In my post earlier today I talked about the shock of finding out about the crash and burn of a leading embryonic stem cell research company almost three weeks after the fact. I questioned why it got so little play:
the idea that a whole branch of scientific inquiry; A branch that the left promoted in print and broadcast news. A branch that was highly funded by taxpayer grants, A branch that leading celebrates used to paint Religious conservatives as heartless and anti-science. A branch that was touted culturally in film and media was as reliable as a “ONE OWNER” sign on a used car I’d say that was not only a story, but I’d call that a front page at the top of the broadcast story. Apparently the left would not.
So lets see how the Huffington Post, a leading organ of the left, did decide to report this story when it happened:
It was a roomful of giants: 66 of the world’s best stem cell research scientists and technicians. They had succeeded in the initial stage of the world’s first human embryonic stem cell trials. These were safety trials for GRNOPC1, a stem cell product which might ease previously-incurable spinal cord injury paralysis — they should have been lauded as heroes — instead they were losing their jobs.
It would be different if their experiment had failed. But they had done everything right, played by the rules all the way: and in so far as they had been allowed to go, they had triumphed.
Hold on a sec, they succeeded yet they were going out of business? That doesn’t make sense. Let’s read further:
By FDA requirements, the first trial for any new drug or therapy must be safety. Could the cells be injected into a newly-paralyzed person without doing them harm? Opponents of the research had always maintained that the stem cells would cause cancer.
Didn’t happen. There was no harm done to any of the patients.
That’s a triumph? “The research didn’t give the test subject cancer and didn’t do them any harm.” Are we judging under the “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” standard? Give me millions of tax dollars to feed test subjects sugar pills and I’ll wager I get the same triumphal lack of cancers in my patients too!
The second step would have been to inject significantly larger quantities of cells into other newly-injured patients, perhaps five times as much, to see if there was a positive effect. The cells injected would be increased from roughly two million cells to as much as ten million — a couple teaspoonsful, small in quantity but potentially huge in impact.
So the previous test did not produce any positive results (although its been reported the actual results weren’t released) and you want more funding to boost the dosage to see if a larger dose does? Simple question: How is it any less likely the larger dose might produce the harm the smaller dose did not as it is that the larger dose would produce benefits that the smaller dose did not?
But this next step, as well as the final one to try a much larger group of patients, will not take place with Geron.
Why were the trials stopped, if they were going well? The immediate answer is financial. To take a new therapy or medicine to market is incredibly costly. The price was just too high for Geron, a small company, though it always fought above its weight class.
But political harassment is part of the picture as well: the hate-filled propaganda the Religious Right and their allies in the Republican party had spewed at supporters of the research
So lets get this straight, the company financial failure is all about political harassment. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that after millions of taxpayer dollars over the years its initial tests produced the same results in test subjects that feeding them a Tomato a day would produce?
as well as actual political attacks, laws proposed to fine scientists, even jail them for research.
Yup, in the same sentence he accuses Republicans of both “hate filled propaganda” and wanting to jail scientists. Irony is apparently not his strong suit.
There was also favoritism shown the “less controversial” adult stem cell research, funded lavishly compared to the embryonic variety. In 2008, for example, human adult stem cell research received $297 million in federal funds — embryonic, only $88 million. Even now, under a far more progressive Administration, adult stem cell research receives nearly triple the funding ($341 million compared to $125 million) of embryonic.
Yeah, I’m sure Solyndra and Evergreen Solar would have kept their doors open if only we gave them more tax payer money too.
Now I feel sorry for the author Don C. Reed. He has an emotional investment in this as legislation that favored the company in California was named after his paralyzed son that he hoped would be aided by this research. So given that emotional connection lets add a few rational observations:
- If these tests were so successful why not release the results? That’s what happens in (non-climate) science, data is released and studied by other scientists
- The whole idea of medical research is to produce positive results, if Geron’s research produced positive results beyond “not causing cancer” I suspect we would have heard about them, particularly in this puff piece.
- The potential market for successful treatments for spinal injuries etc is massive yet the company could not produce private funding. That speaks volumes, public funding involves betting the “house’s” (read other people’s) money, private funding does not. There is a reason why, for example Evergreen Solar and Solyndra both only avoided bankruptcy when financed by taxpayers.
- Mr. Reed put “less controversial” in scare quotes when referring to adult stem cell treatments, yet adult stemcells have produced actual breakthroughs:
The Japanese biologist Shinya Yamanaka found in 2007 that adult cells could be reprogrammed to an embryonic state with surprising ease. This technology “may eventually eclipse the embryonic stem cell lines for therapeutic as well as diagnostics applications,” Dr. Kriegstein said. For researchers, reprogramming an adult cell can be much more convenient, and there have never been any restrictions on working with adult stem cells.
For therapy, far off as that is, treating patients with their own cells would avoid the problem of immune rejection.
and not just theoretical, adult stem cells are curing blindness in Australia:
Researchers in Australia have come up with an outwardly simple but incredibly ingenious way of curing blindness caused by corneal damage: Take everyday contact lenses, already used by millions (including me), and infuse them with a patient’s own stem cells. After wearing them for about 2 weeks, test subjects reported a seemingly miraculous restoration of sight.
Aiding angina patients in Chicago:
New research published online today in Circulation Research found that injections of adult patients’ own CD34+ stem cells reduced reports of angina episodes and improved exercise tolerance time in patients with chronic, severe refractory angina (severe chest discomfort that did not respond to other therapeutic options).
The phase II prospective, double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical trial was conducted at 26 centers in the United States, and is part of a long-term collaboration between researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Baxter International Inc. The objective of the trial was to determine whether delivery of autologous (meaning one’s own) CD34+ stem cells directly into multiple targeted sites in the heart might reduce the frequency of angina episodes in patients suffering from chronic severe refractory angina, under the hypothesis that CD34+ stem cells may be involved in the creation of new blood vessels and increase tissue perfusion.
and were actually used in surgery on a current presidential candidate.
Texas Gov. and possible GOP presidential contender Rick Perry got everybody talking about stem cells again when he announced that he received an injection of his own stem cells during spinal fusion surgery
You would think that actual results like this rather than deserving scare quotes are not only worthy of funding but would be a cause for celebration.
You would be wrong, apparently to our friends on the left this stopped being about science years ago.
The truth is embryonic stem cell research was oversold and it appears researches knew what they were selling:
Members of Congress and advocates for fighting diseases have long spoken of human embryonic stem cell research as if it were a sure avenue to quick cures for intractable afflictions. Scientists have not publicly objected to such high-flown hopes, which have helped fuel new sources of grant money like the $3 billion initiative in California for stem cell research.
In private, however, many researchers have projected much more modest goals for embryonic stem cells. Their chief interest is to derive embryonic stem cell lines from patients with specific diseases, and by tracking the cells in the test tube to develop basic knowledge about how the disease develops.
Those two paragraphs from that Instapundit link are quoted from that right wing propaganda machine known as the New York Times. It was written in 2009 more than 5 years after Ron Reagan took the stage and the Democratic Convention describing embryonic stem cell research as
what may be the greatest medical breakthrough in our, or in any, lifetime
…and a lot of injured people and their families (including I suspect Mr. Reed who is understandably looking for any card to help his paralyzed son) were taken for a ride in the cause of financial gain for favored companies and political gain for the left.
I think the deception and use of these people in this way was obscene. And I think the attempt of those in print, television and social media to hide their own part in selling this snake oil while declaring their opponents “anti-science” is a story and a crime that I refuse to let them bury.
I don’t expect to see any media apologies or mea culpas over this, after all this became part of the abortion wars and abortion is one of the sacraments in the religion of liberalism but the facts on the ground and the continuing success in adult stem cell therapies will speak for themselves even if the media remains silent.
But don’t worry, it will not be so many years (4 years 53 days according to Rush Limbaugh’s Al Gore’s doomsday clock) when we will see this entire charade played out again as our friends in the print, television and social media will once again have nothing to say on the subject that they cling to with only less sacramental furor. The lesser sacrament of global warming. In fact considering recent news from Canada we might not have to wait at all.
Continue reading “The left and the science of denial”