. An American cloning expert, Robert Lanza, says that the experiment was exciting, but inconclusive. It required serious genetic modification of the cells, which could lead to cancers at… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
15
 

BAN HYBRIDS, SAYS SCOTTISH THINK TANK

Mixing animal and human material to create hybrids should be banned, says the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics. ""Most people are not aware that these kinds of experiments have been taking place in the UK and find it deeply offensive," says Dr Calum MacKellar, the SCHB's director of research. "Parliament should follow France and Germany and prohibit the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos." However, the scientist who cloned Dolly robustly defended the use of hybrid embryos. "By casting a negative light on a number of important research opportunities, this report may limit medical progress," says Dr Ian Wilmut.

Hybrids have been created in several experiments around the world over the past few years, but the SCBH questions their scientific merit. It warns that creating embryonic stem cells from the enucleated eggs of cows or rabbits filled with genetic material from a human cell poses "profound medical risks" and, in any case, would yield hard-to-interpret results.

Hybrids are far from fanciful,… click here to read whole article and make comments




 

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