3 Dangerous Texas Bills Would Boost Stem Cell Clinics

Texit stem cells

The Calexit and Texit state secession campaigns for California and Texas to leave the union, which are linked to Russian President Putin, are never going to be successful. However, if some Texas lawmakers and stem cell clinics there have their way, Texas would take a big step away from the rest of us on the stem cell front, endangering patients. Such a development would strongly contrast to all the great, cutting edge stem cell research going on in labs across that state. Somehow this major development has not been covered yet by national or even Texas media.

What’s the scoop?

Three bills are pending at the Texas Capitol that if passed and signed into law would pave the way for unproven, risky stem cell therapies to be sold much more readily to patients by clinics. The Texas stem cell bills include HB 661 and HB 810 by Rep. Tan Parker, and HB 3236 by Kyle Kacal. You can learn more about the bills by following direct links to each bill here, here, and here.

HB 661 seems to be a very loose kind of right to try effort that concerningly would extend it from restricted just to patients with terminal illnesses to also those with chronic conditions that could be just about anything. In a sense, a stem cell clinic’s own doctor perhaps could decide whether their patient/customer has a chronic disease that is eligible. How often would the clinic doctor say “no” since that would mean the patient would not get the treatment and so would not pay them big bucks?

Stem cell cartoon

HB 810 is a stem cell-specific kind of right to try bill that would greatly lower oversight standards and put patients at greater risks. The third bill, HB 3236, is what I call “Right to Profit” for the clinics because if that bill passes then the clinics would have free rein to make millions in profits from vulnerable patients. How would that be a good thing for most Texans? It wouldn’t. In fact, I see it as a consumer ripoff bill.

Other than stem cell clinics, it’s hard imagine many fans of these bills. Most people I have talked to strongly oppose them including top stem cell scientists in Texas. The organization Texans for Cures, which has been very balanced, sensible and supportive of stem cell-based regenerative medicine for many years, strongly opposes these bills too. Here’s a statement from its Chairman David Bales:

“After careful examination of HB 661, HB 810 by Rep. Parker and HB 3236 by Texans for Cures Medical Advisory Committee, which includes leaders like Dr. Doris Taylor and Dr. William Decker, we decided to vigorously oppose all three bills because they jeopardize patient safety and responsible research in the State of Texas”.

There’s broader opposition too. For instance, the largest global stem cell research organization, ISSCR, is opposed to these stem cell bills. You can read more about ISSCR’s viewpoints in a letter from its President Sally Temple to Texas lawmaker Todd Hunter. Here’s a big picture quote from the ISSCR letter:

“…these bills will allow snake oil salesmen to sell unproven and scientifically dubious therapies to desperate patients.”

What businesses exactly would stand to benefit mostly at the expense of patients? Continue reading

Hateful politics infiltrate human genome editing debate in France

By Elliot Hosman

Summary.  A campaign calling for a moratorium on using CRISPR in human embryos was launched by a prominent French organization fighting for narrow understandings of life and family.

A recent campaign calling for a ban on “transgenic” human embryos was launched by one of France’s most prominent organizations fighting for “science”-backed “one-man-one-woman” families, and the exclusion of all other forms.

Stop Baby GMO Campaign

“Stop GMO Baby: Yes to therapeutic progress, no to transgenic embryos” (image via Alliance VITA).

Since March 24, more than 15,500 people in France have signed a Change.org petition started by Alliance VITA declaring (translated from French*):

“I ask my country to engage with all urgency to obtain an international moratorium – that is to say an immediate stop – on the genetic modification of human embryos, especially via the technique CRISPR-cas9.”

*all French materials and quotations presented in English in this post have been translated using Google and my college-level French. Suggested revisions to translations are welcome and will be noted. Alliance VITA offers some materials on its website in English.

In that time, volunteers have canvassed cities around France, handing out brochures explaining the breakthrough CRISPR genome editing technology, and tweeting pictures of their advocacy using Flickr and the hashtags: #StopBébéOGM, #ProtectHumanity, and #CRISPR-Cas9.

Alliance VITA’s opposition to using human gene editing for reproduction is widely shared, including by my organization, the Center for Genetics and Society. But a closer look at the Stop GMO Baby campaign in France reveals a troubling and at times explicitly hateful politics infiltrating the human genome editing debate. A polarization of the conversation about heritable human genetic modification along “right to life” and “natural family” fault lines threatens to derail public conversations about responsible regulation of science and medicine that serves the public interest.

Paul also recently flagged Alliance VITA’s Stop GMO Baby campaign, cautioning:

“I’m concerned that these campaigns that specifically target CRISPR could have negative effects on the freedom of us scientists to do responsible CRISPR research in the lab. … at least some of the motivation seems to be related to a “right-to-life” perspective. “

I share this concern, and we’re not alone. In a February article titled Gene editing: The next frontier in America’s abortion wars, the “last scientist in Congress” U.S. Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) told Politico’s Sarah Karlin that he’d been warned by scientists that “‘this issue will get all tied up over the abortion debate,’ interfering with the creation of ‘good policy decisions.’”

The Stop GMO Baby Campaign

Alliance VITA’s campaign materials on CRISPR take as their central point that CRISPR-Cas9 is an ethically neutral and promising technology that could help gene therapy, but that any use in human embryos or gametes is a red line no researcher in the world should cross. In their other words: “GM babies? No!” Here are some examples of their slogans and statements:

  • Campaign slogan: “CRISPR-Cas9: Yes to Therapeutic Progress, No to Transgenic Embryo!” (March 24, 2016) [Brochure PDF]
  • On February 16, 2016, Alliance VITA Research Director Blanche Streb stated on Catholic television: “The technique poses no ethical problems on its own, it’s the application that does.” (YouTube)
  • Alliance VITA General Delegate-CEO Tugdual Derville commenting on Kathy Niakan’s application to the HFEA in January 2016:

“Although this technique might be promising for genetic therapy, Tugdual Derville reminds us that when applied to the human embryo: “the danger is to cause the emergence of custom-made babies, with pre-selected genetic criteria, heritable modifications, with unknown consequences for future generations. The human genome is part of our most precious “heritage of humanity.” Its integrity must absolutely be preserved for future generations.”

In March, Alliance VITA released a study they conducted finding that 76% of French people support gene therapy, but oppose using CRISPR to genetically modify embryos in vitro. Some of their data conform to a number of other recent studies. But the slipperiness of public opinion polls that Pete Shanks describes in a recent survey of public opinion of human heritable genetic modification is on point here, as the framing of questions may lead to an overstatement of the sanctity of the embryo for the people who polled their opposition.

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