ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

5 December 2001


via HGA news (subscription details at end):
1. Environmentalists Stand with Conservatives on Cloning
2. Embryo clone leads to fall-out
3. Cloning and Stem Cells Not Good Business


1. Environmentalists Stand with Conservatives on Cloning

By Jason Pierce Staff Writer
December 03, 2001

Capitol Hill ( - Human cloning is not just a conservative issue anymore, with one of the nation's primary environmental activist groups joining conservatives Friday in calling on the U.S. Senate to ban cloning.

The alliance between Friends of the Earth and conservatives already working to ban cloning could prove to be valuable in persuading the Senate Democratic leadership, which oftentimes yields to pressures from the environmentalist lobby, to take up the issue.

Dr. Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth, told Senate staffers Friday that human embryonic cloning, such as the successful clone by Advanced Cell Technologies last weekend, goes against two cornerstone principles of environmentalists: respecting nature, and the precautionary principle, which can be described with the old adage, "look before you leap."

"The fundamental respect for creation and respect for nature means that you don't try to put yourself in God's position and reengineer all of nature, but that is the disrespect being shown in this case," Blackwelder said.

Environmental groups, he added, are educating its members on the importance of understanding and respecting nature as well as understanding "the interdependence between human beings and the rest of nature."

"What is going on with cloning is leading us dramatically back in the opposite direction, of a total separation from nature which would then be discarded and viewed as a disgustful artifact," Blackwelder said.

Trying to control nature has produced poor results in the past, he said, and the cloning of humans is sure to follow suit.

Blackwelder described what he calls "biological pollution." European birds that were imported to the United States, such as the pigeon or Starling, reproduced so fast that they drove native species away, he said.

"Biological pollution is different from chemical pollution, in that chemical pollution out there is disintegrating, where as biological is replicating," Blackwelder added.

"That is what will be going on when they start engineering the human race: you will have inheritable traits with designer babies, so you have the most flagrant violations of the precautionary principle, by arrogant scientists," he said.

"Also, the attempt to clone human beings and indeed to try to engineer all of life on earth [shows] they want to fundamentally reshape human beings and the rest of nature," Blackwelder said.

He warned that once cloning was allowed in any instance, it is sure to be abused, which could result in the changing of the human race forever.

"We are on the cutting edge of a major decision about the future of human civilization," Blackwelder said. Cloning places the human race "on the edge of the slippery slope that will eventually lead to a reengineering of all life."

"If society allows that, we can guarantee that it will be abused and will be a serious abuse of women, and fundamentally it will be a profound change in nature and in human beings from the way we see them today," he said.

Bill Saunders, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council who has closely followed the cloning issue, said the fact that environmentalists have joined their side is "invaluable."

"Washington is about coalition politics, and I honestly think that cloning is an issue that cuts across the usual lines," Saunders said. "I think it makes it hard to pigeonhole the opposition and to disregard it, because it is broader than that.

"Obviously, conservatives don't agree with everything environmentalists say, and environmentalists don't agree with everything conservatives say, but they are united in opposing cloning, and it makes the coalition strong," he said.

Saunders added that when usually opposing groups align with one another, people usually think about an issue more and forget about towing the party line.

"When you have coalitions that have groups together that aren't usual together, people have to stop and think about an issue, and they just can't react in a knee-jerk way," he said. "I expect more of the left-leaning groups to join as we go along."


2. Embryo clone leads to fall-out [shortened]

Monday, 3 December, 2001, 15:57 GMT

One of the editorial advisors to the online science journal that published details of the "world's first human embryo clones" says he is resigning from his position.

John Gearhart, one of the scientists to pioneer research into human embryonic stems cells, said his decision to step down was prompted by concerns over openness and integrity.

The Johns Hopkins University researcher claimed important data were missing from the online paper featured in e-biomed: The Journal Of Regenerative Medicine, and that the experiment was in his judgement a failure and should not have been published.

The company behind the clone research, Advanced Cell Technology, defended its work again at a conference over the weekend, and even released new information on work it had done on monkey embryo clones.

Michael West, chief executive officer of ACT, said the company's researchers had made monkey eggs start dividing like embryos even though they had not been fertilized by sperm or activated by the transfer of genetic material from another cell.

This process, known as parthenogenesis, was one of the techniques ACT said it used to make its human clones detailed in e-biomed.

'Very embarrassed'

John Gearhart led one of the two teams which in 1998 announced that human embryonic stem cells had been isolated and cultured in the lab for the first time.

Recently, Professor Gearhart has been advising the US Senate on stem cell legislation.

He said he tried to find out which experts had reviewed the ACT paper published on 25 November, but claimed the editor would not tell him.

"I feel very embarrassed and very chagrined by this publication," he told the BBC. "I thought that by staying on the editorial board I could at least find out what happened; but clearly that's not the case, so probably the best thing to do is to remove myself."

He said the openness of peer review was especially important in this case, as the journal's editorial advisory board also contained scientists from Advanced Cell Technology.

Like many other observers, Professor Gearhart said he had concerns over the way the research was presented to the public.

He said ACT had produced "very preliminary and unconvincing evidence" to support its claims.


3. Cloning and Stem Cells Not Good Business ­ Expert

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
Tuesday December 4 4:22 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Technologies that hold the promise of personally tailored medical treatments -- a new heart grown from a tiny plug of skin, for instance -- sound good but are too experimental to invest in yet, a venture capitalist said on Tuesday.

Besides the technological hurdles, which remain huge, there are tricky issues of patents and politics to get by, Michael Lytton of Oxford Bioscience Partners told a conference.

"I do not see venture companies rushing to fund them and, I would argue, for legitimate reasons,'' Lytton told a conference on regenerative medicine being held in Washington.

"Frankly, we are waiting to see a business model that makes sense in terms of using stem cells for therapy.''

Stem cell and cloning technology has been in the headlines for months because of research breakthroughs, but the researchers themselves stress that any treatments or cures are far off.

Stem cells taken from early embryos have the power to be transformed into any kind of tissue in the body -- perhaps even organs, with the right guidance -- and cloning technology can be used to make a patient's own stem cells.

Such cells could be used to grow new brain tissue to treat Alzheimer's, for example, or to repair a damaged heart.

But opponents say this use of human embryos is immoral and want it banned. President Bush (news - web sites) has already limited the use of embryonic stem cells to existing colonies for scientists who want federal funding, although privately funded firms can do as they please.

Hearings on the subject are regularly held in Congress.

"From my point of view, as an investor, it is a distraction,'' Lytton said. "Besides creating media opportunities for certain scientists, it casts a pall over the whole area.''

Lytton, whose firm funds life sciences ventures, said there are other reasons for investors to avoid the field. Patents involving living cells are still confusing.

"There are tremendous intellectual property challenges,'' Lytton told the conference, sponsored by scientific publisher Mary Ann Liebert Inc.

For instance, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Fund, set up to supply stem cells to researchers, is in a dispute with Geron Inc. over the scope of WARF's license to the company.

Other countries, meanwhile, have differing laws on patenting stem cells and associated technology.


"You have uncertainty in the United States because of WARF and you have uncertainty abroad because of an inconsistent patent framework," Lytton said.

There are also unsolved issues regarding cross-border use of such products. "What if one derives cells in France and they are used for therapy in the United States?'' he asked.

Then there are regulatory issues. Most existing lines of stem cells are grown on a base of monkey cells. The Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) could choose to regulate these as xenotransplants -- animal-to-human transplants, Lytton said.

Some companies may set up to sell information garnered from stem cell research, but Lytton said that is a risky way to try and make money. "Few companies have successfully created a database business,'' he said.

Investors, he said, are looking for a product. This might be difficult to come up with in the stem cell arena, although there is a precedent in immune therapies for cancer patients that do not involve a drug per se.

One area that does show promise of a quicker payoff is the use of stem cells as diagnostics and tests. Testing drugs on a dish of real human cells may ultimately work better than testing drugs on animals, he said.

Small, private companies such as Boston-based Ardais Corp. have also found a niche in providing information to other companies from their tissue samples, Lytton said. Ardais sells information from its Biomaterials and Information for Genomic Research Library for use in identifying new drug targets or diagnostics.

Gaithersburg, Maryland-based Psychiatric Genomics Inc., another privately held company, uses stem cells to create "key aspects'' of an organ, in this case the brain, in the lab, Lytton said.

VistaGen, Inc, a private company in Burlingame, California, uses stem cells for toxicity testing, he said.

To Subscribe / Unsubscribe to HGA's News clipping service, contact us via e-mail on with
'Subscribe plus' in the subject field for daily updates
'Weekly plus' for weekly updates.
'Unsubscribe' to be taken off our mailing list.

ngin bulletin archive