A Brain Gap with the Red Chinese; Embryonic Stem Cells May Change the Future

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 24, 2003 | Go to article overview
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A Brain Gap with the Red Chinese; Embryonic Stem Cells May Change the Future


Byline: Tony Blankley, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Hold on to your hats (and your bibles), life is about to become even more confusing. In China, Dr. Huizhen Sheng apparently has taken donor cells from the foreskin of a 5-year-old boy and two men and facial tissue from a woman, put those cells inside a rabbit egg which had been stripped of almost all its rabbit DNA , and, thus, has created a hybrid rabbit-human embryo - from which she and her team were able to extract "human" embryonic stem cells. Technically, the rabbit egg kept its rabbit mitochondria (the chemical power source for a cell), so the embryos are not allowed to "develop"(e.g., live) for more than a few days. However, their product - embryonic stem cells (ESCs) - presumably will be usable to establish more ESCs for both research and applied purposes.

By not requiring human eggs (until now the only source of human ESCs), the Chinese have gotten around the problem of both the cost and risk of human egg retrieval procedures. There are abundant rabbit eggs because, rabbits, well, ....breed like rabbits, and can't complain. Dr. Sheng's objective is to be able to cure many diseases and advance genetic engineering technologies.

Now, you and your local congressman may well wish to ban all hybrid species breeding to assure that we don't find in our midst humans with buck teeth, floppy ears and an insatiable lust for carrots. But the political significance of this Chinese rabbit chimera is that it is just a small part of an official Chinese plan to lead the world in genetic engineering technologies. China is going to pass legislation this year that will ensure that China has the most deregulated legal setting in the world for biotechnology. It plans to mass produce human organs from "sacrificial" hybrid species embryos.

The cloning rules are being written by the Chinese Academy of Science. The Chinese government will start funding - initially at more than $100 million per annum - their National Center for Biotechnology Development and their Human Tissues Research and Development Center in Shanghai. These centers are increasingly being staffed by Chinese students who studied in America and Europe, but are returning to exploit the lack of restrictions in China. The London Daily Telegraph reported that Zhu Xiarong, one of the scientists, believes that the "revolutionary genetic research which is going to take place will lead to industrialization of cloning....I quit my former post...to become involved. My salary level dropped by half...Yet I don't think I have made a sacrifice. I have a great career - and stock options."

Meanwhile, here in the United States, we are having an intense ethical debate on whether to permit any new ESC lines to be created - even for medical research purposes.

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