Monday, June 30, 2014

Cloning, Stem Cell Research Troubles, Scandals, And More

I'm not sure why these issues keep coming back again and again. Why all kinds of scientific papers are being published without proper guidance and control and peer review. Seems to me it points to some more fundamental problem.

I blogged about the South Korean cloning scandal (Dr. Hwang) and now we see the same thing happen again in Japan?

This time it is another claim that genetically engineered stem cells can cure all kinds of genetic diseases.

Did these people not learn a thing?

Sorry, we do not believe you. You use genetically modified animals for your studies: mice that have been transmogrified to develop cancer more easily and rapidly for your research purposes. Most people are kept in the dark about their suffering, but you push on, funded by tax payers - and then you don't even take sufficient care to NOT fake images and make claims, just to get published?

And you patent your methods, clearly in order to make profits, rather than create benefits for society.

We have seen the same thing happen with genetically modified foods.

Where is the support for independent studies?

Here is a blog that makes all kinds of claims that animals must be used in scientific research: Speaking of Research, however, carefully avoids any topics like GM and cloning and stem cells scandals. In the UK, they are this open about how genetically modified mice are used. Understanding Animal Research

Over at Consumers Union of Japan, we have  carefully monitored Japan's efforts to do cloning.

CUJ noted:

Cloning In Japan Has “Failed”

Report From Our Visit to the National Livestock Breeding Center:
NLBC Researchers Recognize “Failure of Cloning”

By Koketsu Michiyo, CUJ/FSCW

Food Safety Citizens Watch visited the National Livestock Breeding Center (NLBC) in Fukushima Prefecture on September 9, 2009. This is the center that has been designated to continue the work that started in 1998 to improve the productivity of cattle breeding using somatic cell clone technology. In June, Japan’s Food Safety Commission stated that “somatic cell cloned livestock is safe for use as human food,” i. e. that meat and milk from from cloned cows, pigs and so on will be safe. However, among consumers, a strong sense of doubt and insecurity remains, as researchers have not been able to eradicate problems such as stillbirths and abnormal deaths among the cloned animals. In order to investigate the current status of the research, we visited the NLBC. 

First of all, we were surprised by the low success ratio of somatic cell clones, which is not even 3% among domestic animals. At the NLBC ranch in Tokachi, Hokkaido, researchers have so far attempted to create 1,509 cloned cattle, but only 391 were conceived properly, or around 26%. Among them, we were told that only 42 heads survived feeding and achieved normal growth, or 2.8%.  

During our visit, the center frankly admitted, “We have currently not achieved any rapid improvement.”

 We were not able to get any clear explanation for why the production rate has been so low, but it was agreed that it is related to epigenetic mutation. Usually, immediately after fertilization, the epigenetic information of the genes is turned off once, and after that, the information is written anew. However, in the case of somatic cell clones, the animals that are born seem to have so many abnormalities and problems because the initialization never takes place.

Again in 2014, Japanese researchers agree to withdraw their study from the scientific magazine, Nature.

Disgusting: A word I rarely use. Never used on Kurashi before, as far as I know. Angry. Well, that happens. Any word from the key RIKEN researcher, Dr. Obokata, how she feels? No, I didn't think so. Tears, I think one report mentioned. And that she was hospitalized, and unable to answer questions.

Exactly the same method used by Dr. Hwang some 10 years ago, as he tried to avoid responsibility in the face of facts.

Asahi: Obokata agrees to pull main STAP cell article

Haruko Obokata, the scientist accused of fabricating her research into a new type of stem cell, has agreed to withdraw her groundbreaking article published in the British science journal Nature in January that brought her worldwide acclaim.
Once the article on stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP, cells, is retracted, her discovery will cease to have any scientific basis.
Obokata, 30, leads a research unit at the Riken Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe. Of the eight co-authors of the main STAP article, Obokata and Charles Vacanti, an anesthesiology professor at Harvard University, served as lead authors.
Vacanti has also contacted the co-authors and expressed his intention to withdraw the article, sources said.
Riken officials announced June 4 that Obokata signed a document of agreement to retract the article and submitted it to one of her co-authors the previous day. The institute had earlier concluded she fabricated or doctored illustrations.
In May, she agreed to withdraw a supplementary paper, which also contains erroneous use of illustrations.

Yomiuri: 2 STAP articles to be withdrawn from Nature

After months of stormy controversy over their validity, the two articles on stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) that were published in the British scientific journal Nature in January will be withdrawn, possibly sometime this week, according to sources close to the matter.
All 14 writers involved in drafting the articles including chief author and RIKEN unit leader Haruko Obokata have agreed to retract the articles, the sources added.
Nature will publish a note explaining their decision.
With their withdrawal, the research results on STAP cells will be erased entirely.
According to Nature, the articles will be archived in its database after indicating they have been pulled.
A RIKEN investigation committee has found fabrication and falsification in images used in the main article and unusual points in images in the other.
Gene analyses by a third party research institution and others have cast doubt on the very existence of STAP cells.

Millions if not billions are being invested in these kinds of projects, and we get nothing for it. Better invest in proper consumer health campaigns, help people avoid unhealthy foods and drink (like the campaigns by Consumers International, look it up). Pipe dreams, hoping that some kind of magic bullet will cure all our diseases, just because the link to "DNA" which noone seems to understand, but is so useful for getting research funding. Despicable. Another first here at Kurashi.

It will probably be years before we really know what happened at RIKEN.

Meanwhile: Whistle-blower breaks his silence

Read more about what happened to the South Korean researcher Young-Joon Ryu, who was a key figure in Hwang’s laboratory for several years, as he reveals the fallout he faced from his tip-offs about former cloning fraudster Woo Suk Hwang.

Young-Joon Ryu, who was a key figure in Hwang’s laboratory for several years, kept his silence for eight years. But in a blog post in December 2013 and a subsequent interview with Nature, he revealed that he was responsible for initiating the investigation that uncovered one of the biggest frauds in science. He has since received both support and abuse, highlighting just how divided South Korean society still is over the legacy of its fallen hero.
“The nature of the Hwang scandal is the abuse of other people’s sacrifice and other people’s lives for personal success,” Ryu, now in the pathology department at Kangwon National University in Chuncheon, told Nature.
Hwang claimed in 2004 to have cloned a human embryo and produced stem cells from it, potentially opening the way for new disease treatments. In 2006, he admitted fabricating his findings, but despite being convicted of fraud, has since made a controversial comeback (see Nature 505, 468–471; 2014).
Ryu joined Hwang’s laboratory at Seoul National University in 2002, and that year led the team that attempted to create cloned human embryos and stem-cell lines from them. He wrote the first manuscript of an article on the work, which was published with great fanfare in February 2004 (W. S. Hwang et al. Science 303, 1669–1674; 2004).

David Cyranoski/Nature
Young-Joon Ryu: “The nature of the Hwang scandal is the abuse of other people’s sacrifice.”
While Hwang basked in its glory, Ryu started to have misgivings about Hwang’s tendency to seek publicity. He also felt that human cloning had little potential for clinical applications. In April 2004, he left the laboratory and soon began work at the Korea Cancer Centre Hospital.
When Hwang’s group published a dazzling follow-up the next year that suggested that the previous proof-of-principle was almost ready for the clinic (W. S. Hwang et al. Science 308, 1777–1783; 2005), Ryu was suspicious. He knew that important lab members had left, yet the team had pumped out 11 embryonic stem-cell lines in a short time. “I knew how difficult it was,” he says. “It wasn’t logical.”
He then heard that Hwang was preparing a clinical trial for a 10-year-old with a spinal-cord injury, whom Hwang had promised to make walk again. Ryu had known the boy and worried that a trial could hurt him. “I was furious,” he says. “I wanted to stop all of that.”
Lacking evidence and worried that his identity might be revealed, Ryu baulked at approaching the university or police. Instead, on 1 June 2005, he e-mailed television network Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) to recommend an investigation.
MBC producers were initially intimidated by Hwang’s star status, but decided to work with Ryu to develop their case. A first programme on the subject, about ethical violations in the way that Hwang recruited egg donors, aired on 22 November 2005, and forced a confession from him. A storm of support for Hwang ensued. A second programme, concerning the fraudulent research, was postponed after sponsors withdrew support for the TV network and producers faced legal and physical threats. But suspicion was mounting. Posts on the website of the Biological Research Information Center (BRIC), in which volunteers noted errors in the papers, helped to force Seoul National University to open an investigation. By the time the second show aired, on 15 December, Hwang’s fate was sealed.

Nature special: Woo Suk Hwang revisited
Ryu’s identity was leaked after MBC’s first programme, and his worst fears about the militancy of Hwang’s supporters were borne out. Ryu says that they hacked his blog and sent threatening e-mails to him, his employer and his wife, another former researcher in Hwang’s laboratory. On 6 December 2005, Ryu resigned from his hospital job under pressure.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Japan" In US & European Movies...

Let's have a bit of fun and see where this will take us. I'm sure all of you have your favourite film with a reference to Japan. In fact, there are countless. Here is my very tentative list, in no particular order:

The Tea House of the August Moon (1956) In which Marlon Brando portrays Sakini, an Okinawan who tries to work with the occupying Americans, reviving some of the island’s tradition and heritage. Pentagon-shaped school house? Not exactly what everyone wants. The local brew and suspicions regarding prostitution said to have caused quite a stir back in America. Should be watched together with:

Sayonara (1957) Again, the topic of international marriage is raised, with dire consequences for the couple who defies the US military ban on such practices. Based on a novel by James Michener. The air base is Itami near Kobe, with some great scenes from the hills of that city back in the day. Won several Academy Awards.

A decade later, it was technology that seemed to be worth mentioning...

Hogan’s Heroes Series 1 Episode 1 (1965) Hogan (Bob Crane) is showing a German infiltrator the Stalag 13 Allied prison camp’s underground production of cigarette lighters in the shape of Lugar pistols: “Hottest item in Berlin right now, of course the Japanese will copy it and undersell us, but that’s free enterprise!” (Laughs)… 

Episode 2 has Logan tell the tall French blonde female who is part of the resistance that he doesn’t care if she “puts on a kimono and goes Tokyo Rose” while a Tiger tank goes missing…

Red Dragon (1965) Providing a girl with a special bracelet for wireless communication, before sending her off to Hong Kong to solve a drama that involves stopping Communist China from getting nuclear bomb information: “This is the latest in Japan…”

You Only Live Twice (1967) "England's man in Hong Kong" James Bond goes global... and the rest is history. Sean Connory at his finest? Some of the gadgets included:

Aki's white Toyota 2000 GT convertible (with radio transmitter and closed-circuit TV monitor behind the bucket seats), Tanaka's Private Underground Train, Tanaka's 2-rotor Helicopter (with gigantic electro-magnet)

Assignment K (1967) Showing a bomb in a device, which will send a signal: “It keeps on beaming until the Japanese transistors wear out…”

File of the Golden Goose (1969) “Japanese” bath scene in London bath house with nice (more or less) Japanese interior, but the sign says “Cathay Bath” (referring to Hong Kong). “Make me a nice pot of tea…”

Foul Play (1978) Elderly Japanese couple with red-and-white Japan Airlines bags, just arrived to San Francisco, in the back of the cab that Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase drive to go (fast) to the Opera to stop the Pope from getting assassinated. Goldie Hawn can’t even get her “Sayonara” right but the couple shown having a great time throughout the mad driving scene, repeating “Kojak! Bang bang!” while waving small American flags. Cue to the Opera where The New York City Opera is shown performing Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” conducted by Dudley Moore…

But, then again, by the 1980s, the image of "Japan" was clearly changing from the comical...

Blade Runner (1982) Los Angeles by 2019 has been taken over by Asians and you get huge neon billboards and tiny origami hints... Is this the future? Note the tiles in the apartment of Deckard (Harrison Ford) - identical to those designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, in the early 1920s...

Back to the Future II (1985) famously showed how your boss by 2015 would by now be Japanese, ordering you around and firing you unless you... well, you remember. This was the era when US congressmen and senators smashed Japanese cars in front of the Capitol in Washington DC.
"McFly! I was monitoring that scan you just interfaced. You are terminated!"
—Mr. Fujitsu

Luckily, Marty (Michael J. Fox) and Doc saved us all, right...?

Some would call it racism, or yellowface comedy, or worse.  

Update: Tom suggests Black Rain (1989) and I can only agree, one of the best films ever that showed how Hollywood and Tokyo can make great movies, with British director Ridley Scott cutting through the cultural crap and avoiding cliches.

The Making of "Black Rain" (Japanese documentary)