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Heroes at Harvard

While Bush and company scheme to provide the America-hating Iranian theocracy with nuclear technology, some people are thinking rationally and promoting human life. From the Boston Globe:

Harvard scientists announced yesterday that they are beginning an ambitious attempt to create the world’s first cloned human embryonic stem cells, bringing the university into one of science’s most ethically charged fields.

The goal of the research, they said, is to create a powerful new tool to explore the biology of, and hopefully find treatments for, a number of devastating diseases: juvenile diabetes, genetic blood disorders, and ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease….

The research is controversial because scientists destroy days-old embryos, which some opponents say is essentially taking human lives, and because the research uses human eggs, which can place donors at a slight risk of side effects.

But at a press conference yesterday, Harvard Provost Dr. Steven E. Hyman said the university had concluded that the research was ethically justified, following extensive reviews by eight committees over two years. Hyman said the scientists will be required to follow strict guidelines governing how eggs are obtained and what experiments can be done—but he said the work is too important to not do.

“We are convinced that work with embryonic stem cells holds enormous promise for developing treatments for a host of presently intractable adult and childhood diseases,” Hyman said. “We have approved this work after the most extensive ethical and scientific review in recent memory here at Harvard.”

Hallelujah! Kudos to Hyman and the whole team at Harvard (and hellfire to Bush and his fellow religionists who oppose such crucial research in the name of the same fantasy that prevents them from eliminating the Iranian regime).

As to the extreme value of this research:

Embryonic stem cells have the ability to become virtually any cell in the body, making them a valuable tool in scientific research. In the past, embryonic stem cells have been harvested from frozen early embryos—microscopic balls of several hundred cells—obtained from fertility clinics that would discard them otherwise. But these stem cells do not have the DNA that contributes to certain diseases, such as juvenile diabetes, which limits their usefulness in researching those diseases.

Cloning, also called somatic cell nuclear transfer, would allow new types of experiments by creating embryonic stem cells that have the same DNA as a patient with a particular disease.

To do this, the Harvard scientists will extract DNA from a patient’s cells and place it into a donated egg cell that has had its own DNA removed. This new egg cell is then prompted to grow for several days in a laboratory dish, yielding the early embryo needed for embryonic stem cells.

These cloned stem cells can then be grown in the lab and in theory be manipulated to become different types of human tissue, such as the neurons that make up the brain….

Nuclear transfer would give [scientists] new ways to explore how the process of development goes awry in certain diseases, and perhaps suggest treatments that make use of the natural developmental potential of human cells.

The team led by [ Douglas] Melton and [Kevin] Eggan will initially focus on juvenile diabetes, but it also hopes to study neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and ALS.

For example, they hope to make batches of embryonic stem cells that have the DNA of patients with ALS. Researchers would coax the stem cells to grow into neurons, and compare the development of neurons made with the diseased stem cells to neurons made with embryonic stem cells produced with the DNA of a person without the disease.

“In essence, we can move the study of the disease from a patient to a Petri dish,” said Melton, who is co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute….

The team led by [Dr. George] Daley wants to find treatments for blood-based diseases such as leukemia and sickle cell anemia, which is caused by a genetic flaw.

Using nuclear transfer, Daley said, the team would hope to create embryonic stem cells that are genetically matched to a patient. These embryonic stem cells would then be grown into precursors of blood cells, like those normally found in bone marrow, providing the patient with a bone marrow transplant with a minimal risk of rejection.

In cases of genetic diseases like sickle cell anemia, the same procedure could be used, with an extra step to fix the genetic flaw in the patient’s cells before growing the bone marrow cells for transplant.

The heroic scientists leading this research—Douglas Melton and Kevin Eggan of Harvard University, and Dr. George Daley of Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston—deserve recognition for their heroism and an emphatic thank you from everyone who cares about human life.

Thank you, gentlemen!

(For more on the importance of this kind of research and on the religious crusade against it, read Alex Epstein’s excellent article “Biotech vs. ‘Bioethics’: The Technology of Life Meets the Morality of Death”.)

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