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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Facts, not factoids, make the best weapons

The Catholic Gentleman has a lovely quote from Blessed John Henry Newman:
If [a gentleman] engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blundering discourtesy of better, perhaps, but less educated minds; who, like blunt weapons, tear and hack instead of cutting clean, who mistake the point in argument, waste their strength on trifles, misconceive their adversary, and leave the question more involved than they find it.

Now, I have been reading far too much on the subject of killing the unborn, it is an evil time in which we live,( but no more evil than any other, I believe - it is evil in the exact proportion by which mankind makes it evil through pride, and unwise exercising of the gift of free will - but I digress.)

It is common for pro-life critics of using hEsc, (that's "human embryo stem cells," rebranded,) to declare that for all the hype and celebrity advertising on the glories of using babies for parts, the ONLY actual useful therapies to derive from stem cell research come from adult stem cells.

And cursory reading by non-experts, (of which I am certainly one,) would certainly lead one to that conclusion.
Note the phrasing for instance, (I've added emphasis,)  on this  FAQs page from the government:
The development of stem cell lines that can produce many tissues of the human body is an important scientific breakthrough. This research has the potential to revulutionize [sic] the practice of medicine.... Given the enormous promise of stem cell therapies ..... it is important to simultaneously pursue all lines of research and search for the very best sources of these cells.

Why not use adult stem cells instead of using human embryonic stem cells in research?
Human embryonic stem cells are thought to have much greater developmental potential than adult stem cells. This means that embryonic stem cells may be pluripotent—that is, able to give rise to cells found in all tissues of the embryo except for germ cells rather than being merely multipotent—restricted to specific subpopulations of cell types, as adult stem cells are thought to be. However, a newer type of reprogrammed adult cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells, has proven to be pluripotent.

 Why are doctors and scientists so excited about human embryonic stem cells?
Stem cells have potential in many different areas of health and medical research. To start with, studying stem cells will help us to understand how they transform into the dazzling array of specialized cells that make us what we are.

 (and here's the money obfuscation quote)
Have human embryonic stem cells been used successfully to treat any human diseases yet? 
Stem cell research offers hope for treating many human diseases.
 (So that's a "no"?)
Click here to read a description of the current status of stem cells and human disease therapies.
(And if you do that, you get a page with more "hopes,"mays" "thought to offers," "potentials," and "still studyings."   Oh, and "early days yets.")

What will be the best type of stem cell to use for therapy?
 Pluripotent stem cells, while having great therapeutic potential, face formidable technical challenges. First, scientists must learn how to control their development into all the different types of cells in the body. Second, the cells now available for research are likely to be rejected by a patient's immune system. Another serious consideration is that the idea of using stem cells from human embryos or human fetal tissue troubles many people on ethical grounds. Until recently, there was little evidence that multipotent adult stem cells could change course and provide the flexibility that researchers need in order to address all the medical diseases and disorders they would like to. New findings in animals, however, suggest that even after a stem cell has begun to specialize, it may be more flexible than previously thought.
Odd, no, that well, we've only been working with embryonic cells a short time is cited as an excuse for lack of positive developements with embryonic cells, but  no such apology is needed for work with adult stem cell therapy which seems to have been pursued for a shorter time?

Anyway, a quick google search will reveal that almost all reports of "success" with embryonic stem cell research refer to successful creation of lines, or methods of study, or splicing of various component thereof, or growing something inside an animal -- NOT to therapies, cures, actual useful treatment of suffering human beings.
This "success" only in the world where, "The operation was a success, but the patient died," is not a sick joke.

So yeah, virtually all success so far has been acheived with non-embryonic stem cells.

BUT - and its a big but, (hope you heard Pee-wee's voice as you read that,) there may have been a successful hEsc therapy, Dr Robert Lanza's work on eyes at the Jule Stein Center.
The fact that there doesn't seem to be any follow-up news since the sixth month mark or so when it made a big splash in the press may or may not be significant.
It does seem likely that if it had actually worked we would have heard more about it in the past two years, and I am not some master googler, there may be news out there.

But either way, I think we should be cautious about claiming there has been NO successful therapy as a result of embryonic stem cell research, better to make a case with the truth.

(And of course, the success of hEsc is not really germane to the issue of whether it is morally acceptable to take parts from one live human being, in no condition to give consent, to aid another.)

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