Is the biotech revolution a myth?

One of scientists' main selling points to gain government support for stem cell research has been its dramatic potential for rapid progress. The new field of biotechnology would revolutionise medicine and bring billions of dollars of revenue to investors and governments. Tony Blair has made it a key element of his science policy and Californians recently approved US$3 billion in funding over the next 10 years. Even developing countries like South Korea and South Africa are investing heavily in biotech. However, a study commissioned by the British government has concluded that rapid returns… MORE




Scientists and bioethicists puzzled by new stem cell options

The head of the US President's Council on Bioethics, Dr Leon Kass, says that he supports further study of two ethically puzzling alternatives to conventional embryonic stem cell research. Both proposals were presented at the Council's first meeting since November's presidential election. "I think these are two extremely interesting, very creative proposals," said Dr Kass.

The first of these is a suggestion by Dr William Hurlbut, a Stanford bioethicist on the Council. He says that clones can be genetically engineered to develop into beings which cannot properly be described as human embryos but will still yield embryonic stem cells (see… MORE





Eggs divide without sperm

Welsh researchers may have found yet another way of producing embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos. The process uses an enzyme, PLC-zeta, normally produced by sperm, which prompts the egg to divide. It seems that human eggs treated with PLC-zeta continue dividing to the blastocyst stage. However, since these lack paternal chromosomes, say the scientists, they could not develop into babies. They believe that it could provide an ethically uncontroversial alternative to deriving embryonic stem cells from human embryos. The team from Wales College of Medicine at Cardiff University says that the discovery might also help couples who are unable… MORE




Therapeutic cloning off the boil

Scientists no longer describe therapeutic cloning as essential for "miracle cures" from embryonic stem cells. According to a report in the web magazine Wired, "if therapeutic cloning were vital, it would make stem cell therapies prohibitively expensive". The real reason why scientists want to clone embryos, it seems, is for research. "The value of nuclear transfer [cloning] is not for cell therapy, it's to do molecular research to figure out how genetic disease is manifest," says Tom Okarma, the CEO of Geron, a prominent Californian biotech company which works with human embryonic stem… MORE




Stem cells could cure incontinence

Austrian scientists have used muscle stem cells as a treatment for urinary incontinence in women. Stress incontinence affects 15 million people, mostly women, around the world. It occurs when the sphincter muscles around the urethra become weak or diminished. Now a team from the Medical University of Innsbruck has found that cells taken from women's arms and then cultivated and injected in a brief operation replicate nearby cells. "Not only do they stay where they are injected," says Dr Ferdinand Frauscher, "but also they quickly form new muscle tissue and when the muscle mass reaches the appropriate size, the cell… MORE




Adult stem cells fail to spark heart

After several encouraging reports that adult stem cells had repaired damaged heart tissue, the latest research pours cold water on the idea. A study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that stem cells from bone marrow did not become "normal, mature muscle cells". Experiments with mice showed that bone marrow stem cells did migrate to the heart, but they failed to produce a muscle protein which is essential for normal functioning. Instead, the affected mice developed abnormal cardiac rhythms. Other scientists were disappointed but not disheartened. "It brings a new level of rigour to the field and tells us… MORE




France passes euthanasia law

France is edging closer to legalising some forms of euthanasia. On November 30 the National Assembly passed a law which attempts to clarify the situation of terminally ill and dying patients in the wake of the furore over a paralysed young man killed by his mother and a doctor last year. The bill still has to be ratified by the Senate. The new legislation allows dying patients to refuse burdensome treatment and also allows seriously disabled patients who are not terminally ill to request an end to their treatment. Doctors will be allowed to give increasingly stronger painkillers, even at… MORE




Dutch euthanasia for children surfaces in the media

News that a hospital in the Netherlands has been euthanasing children prompted cries of alarm around the world this week -- even though the story first surfaced in the English-speaking media several weeks ago (see BioEdge 135). The Groningen Academic Hospital has asked the Dutch government to review its protocols for actively ending the lives of newborns who appear to be in pain from incurable disease or extreme deformities. Perhaps anticipating approval by the authorities, the hospital announced that it had already carried out four killings of this kind in 2003. No charges… MORE




Another British suicide tourist dies in Zurich

A British woman has killed herself in a Swiss suicide clinic after a judge lifted an injunction which had banned her husband from accompanying her to Zurich. Mr Justice Hedley, said that the woman, known only as Mrs Z, was fully able to take her own decisions and that it would be wrong for a court to intervene. Although assisting a suicide is illegal in England, Mr Z has not been arrested. This has given heart to members of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. "I think people can take from this judgement that their right to self- determination is now pretty… MORE




Israel forms national bioethics council

Israel's new national bioethics council has been stacked with a small, yet dominant, group of lecturers and researcher who tend to favour minimal regulation and the least possible limitation of research," complain several academics. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the new council will be a statutory body overseeing bioethics, advising the Knesset, representing Israel in international bioethics bodies, and encouraging public comment. The role of the new council is particularly significant in Israel, where researchers are continually pushing the ethical envelope in reproductive technology. One source of the problem is the small number of experts. "There are always the… MORE



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