31 August 2010

Democratize Stem Cells! Democratize the Bomb!

There's too much information about stem cells. There is so much information that it's like having no information at all. Then throw in Google ads that let companies sell stem cell therapies, that scientists scream are fake, to us and what you have is utter confusion.

Things are so confusing that the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) had to publish a pamphlet basically warning stem cell treatment tourists about what they already know, be careful of fake or dangerous stem cell therapies. I'm sorry to say but the International Society for Stem Cell Research has missed the point completely. People who are desperate for treatments for chronic illnesses have no where to turn to for information. How does anyone know if the ISSCR is itself legitimate? I'm not saying that they aren't as they look like a good group of scientists trying hard to keep people informed, but who has ever heard of them? And this is the problem with every stem cell group out there; no one knows how correct their information is. 

But I'll tell you who people do know, the group that should really be informing people about stem cells, and that's the government. Regardless of the fact that many think government is made up of a bunch of crooks, we can actually change the people in power, you have a vote. You don't have a vote or any control of the ISSCR or any other profit or non-profit group conducting stem cell research.

I think we should applaud groups like the ISSCR as they are trying to fill in for the failure of government to do this work. I'm sorry to say that all the warnings and education programmes conducted by similar groups will fall on deaf ears. People are hungry for information but with no one to help make sure they get the best information, people will continue risking their lives and loosing their money trying unproven therapies.

Stem cell therapies have the ability to fundamentally alter the society that we now live in, just like the atomic bomb did sixty five years ago. These therapies should not be left in the hands of people that we have no control over. You don't see the government letting private groups run their nuclear weapons programmes. Hell, governments don't even want to allow other governments that don't have the bomb yet from making them, but in the case of stem cells, governments don't even make an effort to prevent their own citizens from risking their physical and financial health. How can you and I get in the stem cell driver's seat?

The reason that the last time a nuclear weapon was used in war time was in 1945 is very clearly because you and I are in the driver's seat and do have some control over government and therefore over nuclear arms.Groups of citizens just like you and me, and in many cases scientists too, formed peace groups and not only educated the public but also let governments know that any government-that-used-the-bomb's days were numbered.

I'm finally starting to think clearly about where I want this blog to go and the one thing I'm sure of now is that I want to make sure that regular citizens find a way to be a part of (not just footing the bill) stem cells. There are people out there that think the same way and I've already made contact with those people; some in North America, and in Europe, and here in Japan.

Over the next few months my goal is to expand who this blog reaches and to start making plans with my new friends throughout the world.

PS. I wonder how quickly I can get a file made on me by every secret service agency in the world if I ran a Google ad selling nuclear secrets or parts, or maybe even plutonium. I wonder if Google would even allow me to run such an ad. Maybe that will be a project for the future.

PSS. If today's blog sounds a little more disorganized than usual, please forgive me. I think that today I was talking to myself and not to you as I usually do. My apologies.

25 August 2010

Greater than the might of atoms - Part II

Read more at the Detroit News
Part I - "Greater than the might of atoms magnified a thousand fold" can be found here.

The picture you see to the left is a picture taken during the General Motors Sit Down Strike of 1936. You may be asking a very good question at this moment. "If it's a sit down strike, why is everyone standing up outside?" If you actually did ask this question or want to know the answer, the please keep reading today's blog.

As always, my point is not to offer a history lesson (I will point you to some good links throughout the blog) but to draw your attention to important events in history that are important to our campaign for better research of and access to stem cell based CURES.

In brief, the Flint Sit Down Strike was just just that, the workers sat down and occupied their factories. Instead of striking outside (and give control of the physical production facilities to the employer), the workers stayed inside to prevent the employer from moving out equipment or trying to restart production. It wasn't the first but it was probably the biggest and most successful and in the end General Motors (the biggest employer on earth at the time) was forced to concede and recognize the United Autoworkers Union, which in turn led to improved wages and working conditions for the mass of US society as workers in other industries were emboldened by this victory.

But the sit down part was just the most dramatic part. If it wasn't for union and citizen supporters who encircled the factory blocking the way of police and later smashing windows to let out the tear gas fired by the police, the strike would have ended very differently.

I also think that it's an important event to study just because of the nature of sitting down. Many of us who could benefit from stem cell therapies are already sitting down (a lockout as opposed to strike) with tremendous impact on the economy. But this is for another blog.

I think that there are three main lessons that can be applied to our campaign for stem cell based CURES for a wide host of diseases.

End the isolation of disease communities
We often hear talk of the FLINT sit down strike and the sit down strike at Fischer #1 plant, but in reality there were strikes and sit down strikes in many different auto plants that were going on at the same time. The basic concept behind the United Autoworkers Union was an industrial union with workers from the whole of the auto industry. This is the exact reason why the UAW was and has been successful.

A search for stem cell advocacy groups leads us almost nowhere, but search for disease specific groups advocating stem cell research and you'll find thousands. Many of these groups do more than just advocate, they fund their own research which means competing against other disease groups for dollars and influence.
This is one of the reasons why industrial unions organized workers in entire industries - to stop the competition amongst workers to undercut wages and conditions in a race to the bottom for jobs.

We are closer than we have ever been to stem cell based cures, it's time for unity, not competition that will leave all groups empty-handed.

Building support among both the inflicted and the healthy
150,000 rally in Cadillac Square
Regardless of how many diseases stem cells could possibly cure, the sick, thank God, are a minority. Any movement which refuses to reach out past a minority will fail. Regardless of how big and powerful the UAW is, workers in the auto industry are still a minority in society and the workers who won the historic sit down strike in the Fischer #1 plant would have lost with out the 150,000 workers that rallied in Cadillac square and the 5000 supporters who ringed the plant when the police tried to stop food deliveries.

How did the UAW get 150,000 people out to a rally to support what was a very small group in comparison? They didn't appeal to people's greed or fear, they appealed to people to see what was right and just. People are remarkable in this way, they react to positive messages.

What is more just than making sure the sick are healed? If the UAW in 1936, a small group, get 150,000 people out to support a strike why can't we in the stem cell advocacy business do the same?

Mobilizing supporters
Which brings us to my final point and what I would love to hear your comments about.

I'm not one to criticize new technology, but I can already hear the voices of some people I know saying, "You can't blog your way to a cure." All I can say to that is; I know, but our ability to reach out to massive audiences is better than it's ever been, so we should be able to get out more than 150,000 supporters in support of stem cell therapies. The big question is, why can't we?

The one reason I can think of is the message that it being put out by many groups advocating stem cell cures. The basic message is, "fund stem cell research because it will cure the diseases that we have." Of course during the Flint sit down strike the UAW had concrete demands about work and pay, but there was also a societal message. It was a movement for a democracy at work. In a society when company totalitarianism was acceptable, the UAW spoke to the democratization of work and society. The 150,000 demonstrating in Cadillac square were not only there to support the Flint workers, they were also there to demand a fundamental change in society.

The pro stem cell groups need to take a page from these battles. Demands need to be more than just, "give us stem cell treatments", we need to be putting out messages about the waste of science for destructive purposes, like atomic bombs. To demand a society where people are given priority, and not just in the developed world. A world where walking on Mars will take a back seat to first getting people in this world to walk on land. The fight for stem cell CURES needs to be about a society where people are put first.

This is why I didn't start today's blog about the sit down strike with a picture of people sitting. If the only people involved in the strike were those sitting in at Fischer #1 the story that we would have been talking about today would have been the Flint Massacre.

09 August 2010

Don't mourn. Organize!

Today is 9 August 2010. Sixty five years ago today in Nagasaki, Japan, just 560 kilometres from where I am in Osaka, the last ever atomic bomb was used in a war.

Since this blog is about StemCellsANDAtomBombs I wanted to write something profound to mark this anniversary, but I didn't know what to say. Should I condemn the bombing? But what would condemnation do 65 years later. Should I write about the horror?  But I didn't think that I could say anything as deep as the pictures of the giant mushroom cloud, that you've all seen pictures of, that disintegrated human life, or the actual voice of the survivors that you can hear yourself.

Searching for what to write brought me to this quote by Mother Teresa, "I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there.

It doesn't really matter whether you agree or disagree with Mother Teresa or the work that she did. This quote made me understand my own thinking and why I have never wanted to be part of an ANTI anything movement, why I used to cringe seeing ANTI demonstrations. Don't get me wrong, I'm a trade unionist so I have been on my share of demonstrations, strikes, and picket lines, but these actions were always FOR something: wages, holidays, insurance, trade union rights.

That's why today, I would like to say thank you to the nuclear disarmament movement in Japan and internationally for making sure that Nagasaki was the last time a nuclear bomb was used. These groups have kept us safe by actively campaigning for a ban on nuclear weapons. I guess subconsciously I chose to write about the last time the atomic bomb was used as opposed to the first time it was used in Hiroshima, on 6 August, to highlight the fact that peace groups do have an impact on global politics.

You can view the Nagasaki Peace Declaration here. Notice that it's not the Nagasaki Anti-War Declaration. 

Visiting countries all around the world. Lobbying politicians. Making public declarations. Educating the public. Talking to the United Nations but more importantly talking to people like you and me. All these things have kept the campaign for a nuclear free world alive. They didn't just say 'War is Bad', nor did they just say 'Peace is Good'. Who would disagree? They actively promote peace and ask us to play role in fighting FOR peace, and because of this they have prevented more Hiroshimas or Nagasakis from happening again.

People are moved by these peace groups because, one - most regular people are on a gut level opposed to destruction and murder regardless of the perpetrator, two - they can see themselves in the stories of the victims, and three - the peace groups give people a chance to participate; signing a petition, participating in activities, listening to those who have experienced the bomb. But most importantly these groups present a viable alternative to blowing up the world with atomic weapons. So people listen to them and politicians listen to people. This is active campaigning.

In short, the disarmament and peace groups have done something very important; by using the terrible lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they actively engage people to participate to prevent it from happening again. This is the basic idea behind 'Don't mourn. Organize!'.

My own personal reason for 'Don't mourn. Organize!' is simple. When I first got sick and lost the use of my legs I had a couple of choices. One, fall into a deep depression, or two, get used to life in a chair. I was told that two was preferable because if I didn't accept option two, option one would would happen naturally. I decided to take another choice and that choice is to campaign for a cure. Not just because I want one. When I learned the science was there but the science wasn't getting the necessary resources, I decided that I didn't want to get used to the chair, I wanted to walk and it's a waste not to try to get me and millions of others to walk.

In the coming weeks I hope to give you more information on what different pro stem-cell-research groups are doing to make sure that money, science, and human potential are no longer wasted on death. By actively engaging you in the fight to cure disease, I hope that you don't just watch, but participate.

05 August 2010

Atomic lessons for stem cell funding

In my last post, Wasted, I promised to offer an efficient, alternative way to finance, administer, and plan stem cell research. Today I will attempt to do this.

I think that most people don't see any possible alternatives to the current approach, which can be summed up like this. Start off with public funding (your taxes) and then divide it up in small sums between many different universities and private research facilities. The private research facilities then try to attract private investors to raise even more money and universities partner with private research facilities. Is what I’m writing true? Have a look at what ‘institutions’ are being funded in California alone.

Now because private profit is at stake no one will share any of their information. Now all the private research facilities and universities with an appetite for public funds (your taxes) begin to clamour for more research funds and we the public, and especially those with illnesses that could be cured with stem cells, add or voices for more money. Sometimes the public even gets involved by trying to raise donations to again divide up into small portions among private companies that will never cooperate because their bottom line is at stake. 

Like I stated in, Wasted, this is not a criticism of profit or the profit motive or any kind of theoretical perspective about the free market. It is simply to illustrate a very important point. Not enough money, divided amongst many groups who have no motivation to cooperate is inefficient and will no more bring CURE therapies than if we prayed to the 'Spagehtti god'. So what's my great idea you ask?

Well, it's not my great idea. It's a proven way with proven results and it shows that with the right amount of money and more importantly planning and management things that seem impossible can get done. Welcome to Atomic Lessons for Stem Cell Research.

Before I get stuck writing a whole history of the atomic bomb project let me tell you that that's not my goal. At the end of this post I will give you some good links if you're interested. What I will do is point out the main similarities and the main differences. At the end you can judge whether proper planning can bring stem cells from research to cure.

Neither stem cells nor atom bombs are pipe dreams:
We cannot will away disease anymore than they could will the creation of an atom bomb. Money with no science will not work. When the US, the Soviet Union, Britain, Germany and Japan became interested in the atomic bomb there was already a lot of science behind the idea and the governments of these four countries put a lot of resources in trying to make the science into an atomic bomb. Britain under attack by Germany was not in a position to develop it and from an early point brought their important atomic ideas to the US in a letter from the MAUD committee. Nazi Germany with some of the best scientific minds in the world and the most developed chemical industry in the world could not do it after most of their top minds became refugees from the Nazis. Japan by 1943 was already suffering scarcities that made their atomic bomb project take a back seat to more pragmatic war efforts. It was the USA, an economic and industrial powerhouse protected from the war by two oceans, with the help of the British and Canadian governments that built the bomb. 

Just like today with stem cells, a lot of the science for the atomic bomb was there, just in many different places. Until the founding of the Manhattan Project by Roosevelt in 1941 most of the research was carried out by government (from 1939) and private foundation funded research at universities (just like stem cells today) throughout the US. The Manhattan Project finally took all the main research and researchers and put it under four main roofs. Four years later two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan.

Stem cell research may already be much more advanced than the atomic bomb research in 1941. In 1939 Enrico Fermi, an Italian physicist known for his work in developing the first nuclear reactor stated, "little likelihood of an atomic bomb, little proof that we were not pursuing a chimera." Compare this to Hans Keirstead, an eminent stem cell researcher, who said stem cells for Spinal Cord Injuries were not a matter of if, but of when but criticized a lack of funding; and you'll see that a Manhattan Project style push for stem cells will start moving stem cell therapies from laboratories into hospitals even more quickly than the creation of the atomic bomb.

When the Manhattan Project was founded in 1941 there was still a long way to go and a lot of questions remaining. There was the question of isotope separation (separating the right uranium from the wrong uranium), and which method was best as there were about three important methods being studied. Then there was the question of whether the fissile material for the chain reaction be uranium or plutonium, would it be a fission bomb or a fusion bomb. These problems were all worked out because all the main players were together and cooperated.

There is always talk about how planning, or even worse, government planning, will stifle research and innovation, but it’s actually not true. With stem cell research there is a lot of different research and innovation going on but what we need is a way to get the best of the research from the lab to the bedside and that means accelerating the process. Like with the atomic bomb, government involvement, actually government control, made sure that scientists picked the best methods to get the bomb made, they couldn't just debate the best method. They were under the gun, because...

There was/is a war going on:
The main US motivator to start atomic bomb research was the fear that the Nazis were on their way to building one first. Einstein wrote to Roosevelt, the American president, a little less than one month before the Nazi invasion of Poland, with his belief that Germany was on their way to obtaining a bomb. Even though America wasn’t yet in the war, Roosevelt knew very clearly that in the near future, America could not stay out of this war and would have to deal with the problem of a future enemy getting their hands on the most powerful weapon in the world. I’m sure that’s quite motivating.

Not including any other disease that could be CURED with stem cell therapies except Spinal Cord Injury, you already have more disabled people from this one condition (450,000 in the United States) than all the American war dead in the Second World War. Two hundred thousand more than the 250,000 American lives that some believe would have been lost if America had invaded Japan instead of dropping the atomic bomb. Over one hundred times the number of American war dead in Iraq. These numbers are not meant to lessen the meaning of those who have died in wars. On the contrary, it shows meaning in the fight for the lives that stem cell CURES could save. We are in a war like situation now. When there was no possibility of a cure, the war was being lost, now there is a chance to win.

Business should no more have an atomic bomb than they should have stem cells:
Private companies must not be able to control who gets stem cell cures either through overpricing or patent controls. This is not a new cough syrup, it will fundamentally change society, just like atomic power did, and the owner of the patent should not dictate who gets cured. 

Oddly enough even the atomic bomb had patent problems. Leo Szilard, a Hungarian physicist, held the patent for the nuclear chain reaction. Rightly or wrongly, it was basically ignored as the government would not be dictated to. It may have taken a maverick, as Szilard is often described, to come up with this idea, but in the end Szilard wasn’t able to get financing for his project. Szilard didn’t make the atomic bomb, the US government did.

The sick should not be at the mercy of private companies who will decide if, since they will have the patent, a new stem cell therapy will make it to the ‘market’. Is it possible for a life saving drug NOT to be made available by private patent holders. You can have a look yourself.
Tamiflu and others (also includes alternative funding suggestions)

The bomb exists, stem cell cures don’t:
Four years after the Manhattan project, run by the government of the United States, was set up, there was an atomic bomb.

Where are we with stem cell research and how far are we from a cure? Even when new cures seem to exist (see ‘Such great news that it will sicken you’) they are not being widely used.

Now I will wait for someone to disagree and show me evidence that leaving stem cell research in private hands will get cures into the world population.

Further atomic bomb reading: