Hastings Center Palca might try exploding the other myths about embryonic stem cells!

Dianne N. Irving
Copyright May 3, 2006
Reproduced with Permission

So, ole Joe Palca of the Hastings Center and the ole glory days of the "pre-embryo" is at it again -- spinning the same ole MYTHS! How appropriate, and transparent, it is that he should be the one who now attempts again to "spin" the scientific fraud constantly perpetuated by bioethics in these human embryo research issues - especially to champion that of Standford University's Irving Weissman of Proposition 71 fame, who has concocted a "pre-embryo substitute" of his very own.

For over 20 years the use of the living human embryo in both experimental and therapeutic research - including IVF research - was side-tracked by a federal moratorium. That all changed in 1993 in a successful devious change of language at the last minute in the NIH Revitalization Act (1993) by bioethics strategists. As bioethics proponent Joseph Palca, writing then in the Hastings Center Report (the "Bible of Bioethics") so effusively and unabashedly pointed out: "With lobbying support from the American Fertility Society, and the willing cooperation of Senator Kennedy and Representative Waxman, they hit on the strategy of simply eliminating the requirement that the EAB approve IVF research projects. Language doing that was "slipped into the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993 ... attracting very little attention" [Joseph Palca, "A Word to the Wise", Hastings Center Report (Mar.-April 1994), p. 5].

Because this wise "slip" apparently failed to be detected, the prolife sponsors had to quickly pass the Dickey Amendment. (See Irving,

As typical of bioethics scientific "spinning" since the formal "birth" of bioethics in 1978/9 (The Belmont Report, Congressionally mandated by the 1974 National Research Act), just about every "scientific" claim that Palca is making in the current article below is false, and so documented and PROVEN with internationally recognized textbooks and research in the articles referenced above. In case these bioethicists never "got it", "spinning" science constitutes scientific fraud per se. The recent Hwang scientific fraud pales into comparison with the last 40 years of scientific fraud perpetuated by bioethics and its funders. When will these people ever be held accountable for such fraud? What catastrophic consequences will it take? I shudder to think.


May 3, 2006
by Joe Palca

Q&A: Embryonic Stem Cells: Exploding the Myths

When it comes to embryonic stem cells, you can find just about any opinion you like: They are an untapped elixir of life; they will lead to embryo "farms" where potential lives are snuffed out; they will cure all diseases; their potential is overhyped. NPR science correspondent Joe Palca looks at the facts and fictions behind stem-cell science:

Will embryonic stem cells cure diseases?


The excitement about the potential of embryonic stem cells to cure disease comes from their unique potential to turn into any cell type in the body.

There are many diseases that are caused when a particular cell type in the body starts behaving badly. Take diabetes. The disease occurs when special cells in the pancreas, called islet cells, stop making insulin. Another example is Parkinson's disease, which occurs when neurons in the brain that make a chemical called dopamine are selectively destroyed.

The idea is that embryonic stem cells could be grown in great quantities in the laboratory. The cells would then be coaxed into becoming islet cells to treat diabetics, or into dopamine-producing neurons that could be transplanted into Parkinson's patients, replacing those destroyed by disease.

That's the theory. In practice, no one has tried it in humans. And there have only been sporadic attempts using animals. Many scientists are convinced this approach will work eventually, but their optimism, at this point, is driven by theory.

Alzheimer's disease is frequently mentioned as one that might be cured by stem-cell therapy, but most neuroscientists think this is unlikely. It does not appear to be a disease caused by damage to a particular cell, so cell therapy probably wouldn't be the most appropriate treatment.

Can adult stem cells do everything embryonic stem cells do, but without controversy?


All stem cells have certain capabilities. They can divide and renew themselves for long periods; they are unspecialized (which means they are not a specific type of cell); and they have the ability to give rise to specialized cells.

Embryonic stem cells are obtained from human embryos. They have the capacity to turn into any cell type in the body. Adult stem cells have been found in some mature human tissues, including the brain and bone marrow. There is a scientific debate over whether their ability to become specialized is limited to their tissue of origin, or whether they can turn into other types of tissue.

Adult stem cells have proven their value to medicine. For example, bone marrow transplants are routinely used to treat some cancers and blood diseases. But it's unlikely that bone marrow stem cells can replace all of the different types of cells that are damaged by disease. Embryonic stem cells are the only ones that are likely to do that.

Critics of embryonic stem-cell research say those cells have never cured anyone. Is that true?

True, but pointless.

Transplanting a kidney never cured anybody until someone had the idea of trying it, and then worked out the regimen that would prevent a transplanted kidney from being rejected by its grateful recipient. The proper way to phrase the statement is "embryonic stem cells haven't cured anybody yet."

Is it necessary to destroy an embryo to obtain embryonic stem cells?


To derive embryonic stem cells, it is necessary to take critical cells out of the embryo. What is left no longer has the capacity to produce a baby if transplanted into a uterus.

Critics of embryonic stem-cell research say the destruction of an embryo is murder. Whether it is or not is a social and ethical question, not a scientific one.

Several teams of scientists are working on methods to create embryonic stem cells without destroying an embryo. Although the work is promising, success is most likely many years off, if it is ever achieved.

If the federal government doesn't expand funding for embryonic stem cells, will U.S. scientists flee to other countries?

Probably not.

A few top scientists have left, but there is no evidence of a wholesale exodus. If there is any fleeing going on, it is to California because of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). That's the state agency that will decide how to spend the $3 billion that California voters approved for stem-cell research. So far, however, lawsuits have prevented the agency from selling the bonds needed to raise the $3 billion. The agency has managed to raise interim funding, and it has awarded $14 million in grants. The lawsuits won't be resolved until late 2006 at the earliest, but preliminary decisions have gone in favor of CIRM.

If the federal government doesn't expand funding, will America fall behind in stem-cell research?


On Aug. 9, 2001, President Bush said federal money could only be spent for research on about 60 lines that had been created prior to that date, where the "life-and-death" decision about the embryos used to create those lines had already been made. In reality, less than a dozen of the 60 lines have become available to scientists, and therefore eligible for federal funds.

Other countries have taken a very different approach. For example, the United Kingdom and Singapore have stated that stem-cell research is a national priority, and have been spending money freely on this research.

Are U.S. scientists prohibited from doing certain kinds of embryonic stem-cell research?


There are virtually no restrictions on the kind of stem-cell research that may be done in this country. The federal restrictions are on the use of federal dollars for embryonic stem-cell research. With private money, scientists can do practically anything they want.

That said, the federal funding restrictions do create problems for scientists. Most academic institutions receive some federal money, and it requires scrupulous accounting. In some cases, university researchers must use separate facilities that are off-campus if they want to work on any stem-cell lines not approved for federal funding.

Some scientists are using cloning techniques to obtain embryonic stem cells. Is the cloning technique to make stem cells the same as the cloning technique to make a baby?

Yes and no. The process starts out the same in both scenarios. The nucleus of an adult cell is inserted into an egg from which the DNA has been removed. The egg is then coaxed to start dividing, becoming an embryo.

But here the similarities end. In cloning to make stem cells, scientists let the embryo grow in the lab until it turns into a hollow ball of about 100 cells. They then remove special cells from the interior of this ball, and transfer them to a laboratory dish. After certain nutrients and other ingredients are added, these cells will become an embryonic stem-cell line.

If the cloning technique were used to make a baby, doctors would transfer the embryo to a woman's uterus well before it had grown to the 100-cell stage. If implanted, it's possible that embryo could be carried to term and produce a child that would be the clone of the adult-cell donor (though no one has succeeded -- that we know of). It is not illegal in the United States, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has asserted that anyone planning to try it would first have to get FDA approval.

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