October 28th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Media laws: dramatic change or maintaining status quo?

EDITORIAL: Water trading: what it's all about

TECHNOLOGY: Beijing bid to steal Australia's secret military technology

TRADE: The fate of Australian agriculture under globalisation

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: East Timor: the Cubans are coming

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Kofi and friends, Obituary wars, Skills shortages and literacy shortages

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: New strategy needed for global security, prosperity

SPECIAL FEATURE: What globalism is doing to 'Middle America'

EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH: Embryonic stem cells: fraud and fairy tales

ENERGY: Hot rocks: is geothermal heat the way ahead for power generation?

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: North Korean nuclear test: implications for Middle East

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Empowering women: Israeli bid to curb Islamist extremism

Kyoto protocol (letter)

Queensland election (letter)

Margaret Whitlam (letter)


BOOKS: THE DEATH OF ADAM, by Marilynne Robinson

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Embryonic stem cells: fraud and fairy tales

by Babette Francis

News Weekly, October 28, 2006
At a conference in Rome co-sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life, Richard M. Doerflinger, Interim Executive Director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, delivered a talk titled "Stem Cells: What Future for Therapy?"

He revealed that the recent scandal involving the fraudulent claims made by Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) shows a pattern of public deception by embryonic stem-cell researchers.

Doerflinger says that stem-cell researchers, who refuse to see a problem with killing human life at its earliest stages, also have no problem sacrificing the credibility of science by making false claims in order to further their agenda.

Doerflinger referred to Dr. Lanza's announcement in Nature that ACT, a biotechnology company in Worcester, Massachusetts, had developed a new technique for creating stem cell lines by using single cells obtained from eight to ten celled human embryos that would not harm the embryo.

Instead, the reputation of the journal was damaged as it was discovered that Dr. Lanza had in fact destroyed 16 embryos, and resolved no problems at all.

"Even if he ultimately were to find a way to get one cell from each embryo to create a cell line, he would still be relying on an 'embryo biopsy' procedure that sometimes harms the embryo and also has an unknown risk of harming any children later born alive," added Doerflinger.

"So he solved no ethical problem regarding the safety of the embryo. But he did highlight another ethical problem: deception in the field of embryonic stem cell research."

Financial winfall

Of course in the meantime the share price of Advanced Cell Technology soared and the company made a killing - in more senses than one.

Doerflinger mentioned two other instances, where embryonic stem-cell researchers sacrificed the integrity of established scientific journals to further their agenda. The human cloning hoax of Dr. Woo-Suk Hwang in South Korea damaged the credibility of Science, since Hwang solicited women with cash and even his own staff for their eggs, and falsified data and photographs to disguise his failures to clone a human embryo after using two thousand eggs.

Another recent casualty of scientific dishonesty was The New England Journal of Medicine, which admitted in its July 27, 2006 issue that it had misrepresented two studies to claim that stem-cells from cloned human embryos were used with success in animals. After being alerted to its mistake by a reader, the journal admitted its mistake only after Congress had finished voting on stem-cell legislation.

"As these exaggerated promises have failed to produce results, the researchers have felt obliged to exaggerate and deceive more and more to maintain public trust and financial investment in their efforts - in the hope that they will ultimately solve the practical problems, and produce the cures that will make everyone forget their past ethical lapses," said Doerflinger.

Doerflinger related that a National Institutes of Health expert attempted to reconcile the discrepancy between stem-cell researchers' political message and scientific fact by stating, "To start with, people need a fairy tale."

"In fact, we do not need a fairy tale," Doerflinger contested. "We need the truth. But a fairy tale is what we are sometimes getting - not only from politicians and entrepreneurs but from respected scientific journals. This must change, or science itself will lose credibility."

To be fair to the journal Nature, in June 2005 it did publish an article entitled "Scientists behaving badly", the theme of which was that it was not only falsification, fabrication and plagiarism that harmed the integrity of science but a wider range of questionable research practices.

The truth: 15 years

We are getting some honesty from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the world's best funded stem cell institute, whose proposed strategic plan predicts that there will be no cures for at least 15 years from embryonic stem cells, and that at best within 10 years it will achieve proof of principle of a stem cell treatment for at least one disease, with another two to four treatments in early clinical trials. (Nowhere does the report even mention adult stem cells which are currently being used to treat over 75 different conditions)

Despite inspirational calendar quotes - "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what is a heaven for" - the Institute's report message for patients waiting to be cured is gloomy candour. The Institute's president, Zach Hall, predicts it might take 15 years before a medical product emerges.

- Babette Francis is the National & Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., which is the Australian affiliate of Human Life International.

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