To A Mouse in 2018

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Fourteenth in a series - M is for Mice

As early as the 16th century the lowly mouse was used in scientific experiments. Today, approximately 95 percent of all laboratory animals are mice and rats. This video (only a minute) explains why mice are so useful in biotech research.

PETA says there are 100 million mice and rats used in lab experiments each year in the USA. A certain number of these are cloned, but that may not make you feel happier for the mice.

Mice… “are remarkable tools.”

A quick look at the list of Nobel prizes for medicine confirms their contribution: discovery of sulphonamides in 1939; penicillin, 1945; yellow fever vaccine, 1951; polio vaccine, 1954; cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes, 1989; HIV-Aids virus, 2008; not to mention prions in 1997. Each time mice played a key part. In the 1980s nearly one-in-three Nobel prizes for medicine were awarded to work on mice. …In genetics, cancer, immune response, embryonic and nervous systems and infectious diseases … in short in most fields, mice are valuable…

Alongside the success stories are accounts of expensive failures. (ibid) After all, mice are not human, so to view them as replicating aspects of our physiology in drawing conclusions for medicine and therapies does have limitations.

To overcome these, mice are altered to allow biotech researchers to better try out models for cures or to better understand the disease or anomaly under review. There are various ways to alter a mouse:

  • Breeding can enhance a particular trait for study
  • Mouse DNA can be modified to edit out a section or gene so that the mouse can be examined for its response to a drug based on its lack of a certain gene. Or, specific DNA can be activated for testing.
  • Mice can be genetically modified by introducing a gene in the germ stage (petri dish) of its reproduction so that it is “transgenic” and expresses human genes. Thus, it has become a new kind of creature. It is no longer a mouse.

Last week a number of news stories reported that the US FDA has signed a contract to purchase fresh human baby parts from aborted fetuses so that they can be transplanted into mice for research projects. The FDA notice stated, “Fresh human tissues are required for implantation into severely immune-compromised mice to create chimeric animals that have a human immune system.”

The slope is slippery. Three summers ago a national scandal broke with videos published one week at a time beginning in July by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), proving that Planned Parenthood (PP) contracted with biotech companies to supply body parts from aborted babies for research needs. The parts were sold for $50 to $100 or ?, who knows. This was presented by PP as money for necessary expenses in procuring the “tissue.” PP technicians were paid a bonus for intact specimens. It is against the law to sell or acquire human body parts for profit. (PP’s net assets in 2017 were $1.6 billion.)

legal rules for sales of human body parts

The public was stunned. Political action was demanded and some legislators sought answers from PP. The CMP videos proved that abortions were being performed to retain the integrity of certain organs, though this changed the procedure described in advance to the woman.

The method of suctioning out the fetus that destroyed recognizable parts was changed to removal by other means to retain the liver or thymus, for example. The women were asked to sign off on the plan to use their baby's body parts but were not remunerated. In other words, the money they pay for abortion helps to pay for the research done by biotech companies in need of fresh human tissue. The biotech investors no doubt really appreciate their generous contribution.

It would seem that all of the difficult undercover work of the CMP was for nought.

Robert Burns’ To A Mouse comes to mind, only quoting the final two stanzas:

…But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blessed, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

The importance of commenting

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Thirteenth in a series - L is for Lab

Yesterday was the last day you could comment on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website concerning their Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental impact statement on Biotechnology Regulations. The commenting period began June 29, 2018.

In early 2017 the Agency had published a draft of Proposed Rules and invited public comment. That 32-page document addressed the need to regulate the import, interstate movement and environmental release of certain genetically engineered organisms (basically). Though the GE plants are for the purpose of introducing new or improved types of food, or affecting crop yield or resistance to disease, or meeting other goals, they could have detrimental effects so oversight is needed.

That document states:

To date, APHIS has issued more than 18,000 authorizations for the environmental release of GE organisms in multiple sites, primarily for research and development of improved crop varieties for agriculture. Additionally, APHIS has issued more than 12,000 authorizations for the importation of GE organisms, and nearly 12,000 authorizations for the interstate movement of GE organisms. APHIS has, to date, denied slightly more than 1,500 requests for permits or notifications, many of which were denied because APHIS ultimately decided the requests lacked sufficient information on which to base an Agency decision.

Biotech labs are busy places. Biotech is big business and hopeful investors watch its developments religiously. So do groups that are concerned about the environment and health safety.

After the APHIS document was posted in early 2017 and open for public comments, it was withdrawn in early November 2017 to go back to the drawing board. The commenters brought up too many reasons why the proposed rules needed work.

APHIS of the USDA is only one government agency concerned with what biotech labs are inventing. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration), EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety) and probably others are involved with oversight of biotech products and developments.

Whether approving the release of the first GE mosquito whose mission was to decimate its fellow mosquitoes, or permitting genetically modified livestock that produce human milk, or letting people try a new drug even though its risks are not fully understood, in the USA, biotech must answer to the regulators.

Laboratory safety is carefully prescribed and guarded but no one can prevent scientists from tinkering with the genomes of living organisms. The inventions of biotechnology are changing our definition and experience of life everyday. As Christians, what are the questions we need to ask relating to GE? What should our comments be? A comment can be a powerful lever in a democratic society.

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...and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind ... the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind ...the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. -Genesis 1

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A SistersSite eBook

Flesh and Bone and The Protestant Conscience is an e-book on Amazon.com. It is 99¢ and in the Amazon lending library as well. The book description follows.

Would you let your conscience be your guide?

Does God care if the skin and bone of the dead are passed along to the living for medical uses? Is organ donation OK with God? Should you sign a Living Will?

Did you know that dead organ donors are often anesthetized before their organs are removed? Do you know the current definition of death? The conscience cannot function without facts.

As we ponder the ethics of in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and man-made chimeras, our thoughts trail off. How then should we live? (Ez 33:10)

How should a Christian think about euthanasia by starvation when doctors and the state attorney general all agree it is time to withhold feeding from a brain injured patient? Some things are family matters, but someday it may be our family.

Here is a small book to help you think about whether you want to sign your driver's license, donate a kidney, cremate your loved one, and many other practical questions that may arise in the course of your healthcare decisions or watch over others.

It offers a special focus on the doctrine of the Resurrection that is related to such decisions. Sunday School classes and Bible Study groups could use this book to facilitate discussion about the issues covered.