Posts Tagged ‘embryonic stem cells’

The Human Cloning Thing

May 18, 2013

Chances are at some point you’re going to die. As for how that may happen, most people don’t know.

Some people have an idea of maybe how their time will come. Maybe they have heart problems, or immune-deficiency, or lung problems, or a failing liver, or some dreaded disease or whatever.

If you know, for instance that you’ve got a weak liver, then perhaps you have a feeling that it will be liver failure that will do you in. Maybe you know this because you have drank too much beer over the years, or maybe other life choices you have made have placed the good condition of your liver at risk. Or maybe you were just born with a liver that is weaker than most.

Each one of us will have our own particular life-threatening set of body-failure probabilities to deal with.

So maybe, when your time draweth nigh, you will want to call upon the medical profession to bail you out of the inevitable deathly situation; you may seek the doc’s help in extending your time on earth.

Maybe you would, for instance, want to get a liver transplant so that you can live longer, or a heart transplant if  that’s what the issue is, or some brand-new, cancer-free bone marrow so you don’t die of leukemia, if that is your problem.

If the weak link in your bodily chain of organs is, let’s say, your liver, perhaps the doctor would say that you could be a candidate for a liver transplant. Or if your heart  has some defect, then the transplant would we be a new heart.

Now the problem with that medical remedy is that your body may reject the liver, or heart, that has been grown in someone else’s (the donor’s) body. And I think this complication arises mainly from the reality that the donor’s DNA makes their liver uniquely equipped, on a cellular level, for that person’s body, not your body. The doctors, if they are going to insert someone else’s liver in your body, need to all sorts of pharma tricks with baling wire and duct tape just to get the transplanted organ to “take” inside your gut.

Think of it like a car. Maybe your old chevy needs a new fuel pump. No problem. Just mozy on down to the dealership and pickup a new fuel pump. But of course you can’t just buy any old fuel pump. It has to be the one that was made for your particular impala or chevelle or whatever chevy model you have.  Or Fiesta or Fairlane or Focus if you’re a Ford guy. And even more specific than that, the new part has to be selected according to the year in which your car was manufactured.

Same thing for your liver. Your very own, personal DNA-delivered liver has been humming right along all these years because it has the same genetic identity as every other cell in your body. You’ve been cruisin with a custom job all these years and maybe didn’t even realize it, because it looks so much like the mass-produced version.  But now, if your liver is worn-out, you’re looking for a replacement. But the replacement for your old ’57 chevy liver will not be found in the body of some accident victim 2011 Volt or Caprice.

So what if you could get your very own, personal DNA-delivered liver, manufactured especially for your you?

That’s what this human cloning is mostly all about: generating, under laboratory conditions, organs and regenerative cells to help your body live longer. If you’ve got the money, honey, the labs will have the time, and the technology, and the treatment– custom-tailored for you in a petri dish somewhere in Baltimore or Boston, Baton Rouge, Bakersfield or Bellevue.

This is called therapeutic cloning, not reproductive cloning. These are two different basic cloning objectives, although I think the procedures are very similar in the very earliest phases of the nuclear transfer process. The objective for therapeutic cloning is, according to my layman’s understanding of it, to generate patient-compatible pluripotent stem cells that can be used to grow new healthy tissue in the recipient’s body.

Now the researchers who have been working on and/or monitoring these research developments are for the most part, I think, agreed that reproductive cloning is not a good idea; some would even perhaps use the word “immoral,” or “ethically inappropriate,” or some such euphemism as that.

But this is a brand new can of worms that the scientific community, the medical community, and the general public will be dealing with as the years roll by and budgets are written while dollars are spent and the people come and go talking of michelangelo or donatello or mutant ninja turtles or chimerae or whatever. And everyone will make their own decisions about such things based on their own info base, financial base and moral compass and so forth and so on.

With this announcement, last week, of a successful human embryo being cloned in Oregon, the “cat” is, so to speak, out of bag. We’re in a brave, new world, just as Aldous Huxley anticipated many years ago.

Uncharted territory.

And though the scientific community may generally have the best intentions to regulate cloning procedures and outcomes to direct them within  channels of therapeutic application, we all know how the human race is, and what will probably happen.

Not only is the cat out of the bag, but pandora has opened her box, and sooner or later some renegade Dr. Frankenhoo will do the reproductive thing and then he won’t be able to resist letting all the world know and everybody will gasp when the first human clone shows up in a playground somewhere in Beijing or Ankara or Brussels or LA or Godonlyknows where.

And there will be prosperous folks who want to clone themselves and they will have the money to have it done and it will happen. Welcome to our 21st-century can of ethically-challenged worms. Will all our human-carnival predisposition for vanities and manipulations and exploitation and avarice and under-the-table dealings, back-alley abortofreaks, black-market, after-market, post-market, postpartum proclivities just take a back seat to the benefits of having therapeutic-cloned body parts?

Probably not, but then again maybe. Whatever beneficial things can happen will most likely be duplicated by somebody. You know how copies are; their quality depends on the equipment you use. So anything can happen and most likely will. Copy this message to someone if you think about it.

Glass Chimera

PGD: a stem cell reconciliation?

January 28, 2012

When a man and a woman make love and give life together to a new person, this is a beautiful event. The love act is creative in every sense of the word, but most especially because of this: the two lovers have contributed to an eternally procreative art project that has been blooming on our planet for a very long time.

Whoever or whatever the Creator of this life process is, or is up to, is not my question to explore just now, although I have made some decisions in my belief about that question. I merely want to point out a fact or two about the process through which we humans have come to have our individual existences.

Fact #1 is this: you, as a human person, have 46 chromosomes.

2.) 23 of your chromosomes were passed to you from your father; the other 23 came from your mother.

3.) These chromosomes, or coded genetic programs, establish a biological framework for your physical existence and life-long development.

4.) Since the unique man who is your father paired his 23 with the 23 chromosomes within that unique woman who is your mother, then you yourself are unique. You–your particular combination of 46 chromosomes– had never existed before. So you are a unique creation. Congratulations. There has never been another “you”; nor will there ever be.

These days, microbiologists can husband this human-making process in a laboratory. Believe it or not. It is not as much fun–not nearly as satisfying– as making babies the time-tested Adam and Eve hubba hubba way. But hey, this test-tube thing is happening. This is what humans, in their quest for improvement, do. The scientific rationale for in vitro fertilization is this: some couples have not been able to conceive a child naturally, and so they can get  clinical help to bridge that fertility gap.    After obtaining sperm from a man, and an egg from a woman, the microbiologist combines them (in the famous “test tube”), and a new human is begun.

Here’s where the scientific work, and the ethical discussion surrounding it, becomes a breeding ground for controversy. My opinion is: Since a unique, never-before-existing 46-chromosome arrangement is manifested in space and time, soon to be flesh and blood–no matter how the conception was facilitated– we have a new human being our hands. This is creation, by which we men and women participate with the original Creator. And it is serious business, because a person’s life–and entire lifetime development–is at stake. There are great–dare I say “sacred” responsibilities present here.

Well, simple enough, really. Not. The further you climb on the tree of knowledge (or the double-helix of DNA), the more complex do your choices become. This is part of what Moses was getting at when he wrote Genesis. But I’ll not go there now, as if I could. Anyway,  as it turns out, there is another reason that scientists have for working with in vitro embryos. Some of them are leftovers.

Yes, Virginia, the outcome of the test-tube baby boom is that we have thousands, possibly millions, of little embryos suspended in cold-storage, probably at about -196º C.  Most of them will never be implanted in a mother’s womb. Some of them will be, but not all. So guess what–another thing that’s happening is this: the key to medical progress is contained deep within the very life process itself, beginning with its earliest stage, the embryo. These frozen embryos. So the scientific community wants to call these microscopic potentialities into the service of mankind–involuntarily, of course–by harvesting their totipotent genetic characteristics to improve the health of living persons.These little ones are the source for the famous “embryonic stem cell” lines that are cultured in petri dishes in laboratories all over the world.

So then the question becomes, quite infamously: Are we, as a human race of civilized persons, going to allow these suspended potential kids to be sacrificed, for the sake of medical progress, so that already-living persons can have qualitatively better lives?

We don’t want to kill those 46-chromosome-bearing new creations just for the sake of heartlessly improving our own already-established lives. That would be, in the biblical sense, not unlike child sacrifice. Civilized people don’t do that, do we?

Well guess what. I heard on the radio yesterday that microbiologists have developed a technique for obtaining individual embryonic stem cells from a 3-day embryo (in what’s called the “cleavage” stage of fetal development) without killing the embryo. The procedure is called PGD, which stands for pre-implantation diagnosis. In it, the microbiologist extracts a single cell  from the 8-cell embryo, leaving the embryo virtually intact for further development and life.

The PGD single-cell extraction procedure has been widely used all over the world. According Dr. Robert Lanza, in his statement during an interview with Ira Flatow on ScienceFriday (NPR), its use is dependable. Dr. Lanza’s research pertains to stem cell therapy for improved eyesight in patients who have suffered macular degeneration.

But what caught my pro-life ear was Dr. Lanza’s mention of this technique for obtaining totipotent embryonic stem cells without killing the fetus. The little guy gives up a single cell, then moves on to further development. Assuming the best, maybe its a little like giving blood.

A little further reading brought me to: and this explanation: “After three days in culture, the embryos typically reach the eight–cell stage. One to two cells are removed from each embryo on day three and analyzed…”

The extracted cell ia generally used for a genetic assessment of the embryo, so that parents, assisted by the scientists and doctors, can make choices about which of the embryos to choose for implantation in the mother’s womb. This is another controversial development in the can-of-DNA-worms that constitutes genetic research and practices–“designer babies,” and so and so on…

But my interest in this procedure revolves around its potential as a reconciliation between the value that we pro-lifers place on embryonic sanctity, and scientific use of surplus embryos without wholesale killing of them. A little more googling brought me to more info, from a fertility clinic in Houston, where I found this (emphasis mine):

“Preimplantation genetics can be performed in vitro at any of the following developmental stages, the zygote (day 1), cleavage stage (day 3) or blastocyst (day 5). At each of these stages, cell(s) are removed from the embryo for genetic testing in special laboratories. This does not appear to harm the ongoing development of the embryo with over 1000 healthy babies born worldwide after preimplantation genetic screening. However, an insufficient number of babies have been born to confirm that the procedure is completely without risk.

So now I’m wondering: Does this change, at all, the debate between pro-life opponents of embryonic stem-cell research, and the researchers whose microscope sights are trained on all those frozen surplus embryos?

Glass Chimera