Saturday, November 29, 2008

Threatened with arrest

Last night when Declan and I arrived at our sleeping pitch – since 7 September we have been sleeping tucked away, about twenty paces from the side entrance of a building, down some twelve steps; prior to that we slept for almost two years in a porch – we were told that we couldn’t bed down due to there being a “function” and had to stay out until 1.00am. This was a first, and had it happened on a weekday we would have got less than three hours sleep – we get up at 4.20am; weekends at 6.20am. On Monday the week before last we arrived at the pitch to find it had just been hosed down with water (see blog of 18 November “Our sleeping pitch is soaked”), and the Friday previous dim bulbs in the spotlights above us were replaced with very powerful ones (see blog of 15 November “Our sleeping pitch is targeted”). Anyway, we knew of no other place to bed down so we just knocked about in the cold, mist and rain for four hours – on 10 September, after we bedded down elsewhere, I was arrested for refusing to move on as a result of having nowhere else to sleep (see blog of 11 September “I am arrested for breach of the peace”).

Nonetheless, we are staying put. We have little appetite for spending another nine hours looking for an alternative place to sleep. And I most certainly do not have to be reminded of the eventful two years in the porch, despite it being located in London’s financial district (I slept on the outside, Declan on the inside with our well-tied bags): for example, within two weeks somebody sat on the right hand side of my face (see blog of 18 November 2006); I was dragged out of the two-step porch by the ankles while I was in my sleeping bag, then a few hours later I was kicked in the back (see blog of 5 May 2007); a guy repeatedly kicked me in the chest and shoulders as his mates stood by (see blog of 22 September 2007); and I was urinated on (see blog of 2 August). Declan was also jumped on, feet first, as he slept in the porch, and was especially fortunate not to have bones broken (see blog of 14 June). Since we have no option but to be in the street (see blog of 21 October “European Court of Human Rights declares application inadmissible”), we prefer to be at the back of a building, off the streets; though it seems not everyone shares this preference with us.

The “function” came at the end of a week in which Declan’s email inviting scientists and academics to sign his petition to the UN on therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), has been severely spammed. The issue of spam was recently dealt with in the blog of 18 November, including that on 29 February Declan emailed the Home Secretary, Jacqueline Smith; and that the NAC website was suspended on 8 March, three days after the Home Office denied there was a warrant to intercept his communications. Including the 239 emails I sent yesterday to the University of Glasgow, University of Newcastle and University of California San Diego, and the 109 emails I sent on Thursday, this week from a total of 661 emails the petition has had one signature - a week ago, it was one signature from 419 emails; two weeks ago, two signatures from 640 emails; and four weeks ago, one signature from 1,072 emails. It really has no credibility that only so few would sign Declan’s petition.

Take Newcastle University. Some very renowned scientists have signed it, including Alison Murdoch, Professor of Reproductive Medicine, Consultant Gynaecologist and Head of Department of Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life. Murdoch is past Chair of the British Fertility Society, the national society which represents all those involved in the provision of care for the infertile patient. According to a press release from the University, she has held a licence for embryo based research for 15 years and holds the only active nuclear transfer licence in the UK.

Murdoch co-wrote (with Sir John Gurdon, Emeritus Professor of the Department of Zoology at Cambridge University and Professor of the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute; and another signatory of Declan’s petition) a paper in Cell Stem Cell titled “Nuclear Transfer and iPS May Work Best Together”, published 7 February, stating: “The major constraint in the development of NT [nuclear transfer] is the supply of human eggs. Not surprisingly, therefore, opponents of NT have targeted the donation process and used this as an indirect tool to stop research.” As stated in the previous blog, a chief objective of our campaign in support of SCNT is to propagate the call of leading experts for a relaxation of rules restricting the compensation of egg donors to boost the supply of human eggs needed for nuclear transfer.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Therapeutic cloning offers hope of treatment for Parkinson’s

I am repeating in almost every blog that the vast majority of personalised emails I send to scientists and academics inviting them to sign Declan’s petition to the UN on research cloning of embryos and stem cells are being dumped to spam boxes (or to cyberspace, see blog of 4 September “Obama: Yes to stem cells, funding”). The issue of spam was recently dealt with in the blog of 18 November “Our sleeping pitch is soaked”, including that on 29 February Declan emailed the Home Secretary, Jacqueline Smith; and that the NAC website was suspended on 8 March, three days after the Home Office denied there was a warrant to intercept his communications.

Anyway, yesterday I sent 246 emails to University of California San Diego (UCSD), University of Cambridge and the British Society for Cell Biology but only received five out-of-office autoreplies – 153 emails to UCSD yielded two – and, not surprisingly, only one signature. Monday was similar: 176 emails, two autoreplies – from the 99th and 100th emails – and no one signed. In fact, when I accumulate some figures from the past four weeks, we have had five signatures from the 2,553 personalised emails sent (last week it was one signature from 419 emails; two weeks ago, two signatories from 640 emails; and four weeks ago, one signature from 1,072 emails), or one signature per 510 emails – the petition to date has been signed by 585 scientists and academics, including 24 Nobel Laureates.

For two years we survived on the streets of London by selling The Big Issue, a magazine sold by homeless people on registered pitches throughout the UK. However, since the termination of our Big Issue pitches two weeks ago (see blog of 11 November “Letter of complaint to the chair of The Big Issue Foundation Charity”), we are now restricted to the 3-hour maximum computer use per day at Idea Store Whitechapel library that our local council imposed on each of our membership cards on 1 February (notwithstanding that we frequently experience difficulties with internet access and computer bookings in this library; see, for example, blog of 13 October “Letter to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council”). It means I have had to adapt my blogs: the emphasis now is on the product of my research in the field of human embryonic stem (hES) cell research and therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), so that as soon as I have a laptop I am in a position to build within two weeks a website for our campaign in support of hES cell research and SCNT.

Stemagen's Andrew French, the first to document the cloning of an adult human cellStemagen's Andrew French documented the cloning of an adult human cell

The blog of 1 November “Can a cell have a soul?” includes a brief description of what this website will contain: for example, the subsection “Embryonic stem cell research” will be broken up into the associated subsections “Science”, “Law and Policy”, “Ethics” and “Applications”. For a way to develop the navigation menu I have Greenpeace International – see here; also the homepage will be loosely based on theirs. In the previous blog, I detailed the navigation menu of “Applications” for hES cell research; this same associated subsection will be simpler with respect to SCNT since a human egg shortage has greatly hampered the possibility of nuclear transfer being successful (see blog of 16 July “Therapeutic cloning: Researchers back bid to pay egg donors”).

In therapeutic cloning or SCNT, the nucleus of a somatic cell from a donor subject is inserted into an egg from which the nucleus has been removed. This cell then develops into a blastocyst from which embryonic stem cells can be harvested and differentiated for therapeutic purposes. As the genetic information in the resulting stem cells comes from the donor subject, SCNT would yield subject-specific cells that are spared by the immune system after transplantation (ScienceDaily, 24/3).

Research led by investigators at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) has shown that SCNT can be used to treat Parkinson’s disease in mice, and could have future implications as this method may be an effective way to reduce transplant rejection and enhance recovery in other diseases and in other organ systems, said Medical News Today on 25 March. The work was led by Lorenz Studer, who is Head of the Stem Cell and Tumor Biology Laboratory of the Sloan-Kettering Institute of the MSKCC (and a signatory of Declan’s petition).

I am still researching the institutes, labs, and biotechnology companies that are doing SCNT, but the San Diego biotechnology company Stemagen will feature prominently in “Applications”. Stemagen, a privately held embryonic stem cell research company, announced 17 January it has become the first in the world to create, and meticulously document, a cloned human embryo by fusing a donated egg cell with the DNA from skin cell of an adult man. “No other scientific group has documented the cloning of an adult human cell, much less been able to grow it to the blastocyst stage, the stage at which the transferred adult donor cell is driving embryonic development and the stage that yields the cells from which embryonic stem cells are made,” lead researcher Andrew French (another signatory of Declan’s petition) told Reuters Health. The company’s work is a major step toward creating embryonic stem cell lines from cloned human embryos, or cells that are specific to one person and capable of evolving into the 200 different cell types in the body, said The San Diego Union-Tribune.

But six months after the company’s success, when the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine was handing out $23 million in research grants, Stemagen’s application was denied, said Voice of San Diego. Sam Wood, the company’s chief executive, said the main reason the agency cited for the denial was the lack of a guarantee that enough eggs would be available for the research. “I'm hoping there will be a rising up of public opinion here,” he said. “If there’s not a change, this research will move to New York”, where new guidelines for a $600 million stem cell research program may allow payment for eggs. “It’s clear that without having access to resources, in this case human oocytes [eggs], we cannot move forward,” Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the University of Oregon told the Union-Tribune. Mitalipov led the only team known to have successfully conducted therapeutic cloning using monkey cells.

A chief objective of our campaign in support of SCNT is to expose that egg-payment bans are stymieing this promising avenue of research, and consequently the issue of payment for eggs will feature prominently on the website’s homepage; specifically, we will propagate the call of leading experts for a relaxation of rules restricting the compensation of egg donors to boost the supply of human eggs needed for nuclear transfer.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Why Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

UCSF Foundation panel discussion held on ThursdayUCSF Foundation panel discussion held on Thursday

As I wrote in the previous blog “Bishop: Oppose embryonic stem cell research”, applications of human embryonic stem (hES) cell research will be central to the website that I will build for our campaign in support of hES cell research and therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) – together with the institutes, labs and people involved. According to a recent report by the nonpatisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan, many scientists believe that hES cells have the potential to benefit medicine in many ways, including helping scientists understand the complex events that occur during early human development, testing and screening new medications, and providing therapies for previously incurable diseases. Albeit there is much to learn about how to grow and control ES cells and prevent them being rejected, before they are likely to be widely used.

Potential Benefits. Studying ES cells may give scientists a better understanding of early human cell development and the role that genes play in that development. This is an area of research where adult stem cells cannot replace the potential of ES cells. Studying early cell development may help scientists understand how genetic mutations affect normal cell development; how infectious agents invade and attack human cells; how genetic and environmental factors are involved in the development of birth defects, cancer, and other diseases; and what happens to cells during normal aging. A better understanding of these processes may suggest new strategies for therapy.

ES cells may be useful in testing new medications much in the same way that cancer cell lines are currently used to screen potential anti-tumor drugs. ES cells may provide a valuable source of human cells for drug testing without risking the health of animal or human test subjects. Further research may allow scientists to produce cell lines with certain genetic qualities in order to test potential treatments. ES cells could also help scientists to identify and understand the effects of toxic substances found in drugs, food, and the environment. ES cells are viewed as important to testing medications and toxins because they are easier to grow and maintain in the laboratory than adult stem cells. If realised, this potential benefit would likely make drug discovery more efficient and cost effective.

ES cells have potential for use in cell-based therapies. ES cells are believed to have more potential than adult stem cells because of their pluripotency, their capacity to become virtually any other kind of cell. ES cells can be controlled and differentiated into specific cell types and offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat diseases and injuries, including neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, Multiple Sclerosis, cerebrovascular accidents, spinal cord injuries, as well as heart failure, diabetes mellitus, and others. For example, in patients with Type I Diabetes, the cells of the pancreas that normally produce insulin are destroyed by the patient’s immune system. Scientists have made progress transforming ES cells into insulin-producing cells. Geron reported in 2007 that hES cells could be transformed into the pancreatic cells that produce insulin, offering the potential to treat diabetes. On 23 October, Cellartis, which specialises in hES cells, announced a collaboration with Danish drug maker Novo Nordisk to program stem cells to turn into insulin-producing beta cells that can be used for the treatment of diabetes.

The Big Issue is a magazine sold by homeless people throughout the UK on registered street pitches. As I wrote in the blog of 17 November, our Big Issue pitches have been terminated (see blog of 11 November “Letter of complaint to the chair of The Big Issue Foundation Charity”) and I have had to adapt my blogs because we are restricted to the free 3-hour maximum computer use per day at Idea Store Whitechapel library that our local council imposed on each of our membership cards on 1 February. Declan tells me that the litmus test for a successful blog is one that I will revert to myself for information as soon as I have a laptop to build our campaign website.

The blog of 1 November “Can a cell have a soul?” includes a brief description of what this website will contain: the subsection “Embryonic stem cell research”, for example, will be broken up into the associated subsections “Science”, “Law and Policy”, “Ethics” and “Applications”. “Applications” will lay out the range of research possibilities created by ES cells, so it will be divided into the three areas of potential benefit cited above: provisionally named “Early cell development”, “Drug discovery and toxicity studies”, and “Treatments and cures”.

“Treatments and cures”, for example, will include “Heart disease”, “Neurodegenerative disease”, “Diabetes” and “Cancer”. For a way to develop the navigation menu I have Greenpeace International – see here; also the homepage will be loosely based on theirs. We are hopeful that stem cell scientists, researchers and physicians in the field of biomedical research, as well as bioethicists and law professors who study issues surrounding embryonic and other stem cell research, may be willing to advise us – the ultimate aim in this regard would be to have a scientific advisory board that would be supplementary to our Board of Trustees and Honorary Associates.

The role of ES cell research in economic development will also be addressed in “Applications”. For example, drugs giant Pfizer is to spend $100m to research stem cells, reports Pharmalot. Over the next five years, Pfizer Regenerative Medicine will be co-located in the biotech hubs of Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States and Cambridge, UK. It will work with both ES cells and adult stem cells to treat heart disease, diabetes, cancer and vision loss common among the elderly (see Pfizer statement). According to the website for the 2008 World Stem Cell Summit, regenerative medicine and stem cell technologies are projected to become a $500 billion industry over the next 20 years.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bishop: Oppose embryonic stem cell research

The Big Issue is a magazine sold by homeless people throughout the UK on registered street pitches. As I wrote in the blog of 17 November, our Big Issue pitches have been terminated (see blog of 11 November “Letter of complaint to the chair of The Big Issue Foundation Charity”); and although we can still sell the magazine on the pitches we had for two years, we have no priority whatsoever: we have to leave if the vendors to whom the pitches have been allocated come along, and not stand in on the pitches at all if a vendor is already there – the latter has been experienced by Declan for two days now. The fact that we don’t have pitches any more is particularly serious for me, because I am facing possible prosecution for begging.

The vast majority of emails I send to scientists and academics inviting them to sign Declan’s petition to the UN on research cloning of embryos and stem cells are still being dumped to spam boxes. In fact, as I explained in the blog of 18 November “Our sleeping pitch is soaked”, the spamming is quite severe. Yesterday, I only received six out-of-office autoreplies from 320 emails; on Wednesday, it was one from 99 emails. No surprise then that only one scientist signed from 419 emails - last week it was two signatories from 640 emails; three weeks ago, one signatory from 1,072 emails. The petition to date has been signed by 584 scientists and academics, including 24 Nobel Laureates.

James Thomson at Tuesday’s 10-year celebration of his hESC breakthroughJames Thomson at Tuesday’s 10-year celebration of his hESC breakthrough

I have also written that since the termination of our Big Issue pitches, I have had to adapt my blogs because we are now restricted to the free 3-hour maximum computer use per day at Idea Store Whitechapel library that our local council imposed on each of our membership cards on 1 February. Emphasis now is on the product of my research so that as soon as I have a laptop I am in a position to build within two weeks a website for our campaign in support of embryonic stem (ES) cell research and therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Applications will be central to this website; also the institutes, labs and people involved. For a way to develop the navigation menu I have Greenpeace International – see here; also the homepage will be loosely based on theirs (for more about the campaign website, see blog of 1 November “Can a cell have a soul?”).

My thinking behind this website is that once the general public is exposed to the work of scientists and clinicians, the funding their work attracts and the potential for clinical cures and therapies for debilitating diseases and disorders, the misinformation and fear that the Catholic church and conservative evangelical groups continue to spread will be seen straight through. A recent statement written by Bishop Robert Carlson of Saginaw, Michigan to Catholic voters on Proposal 2, the amendment to the Michigan Constitution allowing research on embryos that were created for fertility treatments and would otherwise be discarded, serves as an example. “Because it is scientifically unnecessary, because it goes too far and because it is based on reprehensible moral principles, I call on all Catholics in the Diocese of Saginaw to oppose Proposal 2,” the Bishop wrote. His statement also asserted that the use of adult stem cells “has already played a role in the treatment and cure of over 70 types of diseases” (a claim that has been widely discredited), and that the use of embryonic stem cells “has resulted in zero treatments or cures.” Not only was Proposal 2 approved, but Detroit News exit polling showed 56 percent of voters who identified themselves as Catholic supported the measure – overall the measure passed by a 53-47 margin.

Scientists generally agree it’s crucial to push forward rapidly in all three key areas of stem cell research: embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells and induced pluripotent (or “reprogrammed”) stem cells. Around the world, these three kinds of stem cells are under intense study for possible treatments for conditions from spinal cord injuries to juvenile diabetes. Scientists argue that it would be shortsighted to pursue only one kind because each may hold particular promise for understanding and treating specific diseases. Results in one area of research will continue to shed light on work in the others. The capacity of embryonic stem cells to turn into virtually any other kind of cell obviously gives them the most potential for organ and tissue replacement (ScienceDaily, 14/10).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Doctors transplant windpipe with stem cells

The Big Issue is a magazine sold by homeless people throughout the UK on registered street pitches. Given the termination of our Big Issue pitches (see blog of 11 November “Letter of complaint to the chair of The Big Issue Foundation Charity”), we are pretty much unable to keep our account in the local internet café (£3 for seven hours) going and are now restricted to the 3-hour maximum computer use per day at Idea Store Whitechapel library that our local council imposed on each of our membership cards on 1 February. I have had to adapt my blogs accordingly: the emphasis now is on the product of my research into the field of human embryonic stem (hES) cell research and therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) – conferences, news, reports, discoveries and applications, major research institutions throughout world, joint international efforts, bloggers, etc – so that as soon as I have a laptop I am in a position to build within two weeks a website for our campaign in support of hES cell research and SCNT.

Claudia Castillo received trachea grown from her own cellsClaudia Castillo received trachea grown from her own cells

British newspapers report this morning that surgeons replaced the damaged windpipe of Claudia Castillo, a 30-year-old mother of two, with one created from bone marrow stem cells grown in a laboratory at Bristol University – Declan’s petition to the UN on therapeutic cloning has had 11 signings from Bristol University, and would have a lot more if the vast majority of emails I send to scientists and academics on his behalf were not going to spam boxes, or to cyberspace (see previous blog; on the subject: yesterday, after I posted the blog, I sent 163 emails to the United States, received two out-of office autoreplies, and not unsurprisingly no one signed – to date the petition has been signed by 583 scientists and academics, including 24 Nobel Laureates).

Britain’s top stem cell expert, Professor Stephen Minger of King’s College London (an early signatory of Declan’s petition) told the Evening Standard that the cutting-edge collaboration, involving doctors from Spain, the UK and Italy, was hugely important for future disease treatments. As the first scientist in the UK to grow human embryonic stem cells, he said: “This is a lovely example of how basic stem cell biology continues to yield new, exciting and clinically important treatments. I commend this international research team for such a co-ordinated and successful treatment approach.”

Professor Colin Blakemore of Oxford University, a former chief executive of the UK Medical Research Council (and another signatory of Declan’s petition), has a piece in today’s Times titled “An event that might really deserve to be called a breakthrough”. He writes that advances such as this trachea transplant “are the kind of encouragement that we need to have hope that stem cells and tissue engineering will eventually deliver the promised revolution in medical treatment”. Commenting on hES cell research, he writes: “At the much earliest steps on the ladder to treatment, researchers are now trying to grow entire organs – hearts, kidneys, pancreases – from embryonic stem cells, in test tube conditions. The capacity of embryonic stem cells to turn into virtually any other kind of cell obviously gives them the most potential for organ and tissue replacement. But there is much to learn about how to grow and control them and prevent them being rejected, before they are likely to be widely used.”

In the United States, the Wisconsin State Journal reports today that last week, President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team named a prominent University Wisconsin-Madison researcher - Alta Charo, a bioethicist and law professor who studies issues surrounding embryonic and other stem-cell research – to a panel reviewing federal health policy, including funding hES cell research. Obama has pledged to lift federal restrictions on the research. USA Today comments that Obama “could reignite an emotional national debate over the promise and the perils of medical research using cells taken from human embryos”. It adds: “The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is warning that Obama will alienate millions, and abortion opponents are bracing for a fight.”

Yesterday I had the time to google the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, an alliance of four San Diego research powerhouses: University of California, San Diego, The Burnham Institute, The Salk Institute and The Scripps Research Institute. The consortium renamed itself in September, after announcing a $30 million donation from South Dakota philanthropist T Denny Sanford. Sanford’s funding has been combined with a $43 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to build a four-story facility on North Torrey Pines Mesa for research in regenerative medicine. The new research center is expected to be open by 2010, with groundbreaking set to begin this January. The Consortium coordinated a one-day forum on 7 November at the Salk Institute which attracted several hundred biomedical researchers (Bruce Bigelow reported on the event on Xconomy and Science Network says that videos of the event will be available on its website soon).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Our sleeping pitch is soaked

As I reported in the previous blog, yesterday The Big Issue
Head Office – The Big Issue is a magazine sold by homeless people throughout the UK on registered street pitches – confirmed that our pitches have been terminated, after two years of us surviving on the streets of London by selling the magazine from the same registered pitches and despite Declan’s email letter of complaint to the chair of The Big Issue Foundation (see blog of 11 November “Letter of complaint to the chair of The Big Issue Foundation Charity”). This is an extremely serious situation for me in particular, in that I am facing possible prosecution for begging.

Then last night we arrived at the place we sleep at night – since 7 September we have been sleeping tucked away, about twenty paces from the side entrance of a building, down some twelve steps; prior to that we slept for almost two years in a porch – to find it had been hosed down with water (this is a first for us in over two years of sleeping rough). It has only been a few days since we found out that dim bulbs in the spotlights above us had been replaced with very powerful ones (see blog of 15 November “Our sleeping pitch is targeted”), and two weeks since we were at the other end of a cleaner with a hose as we were about to leave at 5.00am (see blog of 3 November “State Stem Cell Policies Deserve National Attention”). Anyway, equipped with a scrubbing brush and a shower curtain, we stayed put because the night we decided to sleep elsewhere, on 10 September, I was arrested for refusing to move on as a result of having nowhere else to sleep (see blog of 11 September “I am arrested for breach of the peace”).

A matter of particular concern to us is how many of the emails I send to scientists and academics inviting them to sign Declan’s petition to the UN on research cloning of embryos and stem cells are actually getting through: we are under no illusion that the vast majority are being dumped to spam boxes (or to cyberspace, see blog of 4 September “Obama: Yes to stem cells, funding”). Yesterday, I only received seven out-of-office autoreplies from 226 emails. Hardly surprising we only got one signature (last week it was two signatories from 640 emails; three weeks ago, one signatory from 1,072 emails). Back in February I expressed concern that my emails were not getting through (see blog of 16 February “Declan’s petition to the UN is being brought to a halt”). In fact, on 29 February Declan emailed the Home Secretary, Jacqueline Smith, regarding interception of communications; the Home Office replied on 5 March denying that any such warrant was issued; and on 8 March the NAC website was suspended due to spam as reported via SpamCop (see blog of 14 March “SpamCop reports Declan as a spammer”).

Although the NAC website will not be uploaded again – as I announced in August, we are trying to raise the £450 we need to buy a laptop to build a website for an international campaign in support of human embryonic stem (hES) cell research and therapeutic cloning – this is a snag of what the “Recent News” page looked like before it was suspended (the NAC website was built long ago, around the beginning of 2005, and what was then termed “liberal reforms strongly rejected by the Vatican and the Christian Right” has become “the scientific perspective on public policy issues”):



Monday, November 17, 2008

Our Big Issue pitches are terminated

This morning, The Big Issue Head Office – The Big Issue is a magazine sold by homeless people throughout the UK on registered street pitches – confirmed that our pitches have been terminated, after two years of us having survived on the streets of London by selling the magazine from the same registered pitches and despite Declan’s email letter of complaint to the chair of The Big Issue Foundation (see blog of 11 November “Letter of complaint to the chair of The Big Issue Foundation Charity”). This is an extremely serious situation for me in particular, in that I am facing possible prosecution for begging.

It also means that it is highly likely that Declan will be unable to keep our account in the local internet café (£3 for seven hours) going, so it seems we will be restricted to the 3-hour maximum computer use per day at Idea Store Whitechapel library that our local council imposed on each of our membership cards on 1 February, despite that for several months previous we were given “additional time” subject to computer availability and in accordance with the council’s then and current “Idea Stores PC Usage Policy”. Notwithstanding that, we frequently experience difficulties with internet access and computer bookings in this library (see, for example, blog of 13 October “Letter to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council”).

With such restrictions, I now have to adapt my blog. Up to today I have been selecting themes in embryonic stem (ES) cell research and therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), and developing each with reference to news, articles, and/or opinion pieces from leading scientists and academics. From now on it will be about researching everything that is going on in the field in ES cell research – conferences, news, reports, discoveries and applications, major research institutions throughout world, joint international efforts, bloggers, etc – and producing blogs with links that will serve as an interesting source of material.

Declan tells me that the litmus test for a successful blog is one that I will revert to myself for information as soon as I have a laptop – to build within two weeks a website for our campaign in support of ES cell research and SCNT. The blog of 1 November “Can a cell have a soul?” includes a brief description of what this website will contain: for example, the subsection “Embryonic stem cell research” will be broken up into the associated subsections “Science”, “Law and Policy”, “Ethics” and “Applications”.

Criticising the restrictions introduced in August 2001 by President George W Bush that prevent federally funded researchers from working on all but a few sources of embryonic stem cells, Robert Lanza - chief scientist at Advanced Cell Technology, a stem cell company in Worcester, Massachusetts (and a signatory of Declan’s petition) – told New Scientist: “We’ve been operating for the past decade with one hand tied behind our back.” This is exactly the way Declan and I are being forced to operate. We believe though that we can work this situation to our advantage, and are quite excited at the prospect of doing so.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Our sleeping pitch is targeted

In yesterday’s blog I wrote that for two days a cleaner has been arriving at the place we sleep in at night at 4.00am, twenty minutes before we get up – since 7 September we have been sleeping tucked away, about twenty paces from the side entrance of a building, down some twelve steps; prior to that we slept for almost two years in a porch – and when yesterday he came out with a hose to fill a bucket of water above us as we were packing to leave, we wondered if we were in for at least the wetting we got on 3 November (see blog “State Stem Cell Policies Deserve National Attention”). Alas, when last night we returned to the sleeping pitch we found that the dim bulbs in the spotlights above us had been replaced with very powerful ones. The down-light is so bright it feels like sleeping under the search light of a low-flying police helicopter.

We find it all a bit odd, especially since communications started out cordial between us and employees: we were visited by an employee within days, and on three occasions we have been given food. Also, according to the website of the company that owns the building, they are well respected and not only fund raise for science education (Declan’s petition to the UN on research cloning of embryos and stem cells has been signed by 581 scientists and academics, including 24 Nobel Laureates), but run a project for the homeless.

Nonetheless, we are staying put. We have little appetite for spending another nine hours looking for an alternative place to sleep. And I most certainly do not have to be reminded of the eventful two years in the porch, despite it being located in London’s financial district (I slept on the outside, Declan on the inside with our well-tied bags): for example, within two weeks somebody sat on the right hand side of my face (see blog of 18 November 2006); I was dragged out of the two-step porch by the ankles while I was in my sleeping bag, then a few hours later I was kicked in the back (see blog of 5 May 2007); a guy repeatedly kicked me in the chest and shoulders as his mates stood by (see blog of 22 September 2007); and I was urinated on (see blog of 2 August). Declan was also jumped on, feet first, as he slept in the porch, and was especially fortunate not to have bones broken (see blog of 14 June).

As I stated in yesterday’s blog, we will seek to make a statement in our local police station should this situation get out of hand. Of course, in addition to washing us out with a hose, there is always the option of soaking the shelter to ensure we can’t bed down. In the latter instance, we are undecided if we will sleep anywhere nearby for the night and, should the police insist we move on, I take the arrest as I did on 11 September (see blog “I am arrested for breach of the peace”). As I stated in the blog of 13 September “Letter from the City of London Police”, I am well prepared to have the legality of such an arrest tested under the Human Rights Act 1998, and even on appeal, if necessary.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Arthur Caplan: Obama election signals change in stem cell fight

The vast majority of emails I send to scientists and academics inviting them to sign Declan’s petition to the UN on research cloning of embryos and stem cells are still being dumped to spam boxes (or to cyberspace, see blog of 4 September “Obama: Yes to stem cells, funding”). Yesterday, I only received nine out-of-office autoreplies from 314 emails: for example, 80 emails to the European Network of Cancer Registries yielded three autoreplies; 43 to the University of California San Francisco, just two. From 138 emails I didn’t receive a single autoreply: 51 were sent to the University of Wisconsin Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center and 87 to the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. Hardly surprising no one signed. In fact, this week I have sent a total of 640 emails, which have resulted in just one signature (two weeks ago, it took 1,072 emails for the same result). We really have little option in this situation other than to play the odds and get off as many emails as we can in the hope that a few get through - the petition has so far been signed by 580 scientists and academics, including 24 Nobel Laureates.

For the last two days a cleaner has been arriving at the place we sleep in at night at 4.00am, twenty minutes before we get up - since 7 September we have been sleeping tucked away, about twenty paces from the side entrance of a building, down some twelve steps (prior to that we slept for almost two years in a porch). This morning this guy was outside the building as we were packing and, when he reappeared with a hose to fill his bucket, we wondered if we were in for at least the wetting we got on 3 November (see blog “State Stem Cell Policies Deserve National Attention”). We are again keeping our fingers crossed for this weekend in the Catholic Manna Centre, where Declan was assaulted on 19 June (see blog “Declan assaulted in the Manna Centre”); and should this cleaner get out of hand on Monday morning we will seek to make a statement in the local police station, which should make for some interesting online writing.

Caplan speaking at a European Commission conference (Brussels) in 2004Caplan speaking at a European Commission conference (Brussels) in 2004

We believe that the momentum is swinging behind Declan’s petition and what will be our campaign in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. In the US, the election of President-elect Barack Obama “signals a shift in the bioethics debate,” writes Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics of the University of Pennsylvania, in an MSNBC.com opinion piece. (Caplan is one of the world’s most quoted medical ethicists - and one of the first signatories of Declan’s petition.)

According to Caplan, last week’s US presidential election will be remembered for its impact on core bioethical topics that have long dominated American domestic politics, including embryonic stem cell research and abortion rights. Caplan writes that the failure of state ballot initiatives that aimed to restrict abortion rights signals that the abortion debate may be subsiding, while newer bioethical concerns that are likely to dominate American politics for years to come, including physician-assisted suicide, are emerging. In addition, he argues, the election of President-elect Obama has brought the fight over embryonic stem cell research in the US “to an end”, because Obama has pledged to lift federal restrictions on the research.

Caplan points out that the passage of Michigan’s Proposal 2 – allowing research on embryos that were created for fertility treatments and would otherwise be discarded – means that 10 states now have laws permitting embryonic stem cell research. “These 10 are likely to be the recipients of an executive order that the new president will undoubtedly sign shortly after taking office, freeing up federal funds for embryonic stem cell research while laying out new regulatory guidelines,” Caplan writes. He adds: “Many, including myself, would argue that the ongoing debate over the morality of stem cell research is really just a stalking horse for the abortion debate.” And efforts to further restrict abortion did not fare well at the ballot box, with voters in South Dakota and California both rejecting efforts to restrict abortion rights, Caplan notes. In addition, a Colorado ballot measure that would have defined a fertilised egg as a person with constitutional rights failed by a measure of three to one.

“Taken all together, this series of votes represents an important moment in public bioethics in America,” Caplan writes. “Like it or not – and I am well aware that many are not ready to let go of these issues – the nation may be starting to move past the endless battles over stem cells, embryos and abortion.” He argues that embryonic stem cell research is advancing, embryos are not going to be given legal status as persons and further restrictions on abortion are unlikely. As these issues fade from the spotlight, how Americans die and treat painful medical conditions will emerge as the dominant bioethical debate (Caplan, MSNBC.com, 6/11).

Right to Life and the Michigan Catholic Conference – two longtime powerhouse cultural warriors in state politics – underwent a rugged and uncustomary Election Day, said The Detroit News. They watched a ballot proposal they had feverishly championed with millions of dollars go down to defeat. And many anti-abortion candidates fell to abortion-rights advocates.

“It was probably the worst night Right to Life has had in Michigan in a couple of decades,” Bill Ballenger, a former state senator and publisher of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, told The Detroit News. “And the Catholic Church hierarchy has to be embarrassed that the church spent $5 million in a failed effort to defeat a ballot proposal to ease embryonic stem cell research given all the other problems out there and the church’s social justice mission,” he said.

According to The Detroit News, neither the Catholic church nor Right to Life was willing to say they had suffered irreversible setbacks and said they still would be able to pursue an agenda that protects the dignity of life and other issues important to the church. One of the first things they want to look at is regulations for the stem cell issue, Proposal 2, which the church bitterly fought. Detroit News exit polling showed 56 percent of voters who identified themselves as Catholic supported Proposal 2 – overall the measure passed by a 53-47 margin. (Cain, Detroit News, 13/11).

One quote that I think particularly complements Caplan’s opinion piece comes from Marci Hamilton, the Paul R Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N Cardozo School of Law. She opens her legal commentary in FindLaw, titled “The Five Religion-Related Issues that Should Most Concern the Future Obama Administration”, by writing: “With the election of Obama, there is finally some hope that the United States can turn to a more rational set of policies relating to religion.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stem cell research tops Obama agenda

The vast majority of emails I send to scientists and academics inviting them to sign Declan’s petition to the UN on research cloning of embryos and stem cells are still being dumped to spam boxes (or to cyberspace, see blog of 4 September “Obama: Yes to stem cells, funding”). On Monday I sent 198 emails - mainly to Scotland and California because in Sunday’s blog I referred to the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine of Edinburgh University and the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in San Diego – but only received ten out-of-office autoreplies, and not unsurprisingly just one signature. Yesterday I sent 128 emails, mainly to California, which yielded two autoreplies, and no signatures.

Also yesterday, The Big Issue Head Office – The Big Issue is a magazine sold by homeless people throughout the UK on registered street pitches – advised Declan that our pitches are in effect terminated (as soon as it has been confirmed by Office staff that we did not purchase a minimum of 40 magazines each week for the four weeks commenced 6 October, we will no longer be able to have a registered pitch), despite his complaint the previous day to the chair of The Big Issue Foundation (see previous blog). This is an extremely serious situation for me in particular, in that I am facing possible prosecution for begging.

Then last night, as we were bedding down, just to add insult to injury, I suppose, two guys entertained themselves on their skateboards above us for some twenty minutes – since 7 September we have been sleeping tucked away, about twenty paces from the side entrance of a building, down some twelve steps (prior to that we slept for almost two years in a porch). The last time some guys partied in the enclosure, on 9 September, we decided to sleep somewhere else the following night and I was arrested because I refused to be moved on as result of having nowhere else to sleep (see blog of 11 September “I am arrested for breach of the peace”). The road is described as a “quiet thoroughfare” by the company that owns the building. Oh, well.



Barely a week since his election victory, US President-elect Barack Obama is bringing joy to long-suffering stem cell researchers. For years, US progress has been crippled by restrictions introduced in August 2001 by President George W Bush, preventing federally funded researchers from working on all but a few sources of embryonic stem cells - the cells from embryos with huge medical potential for repairing organs and tissues. Now, those restrictions will be among the first of Bush’s executive orders to be swept away, probably within the next 100 days, said New Scientist. The news emerged on Sunday from an interview on Fox News featuring John Podesta, the head of Obama’s “transition team”, which is managing the switch to power.

“There’s a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we’ll see the president do that,” said Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. According to New Scientist, the aim is to quickly dismantle the legacies of the Bush era that Obama sees as holding back progress, particularly those motivated by ideology or religion. Bush’s resistance to stem cell research, for example, is a concession to evangelical conservatives who oppose all research on embryos. “I think across the board, on stem cell research, on a number of areas, you see the Bush administration even today moving aggressively to do things that I think are probably not in the interest of the country,” said Podesta.

The news was greeted with delight by researchers who have long criticised the Bush restrictions. “Hallelujah - at last,” Robert Lanza, chief scientist at Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts (and a signatory of Declan’s petition), told New Scientist. He added: “This represents the end of a sad chapter in American scientific history. Under an Obama administration, money will hopefully flow to all promising avenues of research based on scientific merit, and not skewed to fit a conservative agenda. We’ve been operating for the past decade with one hand tied behind our back” (Coghlan, New Scientist, 12/11).

The Union-Tribune quotes Joe Panetta, executive director of San Diego’s Biocom, an association representing the local biotech industry. “I’m feeling very positive about some of the things we’ve seen and heard about Obama’s plans to increase funding for basic research,” Panetta said. He added that a number of local biotech firms depend on federal funds for research, largely distributed through the National Institutes of Health. Federal support of stem cell research would also aid the Burnham, Scripps and Salk research institutes (of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine). Although California has enacted its own $3 billion stem cell research program, under current federal regulations, embryonic research must be conducted separately from federally funded research. “That’s an incredible nightmare in logistics and operations,” Panetta said. “It would be great to see the rules loosening” (Calbreath, The Union-Tribune, 9/11).

According to Reuters, a reversal of President Bush’s long-standing policy would give a boost to companies seeking to develop therapies based on stem cell research. Several stem cell focused companies reported positive developments on Monday. Geron Corp said its potential HIV treatment, TAT2, had promising preclinical data, while biotech giant Celgene Corp got a regulatory nod to go ahead with human trials of its experimental stem cell therapy for the treatment of Crohn’s disease. “We will see more and more of these events just given the fact that there is more and more path for the commercialisation of stem cells – adult, placental, umbilical and now, more embryonic,” WBB Securities analyst Steve Brozak said. Shares of Geron were up as much as 16 percent, while StemCells’ shares soared 42 percent. Both stocks have risen significantly over the last one month. Other smaller players in the field also benefited (Dey, Reuters, 10/11).

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan of Mexico, who acts as the Vatican health minister, said that stem cells taken from human embryos and involving the destruction of the embryos “serve no purpose”, reports The Times yesterday under the headline “Vatican fires off warning to Barack Obama over stem cell research”. Asked whether the Vatican was concerned about reports that Mr Obama might reverse the Bush Administration’s ban, the cardinal said that embryonic stem cell research had not resulted in any significant health cure so far and was “good for nothing”. Research on adult stem cells and umbilical cords had been shown to have “positive value”, by contrast, although even that was not “a panacea for everything”. He said the Vatican would seek clarification of the new administration’s position on stem cells, and he himself was not “fully aware” what it was (Owen, The Times, 11/11).

Our campaign in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), will argue that stem cell research, including human embryonic stem (hES) cell research, is vital to advancing regenerative medicine. According to a 2006 US Department of Health & Human Services report, a conservative estimate of the worldwide market for regenerative medicine by 2010 is $500 billion (the projected US market is $100 billion). We will also argue that advancements in hES cell research have the potential to be an economic boon for countries throughout the world and to lower overall domestic health care costs, which in the US alone are in excess of $2 trillion annually (16 percent of US Gross Domestic Product). With reference to the United States, we will further argue that ill-considered interventions at a state level that replace rational regulation with restrictions based on ideology undercut a peer-governed competitive national system for funding biomedical research that has been a fundamental policy and programmatic triumph for the United States (see blog of 3 November “State Stem Cell Policies Deserve National Attention”).

In fact, we believe that NAC will be in a position to be a leading Vatican watchdog regarding ES cell research and SCNT. We are well aware of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), for example, which has a permanent Secretariat in Brussels. The COMECE secretariat monitors and analyses current developments in research policy, biotechnology and bioethics at the European Union level, according to its website.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Letter of complaint to the chair of The Big Issue Foundation Charity

The Big Issue is a magazine sold by homeless people throughout the UK on registered street pitches. This afternoon The Big Issue Head Office advised Declan that as soon as it has been confirmed by Office staff that we did not purchase a minimum of 40 magazines each week for the four weeks commenced 6 October, we will no longer be able to have a registered pitch - we will be allowed to carry on selling but not have priority on any pitch. This of course means that our pitches will most probably be terminated within the next few days, after two years of us having survived on the streets of London by selling the magazine from the same registered pitches and despite Declan's letter of complaint yesterday to the Chair of The Big Issue Foundation Steven Round (see below).

Issue Foundation is the registered charity arm of The Big Issue organisation. According to the Foundation website, The Big Issue Company Ltd publishes the weekly magazine and sells it to Big Issue vendors (wholesale) “for the purpose of giving them the opportunity to earn a legitimate income, rather than having to resort to criminal activity such as begging and theft”. This is an extremely serious situation for me in particular, in that I am facing possible prosecution for begging. So this letter of complaint to Round was emailed yesterday very much with my defense in mind, and even on appeal, if necessay:

Subject: The Big Issue

Dear Mr Round

I am writing further to the email l received from you on 4 November in your capacity as chair of The Big Issue Foundation regarding my complaint that if my wife and I have not purchased a minimum of 40 magazines each week for the four weeks commenced 6 October, from 10 November we will no longer be able to have a registered pitch - we “will be allowed to carry on selling but not have priority on any pitch”.

I re-present below a copy of my email letter of 7 October to the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Big Issue, Mr John Bird MBE, to which I did not receive a reply.

In your email of 4 November you stated that you copied the aforementioned complaint to the chief executive of the Foundation and that you would make sure that I get a response. I can confirm that I have not received a response and that this morning at Head Office I was advised by outreach worker Sanjiv Ahuja that our pitch authorisation slips were validated until the end of Tuesday of next week because no one knew the situation with respect to our pitches.

I reconfirm that on 13, 14, 15 and 16 October I emailed The Big Issue regarding my wife's new badge (1170), which, being unavailable for collection at Head Office on Monday, 13 October, did not become available for her to pick up until 1.00pm on Thursday, 16 October. The same Monday at Head Office - following my own rebadging to the end of February 2009 and the validation of our pitch authorisation slips until the end of Tuesday of the following week - I was advised by Office staff that my wife could not purchase or sell The Big Issue without her new badge.

I also reconfirm that the first two working weeks of October culminated in the so-called "Black Friday" financial crash; for two weeks thereafter shares around the world continued their downward trend, especially in London; and our pitches are located in the heart of London's financial district. As you were aware, the week before last temperatures plummeted – the first time London has seen snow in October for 70 years.

Last week the Met Office issued several severe weather warnings for London. This morning we were only able to afford to buy two Big Issues for resale.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey
Badge no. 1163

cc Mr Stephen Robertson, Chief Executive of The Big Issue Foundation

---------------------------

Subject: The Big Issue

Dear Mr Bird

As the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Big Issue, please find enclosed copy of an email I received yesterday, 6 October, from your Outreach Manager for London, Mr Paul Joseph. On 10 September 2007 you wrote to me, stating:


I have employed many people over the years to do jobs related to the running of The Big Issue. I have never employed them to do my job; likewise I do not do their job. Please bear this in mind when you are composing your letters. You do not need to address your letters to me, as it is not my job. I would only get involved if you were utterly and totally let down by those whose job it is in The Big Issue. I hope this assists in your deliberations in pursuit of your claims.


I wish to complain that if my wife and I do not purchase a minimum of 40 magazines each week for the next four weeks, from 10 November we will no longer be able to have a registered pitch - we "will be allowed to carry on selling but not have priority on any pitch".

Yesterday we were only able to afford to buy two Big Issues for resale, and today will only be able to afford to buy another two magazines. Moreover, I wrote to the Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights on 21 August further to my second application for priority under Rule 41 of the Rules of Court, as follows:


As explained in previous applications, my wife and I survive on the streets of London by selling The Big Issue, a magazine sold by homeless people on registered street pitches, and I have lodged numerous written complaints with The Big Issue Head Office in respect of my wife and myself being walked off our respective pitch by other street traders, including, inter alia, Big Issue vendors. You will note from my email and attachments to the Court of 16 August that not only may my wife be forced into begging (a criminal offence in England), but faces debadging by The Big Issue for so doing.


Please would you acknowledge receipt.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey
Badge no. 1163

cc Mr Steven Round, Chair of The Big Issue Foundation

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Scientists Urge President-Elect Obama to Restore US Funding of Stem Cell Research

2008 World Stem Cell Summit in Madison, WI, 22-23 September2008 World Stem Cell Summit in Madison, WI, 22-23 September

Advocates of stem cell research are counting the days until the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama, reports the Los Angeles Times. Although President George Bush has strictly limited stem cell research from cell lines derived from human embryos, Obama has long favoured such research and is likely to put a quick end to the federal ban that limits funding of research. Obama has pledged full support of stem cell research, stating recently:

I strongly support expanding research on stem cells. I believe the restrictions that President Bush has placed on funding of human embryonic stem cell research have handcuffed our scientists and hindered our ability to compete with other nations.

As president, I will lift the current administration’s ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines … and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight.

The Vancouver Sun reported on Thursday that researchers attending a stem cell conference in Canada were elated with Obama’s win. Clayton Smith, an American researcher who moved to British Columbia five years ago to perform stem cell research, and now heads a lab at the BC Cancer Agency’s Terry Fox Laboratory, told the Sun: “Watching the election last night was a singular event, like watching the Berlin Wall fall.” USA Today reported that people attending the annual fundraiser benefiting the Michael J Fox Foundation in New York Wednesday night were giddy over Obama’s win. “In all fairness, Sen McCain has been supportive of our foundation in the past and supportive of research. But I think this administration will really embrace it,” said Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease. Researchers are hopeful that stem cell research could eventually yield a successful treatment for the disease.

In a press release issued on Thursday the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), which represents the world’s leading stem cell scientists, has urged Obama to restore federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in the first 100 days of his presidency. “On August 9, 2001, President Bush declared an executive order banning funding for certain kinds of stem cell research on ideological and religious grounds, not on the basis of the promise of such research for advancing medical knowledge and therapies,” ISSCR President-elect Irving Weissman, director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (and a signatory of Declan’s petition to the UN on therapeutic cloning), is quoted as saying in the press release. He added: “This was a dangerous precedent of politicisation of biomedical research, perhaps the first ideological ban of a type of research in America. We urge President-Elect Obama to return to the former policy of investigator-initiated research in all areas of stem cell biology and medicine, overseen by the kinds of safeguards we have advocated in the ISSCR’s Guidelines for the Conduct of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research.”

According to the Wisconsin Technology Network, to reverse the President Bush’s stem cell policy, which he has pledged to do, Obama does not need an act of Congress or to have his aides prepare an executive order for his signature. He only needs to give a simple order to the director of the National Institutes of Health. Alta Charo, a Warren P Knowles Professor of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, indicated to WTN News that it would be very simple for President Obama to make federal funding available to more embryonic stem cell lines. “Bush’s policy was just that, a policy; that is, a direction given to his NIH director,” Charo wrote in an email. “So Obama can simply direct his NIH director to feel free to fund research on newer lines. No executive order or Congressional action needed.” Charo noted that the only time Congressional action would be needed is if the new President wanted to change the legislative prohibition on using federal funds to work directly on embryos (eg to derive new lines). That’s a reference to the so-called Dickey-Wicker Amendment, said WTN.

Reporting on Friday’s annual stem cell conference at the Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA, the North County Times said that stem cell researchers expect a surge of funding, an easing of restrictions and accelerating scientific progress in turning stem cells into disease treatments. The “Stem Cell Meeting on the Mesa” was presented by the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, an alliance of four San Diego research powerhouses: UC San Diego, The Burnham Institute, The Salk Institute and The Scripps Research Institute. Philanthropist T Denny Sanford, after whom the consortium is named, was attending the conference. In September, he gave the consortium $30 million to advance stem cell research. Sanford was optimistic about the prospects for stem cell research, which he called “the medicine of the future”, and the incoming Obama administration’s support of it. “Everything that I’ve heard thus far is that Obama certainly is behind stem cell research, he’ll lift the restrictions currently in place [on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research], so it adds that much more excitement to the field,” Sanford said in an interview before the conference began. (Several distinguished scientists from the Sanford Consortium have signed Declan’s petition.)

The Harvard Crimson quotes Brock Reeve, the executive director of The Harvard Stem Cell Institute (and another signatory of Declan’s petition) as saying: “I think it’s a great moment for the country because one of the things that Obama is doing is placing a greater emphasis on science and relying on different experts in different fields. He’s definitely making science and investment in general a much higher priority.”

According to a report by the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan, it is regenerative medicine that is driving the life sciences business sector in Michigan, the United States, and the rest of the world. The report says: “Stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell research, is seen by many as vital to advancing regenerative medicine. According to a 2006 US Department of Health & Human Services report, a conservative estimate of the worldwide market for regenerative medicine by 2010 is $500 billion. The projected US market is $100 billion.”

Our campaign in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning will argue that stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell research, is not only vital to advancing regenerative medicine, but has the potential to be an economic boon for countries throughout the world and to lower overall domestic health care costs (see blog of 1 November “Can a cell have a soul?”). And we will voice strong support for researchers and research institutes doing breakthrough work - such as, for example, the Japanese scientists from the Riken Center for Developmental Biology who announced on Thursday that they have been successful in creating a cerebral cortex from embryonic stem cells, thus boosting the possibility of future treatment of brain-related diseases; and the Scottish scientists from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine of Edinburgh University who have been turning embryonic stem cells into a cell type lost in Parkinson’s patients. We will also report on joint international efforts on embryonic stem cell research and applications.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Herbert Hauptman on Science and Religion

Yesterday Declan wrote once again to the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, following serious verbal abuse by a homeless woman in the Catholic Sisters of Mercy Dellow Centre, which belongs to his diocese (see previous blog). We should be almost invisible to other homeless who attend the centre since we are middle-aged, keep to ourselves and are in and out of the place as quickly as possible. Yet, since 10 April, Declan has been forced to wash in the street as a result of harassment and intimidation from other homeless – all our money and documents were also robbed in centre (see blog of 20 June “Declan robbed in the Sisters of Mercy Dellow Centre”). And on Monday at 5.00am, as we were about to leave the place we sleep in at night, a cleaner hosed where we bed down (see blog of 3 November “State Stem Cell Policies Deserve National Attention”). So we are very much keeping our fingers crossed for this weekend in the Catholic Manna Centre, where Declan was assaulted on 19 June (see blog “Declan assaulted in the Manna Centre”).

Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their TeenagersEvangelicals fear the loss of their teenagers.

Two articles were written almost on the same day last week regarding religious fundamentalism in the United States: a review in The Buffalo News of Nobel Laureate Herbert Hauptman’s memoir “On the Beauty of Science”, and an article in The Times by best selling American author Susan Jacoby titled “Religion remains fundamental to US politics”. The articles especially complement previous blogs on Michigan’s Proposal 2, the amendment to the Michigan Constitution that was approved by Michigan voters in Tuesday’s general election, allowing people to donate embryos left over from fertility treatments for scientific research. The proposal pitted the state’s powerful public and private biological research centers against large, conservative Catholic and evangelical populations who equate destroying fertilised eggs with murder. According to The Wall Street Journal, the proposal’s opponents, gathered as Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science and Experimentation, raised more than $7 million in contributions – $5 million alone from the Michigan Catholic Conference – to defeat the initiative and keep the ban on the destruction of human embryos for medical research in place.

Described by the Buffalo News as a “living treasure”, 91-year-old Herbert Hauptman won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1985 for his groundbreaking work in X-ray crystallography, research that helped pave the way in the development of powerful drugs. “On the Beauty of Science” is a sure-to-be-controversial call to arms, said the Buffalo News, as Hauptman argues forcefully that science and religion are incompatible and that Americans must learn to think more critically about science and other issues. Hauptman writes in the memoir: “I believe there is a direct negative connection between belief in religion, especially fundamentalist religion, and public scientific illiteracy.”

The Buffalo News reports that Hauptman believes his country would be better served if people studied more physics, chemistry, mathematics and engineering. Critical thinking, the kind fostered by a closer study of the sciences, is in short supply in the United States these days, he argues. He laments what he considers the mistaken priorities of the Bush administration, which he faults for cutting spending at the National Institutes of Health while spending billions in Iraq. “This is why it is so important for the general public to have a better understanding of where science is headed, or could be headed with the right funding,” Hauptman writes. It’s not just a matter of too little knowledge of science, he argues. The problem is compounded by too much belief in religion, ghosts, angels and alternative medicine, to boot.

“I believe that from an early age, most children in our society are inculcated in superstition and mumbo-jumbo, and so there is no development of the scientific approach to looking at the world,” Hauptman writes. He also tries to figure out why people are religious, and he wonders if human beings have a predisposition to be religious. He contends that the fact that the universe is orderly doesn’t provide evidence for God’s existence. He goes further to argue that science has done far more for humanity than religion, pointing to the development of air travel, computers and modern medicine as examples. Religion, he contends, has prompted too many people to act cruelly and murderously, as in the case of the 9/11 attacks. Hauptman also holds that science is more beautiful than religion, though many people don’t know enough about science and math to truly appreciate the beauty of, say, Gauss’ theorem (Watson, The Buffalo News, 2/11).

Susan Jacoby, author of “The Age of American Unreason”, begins her article in The Times by writing that to most of her European friends, an inexplicable aspect of American culture is “the quixotic persistence and social influence of religious fundamentalism”. She adds: “They cannot understand how Americans could seriously consider for the second highest office in the land a candidate who has worshipped all her adult life at churches where congregants believe the literal truth of every word in the Bible and practise ‘speaking in tongues’.” According to opinion polls, Jacoby writes, about one third of Americans subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible – from “the chatty serpent” in the Garden of Eden to “the bloody prophecies in Revelation”. They constitute a large and disciplined minority – a primarily Protestant army of Christian soldiers, with a pre-Enlightenment mindset and disdain for secular values.

Like Hauptman, Jacoby argues that there is a powerful correlation between fundamentalism and lack of education. This year, Jacoby writes, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 45 percent of Americans with no education beyond high school adhere to biblical literalism, while only 29 percent with some university education – and 19 percent of university graduates – share that old-time faith. She adds that Republicans have tapped into the fundamentalist resentment of educated, sceptical elites to form the party’s right-wing Christian base.

Another important dimension, Jacoby contends, is their strange – in view of the history of Protestant anti-Catholicism before John F Kennedy’s election in 1960 – alliance with the most conservative elements within the Roman Catholic Church. “On issues such as abortion and gay marriage, the Catholic hierarchy (as distinct from the Catholic laity, which is much more liberal) and right-wing Protestants are the best of friends,” she writes. “Fundamentalists represent a black-and-white value system. Because their beliefs matter so much more to them than religious indifference does to the religiously indifferent, they exert influence far out of proportion to their numbers. Whether that influence will continue depends partly on the election results and partly on whether the alliance between right-wing Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants endures” (Jacoby, The Times, 31/10).

Well, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in their election analysis, state the following: “After eight years of unprecedented access to the White House and (until 2006) in the halls of Congress, Religious Right organizations are about to lose a lot of clout with much of official Washington and could see their influence at the national level diminished. But it’s unlikely any of these organizations will close down. Rather, they will organize to defeat individual-freedom initiatives put forward by President Barack Obama, and they will place more emphasis on state and local governments as a way to press their agenda forward.” (I also found a similar analysis by Religion Dispatches.)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Letter to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor

For the record, this is the email letter that Declan sent this afternoon to the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, in his capacity as Archbishop of the Diocese of Westminster, regarding the Sisters of Mercy Providence Row Charity, of which the Dellow Centre is a part – Declan has in fact written on several occasions to Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor (see blog of 4 July “Second Request for Priority to the European Court”).

Subject: Providence Row Charity

His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster

Your Eminence

On 25 June I received an email from your Personal Secretary, Sister Damian McGrath, stating: "I am writing to acknowledge receipt of your email concerning Providence Row Charity. The Cardinal is out of the country at the present time but he will see your email on his return next week."

I can confirm that I continue to wash in the street as a result of harassment and intimidation by homeless people in the Dellow Centre of the Sisters of Mercy Providence Row Charity, which I have been doing every weekday morning since 10 April. Only this morning I made a complaint against a homeless woman for verbal abuse after she shouted at length at my wife and I from the reception desk of the Dellow Centre; this client is known to Mr Mohammed Choudhury, a member of staff of the Providence Row Charity, to whom I made the complaint. (I understand from Mr Choudhury that such a breach of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, while we were attending to our laundry in silence, was rightly ignored by the both of us and reported to him by me.)

As I stated in my initial email letter to you of 21 April, my wife and I are especially concerned that we could be barred from the Dellow Centre ("the centre") through no fault of our own – the breakfast provided by the centre is the only food available to my wife for the entire day; whilst I walk a two-hour round trip every weekday to the Manna Centre (whose building is provided rent-free by the Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark) to avail of the free lunch provided to homeless people there.

I reconfirm the following: (1) on 28 April, I submitted a written complaint to the Chief Executive of the Providence Row Charity, Ms Jo Ansell, against a homeless man for verbal abuse in the canteen of the centre; (2) on 16 May, I reported a homeless man to the Metropolitan Police for racially aggravated harassment in the centre's men's toilets (crime reference no. 4212667/08); (3) on 18 June, I was robbed in the canteen of the centre of all my and my wife's money and documents (crime reference no. 4215697/08); (4) on 24 June, I was informed in Bow Street police station that the case with respect to the robbery of all our money and documents had been "struck out" due to the police being unable to obtain any CCTV footage whatsoever from the centre; and (5) on 30 June, I submitted a written complaint to Ms Ansell against a homeless woman for verbal abuse in the canteen of the centre.

I should again point out that my wife and I were barred from the Methodist Church Whitechapel Mission on 18 June 2007 by the minister's wife due to concerns about our safety following an unprovoked assault on my wife by a homeless woman in the canteen of the premises (crime reference no. 4217341/07). Despite that the Mission website states that homeless people are not "barred or excluded" and that I wrote by registered post to the minister himself and to the head of the Methodist Church in the UK, Rev Graham Carter, neither my wife nor I were readmitted.

Please would you acknowledge receipt.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey

cc Ms Jo Ansell, Chief Executive of Providence Row Charity

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The University of Michigan Welcomes Passage of Proposal 2

Early yesterday morning, as Declan began selling The Big Issue - a magazine sold by homeless people on registered street pitches - a homeless begged alongside him; provocatively, I might add, like he wanted Declan to say something to him. After Declan left him to the pitch, we were not sure if the incident would prove the highlight of the day: Declan walks a round trip of two hours to the Catholic Manna Centre every weekday to be guaranteed a bite to eat for lunch, where he was assaulted on 19 June (see blog of 19 June “Declan assaulted in the Manna Centre”); and only the day before yesterday at 5.00am, as were about to leave the place we sleep in at night, a cleaner hosed where we bed down (see previous blog).

The vast majority of emails I send to scientists and academics inviting them to sign Declan’s petition to the UN on research cloning of embryos and stem cells end up in spam boxes (or in cyberspace, see blog of 4 September “Obama: Yes to stem cells, funding”), so it doesn’t really count as a highlight. Still, the number of out-of-office autoreplies I received yesterday afternoon was amongst the lowest I have received in months: four from a total of 264 emails. For example, 86 emails to University College London Neuroscience yielded one autoreply; 60 to the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London, one - the first email; and 78 to the School of Medicine of University of Southern California, two. (On Monday, it was eight autoreplies from 109 emails to University College London Neuroscience and 118 emails to the School of Medicine of University of Southern California; and two signatures.)

Democratic Senator Barack Obama captures White House, history.Democratic Senator Barack Obama captures White House, history.

University of Michigan executive officers and faculty issued statements this morning regarding the passage of Proposal 2, the amendment to the Michigan Constitution that allows new embryonic stem cell lines to be derived from embryos that have been created for fertility treatment purposes. The embryos affected by the amendment would otherwise be discarded, unless donated with informed consent.

Proposal 2, approved by voters in yesterday’s general election, overturns a 1978 Michigan law that prohibited creation of new stem cell lines from discarded embryos – the vote was 2,143,101 in favor to 1,945,035 against. Prior to passage of Proposal 2, Michigan has been one of the most restrictive states in the country with respect to embryonic stem cell research.

The proposal pitted the state’s powerful public and private biological research centers against large, conservative Catholic and evangelical populations who equated destroying fertilised eggs with murder (see previous blog). “This is a great night for the state of Michigan,” said Sean Morrison, director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology and a vocal supporter of the proposal. “Clearly the voters saw through the misinformation and fear that the opposition were spreading.

“I can tell you this: We’ll be meeting within the next week ... to expand our embryonic research program. We expect in the short-term millions of new dollars of grants to come from the federal government and private foundations to support the expanded research.”

Proposal 2’s strongest support came from college graduates and people who have done postgraduate work. High school graduates and dropouts were inclined to oppose it, said The Associated Press.

Elsewhere, voters in Colorado rejected a measure defining a person to “include any human being from the moment of fertilization”, which would have applied to sections of the Colorado Constitution that protect “natural and essential rights of persons”, said CNN.

Although, like most people, we expected Democratic candidate Barack Obama to win the general election, we were nonetheless quite pessimistic about Proposal 2 – according to pre-election polls, Michigan voters were split down the middle. All in all, it was a great night for Declan’s petition to the UN and our campaign in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).

For the record, below is Declan’s email letter yesterday afternoon to the chair of The Big Issue Foundation, Steven Round. The Big Issue has informed us that from this coming Monday we will no longer be able to have a registered pitch, after almost two years surviving on the streets of London by selling the magazine from the same registered pitches; an extremely serious situation for me in particular, in that I am facing possible prosecution for begging, an illegal activity in England. In a reply email yesterday evening, Round informed Declan that he would make sure we receive a response.

Subject: The Big Issue

Dear Mr Round

I am writing to you in your capacity as chair of The Big Issue Foundation. Please find below a copy of my email letter of 7 October to the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Big Issue, Mr John Bird MBE, to which I have not received a reply. As a seller of The Big Issue magazine, I wish to complain that if my wife and I have not purchased a minimum of 40 magazines each week for four weeks commenced 6 October, from 10 November we will no longer be able to have a registered pitch - we “will be allowed to carry on selling but not have priority on any pitch”.

I can confirm that on 13, 14, 15 and 16 October I emailed The Big Issue with respect to my wife's new badge (1170), which, being unavailable for collection at Head Office on Monday, 13 October, did not become available for her to pick up until 1.00pm on Thursday, 16 October. The same Monday at Head Office - following my own rebadging to the end of February 2009 and the validation of our pitch authorisation slips until the end of Tuesday of the following week - I was advised by Office staff that my wife could not purchase or sell The Big Issue without her new badge.

I can also confirm that the first two working weeks of October culminated in the so-called "Black Friday" financial crash; shares around the world have continued their downward trend, particularly in London; and our pitches are located in the heart of London's financial district. Further, last week temperatures plummeted – the first time London has seen snow in October for 70 years.

Please would you acknowledge receipt.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey
Badge no. 1163

---------------------------

Subject: The Big Issue

Dear Mr Bird

As the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Big Issue, please find enclosed copy of an email I received yesterday, 6 October, from your Outreach Manager for London, Mr Paul Joseph. On 10 September 2007 you wrote to me, stating:


I have employed many people over the years to do jobs related to the running of The Big Issue. I have never employed them to do my job; likewise I do not do their job. Please bear this in mind when you are composing your letters. You do not need to address your letters to me, as it is not my job. I would only get involved if you were utterly and totally let down by those whose job it is in The Big Issue. I hope this assists in your deliberations in pursuit of your claims.


I wish to complain that if my wife and I do not purchase a minimum of 40 magazines each week for the next four weeks, from 10 November we will no longer be able to have a registered pitch - we "will be allowed to carry on selling but not have priority on any pitch".

Yesterday we were only able to afford to buy two Big Issues for resale, and today will only be able to afford to buy another two magazines. Moreover, I wrote to the Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights on 21 August further to my second application for priority under Rule 41 of the Rules of Court, stating:


As explained in previous applications, my wife and I survive on the streets of London by selling The Big Issue, a magazine sold by homeless people on registered street pitches, and I have lodged numerous written complaints with The Big Issue Head Office in respect of my wife and myself being walked off our respective pitch by other street traders, including, inter alia, Big Issue vendors. You will note from my email and attachments to Court of 16 August that not only may my wife be forced into begging (a criminal offence in England), but she has been threatened by The Big Issue with debadging for so doing.


Please would you acknowledge receipt.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey
Badge no. 1163

cc Mr Steven Round, Chair of The Big Issue Foundation