Science: Stem cells and the overlap of technology and morality

As a molecular biologist, the embryonic stem cell debate was a difficult one. Possible cures on one hand; moral problems on the other.

Scientists as a group hunger for new knowledge. On the positive side, they dedicate their careers to the progress of their respective fields. Their personal traits are dogged determination to figure out why this experiment failed and how another approach might push back the boundaries of the unknown. As a group they exhibit all the worst of human behavior in pettiness and ego just like any other group in any other profession. But at its best, it is filled with the joy and wonder of discovery, passion and commitment to truth.

As we expand the boundaries of what we know, scientists began to push into territory where morality was standing in the embryonic stem cell technology.

Do we destroy existing embryos to find cures?

Do we deliberately make embryos to destroy them to advance the research?

If scientific progress is the end all and be all why not?

Is there a line where thou shalt not pass?

One of the tenants of human subjects research is informed consent. Researchers have to defend their work on scientific merits but also must show they are not taking advantages of their subjects. Proper consent and confidentiality procedures that pass review committees are required by law for research on human subjects to occur. Violations of such are severely punished.

The default position is that if consent is not given either because the subject opts out or is incapable of consent then that subject is ruled out as a subject for human subjects research.

Thus, the moral problem with embryos: they are incapable of consent. People say well the parents of the embryo can give consent. Is that just?

There are unfortunately people who are alive only because medical devices keep them alive. They have no capacity to consent. Should they be used for research?

President Bush tried to find a Solomon like solution for the Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Critics blasted him for stopping the progress of science and for imposing morality by putting some barriers up.

Well, it would appear that new advances may have cleared up the morally murky world of embryonic stem cell research by mooting the need for them.

The new breakthrough is the ability to de-differentiate adult cells into a more naive state possibly eliminating the need for embryonic stem cells.

To read about the societal and political significance of this, see this item from Charles Krauthammer who is a paralyzed from the waist down and could potentially benefit from research in stem cells.

Here is a WaPo article about the science behind it.


Researchers in Wisconsin and Japan said yesterday that they have turned ordinary human skin cells into what are effectively embryonic stem cells without using embryos or women's eggs -- the previously essential ingredients that have embroiled the medically promising field in a nearly decade-long political and ethical debate.

The ability to turn adult cells into embryo-like ones capable of morphing into virtually every kind of cell or tissue, described in two scientific journal articles yesterday, has been a major goal of researchers for years. In theory, it would allow people to grow personalized replacement parts for their bodies from their skin cells and give researchers a powerful means of understanding and treating diseases.

Until now, only human egg cells and embryos, both difficult to obtain and laden with legal and ethical issues, had the mysterious power to turn ordinary cells into stem cells. And until this summer, the challenge of mimicking that process in the lab seemed almost insurmountable, leading many to wonder whether stem cell research would ever unload its political baggage.

As news of the success spread in recent days, stem cell scientists seemed almost giddy that their field could suddenly become like other areas of biomedical science: appreciated, eligible for federal funding and wide open for new waves of discovery.
Many teams had been racing to be first to create human embryonic stem cell equivalents without embryos after researchers in June succeeded with mice. Yet scientists around the world agreed that nobody deserved to win that race more than the two competing scientists who did: James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who first isolated stem cells from 5-day-old human embryos, and Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, who led the recent effort to obtain mouse stem cells without embryos.

Thomson, a shy and laconic laboratory researcher whose 1998 discovery made him the focus of religious opprobrium and repeated congressional hearings, expressed relief that he may now be able to work without being at the center of what had become America's other abortion debate.

"What a great bookend," Thomson said in an interview. "Ten years of turmoil and now this nice ending. I can relax now."

Yamanaka also expressed relief -- and surprise, upon learning that others were so close on his heels.

"Many people in other labs were kind enough to tell me they were working on it," he said. "But I did not know they had actually generated" the cells.

Thomson's and Yamanaka's reports were released online yesterday by the journals Science and Cell, respectively.

Human embryonic stem cells, from days-old embryos, can multiply without limit and also develop into all of the 200 or so types of cells that make up the body. But because extracting them typically destroys the embryo, experiments with them have been attacked by those who believe that even the earliest stages of human life have moral standing.

An alternative way of making the cells, in which scientists fuse a skin cell to an egg cell whose own DNA has been removed, proved that egg cells harbor chemicals that can turn adult cells into embryonic ones, apparently by turning key genes on or off. But this method, too, raised concerns because large-scale harvesting of eggs from women can be medically risky and exploitative.

The dream of doing in a lab dish what an egg cell does naturally began to come true in June, when Yamanaka's team identified four genes in mouse skin cells that, when operating at high levels together, can turn countless other genes on and off in just the right pattern to make skin cells almost indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells. Yamanaka put copies of those four genes into retroviruses, Trojan-horse-like viruses that insert their genetic payloads into the DNA of cells they infect. Once infected, the skin cells took on virtually all the characteristics of embryonic ones.

Sports: The day before UCLA vs. USC

Last year, I was there.

I had a 3-game mini-plan. There were probably 30% USC fans in our section as many UCLA fans sold their tickets rather than go watch the Bruins lose. I almost did the same.

Plaschke in today's LAT has the where is he now story of Eric McNeal who got the interception that preserved the Bruin victory by keeping USC out of the end-zone and thus out of the National Championship game.


A week before the big game and the kitchen floor is sparkling.

"I do the mopping around here," Eric McNeal says.

A week before the big game and the bathrooms are shining.

"That's also my job," he says.

A week before the big game, and Eric McNeal is sitting at the dining-room table of the modest Carson home he shares with his parents, figuring out his work schedule.

Today, clean the house.

Tuesday through Friday, report to a nearby warehouse to drive a forklift.

"Maybe I'll add Saturday to my schedule," he says idly.


"Oh, wait," he says, smiling. "That's right."

Oh, wait. That's right.

Four words, two sentences, forever describing the author of one of the biggest moments in USC-UCLA football lore.

Only once in this rivalry's 76-game series has one man made one play to keep the other team out of the national championship game.

Only once has the winning play been made by a man who started one game in his college career.

Only once have circumstances so forgettable flared into something so memorable.

The man was McNeal. That play came last season when, with 1 minute 10 seconds remaining, the UCLA linebacker tipped and intercepted a John David Booty pass to seal a stunning 13-9 victory.
A couple of months later, he was being ignored by the NFL, Arena League, every league.

"When you didn't play that much in college, it's hard," he says.

Today, out of uniform and out of scholarship, he is working as a forklift driver to help pay tuition for his final quarter of college.

To save money, he lives in his childhood home, his game ball wrapped in a plastic bag and buried under some clutter.
Both of McNeal's parents are UCLA graduates.

He loved UCLA so much, he committed there during his junior year at Gardena Serra High.

He loved it so much, he didn't transfer when every coach who recruited him departed with Bob Toledo.

He loved it so much, even when he was forced to move from big safety to undersized linebacker, even when it became obvious that he would never start under Karl Dorrell, he refused to leave.

After not playing one down against Oklahoma two seasons ago, he wept.

Then he decided he would never say another word.

"I love the school and I wasn't going to do anything to hurt it," McNeal says. "I was going to keep my mouth shut and stick it out."

Even that didn't work. By the time he took the field for the final home game of his career against USC last fall, he was playing only in passing situations.

"You tell children to work hard and things will turn out all right . . . well, that's not always the case," says his mother.

And then, this being the USC-UCLA game, they did.

"He never complained, he never asked for more time," says linebackers coach Chuck Bullough. "Then he finally had his moment."
Go Bruins!

Sports: UCLA vs. USC this Saturday

The game is at USC's home field and I'll not be trying to fetch the tickets.

The listed price at Stubhub ranges from $109 to $1200.

No one expected UCLA to win last year and last year's team was healthy!

This years team has been a MASH unit.

The latest news is that Olson who came in for the 2nd half of last weeks game has had knee trouble again. As such Cowan who has had knee trouble and is recovering from a collapsed lung has been taking the bulk of the snaps at practice. Rassan who started last weeks game but was pulled after going 0-7 passing with 1 int is the backup.

The LAT is running daily articles about the past rivalry games. Saw this one today.


The year was 1992 and the Bruins had run through pretty much all of their quarterbacks, losing Wayne Cook, Rob Walker and Ryan Fien to injury. They were down to a fourth-string senior.

"He wasn't even on the team the previous year," Dellins said. "Coach [Terry] Donahue let him walk on."

Barnes responded with a magical night against the Trojans, throwing for 385 yards and three touchdowns. When 15th-ranked USC failed on a two-point conversion with less than a minute remaining, UCLA had a 38-37 upset victory.

Dellins loved that a no-name could, in the course of a few hours, become a star. He also liked the way Barnes responded afterward. The quarterback, known to live in a realm of his own, did not consider his Cinderella performance a big deal.

Interviewed on television after the game, he was asked what might have happened if USC had taken the lead on that conversion.

"Well," he responded plainly, "we'd have gone down the field and scored again."


On the current UCLA team, the 4th string QB would be McLeod Bethel-Thompson. The walk-on QB played in the dismal loss to Notre Dame after Olson got hurt. The Fighting Irish decided to stack the line to stop the running game and blitz like crazy. The result, the shell-shocked Bethel-Thompson got sacked 4 times and threw 4 interceptions.

Can history repeat itself with a surprising victory on the arm of a 4th string QB?

Go Bruins!

Life: Faith as active trust

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Politics: Political conservatives and liberals

There are stereotypes for both groups.

As I see it, most liberals and conservatives want the same things: keep the kids and the people safe, cure cancer and have world peace and various other good things. Who could be against such things!?

The question is how do we get there and what is the role of government?

As a general rule, liberals want more government and conservatives less government.

So for instance on economic matters: more or less regulation of the free market economy? Regulation requires government.

Of the various government programs regarding social welfare: is this program better run by the government or by a for profit business or non-profit organizations? And if government needs to be involved which level (federal, state or local) is better suited to run it?

National defense is where there can be blurring of lines. There are 9/11 democrats. As a matter of history, the Democrats in the distant past were pro-national defense. Ironically, it was the Republicans who needed Eisenhower to save the party from its isolationist wing. And it was Democrat, John Kennedy who ran on the "missile gap" saying the USA was falling behind in developing ICBMs. His inaugural address included the line:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
The roles are more or less reversed these days with the neoconservatives pushing democratization in the world and the Democrats saying leave the rest of the world alone. And on defense matters, the most noted pro-defense Democrat is Joe Lieberman. And he had to leave his party to retain his senate seat! On the GOP side there are non-interventionists like Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul.

With the 2008 elections coming soon, I'll probably blog more political stuff but this will not be a hard core political site. There are plenty of those. Instead, I'll just occasionally give my analysis or jump on my soap box. All in all, this site aims to be the "kinder and gentler" political comment site when I wade into that realm.

The first thing I should do is state where I come from politically: I'm center-right with some libertarian leanings. I'm influenced by some of the social justice thoughts within Christian ethics but I tend to think the government is not always the best vehicle to help make progress on that front.

So what does that make me?

To the liberals, I'm a heartless conservative. To the conservatives, I'm a squishy bleeding heart.

Sports: USC 20 point favorite over UCLA

There you go ... the line opened at 18 1/2 and has risen to 20.

UCLA's QBs: Olson motoring around on a bad knee; Cowen, still with a bad knee and recovering from a collapsed lung and Rassan, can run but can't pass barely familiar with the offense.

UCLA's RBs: Bell, out for the season; Markey, mostly recovered from turf toe; Moline, I don't think he is fully healthy and thus not carrying the ball much and Sheppard, the surprise walk-on having the opportunity of a lifetime.

Won't be surprised if the line rises higher!

Nonetheless, go Bruins!

Sports: BCS predictions

Hey, that is the fun part about being a blogger!

I can use this platform to express my opinion and you can take it for every cent you are paying for it!

My biases: am a UCLA alum so am a fan of the Pac10. Alas, this year, it doesn't look like the Pac10 is going to get 2 teams into the BCS. Just don't see ASU getting in.

USC (pac10) - As a UCLA fan, I would love it if UCLA could knock USC out of the Rose Bowl game but I'd guess USC will be favored by 21 in the annual cross-town game next week. Of course, last year the Bruins weren't expected to win and they knocked USC out of the BCS championship game!
Hawaii (at large, wac) - A huge if is whether the Rainbow Warriors can beat the Washington Huskies. If they do, the Rose Bowl selection committee will see $$$ signs as the Hawaii fans will happily get on a plane to California to root for the Warriors. If Hawaii stumbles, my guess is that the Rose Bowlers will nab Missouri pitting USC's defense against the Tiger's spread offense.

Oklahoma (big12) - Can the Sooners beat the Tigers twice? I think so!
Boston College (at large, ACC) - no way the Fiesta sets up Oklahoma versus Mizzou, round III.

LSU (sec) - Nice little home game for them!
Mizzou (at large, Big12) - The Sugar organizers are rooting for Hawaii so the Rose Bowl takes them to set up this game. If Hawaii stumbles, the Sugar will call up Illinois.

Va Tech (acc) - They should beat BC!
Georgia (at large, SEC) - Right next door, no brainer!

BCS Championship:
Ohio State (big10) - Because everyone else around them gets beat, they slip back into the BCS championship game! Hugh Hewitt would love the wisdom of this forcast! 8-)
West Virginia (big east) - The Big East champs are in. Nobody below them in the BCS can jump over them. Of course, they will lose to Pittsburgh to mess up everything! Hah!!

Devotional Thoughs: Happy Thanksgiving

Psalm 100 in the old style of King James.

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.
Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

Thank you Lord, for my voice, though I only sing at church and in my car, I will make a joyful noise to you.
Thank you Lord, for the strength of my body by which for this season I can participate with our youth group.
Thank you Lord, for the church I attend and the church universal, for you are the Great Shepherd who has gathered us to yourself.
Thank you Lord, for the Cross and the Resurrection that opens the gates for us to enter into your presence with confidence.
Thank you Lord, for your Spirit that abides with us and reminds and assures us that we may persevere until we no longer look through a glass darkly.

Sports: UCLA 68 MSU 63


Was listening to the last part of the game on the radio and UCLA was playing catch up.

This was their first game against a ranked opponent and it was a tough one!

Its one thing to be beating up on mid-majors on your home court. Its another thing to be facing one of the top teams from a power conference on a neutral site!

Anyway, I figured they might suffer a narrow loss given the team isn't at full strength missing several key players due to injuries.  It would be a good tough loss that would build the character of the team for the grind of the season.

But they pulled it out!

Only concern: missed free throws. I'm guessing Coach Howland will have the team working on it in the next practice.

They battled back from a deficit. That somehow is tough defense and being smart on offense. And what a huge basket by Luc Richard Mbah a Moute!

Devotional Thoughts: Wonderful Maker Wonderful Savior

One of the knocks on contemporary Christian music is that the lyrics are too simplistic and repetitive.

My feeling is if the lyrics are theologically true and encourage trust and obedience to God then I'll take simplistic and repetitive.

However, having said that, there is definitely a place for song lyrics that contain more depth.

The Christian faith has a rich tradition of communicating its message beyond just the written word. Great hymns of the past would raise the hearts of Jesus followers who would know the story of faith by song because they memorized songs because they couldn't read.

And for those who have been on the journey of faith for many years, songs that moved the soul many years ago would be fresh on the mind and lips the minute the first few notes are heard.

This morning, the lyrics on my mind are from a contemporary song that I think goes beyond the simplistic though it is a little repetitive but I just love it!

Have you heard and sung Wonderful Maker?

You spread out the skies over empty space
Said, let there be light
To a dark and formless world
Your light was born
You spread out your arms over empty hearts
Said, let there be light
To a dark and hopeless world
Your son was born
I just love the linkage of Genesis with the Gospel of John!

Just love it!!

And so using the chorus as a prayer ...

Thank you Lord, that I can stand with generations of followers saying:

What a wonderful maker
What a wonderful savior
How majestic your whispers
And how humble your love
With a strength like no other
And the heart of a father
How majestic your whispers
What a wonderful God

Help me to walk in this today exhibiting the joy that comes from this love. Amen.

World: Is war ever an answer?

Ever see that bumper sticker: war isn't the answer?

On Veteran's Day, last week, on KCET, the PBS station here in Los Angeles was showing Ken Burns' latest film The War which chronicles the lives and events of World War II. I caught a few of the episodes and the scale of carnage of World War II was incomprehensible.

Was war the answer?

Could Germany, Italy and Japan have been stopped without war?

The other night, I saw The Kite Runner.

Afghanistan has suffered from war as long as I have been alive. There once was a puppet communist government and an insurgency brewing. The USSR decided to invade to prop up that puppet government. The insurgency received aid from the USA in a proxy war which was part of the larger global Cold War. Eventually, the USSR pulled out and the insurgency took over which led to the Taliban. After 9/11, the USA overthrew the Taliban. Now, the Taliban launches insurgent attacks in various parts of the country.

The Kite Runner is not a political movie. It didn't dwell very long on the brutality of the Taliban nor did it hide it. As the main character rode in the car through his old childhood hometown, he saw the devestation of years of civil war and the totalitarian evil of the Taliban.

In one of the most emotionally gut kicking sequences, we watch the people enjoying a soccer game but under the watchful eyes of armed guards which was followed by "the half-time show" where a local Taliban official gives a fiery sermon about morality and has two people caught in adultery stoned to death on the playing field. Some in the soccer stands cheer the execution while others turn away in horror. We, in the audience, removed by time and distance, seethe with anger and revulsion.

Question: is war the answer against such evil?

In my opinion, yes.

I know it is easy for me as a 40-something well beyond draft age to say yes. I want to believe that if I was a 20-something, I would risk and possibly sacrifice my life to rescue people oppressed by the Taliban or other such crazed evil rulers.

What do you think?

I also want to take this moment, one week after Veterans Day, to say to anyone who clicks to this site who is a member of our armed forces: THANK YOU for your service.

@ the movies: The Kite Runner

Saw a pre-release screening of The Kite Runner courtesy of Grace Hill Media and the Brehm Center of Fuller Theological Seminary.


A very moving film. There were audible gasps in the audience at some powerful moments. There were moments when people reached for the hankies or tried to hold it together without tissue (me). Also, be warned there are some shocking scenes of evil that rightly drew the PG-13 rating.

I can see post-film discussions going in lots of directions.

One can ask was there a Jesus figure in this film about Afghan life which is part of the Muslim world?

I think so!

What emotional and relational issues hit home with the viewer?

I could write/talk about a lot there.

Will readers of the book be happy with this adaptation?

I didn't read the book but I had some unanswered questions which I wonder if they were addressed in the book but were left out of the film because films have to simplify.

Though the film makes no statement about politics, because of its setting in Afghanistan, one can't help but ponder the film in light of current events.

3 out of 4 stars, go see and be moved by this emotional and beautiful story of the power of friendship and watch the post-movie conversation go to history, faith, politics and life choices.

Sports: UCLA football, stick a fork in 'em

The season started with high hopes. Some were saying 10-2! I thought realistic was 8-4 or maybe 9-3.

Well, the best the team can do is 7-5 and to do that they have to beat Oregon, the team looking to be the favorite for the BCS championship and USC. Chances: slim and none.

On KLAC 570, the host often announces one of the guests this way, with us is Matt Stevens, the last UCLA QB to win a Rose Bowl. I looked it up.... 1986!

Since then UCLA made it to the Rose Bowl game just twice and lost both times.

Kind of reminds me of the Dodgers ... the last MLB championship appearance and victory was 1988. Since then, the team has made the playoffs an odd number of times with just one victory.

As a lifelong Dodger fan and UCLA football and basketball fan most of my adult life, it has been a long time. Each year, I go into the season with a "springtime of hope" and wind up in the fall (for the Dodgers) and winter (for UCLA) of despair.

But a bright spot appears on the horizon: UCLA basketball!

Devotional Thoughts: The Gospels

Tell us about the long longed for Jewish King
And the kingdom, power and glory He will bring
Thank you, Matthew.
Tell us about the Messiah straight and so fast
And the fumbling followers who by grace last
Thank you, Mark.
Tell us about the Savior of the whole earth
And the good story of His humble birth
Thank you, Luke.
Tell us about grace and truth found in the Word
And we along with them life and light we heard
Thank you, John.

Lord, help make my life into a life of praise to you so that by deeds and words I help make followers of you, the true hope of our sorry state, assured you are with me even when I'm afraid. Amen.

Sports: Bruins lost football season?

From such high hopes to wondering if they will win another game this season!

UCLA defense can be had by pass happy teams.

UCLA plays Arizona on the road this Saturday against the #1 pass offense in conference. Arizona State at home the week after with the #2 scoring offense in conference. The Ducks then fly into the Rose Bowl with the #1 offense in conference. Finish the season going to USC's home turf.

Can UCLA win any of those games with a running game with no Bell (out for the season with an ACL), a still gimpy Markey and Moline and a converted defensive back Ramirez?

Can UCLA win with QB Cowen still hobbling around on bad knees?

Time for the gutty little Bruins to show up once again?

Non-profit of the month: October, 2007 - Mission Aviation Fellowship

How do you get supplies to far away places?

Sometimes a bush plane is the only way to do so quickly and effectively.

Thus, for this month's post about non-profits trying to do some good in the world, I direct our gentle readers to Mission Aviation Fellowship.

Check out this story about a pilot working for MAF in Afghanistan. Excerpt:
Wrecked fuselages and bomb craters dot the perimeter of Kabul's International Airport where pilot Jim Keech takes off in his Cessna 210 airplane almost every day. Today's flight cargo is medicine destined for a distant village, accompanied by the doctors who will administer it.

By land, the trip would take several days. Flight time today will be about an hour. But time is not the only consideration. Land travel can still be dangerous due to mines and bandits.
Recent rains have softened the ground. Keech has instructed the men at Yawan to drive a truck onto the airstrip to check how far the wheels sink in. The test reveals the strip is useable, although it sports a few muddy spots.

Yawan is cradled on the side of a mountain, at the end of a long valley. Keech descends and circles the strip to assess the muddy patches and determine if they are avoidable. He judges the airstrip is safe, makes his approach, and lands on the rising slope of the runway.

Keech safely delivers the doctors and medicines and continues on to pick up and deliver other passengers before returning later in the day to retrieve the doctors. If all goes well, Keech will be back in Kabul before sunset. After an evening's rest, he'll do it all again.
Anywhere, anytime, anything for the Kingdom of God!

Heading into the October international break

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