Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Trounson, Air Bridges and Hot Water

Coverage and commentary continued to roll out today on the appointment of Alan Trounson as the new president of the agency that is the world's single largest source of funding for human embryonic stem cell research.

In the United States, one commentator who has been a strong critic of the California stem cell agency said Trounson "certainly brings a lot to the table." In Australia, California stem cell Chairman Robert Klein was quoted as saying he envisions "an air bridge from Australia to California."

First the commentary from Jesse Reynolds of the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland, Ca. Reynolds wrote on the center's blog, Biopolitical Times:
"(Trounson is) an accomplished scientist, businessman, and advocate - a diverse set of skills which will be critical for such a challenging post. Of course, the most important skill - the ability to juggle the numerous strong personalities and interests on the agency's board - is less visible from a CV."
Reynolds touched on the flap a few years ago involving Trounson and the rat video.
"As an advocate, Trounson got himself into hot water five years ago by misrepresenting the progress of embryonic stem cell research before the Australian Parliament. He showed MPs a video of a paralyzed rat that regained mobility after an injection of what he claimed were human embryonic stem cells. In fact, it had been treated with germ cells taken from a human embryo after 5 to 9 weeks of development. This caught the attention of the Prime Minister, who called Trounson's statements "very untidy" and ordered a review of a US$ 24 million grant.

Of all his public activities, I find Trounson's position on cloning-based stem cell research to the most interesting. He has repeatedly made skeptical statements (Reynolds has links to those) on the potential for the theoretical technique to produce cures, regularly citing its inefficiency and impracticality, particularly the need for many human eggs. Trounson has even called it a 'a non-event.'

But when actual limits on the practice are at stake, Trounson has changed his tune. During debates at the United Nations on a global ban on human cloning, he said that "the benefits of therapeutic cloning are really quite enormous." And when Australia was reviewing its three-year moratorium on research cloning, Trounson said, "This is really something that we can't ignore.... I think it's terribly important to make disease-specific stem cells. A lot of people think that we will see things happening to those cells that we wouldn't be able to predict if we're looking at patients with the full expression of the disease."
In Australia, Leigh Dayton, in a story on the Australian News Network, a web site involving a number of Australian newpspapers, had an interview with Klein,

"'I see an air bridge from Australia to California,' said Bob Klein, the driving force behind the establishment of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the agency with the job of doling out up to $300 million a year for stem cell research. 'Hopefully, this will be the start of a tremendous international relationship.'

"Mr. Klein and Professor Trounson predicted their partnership would speed up the delivery of therapies from the laboratory to the clinic.

"'I see (his appointment) as a tremendous opportunity to be in the front line of a major revolution in medicine,' Professor Trounson said. 'This is the epicentre for stem cell research and therapies.'"

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