Should Human Stem Cells Be Used To Make Partly Human Chimeras? – Rob Stein NOVEMBER 06, 2015 3:39 AM ET

Human stem cells, in this case made from adult skin cells, can give rise to any sort of human cell. Some scientists would like to insert such cells into nonhuman, animal embryos, in hopes of one day growing human organs for transplantation.

Human stem cells, in this case made from adult skin cells, can give rise to any sort of human cell. Some scientists would like to insert such cells into nonhuman, animal embryos, in hopes of one day growing human organs for transplantation. Science Source

Human stem cells, in this case made from adult skin cells, can give rise to any sort of human cell. Some scientists would like to insert such cells into nonhuman, animal embryos, in hopes of one day growing human organs for transplantation.

Science Source

An intense debate has flared over whether the federal government should fund research that creates partly human creatures using human stem cells.

The National Institutes of Health declared a moratorium in late September on funding this kind of research. NIH officials said they needed to assess the science and to evaluate the ethical and moral questions it raises. As part of that assessment, the NIH is holding a daylong workshop Friday.

Meanwhile, some prominent scientists worry the NIH moratorium is hindering a highly promising field of research at a crucial moment. Such concerns prompted several researchers this week, writing in the journal Science, to call on the NIH to lift the moratorium.

“The shadow of negativity cast around this research is going to have a major negative impact on any progress going forward,” says Sean Wu, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University, who helped write the article.

The moratorium was prompted by an increasing number of requests to fund these experiments, says Carrie Wolinetz, the NIH’s associate director for science policy. In the experiments, scientists propose to insert human stem cells into very early embryos from other animals, creating dual-species chimeras.

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White Fright – By Reihan Salam Sept 4 2015

Does Donald Trump represent the ascendancy of white nationalism on the American right?

Is this the face of white nationalism? Donald Trump in New York, Sept. 3, 2015. Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Fear of “white nationalism” is very much in vogue. To Thomas Edsall, writing in the New York Times, the rise of Donald Trump is a predictable consequence of the fact that the Republican Party is “the home of an often angry and resentful white constituency,” which fears that discrimination against whites is a growing problem. Evan Osnos of the New Yorker, in a similar vein, seeks to explain the Trump phenomenon by viewing it through the lens of radical white nationalists, who warn that white Americans face cultural genocide as their numerical majority shrinks. Ben Domenech, publisher of the Federalistargues that Republicans face a choice: They can build their coalition around a more inclusive libertarian vision, the path that he prefers, or they can follow Trump and redefine themselves as the defenders of white interests in a bitterly divided multiracial society.

Does Donald Trump represent the ascendancy of white nationalism on the American right? I’m skeptical, for a number of reasons. While anti-immigration rhetoric is certainly a big part of Trump’s appeal, it is also true that he fares particularly well among the minority of Republican voters who identify themselves as moderate or liberal. As a general rule, moderate and liberal Republicans are more favorably inclined toward amnesty and affirmative action than their conservative counterparts. Moreover, as Jason Willick of the American Interest has observed, the leading second-choice candidates are Ben Carson, the black neurosurgeon, and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both of whom are senators of Cuban descent, the latter of whom played a leading role in crafting immigration reform legislation. Granted, it could still be true that Trump is benefiting from white racial resentment. It’s just not clear to me that Trump is anything more than Herman Cain with an extra billion or so dollars in the bank and over a decade’s worth of experience as host of one of network television’s most popular reality shows.

Nevertheless, I believe that white identity politics is indeed going to become a more potent force in the years to come, for the simple reason that non-Hispanic whites are increasingly aware of the fact that they are destined to become a minority of all Americans. According to current projections, that day will come in 2044. Non-Hispanic whites will become a minority of eligible voters a few years later, in 2052. According to States of Change, a report by Ruy Teixeira, William H. Frey, and Robert Griffin, California and Texas are set to join Hawaii and New Mexico in having majority-minority electorates in the next few years, and several other states will follow in the 2030s.

Why does it matter that in the near future, non-Hispanic whites will become a minority in one state after another? The most obvious reason is that non-Hispanic whites might lose their sense of security. They will be outnumbered and outvoted. If they remain wealthier than average, as seems likely, they might fear that majority-minority constituencies will vote to redistribute their wealth. Over time, they might resent seeing their cultural symbols give way to those of minority communities—which is to say the cultural symbols of other minority communities.

In a 1916 essay in the Atlantic, Randolph Bourne, at the time one of America’s leading left-wing intellectuals, attacked the melting-pot ideal, in which immigrants to the United States and their descendants were expected to assimilate into a common culture. He saw instead America evolving into “a cosmopolitan federation of national colonies, of foreign cultures, from whom the sting of devastating competition has been removed.” Instead of forging a common American identity, the country he envisioned would be one where members of minority ethnic groups preserved their cultural separateness.

To fully realize this ideal, however, it was vitally important that Anglo-Saxon Americans not assert themselves in the same way as the members of other ethnic groups. Why? Because if Anglo-Saxon Americans were to celebrate their identity as a people with longstanding ties to their American homeland, it would implicitly discount the American-ness of those from minority ethnic backgrounds. For Bourne, and for those who’ve advocated for his brand of cultural pluralism since, it is the obligation of Anglo-Saxon Americans, and other white Americans with no strong ties to a non-American homeland, to be post-ethnic cosmopolitans. But what if being a post-ethnic cosmopolitan is not actually that satisfying?

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Colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a human embryo at the eight cell stage. YORGOS NIKAS/SPROCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/CORBIS

In an international first, researchers in China have reported doing  experiments that involve editing the genome of a human embryo. Ever since scientists developed the ability to cut and splice DNA, they have worried over the safety and ethical implications of applying those techniques to the human genome. Now, though the reported work was preliminary and not completely successful, researchers will have to contend with a challenging set of questions about this newly-opened genetic frontier.

In the research, published a week ago in the journal Protein and Cell, the scientists used a powerful new DNA-editing method called CRISPR/Cas9 to replace the genes that cause a potentially deadly blood disorder. If the edit had been successful, the new genes would have manifested in every new cell as the embryo developed. (The embryos used in the study would never have reached term, because they had been fertilized with two sperm each.) Because only a small number of the 86 cells in the trial survived and carried on the material, the experiment was abandoned. The study’s lead author, Junjiu Huang of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, told Nature News, “If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100%. That’s why we stopped, we still think it’s too immature.”

The technique Huang and his co-investigators used, CRISPR/Cas9, allows researchers to snip out and insert specific segments of genetic code. Discovered in 2012, the technique is the subject of a lot of excitement and trepidation in the cell sciences (and its inventors are already being suggested as candidates for a Nobel Prize). Relative to other gene editing techniques, CRISPR/Cas9 is easy to use, and it seems to work in just about every living organism. That means it could, among other possibilities, hold the key to personalized medical therapies, new drugs, and (as the Chinese scientists attempted) human genetic modification.

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Reversing Female Circumcision: The Cut That Heals (Trailer) – Vice News Published on Feb 2, 2015

On the International Day for Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, VICE News reports on a little-known surgery that restores sexual function to the clitoris for women who had their genitals mutilated as children. We meet and follow a 32-year-old prospective patient who was mutilated at the age of six in Somalia, and who now lives and works as a nurse in the United States.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a cultural tradition that affects millions of women worldwide. Sometimes referred to as female circumcision or female genital cutting, the practice varies in severity depending on where it is performed. The procedure can range from minor nicks to the clitoris to the total removal of the clitoris and labia. In its severest form, the two sides of the vulva are sewn together, leaving only a small hole for menstruation and urination.

While the practice has been outlawed in many of the 29 countries where FGM is concentrated, it persists in some rural areas as a centuries-old cultural tradition, where it is usually performed by women elders as a part of a coming-of-age ritual. The tradition is sometimes believed to “purify” a woman and performed to preserve virginity before marriage.

The World Health Organization estimates that some 6,000 girls undergo FGM around the world every day. The procedure is often performed in unsafe and unsanitary conditions on girls between the ages of four and 12. FGM can be fatal, and can lead to immediate complications such as infections and urine retention, as well as long-term complications such as severe pain and tearing during intercourse and major complications during childbirth.

VICE News saw the result of the severest form of FGM first-hand in Dr. Marci Bowers’ operating room in San Mateo, California, and watched as she performed a defibulation procedure — the re-opening of genitalia that had been sewn shut — and clitoroplasty, the reconstruction and restoration of sexual function to the clitoris.

Why scientists are growing bones on the International Space Station – Updated by Megan Thielking on January 25, 2015, 10:00 a.m. ET

Astronauts at the International Space Station and scientists on Earth are embarking on a bit of a quirky experiment: growing bones in space to test new bone loss treatments.

Astronauts at the International Space Station and scientists on Earth are embarking on a bit of a quirky experiment: growing bones in space to test new bone loss treatments.

A group of 40 rodents will call the International Space Station home for two months, during which scientists will test a bone-growth molecule on them in a microgravity environment. Microgravity, which happens when an object (or rodent) is in free fall. It lets scientists produce changes in bone and organ systems that can’t be replicated on Earth.

Microgravity is helpful for studying bone loss because of a bone’s calcium balance is thrown off in space. A bone’s calcium balance, or the difference between how much calcium is absorbed and how much is excreted, is about zero on earth. It decreases significantly during a long stay in space.

UCLA researchers are leading the experiment, and they’re testing a bone-forming molecule called NELL-1. NELL-1 directs stem cells to create bones and prevent bone decay. Stem cells don’t have a specific function, but can give rise to specialized cells, like these that form bone.

NELL-1 promoted bone regeneration when tested on mice on Earth. The molecule also helped increase bone volume and density when used with bone grafts in sheep.

Scientists hope this experiment will give them a better understanding of how to prevent bone loss. The biggest cause of bone loss is osteoporosis, which affects about 10 million people in the US. It’s a disease marked by weak bones and decreased bone mass, and makes people more susceptible to bone fractures.

Bone loss is actually a problem for astronauts themselves. It’s a cause for concern on long flights in microgravity conditions. Astronauts aren’t as physically active as people walking around on a planet with gravity, and because of that, they’re not forming bone mass like we are.

Crew members on those flights work out for 2.5 hours per day, six days a week, to prevent significant bone loss. Physical exercise can’t combat the problem alone, though. The study hopes to gain insight into better ways to prevent bone loss for astronauts on long flights and for patients back on Earth.

The research, which will begin on the ground sometime soon, is funded by grants from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space and National Institutes of Health.

Vernā Myers: How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them – Filmed November 2014 at TEDxBeaconStreet

Our biases can be dangerous, even deadly — as we’ve seen in the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner, in Staten Island, New York. Diversity advocate Vernā Myers looks closely at some of the subconscious attitudes we hold toward out-groups. She makes a plea to all people: Acknowledge your biases. Then move toward, not away from, the groups that make you uncomfortable. In a funny, impassioned, important talk, she shows us how.


Leana Wen: What your doctor won’t disclose TEDMED 2014 · 15:42 · Filmed Sep 2014 Subtitles available in 1 language

Wouldn’t you want to know if your doctor was a paid spokesman for a drug company? Or held personal beliefs incompatible with the treatment you want? Right now, in the US at least, your doctor simply doesn’t have to tell you about that. And when physician Leana Wen asked her fellow doctors to open up, the reaction she got was … unsettling.