January 16, 2003
Researcher: Stem Cell Funding Restrictions Not An Obstacle

Dr. Evan Snyder, a top Harvard University stem cell researcher who is in the process of moving to the Burnham Institute in La Jolla California, was interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle about the current state and prospects for stem cell research. Snyder believes current US government restrictions on stem cell research funding are not yet holding back progress in the field.

Q. Does the Bush administration's policy, and the governmental financing restrictions, allow the field to move forward?

A. It's not so dire at this particular point because so much fundamental work needs to be done. Any scientists who say they have been paralyzed in their research because of the Bush administration is really being disingenuous.

There is so much fundamental work we still need to do before we even know if these edicts are restrictive or not.

This confirms an argument I've made previously: there is so much information needed about how cells differentiate that is best worked out using animal models (primarily mice but other species as well) that few scientists have much need to work with human embyronic stem cells at this point. So why all the debate? Scientists who want to rush more directly into trying experimental therapies on humans are going to object to that line of argument. Those latter scientists think they can develop useful therapies without understanding the details of how stem cells differentiate. They basically want to develop a technology without understanding the underlying science of how it works. This is not an argument that is easily dismissed. There have been many successful medical treatments whose underlying mechanisms of action were unknown for many decades after they entered widespread use.

Snyder's argument therefore is correct as far as the advance of developmental biology is concerned. How cells differentiate and how to manipulate cells to differentiate in different ways and to de-differentiate (i.e. to become less specialised) can be worked out using animal models. Most of what is learned with animal models will turn out to be directly applicable to human developmental biology. Also, the knowledge that will come from animal model research will eventually make it possible to create stem cell therapies for all possible applications without using embryonic stem cells. But scientists who are approaching the use of stem cells with more of an engineering mindset want to develop useful therapies well ahead of the advance of the underlying science. These scientists may well be able to develop many useful therapies using embryonic stem cells without waiting for the science to be worked out first. Therefore the debate about the use of human embryonic stem cells will continue.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 January 16 10:43 AM  Bioethics Debate


Comments
Philip Shropshire said at January 16, 2003 7:27 PM:

Oh great, Randall. You found the one guy. That's nice. Is he a Republican too? Actually, on this front, this is what I found kind of interesting over at Edge. It's from known hi falutin' inventor Ray Kurzweil. Please note that he thinks the limits on stem cells lines should be "reconsidered" and also comes up with a brilliant new direction. I'm going with Ray here. The Link is here:

http://www.edge.org/q2003/q03_kurzweil.html

[FuturePundit Edited Here To Cut Down Excerpt To Avoid Copyright Infringment]

SECOND, on another biotechnology front, pressure will heat up considerably this year in the controversial area of stem cell therapies. The number of available germ cell lines has turned out to be a small fraction of the 60 lines that were to be made available for research purposes. Although I would advocate that this policy be reconsidered, my proposal is on a different front: to dramatically increase funding for promising new methodologies in the field of "human somatic cell engineering," which bypass entirely fetal stem cells. These emerging technologies create new tissues with a patient's own DNA by modifying one type of cell (such as a skin cell) directly into another (such as a pancreatic Islet cell or a heart cell) without the use of fetal stem cells. There have been breakthroughs in this area in the past year. For example, scientists from the U.S. and Norway successfully converted human skill cells directly into immune system cells and nerve cells.


Ray Kurzweil
Inventor and Technologist
Author of The Age of Intelligent Machines and The Age of Spiritual Machines


Randall Parker said at January 16, 2003 8:49 PM:

Philip, Snyder has an excellent reputation as a stem cell researcher and if you look back on my previous post on stem cell law changes I think you'll see him mentioned there. His recruitment is considered to be quite the coup for the Burnham Institute and hence the interview in the SF Chronicle. So I would not dismiss what he says so easily.

As for Kurzweil's comments on "human somatic cell engineering", hey I've been saying that repeatedly in various posts here (and I could have had a far earlier public record arguing that position if I'd only started blogging sooner). Of course, Kurzweil is orders of magnitude more well known than me and I am glad he's saying it too.

My take on it is that we have to figure out how to tell cells to transition from each differentiation state into various other differentiation states. We need that level of understanding and control in order to be able to make non-embryonic stem cells to replenish reservoirs of aged stem cells in the adult human body. If we develop that needed ability we will bypass the need to use stem cells from embryos and fetuses entirely. Again, we need that level of control just to make certain types of cell therapy treatments.

As for Kurzweil's comments on the threat of bioengineered pathogens: The threat is huge. When I was just a young pup student I worried about this and I asked an accomplished biochemist (NAS member, quite renowned way back when) in about 1980 about this. His answer was that, yes, it was possible to bioengineer a pathogen that could kill everyone but that he personally knew everyone who could do it, knew they wouldn't do it, and he expected to die of old age. Then he pointed his finger at me and said "But you young man have something to worry about".

I don't even post publically my observations on what particular bits of published research I've noticed that make the mega-killer pathogen easier to construct. Don't want to give anyone ideas.

We really need to develop some secret government facilities that are capable of making hundreds of millions of DNA plasmid vaccine doses in, say, a week. We need the ability to sequence and take apart a pathogen that has just been released and that is in the process of killing a substantial portion of the human race. Then make vaccines that code for its surface proteins to try to make an emergency vaccine that might help. We also need ways to allow various prominent labs to seal themselves off from the world and to have the ability to have electricity and other basics to work in emergency mode to take apart some bioengineered pathogen.

Charlie Murtaugh said at January 18, 2003 6:55 PM:

Interesting quote from Snyder -- I agree with it, overall, and you're right that he is well-regarded in the field. I'm still skeptical about engineered pathogens -- what advantage would they offer over what currently exists, e.g. smallpox? I'm assuming that the terrorists don't want to trigger some sort of global holocaust, a la "12 Monkeys"; the main barrier to _that_ is simply the difficulty of a single person getting the research done without getting caught.

Lou Diaco said at April 27, 2005 10:09 PM:

Hello everyone over here. The name's Lou, and well, im not a scientist, or any type of researcher, or even for that matter a student right now. What I am, though, is an activist. No no, im not obe of those right wing crazy "morality should be law" people. Ya see, as i know it (an again im not even an expert or well researched in this either) but laws concerning stem cell research and such medical research prohibit funding from the federal government. While this is merely the dumbest thing i think i will ever have to live through in my short life time (if those super-pathogens get used by terrorists), it will probably be a while until things change. Let me just blurt it out. I dated a girl in college named sarah. She is diabetic, Type II. I loved her and still love her (though we are seperated) to the point that if it were fesible, i would give her my pancreas so that she could live a normal life. I want to help her, and so thinking back about some of the times we shared, i remembered her mentioning why she hated bush so much. She told me that he has basicaly stopped her search for a cure. When he closed down funding for Stem cell research, sarah's brother, was working on a stem cell project that looked into the use of stem cells to form new panceas cells. She was livid, and because of her story (which goes into much more detail), I who was going to vote for bush because he was the lesser of two evils, I decided to abstain from voting. I want to help her, with all of my heart, but i need help. And i need to help others. I am a few papers away from forming a new charity organization that would give funding to research that might find a was to make diabetes a thing of the past... I know that you might not be experts in the area of diabetes, but from what i read already in the few posts here, you have opinions (which i like, cause it means ya got brains too), and your willing to talk about them. I have little direction, and two republican parents ready to throw me out the door for speaking sacrilege against Dubya. This idea is small, right now, but i dont want it to be that way. I come from northern New Jersey, from a rich neighborhood that would give quite a bit to such a cause. And well, if ya need a little more incentive, most likely, i will need honorary chair people to be part of this, if i want to take this where i want to take it, which is into the billions of dollars. I have a dream, and i want to make it real. Any help, Any help whatsoever, would be most highly appreciated.

-Sincerely Yours
Louis D.

Lou Diaco said at April 27, 2005 10:10 PM:

Hello everyone over here. The name's Lou, and well, im not a scientist, or any type of researcher, or even for that matter a student right now. What I am, though, is an activist. No no, im not obe of those right wing crazy "morality should be law" people. Ya see, as i know it (an again im not even an expert or well researched in this either) but laws concerning stem cell research and such medical research prohibit funding from the federal government. While this is merely the dumbest thing i think i will ever have to live through in my short life time (if those super-pathogens get used by terrorists), it will probably be a while until things change. Let me just blurt it out. I dated a girl in college named sarah. She is diabetic, Type II. I loved her and still love her (though we are seperated) to the point that if it were fesible, i would give her my pancreas so that she could live a normal life. I want to help her, and so thinking back about some of the times we shared, i remembered her mentioning why she hated bush so much. She told me that he has basicaly stopped her search for a cure. When he closed down funding for Stem cell research, sarah's brother, was working on a stem cell project that looked into the use of stem cells to form new panceas cells. She was livid, and because of her story (which goes into much more detail), I who was going to vote for bush because he was the lesser of two evils, I decided to abstain from voting. I want to help her, with all of my heart, but i need help. And i need to help others. I am a few papers away from forming a new charity organization that would give funding to research that might find a was to make diabetes a thing of the past... I know that you might not be experts in the area of diabetes, but from what i read already in the few posts here, you have opinions (which i like, cause it means ya got brains too), and your willing to talk about them. I have little direction, and two republican parents ready to throw me out the door for speaking sacrilege against Dubya. This idea is small, right now, but i dont want it to be that way. I come from northern New Jersey, from a rich neighborhood that would give quite a bit to such a cause. And well, if ya need a little more incentive, most likely, i will need honorary chair people to be part of this, if i want to take this where i want to take it, which is into the billions of dollars. I have a dream, and i want to make it real. Any help, Any help whatsoever, would be most highly appreciated.

-Sincerely Yours
Louis D.

Post a comment
Comments:
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
URL:
Remember info?

                       
Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright