But you kill babies, right?

I was volunteering at a benefit banquet for a local charity, which meant that I stood there and occasionally served food to people in exchange for being able to eat and drink all I wanted. While I was trying to brew coffee with broken equipment that PJ’s delivered but didn’t staff, I was conversing with someone who was eagerly awaiting the first cup of that bitter brown elixir of awareness. “It’ll just be a minute more”, I kept telling him as the machine heated the water. To distract him I asked what he did for a living:

“I’m an artist”, he said, but did not elaborate, “what do you do?”
“Oh really? That’s cool. I’m a graduate student in molecular biology.”
“So do you study the genome project and all that stuff?”
“Not too much. Right now I’m working on a project studying differentiation signals of stem cells. Stem cells, as you may have heard in the news(yeah, right!), are cells that retain the ability to turn into any other cell in your body, so they could potentially be used to repair nerve injuries like spinal cord injuries, which would be great because nerves can’t regrow on their own, or treat Alzheimer’s, or any number of things. It’s been show that these cells will migrate to the site of an injury, and then turn into the specific type of cell needed to repair that injury. These cells eventually lose their ability to differentiate into different cell types as they grow, however, and no one really knows why, so we’re trying to study that process. We are looking for something, and have had a little success, in finding something that allows cells to retain their multipotentiality(I was really getting into it now, getting excited, using words like multipotentiality). It would also be great if we could somehow reset the state of differentiated cells. The problem is, though, the current administration has enacted anti-cloning laws that are so broad that they’re making even life-saving stem cell research illegal.”
“But you get those cells from babies, right?”
“We don’t have to, and unless we can study them, we can’t find out ways to get them from other sources and to use them to save lives. (trying to change the subject, because I knew where this was going) I once saw this artist who had a bunny engineered to glow green(not really, read the article). What do you think about that?”
“Kinda like playing God, isn’t it? That’s what worries me about this genetic technology, you don’t know what the effects are going to be.”
“I guess it is kinda like playing God, but if we can save lives, it’s worth it, right? We make a huge effort to study the potential effects of things, so I’m not really worried that stem cells are going to get out and take over the world.”
“But we don’t know what the consequences of these things will be, how they will affect the environment long term.”
“…and if we can’t study them, not only will we never know, but we’ll be denying sick people the development of live-saving therapies.”
Silence for about a minute.
“I’ll come back and check on that coffee in a little while.”
“Ok, I’m expecting it to be ready any time now.”

About Mr. Gunn

Science, Scholarly Communication, and Mendeley

15. April 2003 by Mr. Gunn
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