Saturday, February 18, 2006

One step foward, two steps back

First, the good news. There is no stem cell debate. The whole thing is an exercise in barrow pushing and button pushing. This I learned recently when I was lucky enough to hear a talk by a chap named Graham Parker who is on the board of the journal ‘Stem Cell Research’ and works at a research hospital in Michigan.

*The more differentiated a stem cell is when you start messing around with it, the more effective it is. This is why we still need blood transfusions, and don’t culture haemotopoetic stem cells. Inner-cell-mass-derived (aka embryonic) stem cells are less differentiated than somatic (aka adult) stem cells and appear much more likely to turn into invasive cancers when you inject them into mice.

*Nobody has a clue how stem cells really work clinically. It does not look like they just move in and turn into the sort of cells that are around them. They do other weird things that nobody understands yet. No responsible government would license their use on a general basis.

*The chaps who first discovered inner-cell-mass-derived stem cells never claimed they had clinical uses. They still don’t. They are of fundamental importance in understanding developmental biology, which is important fundamental research and will eventually lead to all sorts of innovations- but they won’t involve injecting people with stem cells. 97+% of this fundamental research could be done with stem cells of the other mammals that we share so much of our DNA with.

So this is what I learned: Stem cells are not going to cure every known disease. ‘Adult’ stem cells are going to be better than ‘embryonic’ stem cells at curing stuff. There is never going to be any industrial scale production of inner-cell-mass-derived stem cells. There is not much point arguing about them, one way or another.

Second, the bad news. I sort of suspected this for a while, given that they adhere to the vitalist ‘ensoulment’ model that I have previously maligned, but Muslim scholars are not reliable on abortion.

Of the four main Sunni legal schools:
* The Hanbali allow abortion up to 40 days.
* The Shafi’i allow abortion up to 80 days, or sometimes 120.
* The Halafi- which are dominant in Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, and the former Ottoman Empire and include those pathetic liberal pansies, the Taliban- allow abortion up to 4 months after conception.
* Only the Maliki- dominant in North and West Africa, including about 25% of the world’s Muslims- show a glimmer of sense, saying that life begins at implantation.

The Shi’a of Iran, like their neighbours in Turkey and Central Asia, say ensoulment happens at 4 months – or sometimes 4 and a half. In fact, the abortion laws of Iran were ‘liberalised’ after the Islamic revolution. They were stricter under the Shah!

So there doesn’t seem to be any point in working towards a global caliphate. Depressed now.


Jenny said...

This is something I should know, know I have been told in several seminars, and could easily look up...but can't be bothered, so...

What about foetal cord blood? There a a few neurons firing that say they are a good source of stem cells. How differentiated would they be compared to "adult" stem cells? If less so, would they be a poorer source, or are they some happy medium with great potential?

I'm only asking on the basis that Graham Parker may have talked about it and you might have the answer at the forfront of your mind, rather than the dim recesses of mine.

Dr. Clam said...

Fetal cord blood seems to be a source of 'adult' stem cells- it is the source of the haematopoietic and mesenchymal cells he is playing with.

Marco said...

What do you mean there is no point in a global caliphate? There is still sense in the concept as you understand it regardless of the current liberal interpretations of moral laws within the religious establishment.

Dr. Clam said...

But you were the one trying to convince me economic development would be stifled under a global caliphate, Marco! The negative impact of this is only worthwhile if balanced by a Catholic or Orthodox degree of rigour in value-of-human-life issues.

Marco said...

My point was more - economic development would be stifled by a high degree of rigour in the anti-abortion stance. Having a second look at it in terms of my reference Islamic "caliphate". Interpretations of Islam may be flexible enough to allow economic freedoms and competition while still having moral oversight. It may even be competitively superior in some ways.

Dr. Clam said...

I still don't agree at all with your interpretation of the Economist article. All it tell us is that children who are unwanted are *at risk* and can impact negatively on the economy if there is no intervention. Under a Caliphate where unwanted children are identified early and inducted into the Mahdi's fedayeen, they will be economically useful as the conquerors of the rich but godless kafir world.

Marco said...

Let me try another tack. This other article Cupidity mentions four competing yet incompatible models for the economy of the baby "industry". Which do you subscribe to and how would the caliphate fit into a world with other models in play? Could desparate parent wannabe's travel there to buy a spare to make profit for the Mahdi? Could desparately poor parents sell their babies for cash they need to feed their macadamia nut habits? Could parents whose children are in the mujahideen's army change their mind and get them back? Could youngsters have unprotected sex with gay abandon because the fedayeen would foot the bills for any resulting children and forced sterilisations? What happens if the burden of dependants overwhelms the system? Or the opposite - if youngsters become risk averse and birth rate drops through the floor? What cracks first?