Tag Archive | "Japan"

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Chimeras for Transplant Organs and Third Parent Immunity

Posted on 13 August 2013 by Jerry

How you feel about something may be a function of how broadly you generalize or how narrowly you define it.  We have two scientific situations that specifically sound positive and yet generally may set disturbing precedents.  Each of us should decide how general we think we should be, what are the downsides and who determines outcomes.

In Japan there is a partial governmental ban on experiments that create chimeras, or mix human cells with cells of other animals to create cross species hybrids.  Creation of chimeras is permitted in vitro, a test tube or petri dish involving just cells, for up to fourteen days after which the resulting cells are destroyed.  No experiments are permitted in vivo, or with a whole living organism.

It is just such a whole living organism experiment that has been proposed by Dr. Hiromitsu Nakauchi, a stem cell biologist at the University of Tokyo.  He believes he can grow human organs in a pig fetus by implanting human pluripotent stem cells into a genetically engineered pig fetus that lacks a specific organ.

An article appearing in the June 28, 2013 issue of Science magazine states “Mouse experiments have shown that pluripotent cells can fill the developmental niche opened by the absence of an organ.”  Dr. Nakauchi believes he can eliminate the fear of organ rejection by using the recipient’s own pluripotent cells to be grown in the pig.  After the piglet is born, when the organ is the right size, it would be harvested and transplanted into the human being.

While having received a Japanese government ethics panel endorsement, Dr. Nakauchi will probably wait no longer.  He has just been awarded a $6.2 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and is in discussions to open a new lab at Stanford University.  The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine was formed when voters in the state approved a 2004 ballot proposition providing $3 billion of taxpayer funding for stem cell experimentation.

A different proposal has been approved for trial in the United Kingdom.  It involves a strategy for avoiding a baby inheriting mitochondrial disease from the genes of its biological mother.  The strategy is to merge the nucleus of an egg from the affected mother with the egg of another woman who has no genetic anomaly and then have the merged egg fertilized by the sperm of a man.  This would produce a baby that genetically has three parents but does not develop mitochondrial disease.

The worldwide controversy surrounding this experimental procedure is that it would allow the baby to pass on its altered genetic code to its eventual offspring.  This means the change created by the merged eggs constitutes genetic germline modification.

Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, California, in a July 17, 2013 issue of Nature magazine states “Were the United Kingdom to grant a regulatory (permanent) go-ahead, it would unilaterally cross a legal and ethical line on this issue that has been observed by the entire international community.  This consensus holds that genetic-engineering tools may be applied, with appropriate care and safeguards, to treat an individual’s medical condition, but should not be used to modify gametes or early embryos and so manipulate the characteristics of future children.”

In both of these cases the specifics, especially given the targeted outcomes, clearly offer benefit, if successful, for thousands of people.  Issues arise however, when what happens in the experiments is generalized to permit a host of other experiments with far less compelling outcomes or even risks of serious harm.

These experiments should cause each of us to personally consider what kind of genetic engineering should be allowed.  A series of questions come to mind.  For instance, should the applied science of genetic engineering continue to be largely unregulated?  Should exceptions be made and by whom?  Whom should we appoint to sit in judgment and make decisions for us?  How will those we appoint represent us faithfully and how will they know what we collectively think?  These scientific issues may have a profound effect on our collective future.  They deserve our personal attention.

Use the following links to obtain additional information or see original source documents:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/340/6140/1509.sumary?sid=ad66cb5e-78e1-449d-936b-79d2d5e8e5a1

http://news.sciencemag.org/health/2013/03/u.k.-agency-cautiously-endorses-mitochondria-replacement

http://www.nature.com/news/a-slippery-slope-to-human-germline-modification-1.13358

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleno/34790/title/uk-may-allow-mitochondrial-replacement

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/jan/05/chimera-monkeys-combining-several-embryo

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We Miss the Forest for the Trees on Nuclear Weapons

Posted on 21 May 2013 by Jerry

It is confusing for those of us who want to rid the world of nuclear weapons.  Where does each nation really stand on the issue?  They are not consistent and often do things that don’t match their rhetoric.  We are awash in detail listening to a cacophony of voices telling us all of the different things we should do.

Just think for a moment about how many people around the world derive livelihood and importance from the nuclear armaments; the diplomatic analysts, all branches of the military, strategists, manufacturers, professors, writers, politicians, etc., etc.  With all these different points of view and each special interest jockeying to be heard or get a piece of the action, it is any wonder it is confusing.  So hold this thought for we will come back to it.

Consider that the United States has consistently said it seeks to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.  While other countries have, the U.S. has never said it will not be first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.  While they continue to negotiate reductions with Russia and are said to be in hard financial times, the U.S. government is seeking to increase its spending on its nuclear weapons development program to $7.9 billion.  This represents about 30% more than when President Obama first took office.

An article in the May 9, 2013 issue of Nature magazine observes that U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein in a budget meeting pointed out the 2014 funding request for $7.9 billion was in real terms the same as the U.S. was spending at the height of the cold war in 1985 when it had 25,000 nuclear weapons, was designing new families of weapons and was conducting underground tests.  One of the major recipients of these funds is the National Nuclear Security Administration (a semi-autonomous part of the Energy Department).  Their stated position is it would not necessarily be cheaper just to maintain existing weapons.  This is their justification for their development of new warheads and weapons systems.

So which is it?  Will the U.S. be first to use nuclear weapons or not?  Does it want to lessen the threat of nuclear weapons by reducing and eliminating them or does it want to modernize and replace them?  Maybe this new funding is a ploy to encourage others to keep negotiating the weapons away and the money will not be spent to develop new weapons systems.  Maybe the U.S. will wind up with new secret weapons.  Maybe the strategy is all of the above.

Also perplexing is China.  China largely sidestepped the arms build-up of the cold war instead letting the USSR and U.S. face off alone.  Estimates by the Arms Control Association place the size of China’s nuclear arsenal at about 240 warheads compared to the estimated size of the U.S. arsenal of 5,113 nuclear warheads including tactical, strategic and non-deployed warheads.

In 1964, immediately after the Chinese test of their first nuclear weapon, China declared they would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.  This explicit “no-first-use pledge” has been repeated in six successive government statements or white papers released over the last 50 or so years.

This year the Chinese white paper on defense, released in mid April, completely omits any reference to “no-first-use”.  The new Chinese president, Xi Jinping, elected this year, in his first speech to the Second Artillery Force, responsible for the China’s nuclear arsenal, again made no reference to the no-first-use policy.  Governments around the world assume this is not just a casual omission but signals a new aggressiveness from China.

Many would argue this is but another way for China to signal its significant concerns about the Obama 2011 decision to “pivot” and “rebalance” naval and marine resources towards the Pacific and Asia areas.  The stated U.S. objective is to change the 50:50 deployment of its resources between the Asian and European areas to a 60:40 split.  Or China’s reaction may represent an attempt to get more leverage in ongoing territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines.  Or it has decided to just mimic the U.S. position.

There are many reasons the U.S. can give for its redeployment of resources.  Many would cite China’s annual 10% increase in its military spending (which includes new aircraft carriers), the existing U.S. relationships with South Korea and Japan, and threats emanating from North Korea as major factors.

The U.S. government would point out that two of its strongest allies in the Pacific region, Japan and South Korea, are both technologically advanced and could develop nuclear weapons of their own in very short order if the U.S. did not restrain them.  It is incumbent on the U.S. to reassure these two allies that it will protect them from attacks by their bellicose neighbor, North Korea.

In the meantime, the bellicose neighbor has conducted their third confirmed nuclear test.  Their first test in 2006 had a yield of about 1 kiloton.  In 2009, their second test was in the six kiloton range.  This most recent test was thought to be as large as 10 kilotons and of much smaller design.  This miniaturization signals an objective to carry their weapons on long-range missiles.

Repeated threats from North Korea followed this test, asserting they were close to a nuclear war with the U.S. or South Korea or other unspecified countries in the South China Sea.  While it is clear North Korea is now a nuclear power, the world discounts its ability to send a missile with a nuclear warhead very far or with any accuracy.  The world also believes that North Korea really does not want a nuclear showdown and that its statements are just more belligerent puffery similar to what it has said numerous times since the Korean War.  The West generally believes that North Korea is trying to blackmail them into giving it various concessions and forms of aid.

The U.S. has responded to North Korean threats by redeploying a warship and a sea-based radar platform closer to the Korean coast.  In addition, it beefed up the anti-ballistic missile defenses deployed in Japan.  These steps were meant to reassure South Korea and Japan that the U.S. remained their strategic partner.

In this post, we have only looked superficially at five countries; the U.S., China, North Korea, South Korea and Japan.  We have also examined only a small sampling of their many actions or interests.  Imagine how convoluted everything gets when everyone with any interest is included, when all of the nuclear powers are considered and when all the nuclear ‘wannabes’ are added.

The lesson to be drawn by people who want to eliminate nuclear weapons is that we cannot afford to be drawn into thinking about the issues by thrashing around in the detail and minutiae.  Without the minutiae how will everyone directly involved convince us they are necessary and productive?  It is they who create the minutiae. Without it they largely lose their importance and reason for being.

The lesson to be re-learned is an old one; we can’t afford to miss the forest by looking at the trees.  Those of us who want to eliminate nuclear weapons must keep our eye on the forest continuing to demand our politicians and governments redefine their role and value by finding a way to eliminate these weapons.  When enough of our voices are raised in this demand, simple as it is, they will pay attention and find a way.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.nature.com/news/us-warheads-to-get-a-facelift-1.12948

http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/nuclearweaponswhohaswhat

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/opinion/is-china-changing-its-position-on-nuclear-weapons.html

http://iissvoicesblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/us-pivot-to-asia-must-come-with-reassurances/

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1119363/chinas-navy-grows-end-dengs-dictum-keeping-low-profile

http://thediplomat.com/the-naval-diplomat/2013/03/07/what-to-make-of-chinas-defense-spending-increase/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/littoral_combat_ship

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/339/6122/893.full?sid=3c1338ee-12f4-466e-9df476e981b17cc8

http://blogs.nature.com/news/2013/02/north-korea-tests-smaller-and-lighter-bomb.html

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