Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Can Somebody Please Give Dr. Thompson his Nobel Prize Already?

I'm sure the stem cell breakthrough news has already made its way hither and yon. Reaction seems to be good from all sides. Ramesh Ponnuru cautions pro-lifers on being overly jubilant too soon:

It’s not a time for gloating. For one thing, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves in estimating the political impact of this breakthrough: We should wait at least a few days to see how the advocates of embryo-destructive stem-cell research react before concluding that the battle is over.

[Got that, Dad29? James Thompson is one of the world's leading advocates of embryonic stem cell research -- it seems strange that a conservative, Catholic, pro-lifer would congratulate him on anything ... ]

On the left, Kevin Drum takes exception to Ponnuru:

I realize that we all have a tendency to demonize our political opponents, but this is crazy. Ponnuru seems to be implying that there's some sizable contingent on the left that prefers embryonic research for its own sake and will keep fighting for it even if this new approach proves itself completely successful. But why? Inertia? Political bloody mindedness? A demonic delight in destroying embryos for its own sake?

The discovery is apparently as legit as they come and represents a rare big step forward across the scientific method. Wired notes that the stem cell discovery comes on the heels of last week's monkey cloning announcement in Australia:

So what about fraudulence or mistakes? Nature, which published the monkey clone research, took the unusual step of having the study independently replicated before publishing it. Usually that happens after publication, and if it doesn't work, people never hear about it -- after all, what editor wants to publish a story about a finding that wasn't actually found? And because the so-called cell de-differentiation studies were carried out by two different groups, each doing near-identical research, they've essentially been validated.
So that should put an end to the embryonic stem cell debate, right? Not quite ... It would be great if it did, but at the moment it appears too soon to tell.

Regardless of what direction the debate goes, Thompson's discovery puts research at UW firmly in the driver's seat of what a lot of people consider to be the most promising branch of biology in science at the moment.

MORE: From Kevin Drum:

Does Bush therefore deserve some of the credit for yesterday's dramatic breakthrough in creating stem cells out of adult skin cells?

Well, Shinya Yamanaka is a Japanese biologist from Kyoto University, so he probably wasn't much affected by Bush's decision. But how about the American scientist? What does he have to say?

One of the researchers involved in yesterday's reports said the Bush restrictions may have slowed discovery of the new method, since scientists first had to study embryonic cells to find out how to accomplish the same thing without embryos.

"My feeling is that the political controversy set the field back four or five years," said James Thomson, who led a team at the University of Wisconsin and who discovered human embryonic stem cells in 1998.

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