The Lancet launches embryo stem cell campaign

 One of the world's leading medical journals, The Lancet, has launched a campaign for human embryonic stem cell research as the UN approaches a debate on a cloning ban and US voters go to the polls. Its current issue is dedicated almost solely to medical, scientific and regulatory issues surrounding stem cells, with an editorial urging scientists to lobby hard for the cause. It also includes a profile of Australian stem cell scientist Alan Trounson and a personal plea from the father of a paralysed footballer. Ironically, the journal's press release highlighted only progress in the field of adult stem cell research. However, the editorial declared that clinical applications for embryonic stem cells are around the corner.

"The attention focused on stem-cell research unfortunately comes at a moment when there are few tangible clinical benefits to report, although, as many of the papers in this week's issue show, the field is advancing at such velocity that this evidence may… click here to read whole article and make comments

New promise for adult stem cell research

 Two articles in the current issue of The Lancet highlight possible therapeutic uses of adult stem cells. In a German study, adult stem cells derived from bone marrow improved cardiac functioning after heart attacks.

Helmut Drexler, of the University of Freiburg, found that the transfer of patients' own bone-marrow cells could improve functioning of the left ventricle of the heart six months after treatment. Patients who had been given stem-cell transfers had around a 7% improvement in left ventricular function compared with only a 0?7% increase for patients given drugs.

In a second study, skin cells were turned into brain cells, raising hopes of finding a stem cell cure for Parkinson's disease which is ethically non-controversial. Siddharthan Chandran, of Cambridge University generated nerve precursor cells in a two-step process. Growth factors generated almost limitless numbers of stem cells which were then made into nerve cells.

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British doctors debate ethics at annual meeting </b>

The annual meeting of the British Medical Association defeated a motion that policy statements on controversial issues should be decided at the annual meeting rather than in its ethics committee. According to the BMJ, "there was a general feeling that the committee lacked transparency and was remote from the membership".

Dr Greg Gardner, a general practitioner from Birmingham, cited approval given by the BMA's ethics committee to the UK's fertility authority and also to artificial reproduction by same sex couples. "The ethics committee may be in close touch with the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) but it is out of touch with ordinary BMA members," he complained.

However, his proposal was opposed by all other speakers. A member of the ethics committee, Dr Tony Calland, praised it as one of the jewels of the BMA. "The knowledge, experience and wisdom of the invited members is second to none," he said.

In other developments at the BMA meeting, the UK… click here to read whole article and make comments

Bush under pressure from scientists

 More than 4,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel laureates and 127 members of the National Academy of Sciences have signed a letter accusing the Bush administration of imposing a conservative political ideology on American science. The same letter was released in February by an environmental lobby group, the Union of Concerned Scientists, with only 62 names. Their opponents, however, counter that government-funded science has always been politicised and that it is odd for scientists to be running a highly politicised campaign against politicised science.

Many of the scientist complain that they deserved to be appointed to important government boards and panels because of their eminent professional standing. However they had been passed over because they opposed President Bush on issues like abortion, stem cell research, the morning-after pill or environmental regulation. Janet Rowley, an Australian scientist who was dropped without sufficient explanation from the President's Council on Bioethics, charged that the Bush administration had exaggerated the usefulness of adult stem… click here to read whole article and make comments

Foetal stem cells persist in mothers </b>

Cells from babies live on in their mothers for her lifetime and could even prolong it, US researchers at Tufts-New England Medical Center have found. Foetal cells which appear to act like adult stem cells have been found in the livers, thyroids and spleens of women who have been pregnant. The discovery could influence the American debate about embryonic stem cells because these extremely rare cells appear to migrate to diseased organs and help to heal them.

"If we can prove these are stem cells, and harvest them from the blood or tissue of a woman who's been pregnant, they could have therapeutic potential for that woman, her children, and perhaps even unrelated individuals," says Dr Diana Bianchi. "Pregnancy lasts a lifetime," she says, "and you carry mementos of your children wherever you go." click here to read whole article and make comments

Singapore row over research ethics </b>

Singapore's dreams of becoming a world-class research hub for biotechnology are being tarnished by a dispute over the sacking of a UK scientist who used to head its National Neuroscience Institute. In 2002 Dr Simon Shorvon was accused of conducting tests without the proper consent of the patients involved and over whether ethics committees had been kept fully informed.

However, the UK-based Medical Protection Society has rejected all charges of professional misconduct on his behalf and three leading UK medical experts said that he acted ethically at all times. One of them, Professor Peter Sever, of Imperial College London, called upon the Royal College of Physicians to warn its members of the dangers of working in Singapore.

Biotechnology is a pillar of Singapore's vision for its future and Singaporean bureaucrats are keen to maintain its professional reputation. "It is important that we get this right, that outsiders see us as a place beyond reproach, where international best practices are followed,"… click here to read whole article and make comments

Italy’s new IVF law attacked after tragic case </b>

Italians are debating their strict new IVF law after it had unforeseen consequences for a 26-year-old Sicilian woman. Pregnant with triplets after an IVF procedure, her life was declared to be "at risk" by her doctor and she had a "foetal reduction" to abort one of the children. This is the second instance of foetal reduction since the law came into effect in March. The law, passed after years without regulation, stipulates that only stable, heterosexual couples of child-bearing age can receive treatment. They can only have a maximum of three embryos created and all embryos have to be implanted.

Critics law are now calling for the law to be changed. "These cases show what is wrong with this law," said the doctor who did both cases, Giovanni Monni. "It was created to protect the embryo, but what it does is force the woman to choose abortion." click here to read whole article and make comments

Facts with few readers—or readers with few facts? </b>

An exchange in the letters column of the leading journal Nature raises interesting points about whether scientists should worry about the message or the facts when they talk to the media. In January Nature published an article by a group of conservationists which predicted that many species would become extinct by 2050. Its argument was complex and used hard-to-understand statistics. Many articles in the media were wildly distorted. Most of them blared that a million or more species would become extinct by 2050. These exaggerated claims were subsequently taken up by some politicians and conservationists.

The solution of some Oxford scientists was to restrict press releases to research papers which present "clear and unequivocal findings" and for scientists to actively seek to clarify bad reporting in the press.

Two of the original authors responded to this suggestion. Blocking publicity, they argued, would have meant a lost opportunity. Exaggerations were actually a godsend in communicating an important message to millions of… click here to read whole article and make comments

IN BRIEF: Australian infertility ~ underage girls and IVF ~ sperm donors </b>

  • Skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes in Australia may leave many women unable to conceive a child, say doctors. "I believe that within 10 years, if obesity continues to rise at the present rate, half of all Australian women could be temporarily or permanently infertile," says Dr Robert David, an obesity researcher. click here to read whole article and make comments

  • Drug giant accused of improper marketing to doctors </b>

    Schering-Plough 2003 annual report One of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies is being investigated by federal prosecutors in Boston for paying doctors large sums to prescribe its drugs. According to an investigative report by the New York Times, Schering-Plough sent some doctors unsolicited cheques ranging from at least US$10,000 to six-figure sums in exchange for a "consulting" agreement which involved little more than prescribing its drugs. The government is also looking into allegations that Shering-Plough "flooded the market with pseudo- trials". Doctors would receive US$1,000 to US$1,500 per patient for prescribing Intron A, the company's hepatitis C treatment. But unlike most medical trials, the patients or their insurers paid for the very expensive drug themselves.

    Over the past two years, Schering-Plough has set aside US$500 million to cover its legal problems, including allegations of offering improper financial incentives. Company officials say that the alleged activities took place before its new CEO, Fred Hassan, took… click here to read whole article and make comments

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