The Dark Ages: What's Old Is New Again? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

Dark Ages

Less than ten years ago, the world awaited the promise of the millenium with hope and optimism. Less than ten years into the new millenium, one might argue that hope and optimism have been forced to yield to the emerging influence of dogma, intolerance and intransigence.

Yesterday's news provides an important example. Many of those opposed to embryonic stem cell research argue that there is little scientific evidence to suggest that the efforts will result in any tangible treatment methods. Despite those objections and despite the refusal of the Bush administration to provide government funding for this type of research, progress is being made. On Monday, Reuters reported on the latest advances.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Stem cells made from human embryos can home in on damaged eyes, hearts and arteries of mice and rats, and appear to start repairs, a U.S. company said on Monday.

Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology said it had devised a straightforward way to make blood vessel precursor cells out of the stem cells and plans to test them in humans.

"We figured out how to produce literally billions of so-called 'hemangioblasts' -- the mythical cell in the embryo that gives rise to our entire blood and immune system as well as to the blood vessels in our body," Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president of research and scientific development at ACT, said in an e-mail.

"We've also tested these cells in animals for the first time, and it turns out that they have incredible reparative potential."

"When injected into the bloodstream, they homed to the other side of the body and repaired damaged vasculature within 24 to 48 hours," Lanza said.

"For example, we injected the cells into mice with damaged retinas due to diabetes or other eye injury. The cells (labeled green) migrated to the injured eye, and incorporated and lit-up the entire damaged vasculature. The cells are really smart, and amazingly, knew not to do anything in uninjured eyes."

"The cells also showed remarkable reparative capacity in animals with heart attacks and ischemic (blocked by a blood clot) limbs. The cells reduce the mortality rate by 50 percent after a massive heart attack," Lanza said.

To be clear, the research is preliminary and while results in animal models are encouraging, such outcomes do not always translate into successful human treatments. Nonetheless, this encouraging information is another example of the potential that could be exploited if the government would add to the private funding in order to help those in need and those who don't have an unlimited amount of time to wait for necessary treatment advances.

It seems to me that history is filled with similar examples of resistance to scientific progress...resistance that is frequently driven by religious organizations and their rigid doctrines. With the Bush administration, we have seen government align with religious institutions in resisting scientific data with regards to combating HIV and abortion as they jointly promote abstinence over condoms and contraception. Further, this administration also resists the science that they fear may undermine their critical alliances with certain powerful industries…industries that may well be contributing to global warming and a growing reliance on fossil fuels.

In retrospect, history may well record this current marriage of religion, government, and commerce as one of the most inhibiting and ill-begotten to have ever emerged. Perhaps posterity will conclude that those of us who led at the dawn of the twenty first century we're no more evolved than the three Republican presidential candidates who recently rejected the scientific concept of evolution. Nothing like giving the dark ages a run for its money, eh?

Image courtesy of The Madison Avenue Journal

Daniel DiRito | May 8, 2007 | 9:29 AM
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