Friday, August 27, 2004

Them Stem, Them Stem, Them Stem Cells 

Heavy hitters including Bill Gates, Google's John Doerr, and Pierre Omidyar of EBay, tired of waiting for the Bush administration to wriggle forth from the burbling fundamentalist ooze that gave it life, are helping to fund a major ballot initiative in the proud cradle of innovation:
Silicon Valley tycoons, Nobel laureates and Hollywood celebrities are backing a measure on California's Nov. 2 ballot to devote $3 billion to human embryonic stem cell experiments in what would be the biggest-ever state-supported scientific research program in the country.

The measure — designed to get around the Bush administration's restrictions on the funding of such research — would put California at the very forefront of the field. It would dwarf all current stem cell projects in the United States, whether privately or publicly financed.

The measure would authorize the state to sell $3 billion in bonds and then dispense nearly $300 million a year for 10 years to researchers for human embryonic stem cell experiments, including cloning projects intended solely for research purposes. It bans the funding of cloning to create babies.

The amount of money involved far exceeds the $25 million the federal government doled out last year for such research and surpassed even Kerry's promise to expand funding to $100 million annually.
First lady Laura Bush -- who, based on her brief stint as a librarian some decades ago, qualifies as the family science expert -- recently went to bat for her overmatched husband on the issue of funding stem-cell research. She's agin' it, on the grounds that it might offer "false hope to the dying" --
"Embryonic stem cell research is very preliminary. ... The implication that cures for Alzheimer's are around the corner is just not right, and it's really not fair to the people who are watching a loved one suffer with this disease."
-- the idea, we guess, being that "no hope whatsoever" is just the ticket.

UPDATE: From our second-favorite magazine, New Scientist, comes this report of a breakthrough in adult stem-cell research:
A man has been able to savour his first proper meal in nine years after surgeons successfully created and transplanted a jawbone for him.

A jaw, grown on a titanium frame, enabled the man to chew for the first time since he lost his lower jaw in radical surgery for cancer. The functional jawbone was created using a combination of computer aided design and bone stem cells . . . .

Current techniques for replacing lost bone usually rely on a painful, slow-healing bone graft from another part of the body, causing loss of bone density in the donor area and a secondary site of possible infection. Flat areas, such as the shoulder blade, are often used, which are far from ideal replicates for a complex three-dimensional structure like jawbone.

Now, doctors at the University of Kiel in Germany have neatly bypassed the initial bone removal procedure and instead grown the required bone from stem cells in the patient’s own bone marrow . . . .

Ken Lavery, a maxillofacial consultant, who is carrying out similar research at Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, UK, says the technique offers huge potential for victims of gunshot or facial tumours.
Again, those were adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells, which are undifferentiated and can therefore grow into any type of organ or tissue, may one day offer a vastly wider range of potential applications.

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