Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Ramesh Ponnuru points out how Newsweek’s science correspondent, Sharon Begley, has changed her tune. When Bush vetoed legislation that would have expanded federal funding for destructive embryonic stem cell research, Begley wrote how this might be “a cruel blow to millions of patients for whom embryonic stem cells might offer the last chance for health and life.” Never a mention of the practical drawbacks and deficiencies of ESCR.

Now that an ethical and more practical alternative to ESCR has been discovered, Begley is downplaying the significance of pluripotent stem cell research in general:

While the research was once hailed as leading directly to cures—by turning stem cells into neuronal cells that could be implanted in patients with Parkinson’s
disease, say—it now looks like something much more mundane: another laboratory tool to study different diseases, yielding insights that would launch the slow, years-long search for new therapies. … [H]aving the new method for creating stem cells is unlikely to lead to treatments and cures any sooner than having only the old one.

[I]t will be years before scientists understand reprogrammed stem cells—how to get them to mature into different tissues, for instance.

To a public for whom stem cells equal cure, the real blow will be the realization that the simplistic picture—take a patient’s genes, slip them into an egg, let the egg grow and divide into stem cells that are perfect genetic matches for the patient and transplant those cells to treat diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s—is more fiction than fact. … Instead of yielding cures directly, stem cells— reprogrammed and embryonic alike—will take their place alongside other lab systems for studying disease. They will reveal hitherto-unknown causes and pathways of illness, even pointing the way to new drugs. The typical time between such a discovery and a new drug is at least 15 years.

Talk about going from “Yankee Doodle” to “The Death March”!! Why the change in tune? Many commentators have suggested (and I tend to agree) that the change in tune is political. The reason the Left promoted ESCR was because it put a further hedge around abortion rights (you can’t object to killing the unborn when they are your source of cures, but on the other hand, if ESCR is objectionable on moral grounds, then so is abortion by extension), and it allowed the Left to stick it to the President and conservative Christians (portray them as anti-science, lack of compassion). Now that an undeniably superior method for obtaining what they say they wanted all along has come along, and that due largely to the political policies of President Bush, the tune has to change. Now they have to downplay the significance of stem cell research, and admit that cures from pluripotent stem cells are years away. Oh the irony!

HT: Ramesh Ponnuru

From an MSNBC article regarding the new iPS cell breakthrough:

[James] Thomson said he never believed that cloning itself would produce new therapies – and not just because of the moral and ethical qualms about human cloning. ‘Mainly, it’s just hugely inefficient and terribly expensive,’ he said. Rather, Dolly the sheep – and the pluripotency of embryonic stem cells – pointed to potential treatments that could go beyond cloning, and beyond those precious embryonic cells.” According to Thomson, “My feeling is that somatic cell nuclear transfer was an experimental technique, and it could have led to a mechanistic understanding of how reprogramming could occur. But I was skeptical that it could ever enter the clinic because of practical reasons.”

What a revelation this is. I may be wrong, but I don’t recall Thomson saying any such thing previously. Why didn’t he speak up when CA was asking its citizens to fork over $6,000,000,000 dollars to pay for cloning and ESCR, on the promise that cures were right around the corner, and that the research would bring a windfall of profits to CA? It’s real convenient to play mum until after better research comes along.