Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Maybe it's for the best

I had intended to make a post today lamenting the lingering, slow death of print journalism in this country. With the Seattle Post-Intelligencer publishing its final print edition today to go to a pure online format (a step taken late last year by the sorely under-rated Christian Science Monitor), and the Tucson Citizen closing up shop this weekend ... well, rumors of the death of newspapers may be exaggerated, but not by much. The patient is gout-ridden, racked by fever and cough, and clearly on the deathbed.

Instead, I find myself stunned at the reaction of various members of the Washington press corps to the exchange of words between Dick Cheney and White House press secretary Robin Gibbs.

For those who might possibly have missed it, Cheney was on the air last weekend busily deeming the Obama administration a failure, and ranting about how his decisions, particularly vis-a-vis Guantanamo, had weakened America's security. Considering he was in office when the greatest terrorist attack on American soil ocurred, one might recognize him as an expert on weak security ... but that's neither here nor there.

When asked about it during a press briefing yesterday, Gibbs responded "I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy, so they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal." He subsequently added shots about how Bush and Cheney had failed in their duty to bring swift justice to the 9/11 perpetrators, and the importance of not taking advice from Cheney on the economy.

The admittedly sarcastic tone Gibbs used was immediately sized upon by various reporters, who complained about the manner in which the former Vice President was being addressed. Those complaining included Chip Reid of CBS and Rick Klein of ABC.

Seriously??!! I mean, seriously?? For years these folks allowed Cheney to oversee the virtual destruction of our Bill of Rights as well as instigating a wide-spread regime of torture, just two name two of the hideous innovations he was instrumental in instroducing to our country, yet hardly a peep could be heard. If anyone deserves to be treated with a distinct lack of respect, Cheney is near the top of the list, yet apparently it's more important to defend his dignity than to defend our nation's integrity.

I'm embarassed for my former profession ... all-in-all, maybe it's for the best it's a dying field.

Update: Shortly after posting this, I saw via Tedski at R-cubed the Citizen has been granted at least a temporary stay of execution.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pluripotent possibilities

There has been great resistance in this country to using stem cells derived from embryos for medical research, even though the alternative for those stem cells is to see them simply be destroyed. I've never understood this viewpoint (it would make sense to me if there was some possibility the embryos in question might actually be brought to term ... ), but that doesn't change the fact the resistance is there.

Embryonic stem cells are prized because of their pluripotency, which in theory might allow them to be used for a wide range of difficult-to-treat problems, most notably spinal injuries. Partly because of the sheer amount of time it takes to go through the research process, and partly because of delay caused by the Bush administration's lack of support for the research, it was only this past January that the FDA granted approval for the first human trials involving embryonic stem cells. It will be at least a couple more years before any definitive conclusions can be drawn from this initial trial.

Meanwhile, recent years have seen the development of an approach which attempts to circumvent the resistance to use of embryonic stem cells. Termed induced embyonic stem cells, the approach involves taking normally non-pluripotent cells and transforming them to be pluripotent. This has been done by introducing various types of viruses into the cells. After a period of roughly a month, some small percentage of these cells exhibit pluripotency, and these cells can be separated out and cultured to grow more.

Until now, however, there has been concern about any serious use of these cells because of the use of potentially harmful viruses to create them - no one has been sure elements of the virus are not left behind in the cells.

However, in potentially big news, a team of researchers from Canada and Scotland announced yesterday they have succeeded in creating induced pluripotent stem cells using a non-viral process. If the procedure works out, it could remove any need for embryos, and thereby remove the primary sticking point for most of those opposed to their use.

That doesn't mean research using embryonic stem cells should stop - it's possible this process won't work well, or won't create cells as useful as embryonic strains. Still, it would be nice if the reason for resistance could be removed, and the research could move forward unfettered.