Monday, November 17, 2008

iPS cells, continued

Okay, I agree that I misstated Bush's stated position, namely that research on stem cells couldn't be done with public money, but that is somewhat a secondary point. Indeed, a new plank of the Republican Party, from the RNC earlier this year, would ban outright any and all work on stem cells, regardless of who's paying for it. So while I agree that our policy apparatus allows for a variety of non-black-and-white approaches to various questions, my position is that Americans who have a moral problem with stem cell research are religiously-blinded fools.

Again, to be clear: There are ~25,000 genes in the human genome, and our various cells differ by the combination of which genes are on and which genes are off. While viewing it in this binary 'yes' or 'no' obscures some complexity, 2^25,000 is still a ridiculously large number, so it is easy to see that there's a lot of chance for diversity from cell to cell (again, your brain cells and your intestinal cells do very different things). So I want to know why one particular combination of genes on & off is sacred and can't be experimented on, while every other combination is, apparently, fine.

If I could take a cheek cell, sprinkle a few chemicals on it, and produce a totipotent stem cell, that would be a pretty damn cool thing. I could use these cells for all sorts of human diseases. But the scientifically uneducated would argue that the resultant cell, the one that was in my cheeck but then had the chemicals washed over it, since it could be used to make another human, now cannot be used for research. These people are not arguing from a standpoint of reason, they are arguing from pure uneducated craziness.

Who knows how much further along we'd be if the past 8 years hadn't pretty much been wasted in terms of stem cell research. That's a lot of human suffering.... because some pattern of gene expression is sacred. Ridiculous.