Scientists need to better educate the public

Dr. Leroy E. Hood, a genetics researcher
at the University of Washington at Seattle, told a gathering of genetics
researchers that they need to spend more of their time educating the public
on the benefits and ethical challenges of science.

Hood told the researchers gathered
for the Short Course on Experimental and Mammalian Genetics that the coming
years will bring major advances that could potentially revolutionize medical
treatment. At the same time change is coming at such a breakneck pace
that the public is falling further behind and is occasionally caught up in
distorted images about genetics research.

“Scientists say they’re
too busy with their own research and teaching,” Hood told the researchers,
“Well, everyone is busy. It’s a matter of priorities. A scientifically
literate public is important to many areas of research, including getting
it funded.”

Hood’s comments couldn’t
come a moment too soon. Already movements on either side of the Atlantic
are gearing up to protest and perhaps outlaw much of the results of genetic
engineering altogether. Greenpeace and others lead protests against genetically
altered plants while animal rights groups protest and occasionally destroy
research into promising areas of Xenotransplantation (transplanting animal
cells into human beings). If scientists don’t wake up and meet these
challenges head on, the issue might not be whether or not they can get
funded but whether or not they can legally continue to do their important


Scientists urged to help public understand science. Michael Woods, Toledo Blade, July 30, 1998.

Hog Intestines Used to Rebuild Human Knees

James McDonald can walk without
the aid of crutches again thanks to a promising new technology which uses
the intestines of hogs to strengthen weakened human knees. A March 9 Associated
Press story reported that McDonald was the first human being to receive the
still-experimental implant of small-intestinal submucos (SIS), derived
from the small intestines of hogs, into his knee. The intestine replaces
the kneeÂ’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

In animal tests, SIS has shown
an ability to stimulate healing and growth of new blood vessels in damaged
tissue. “ItÂ’s exciting because it seems to have the capacity
to stimulate the bodyÂ’s healing response and to modify itself to
whatever environment itÂ’s being used in,” said Dr. Robert Hunter, who performed the surgery on McDonald.

McDonald and 11 other individuals
are being given the implants in Food and Drug Administration-approved
clinical trials to test their safety and efficacy in human beings. If
the trial prove successful, more comprehensive trials are likely and SIS
could have uses beyond mere knee replacement, including applications in
repairing tendons and ligaments and perhaps even replacing human arteries.

SIS avoids the thorny problem of
potential cross-species disease contamination by using a process which
ensures no individual hog cells are transferred to human beings. Animal rights activists have argued that the risk of spreading diseases through such xenotransplantation is unacceptable.