In last Friday’s issue of the Villager, Editor Walter Bird attempted to address the debate over embryonic stem cell research. Since his vociferous defense of Anne Coulter a few weeks ago, we have paid no attention to his column. However, we examined closely his latest column because it was focused on the stem cell debate to see what insight he could offer. His insight boiled down to labeling those in favor of embryonic stem cell research as idealogs. We thought that this was an odd label to give a paraplegic, someone with spinal cord injury, or someone with a loved one with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease. His editorial became even more twisted when he wandered on to link Bush’s position on stem cell research to the necessity of the Iraq war. Then he marveled at the fact that Bush can stand his ground because he doesn’t need to be re-elected. Mr. Bird ends with the declaration that “We must have leaders that will not abandon their beliefs to garner votes” - a statement that conjures up the image of the hooded leaders of the Klu Klux Clan.
The Cafe has restrained itself from exploring broader issues not pertaining to Woodstock. But, unfortunately each and every week our mailboxes are insulted by the Villager. To maintain some degree of balance, the Cafe feels some responsibility to respond to ‘stuff’ printed in the Villager. So we decided to try a new technique in publishing - that is, new for the Cafe. We decided to tap the expertise of Woodstock resident, John Leavitt, to see what we might learn about the subject of embryonic stem cell research, the subject so tortuously manipulated by Mr. Bird.
This interview was first published in May of 2005 by Thought Mechanics, a nationally recognized blog. It has been updated to include a comment on the recent success of scientists at Stemagen (La Jolla CA) who announced their success at cloning human embryonic stem cells. Admin
Thought Mechanics: What is an embryonic stem cell?
John Leavitt: An embryonic stem cell is a cell that is toti-potent. In other words, these cells are the earliest stage embryonic cells that develop after the egg is fertilized. The unique property of an embryonic stem cell is that it has the capacity to differentiate into any tissue in the body.
Thought Mechanics: We heard in the news 2 years ago about the Korean fraud regarding their claim to have successfully cloned human embryonic stem cells. How has this impacted on the future of this field of research?
JL: Fraud in academic research is rare. It’s unfortunate but I have heard of no negative fallout when it comes to the academic and public desire to move forward with embryonic stem cell research. On the positive side, the false claims of the Korean ‘success’ led to lots of productive discussion about the importance of embryonic stem cell research. It gave us an opportunity to envision the benefits and the downside and weigh them against each other. Read the rest of this entry »