Thursday, December 08, 2005

Testing the limits of science

Naples Sun Times - Naples,FL,USA...
Alternative and complementary medicines, which I prefer to call holistic practices, are ... years ago recommended: "Let the food be your medicine," current liberal ...

Thirty years ago, a scientific revolution prevailed over the social upheavals characteristic of the late 60s and early 70s. Students were no longer fighting for educational reforms, feminism had already achieved significant social victories, Castro was internationally discredited and Vietnam was over. But science had started to unlock vital secrets in nature.

In three decades, scientists have determined the structure of the genes responsible for the appearance of humans and plants, and for disease. They have also found ways to manipulate them. The results: cloning, genetic engineering, widespread transplants with higher rates of survival and stem cell technology.

Dolly the sheep (1996), turned biology upside down. It showed that any cell of the body could turn back into an embryo, to produce a genetic replica of the original body. However, three years after Dolly was born, nature raised its warning. Scientists found that Dolly's cells looked older than the ones of same age natural-born sheep. At 3 years old, Dolly seemed to be 9.
Medical advances in technology have run parallel to the uncapping of principles that Chinese knew well 5,000 years ago. Alternative and complementary medicines, which I prefer to call holistic practices, are based on the principle that the body has an astonishing capacity for self-healing and for protecting itself against disease.

On one side, we are replacing body parts with metal and plastic and aim to create human organs in the lab. On the other side, we are becoming increasingly aware of how much our lifestyle determines our vulnerability to disease.

While much of the current inspiration for self-care and health prevention comes from conservative Hippocrates, who 2,500 years ago recommended: "Let the food be your medicine," current liberal science aims at manipulating our bodies and food to generate health!
For example, in 2000 the same Scottish team who produced Dolly, was making chickens that would lay eggs containing medication. A year later, though, they warned against cloning animals for meat and milk production, as they have found that cloned animals suffered from severe immune system problems.

At present, the most controversial of issues in science seems to be stem cells. These cells can be produced by cloning or by a process called nuclear transplantation, which produces cells with the same genetic makeup as the individual who donated the original body cell.
Stem cells are "unprogrammed cells," found in embryos and lately also in adults, which have the potential to become any type of cell. Scientists dream of making organs out of stem cells. New pancreas to cure diabetes, for example. In theory, stem cells could replace lost cells and make new entire new organs.

Only a decade old, stem cell technology has not gone very far yet but has raised ethical concerns and prompted a political debate because it requires destruction of the human embryos used to create them. The fundamental questions sustaining the debate are if the embryos used to produce stem cells are human life, and thus should be protected, and if these human embryos that will be destroyed anyway, shouldn't be used for a greater good.

Many different groups have expressed their concerns. Catholic bishops are about to launch a campaign aimed at preventing Catholics from signing a petition to protect stem-cell work. There is a coalition of businesses, patient groups and universities leading a petition drive to protect stem cell research. Senator Dianne Feinstein has urged a ban on human reproductive cloning while allowing promising nuclear transplantation research to continue. President Bush assigned funds to support research on stem cells where embryos had already been destroyed.

Recently Dr. Jean Toma proved that stem cells can also be grown from adult skin, including tissue discarded after plastic surgery and the foreskin discarded after newborn circumcisions, showing that perhaps bioethical concerns can be sidestepped. The problem, scientist say, is adult stem cells are capable to produce several but limited numbers of cell types while embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos and have the potential to become all types of specialized cells.

Stem cells have also opened the door to a different concept in natural healing. The multimillionaire wellness industry is producing botanical extract products like StemEnhance, that claims to promote the release of stem cells from the bone marrow into the bloodstream. Those stem cells are said to travel to areas of the body where they are most needed for cell regeneration and tissue repair.

Still, we have no idea of what will be the effects of all this playing with the forces of nature.
Pride and arrogance tempted Baron Frankenstein to play God. Mary Shelley's novel made a strong statement on how the imprudent use of the power granted by scientific innovation can become the most destructive of human forces.

Silvia Casabianca graduated and practiced as a medical doctor in Colombia, and holds a master's degree in art therapy from Concordia University in Montreal. She is a Reiki Master/teacher, a Licensed Massage Therapist and a certified Trager practitioner. Silvia has moved towards a multidimensional view of the body and a holistic approach to health. She teaches Reiki seminars, leads bodywork workshops around Florida and is a published writer.
©Naples Sun Times 2005

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