Wednesday, June 20, 2007

TCS Daily - Will a Disruptive Technology Mothball Therapeutic Cloning?

TCS Daily - Will a Disruptive Technology Mothball Therapeutic Cloning?:
"The global grandees of therapeutic cloning recently gathered in sun-soaked Cairns, the gateway to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, for their annual conference. They have serious strategic issues to deal with along with their scientific papers and posters: persuading governments to open their wallets, ensuring that the Bush Administration's restrictions on their work are lifted, allaying the public's qualms about creating embryos solely for research.

But hovering over the buzz of morning coffee has been a dark cloud: as governments everywhere promote it, is therapeutic cloning going to be mothballed before it has produced a single cure?

Only a few days ago an article in the leading journal Nature brought amazing news. A Japanese team at Kyoto University has discovered how to reprogram skin cells so that they 'dedifferentiate' into the equivalent of an embryonic stem cell. From this they can be morphed, theoretically, into any cell in the body, a property called pluripotency. It could be the Holy Grail of stem cell science: a technique that is both feasible and unambiguously ethical."
First, a "disruptive technology" is one that supplants an existing technology. One good example of such technology is digital photography, which over the last ten years has made significant inroads into roll film sales.

This article quotes researchers who are both excited about the possibility of non-embryonic stem cell research and those who dismiss it as a waste of time. Some, like Lawrence Goldstein, the former head of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, call it "quixotic" and said "If there are scientists who morally oppose [embryonic] stem cell research and want to devote their energies to uncovering alternatives, that's fine, but in no way, shape, or form should we ask the scientific community and patient community to wait to see if these new alternatives will work."

Others, like
Hans Schöler, a German stem cell expert, say that this is a significant break-through, and is as exciting as Dolly, the first cloned sheep.

What seems clear is that mnay in the stem cell community seem a little threatened by these developments, and I can understand that, even if I don't agree with them on their activities. As a possible disruptive technology, these new developments have the potential to render much existing stem cell research irrelevant.

It also seems that many many in the stem cell research community are conflicted by their research. They have to balance on one hand the ethical implications of what they do, and on the other hand the real benefits that can be achieved from such research. Moral dilemmas are not fun to deal with, and it seems that much of the excitement in and out of the scientific community is due to the potential resolution of at least one dilemma dealing with technology.

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