January 7, 2007

Egg Whites

Hatched by Dafydd

A little while ago (August 23rd, 2006), we posted on the discovery that human embryonic stem cells could be extracted non-destructively, leaving the embryo intact; then on November 9th, we noted how President Bush could make use of this stunning breakthrough, offering to fully fund federal stem-cell research with two conditions:

  • That the funding be available not only for embryonic but also adult and placental stem-cell research;
  • That funding for embryonic stem-cell research only be made available to researchers that used the new, non-destructive extraction technique.

And now there's this:

Scientists reported Sunday they had found a plentiful source of stem cells in the fluid that cushions babies in the womb and produced a variety of tissue types from these cells - sidestepping the controversy over destroying embryos for research.

Researchers at Wake Forest University and Harvard University reported the stem cells they drew from amniotic fluid donated by pregnant women hold much the same promise as embryonic stem cells. They reported they were able to extract the stem cells without harm to mother or fetus and turn their discovery into several different tissue cell types, including brain, liver and bone.

I believe it's now more crucial than ever that Bush and the GOP in Congress get out front of this issue by themselves proposing a huge increase in funding, including funding for amniotic-fluid stem-cell research, along with adult, placental, and even embryonic (when extracted non-destructively).

This would flummox the Democrats and take the wind out of their soles; it's particularly effective in countering the meme of "anti-science, fundamentalist Republicans" that the Democrats have so successfully wielded to turn Independents away from GOP nominees.

This is the issue; this is the time to move. There is no longer any moral case that can be made against stem-cell research... so while the Democrats are floundering around with minimum wage proposals (that the Republicans should also immediately adopt and support, bad as they are, just to get them off the table), we can come roaring forth with a proposal to help everybody live to be 150 years old.

Well, that's how we should sell it, at any rate. For a change, let's make the Democrats look like tired, old men, the "establishment," perpetually trapped fighting for yesterday's leftism. It shouldn't be hard... but we actually have to do it.

There's an old story that seems apropos:

Moishe was an exceptionally assiduous follower of every jot and tittle of Jewish law and ritual; he never failed to attend synogogue every shabbat and every holy day, he kept rigidly kosher, and he prayed constantly.

Moishe wanted to move to Israel, but he was too poor. So he began praying to God for money: "Lord, make me win the lottery, make me win the lottery. You know I'll do nothing but good works with the money -- so make me win the lottery!"

Day and night he prayed -- "make me win the lottery, make me win the lottery!" -- until the third day, on the 10,001st repetition of the prayer, the Lord God of Israel actually answered.

A burning bush appeared in Moishe's living room, and a booming voice fillled every corner: "Moishe, Moishe," said the Voice, "meet me half-way... for God's sake, buy a lottery ticket!"

Come on, folks; there is every scientific reason why we, not the technophobic New Left, should become the champions of stem-cell research and no moral argument why not: it's an issue that truly resonates with Independents, young voters, and libertarian-conservatives... and it's darned good public policy, too.

The odds on this bet are much, much better than the odds of winning a money-type lottery. So let's buy that ticket and get out ahead of the Democrats on this important issue!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 7, 2007, at the time of 8:00 PM

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The following hissed in response by: JGUNS

Well, there may not be a moral issue for Republicans but there certainly is a conservative issue. I still do not think that Republicans need to give in and vote to steal more tax payer dollars in order to fund research that can and should be done in the private marketplace. Democrats have staked out the spend-recklessly-on-everything-under-the-sun position... Republicans should at least try and keep the pretense that they are the ones that are looking out for the tax payer.

The above hissed in response by: JGUNS [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 8, 2007 8:07 AM

The following hissed in response by: snochasr

That's good, and there is no good sense in spending money on research that has to date produced next to nothing while taking away from research (adult stem cells) that has already proven itself.

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 8, 2007 12:04 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


That's good, and there is no good sense in spending money on research that has to date produced next to nothing while taking away from research (adult stem cells) that has already proven itself.

Sure there is: in theory, embryonic, placental, and amniotic stem cells ("proto-cells") should be easier to turn into different kinds of cells, especially neurons, than are adult stem cells.

That we haven't yet gotten good therapies out of them doesn't change that basic fact: they hold more promise for curing more difficult problems than do adult stem cells.

Here's another example: consider nuclear fusion. Nuclear fission is well understood; we have some extremely good new reactor designs (Integral Fast reactors that are cooled by liquid sodium, Pebble Bed Modular Reactors that are cooled by inert gases) that we should be building all across the country.

Nevertheless, the amount of energy we can get from fission pales in comparison to the amount we can get with a fusion reactor -- if we can ever break the containment barrier. If we had controllable, steady-state fusion reactors, we simply would not have any energy problems for probably centuries, until our energy needs grew staggeringly larger than we can imagine right now.

So there is no reason to abandon fusion research, though it hasn't paid off yet, even while we pursue the proven benefits of fission.

It's the same with stem cells: we should vigorously pursue the real-world therapies from adult stem cells, but at the same time continue research into the much more promising kinds of stem cell.

And as to why we don't just leave it to the market, it's for the same reason we don't leave space research to the market: the market is excellent at applied research for proven, or at least semi-proven technologies.

But it's not very good for pure research, because you cannot guarantee investor payoff -- not the amount, not the time frame, not the percent chance of success.

Private companies tend to shut down basic (pure) research first thing when they get into financial trouble, which can leave incredibly promising research lying fallow... look what happened to the magnificent Bell Labs in 2001, for example.

Yet we absolutely need pure research to go along with applied research. Many of the great breakthroughs, while achieved by private companies, were done so under federal grants from the AAAS, the NAS, the AMA, or other scientific funding bodies, from federally funded universities, or particularly funded by the DoD (via DARPA, for example).

A fine example is the field of technical ceramics, developed for the space program (especially for the Space Shuttle tiles) but with amazing potential uses that could revolutionize our world (high-temperature ceramic gasoline engines, for instance).

Also superconductor technology, zero-G manufacturing techniques, and of course, everything we have ever learned about particle and high-energy physics from particle accelerators.

Plus all modern astronomy, most archeology, and even mathematics -- nearly all of which is conducted by universities that are either public or else pay for the research with sizable federal grants.

I believe computers were also developed first by universities (under grants) and by the military.

There's no getting around it: some of the great breakthroughs of science and technology of the past 70 years would have occurred without government research funding... but not many. That's one reason the pace of scientific understanding has accelerated so much in recent decades.

There is a downside, of course: "politically correct" science, as we see with globaloney, AIDS research, and the political football that various administrations have played with fusion research funding, for a few examples. Still, we cannot do without government funding of scientific research at this stage of the game.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 8, 2007 2:23 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E


A big AMEN!

The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 8, 2007 4:50 PM

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