Saturday

stem cells by any other name


I made the assumption that "Anonymous," who questioned my take on the discovery of stem cells, was an honest criticism of my thoughts on this blog. I believe that critiques are good for the soul when done with honesty and the wish to find the "truth." It isn't easy to take criticism unless we realize the importance of getting down to the reality/to the truth of a given situation. I made the assumption that Anonymous had done a patent search and a literature search because Anonymous stated that as a fact for us, readers. Well, just on a hunch I did a "simple" search for patents and patent applications. There were 108 patents and 130 patent applications. Simple search, and I am to assume that Anonymous read all these and determined that none of these fit the criteria? I could not read that many patents in a few weeks (since the time Anonymous read my blog on stem cells). I have read patents that were only about 15 printed pages long but most are 30 pages or longer. Applications are much shorter, so one can breeze through them...most of the time. I spent some time yesterday looking at one or two of those patents (Stampfer's HMEC patent was one of the earliest patents on stem cells and human milk--1980's). There is a history of stem cell and human milk research that the lactation profession will be discounting, if they continue to believe that Mark Cregan "discovered" stem cells in human milk. In a way that dishonors the people who have done the basic research in the 70's, 80's, and 90's and now who are forgotten in a media blitz to proclaim something that has already been known for some time.
When I did a patent application search, I found that the US Patent Office has a patent application from Mark Cregan and Peter Hartmann called "Method for isloating cells from mammary secretion." Filed in June 2006. I won't say much about this application because I have already commented about their same patent at the European patent office in 2004. Although at the European patent office, one must pay to read the whole patent, so I didn't. The abstract is free. The comments to the announcement that stem cells are in human milk on the internet seem to be focused on "now we have an ethical way in which to collect stem cells." Whoa....stop, let's think about this. Certainly this is better then collecting stem cells from fetus's but the ethics of collecting it from human milk must be looked at carefully. Let's look at how the authors of this patent collected their human milk to make a patent application. Did women who donated to these researchers have an understanding of the intent of the research? Were they merely told that commercialization was a possibility with the research? And what does that mean? Does the study being done, reflect the purpose of the collection? What if your research is on one thing but you are collecting the milk for future research projects? What was done with the donated milk that wasn't used in this patenting? The value of this milk has just skyrocketed. Now the public knows it, will women so willing donate their milk? Or will a price war begin? It's going to be a challenge.
We are being asked to believe that this is new ground/a discovery. But there is evidence that this is not news to researchers in the field of mammary gland biology. This is just "news" for the public. The Gordon Conference on Mammary Gland Biology in 2002 had a whole section on stem cells. Who are the sponsors to this Conference who most likely sit in on these presentations? The pharmaceutical industry and it is worth noting one company in particular...Wyeth. It was Wyeth and PPL of Scotland that created Dolly (Dolly was created in part by a cell from a sheep's mammary gland). Wyeth has a good understanding of stem cells from mammary glands.
When we compartmentalize science, reduce it to its elements; we can easily be lead to believe that the organ, the tissue is separate from the cell which is separate from the secretion. But nature is not about separate elements. It is a complex matrix of interdependent elements. Reductionist thought creates separation when there is no separation.
There is a political need to sell the concept that stem cells in breastmilk is a "new discovery."
The media sells us a concept and we buy it because it is repeated and repeated. Who benefits from the belief? Some industries are off the hook because they can say we didn't know that human milk had stem cells. Milk banks can say they didn't know either. Anonymous seems to think that I made this magical leap because I mentioned stem cells in human milk in 2001. All I can do is shake my head. Are we going to erase the previous research in order to make it appear that no one knew there were stem cells in human milk? At one time on Lactnet, I wrote that there was a fire in them there hills (regarding the patenting of human milk components) and we needed to speak out (something like that). I wrote about the need to regulate human milk banking more stringently. Ignored and then the topic becomes forbidden (hide the problem). Then I got kicked off Lactnet. Simple solutions to problems you don't want to hear.
A simple solution to having a fire that you don't want to discuss, is to say there never was a fire. What fire? We didn't know about stem cells in human milk until 2008. What fire?
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain

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