Friday, April 29, 2011

Cells go free - cure just around the corner

A federal court has given the Obama administration the go-ahead to continue funding embryonic stem-cell research.

The controversial 2-1 decision Friday is a victory for supporters of federally funded testing for a range of diseases and illnesses.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia lifted an injunction imposed last year by a federal judge, who said all embryonic stem-cell research at the National Institutes of Health amounted to destruction of embryos, in violation of congressional spending laws.

Legislation passed in 1996 law prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars in the creation or destruction of human embryos "for research purposes." Private money had been used to gather batches of the developing cells at U.S.-run labs. The current administration had broken with the Bush White House and issued rules in 2009 permitting those cells to be reproduced in controlled conditions and for work on them to move forward.

Obama officials have been at odds with many members of Congress over whether the the NIH research actually causes an embryo's destruction, as prohibited by the Dickey-Wicker Act.

Two scientists had brought a lawsuit to block further research. But the three-judge panel concluded in its 21-page ruling, "the plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail because Dickey-Wicker is ambiguous and the NIH seems reasonably to have concluded" the law does not ban research using embryonic stem cells.

The ruling does not deal with separate research on adult stem cells, which remains permissible under federal law. The plaintiffs have the option of now taking their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for review. The issue at this stage deals only with the lifting of the injunction allowing funding to continue for embryonic stem-cell research. The larger constitutional issues are still being debated at the district court level.

The government had argued that an extensive list of research projects outlined by the National Institutes of Health would have to be shelved if the court had not acted and granted a stay.

The field of embryonic stem-cell research has been highly controversial, because in most cases the research process involves destroying the embryo, typically four or five days old, after removing stem cells. These cells are then blank and can become any cell in the body.

Embryonic stem-cell research differs from other kinds of stem-cell research, which don't require embryos.

Some scientists believe embryonic stem cells could help treat many diseases and disabilities because of their potential to develop into many different cell types in the body.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Wheelchair dude ruse, kicked off nude cruise

A wheelchair-bound passenger who was debarked from a charter cruise in February on Celebrity Century after declining to hire a nurse has responded to a number of claims levied by the cruise line and charter company.

James Keskeny, 66, of Pinckney, Mich., has multiple sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair. On Feb. 18, he was ordered off a Bare Necessities Tour & Travel nude charter cruise in Guadeloupe, where he had to pay $1,500 for travel arrangements home. Keskeny said he paid in excess of $4,000 for the cruise. The story was first reported by the Oakland Press, a Detroit area news outlet.

On Monday, Celebrity Cruises confirmed the details to Cruise Critic, saying in a statement that the debarkation was necessary because Keskeny needed help getting into and out of bed and using the bathroom (where he suffered a fall) — "special assistance above and beyond what is provided to our disabled or wheelchair-bound guests." Bare Necessities founder Nancy Teimann agreed that Keskeny's needs were extensive: "He needed help every time he had to get out of bed and go to the bathroom, every time he needed to take a bath."

On the third day of the cruise, Celebrity officials told Keskeny he would have to hire a private-duty nurse at his own expense if he wished to remain on the 10-night Southern Caribbean cruise. He declined and was debarked the next day.


Now that you can see it do you still want it?

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away an appeal by Chipotle Mexican Grill on Monday and left intact a federal appeals court ruling in San Francisco that said a nearly 4-foot barrier in a waiting line denied wheelchair users the right to see the food they were ordering.

The barrier "subjects disabled customers to a disadvantage that non-disabled customers do not suffer," the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July in a case from San Diego County. The ruling came on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires businesses to treat disabled patrons equally and remove unnecessary obstacles.

Maurizio Antoninetti said in his lawsuit in 2005 that a 45-inch barrier at Chipotle restaurants in San Diego and Encinitas blocked his view of the counter, where customers can inspect each dish, choose their order and watch it being prepared.

Chipotle said it met wheelchair users' needs by bringing them spoonfuls of their preferred dish for inspection before ordering. But the appeals court said that doesn't match "the customer's personal participation in the selection and preparation of the food."


Saturday, April 9, 2011

First human stem cell guinea pig revealed

In the six months since scientists announced they had infused a drug made from human embryonic stem cells into a partially paralyzed patient’s spine, the identity of the recipient has been shrouded in secrecy.

Recently, rumors began circulating in Internet chat rooms that details about the closely guarded experiment were finally about to be revealed.

Now, a 21-year-old Alabama nursing student who was paralyzed from the chest down in a car crash in September has come forward to identify himself as the volunteer.

“I was the first patient,” Timothy J. Atchison of Chatom, Ala., said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday evening. “I’m doing well.”

Atchison, known as T.J. to his family and friends, was a student at the University of South Alabama College of Nursing when his car crashed on Sept. 25, which, Atchison noted, was the birthday of Christopher Reeve, the actor who suffered a devastating spinal cord injury.

After undergoing emergency treatment at a regional medical center, Atchison was transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which specializes in spinal cord injuries, for rehabilitation. It was there that he agreed to let doctors inject him with the drug — more than 2 million cells made from stem cells into his spine, he said.

“I feel really good about everything,” Atchison said. “I’ve got a positive attitude. I’m trying to live life to the fullest right now.”

The experiment is the first carefully designed attempt to study an embryonic stem cell therapy. It is seen by supporters and opponents of embryonic stem cell research as potentially pivotal to the future of the research, which proponents say could revolutionize medicine and critics denounce as immoral.

The trial is primarily assessing safety, but doctors are also testing whether the cells restore sensation and movement.