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INFO/  Human Genetic Alert/ UK

November 08, 2001 

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1. Biologists Warned to Exercise Greater Vigilance 
2. Surgical Strike Is a group that pays addicts to be sterilized
    defending children or exploiting the vulnerable?
3. Britain to Reject Clone Application
4. Iceland's deCODE finds 350 genes linked to disease 

Biologists Warned to Exercise Greater Vigilance 
International Herald Tribune  Wednesday, November 7, 2001
A scientific adviser to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned biologists
Tuesday they should become less naive to prevent the risk of their work
being abused for terrorist purposes.
"Our colleagues in the physics community have long understood the
application of physics in weaponry," George Poste said in an interview
during a pharmaceutical conference.
Mr. Poste, a member of the U.S. Defense Science Board of scientists and
industrialists, which advises Mr. Rumsfeld on scientific developments, said
biology should "lose its innocence."
"Biologists have got to start being a little more savvy with regard to
thinking about less well-intentioned individuals than themselves," he said.
"I don't think that the biological community, particularly in academia, is
yet sensitized enough to thinking about the implications."
Mr. Poste warned that in many instances there was an "absolute naoveti"
among biologists working in academia regarding the potential adverse use of
some of the work being done.
Mr. Poste, chief executive officer of the consulting firm Health Technology
Networks and former head of research at SmithKline Beecham, said detecting
clandestine activity in biology was more difficult for intelligence agencies
than detecting attempts to develop nuclear weapons.
Illustrating biology's potential for both good and evil, he explained how
Australian scientists trying to develop a contraceptive vaccine for rodents
had inadvertently created a lethal "mousepox" virus using technology that
could be applied to biological warfare.
The experiment, reported earlier this year by pest control researchers in
Canberra, involved modifying a mousepox virus to include the gene for
interleukin-4, which affects the immune system. Mr. Poste said the
well-intentioned research project completely shut down the immune system,
allowing the virus to "run amok."
"This immediately raises the issue of the same being put into other viruses,
and particularly whether that would create a devastating weapon," he said.
Mr. Poste said that the publication of the research findings in the February
issue of the Journal of Virology raised the next issue as to how far certain
categories of biological information may eventually have to be classified.


Mother Jones
Surgical Strike Is a group that pays addicts to be sterilized defending
children or exploiting the vulnerable? 
by Barry Yeoman November/December 2001

After taking in four children born to a drug addict, Barbara Harris founded
Barbara Harris was eager to become a foster mother when she received a call
from a social worker in 1990, asking her to take in an eight-month-old girl
born to a woman addicted to crack cocaine. Harris, a waitress at a pancake
house, agreed. Over the next two years, she and her husband provided a
foster home in Orange County, California, for three more children born to
the same woman, including one boy who suffered violently from his mother's
addiction. "He shook," Harris recalls. "His eyes looked like they would pop
out of his head. He'd sleep a few minutes and he'd wake up screaming."
Harris decided something needed to be done to prevent drug-addicted women
from getting pregnant. So in 1997 she sat down at her family's computer,
created some flyers, and posted them in the impoverished MacArthur Park
neighborhood of Los Angeles. That was the birth of CRACK (Children Requiring
A Caring Kommunity), a nonprofit organization that offers $200 in cash to
addicts who agree to be sterilized or undergo long-term contraception like
Norplant, which is surgically imbedded under the skin.  Because crack
targets the poor, most of the procedures are funded by taxpayers through
federal and state programs such as Medicaid and California's Medi-Cal. 
Now in its fourth year, CRACK is growing rapidly. The group has chapters in
22 cities across the country, including Seattle, Dallas, and Chicago, and
has already handed out more than $100,000 in cash rewards to 500 clients.
"The best is yet to come!" boasts the organization's Web site. "Every day we
receive phone calls from men and women nationwide that want to make the
responsible choice." But many advocates for the poor have attacked the
group, saying it deprives desperate women of their reproductive choices
while feeding their drug habit. Addicts who agree to be sterilized, they
say, often use the cash offered by Harris to buy more drugs. After the group
took out billboard ads in Las Vegas, local NAACP president Gene Collins told
reporters, "How can you come in and say that you are concerned with the
welfare of the mother when here's a person who is not of sound mind, who has
been addicted to drugs, and then is told, 'Okay, we're going to give you
$200 to become sterile and you can take the money and buy yourself some more
Social-service providers have also expressed outrage. "It's a total
exploitation of women who have a substance abuse problem," says David LaKine
of Faith House, a St. Louis facility for children suffering from prenatal
drug exposure. "They will take the $200 because they have a disease, and
using drugs and being promiscuous are all symptoms of the disease." Kathryn
Icenhower, director of a Los Angeles group that provides services to the
homeless, told reporters that she has asked Harris "to please stay away from
our clients." Offering addicts cash, she added, is like telling a homeless
person, "I'll let you come in here and sleep tonight if we sterilize you." 
Harris admits her organization might be fueling the addictions of her
clients-but she is not overly concerned about how women spend the cash.  "If
they choose to use the money to buy drugs, that's their choice," she says.
"Their babies have no choice. If that sounds cold, that's too bad." Before
founding CRACK, Harris tried unsuccessfully to convince California
legislators to jail mothers of drug-addicted babies unless they agreed to
implants or other long-term birth control. She recounts the story of a woman
in Pontiac, Michigan, who had given birth to 13 children before CRACK
reached her last June. "How many victims does this person need to have
before she doesn't have the right to have children?" Harris asks. "The day
she had the tubal ligation, I was in my office cheering." Many right-wing
donors are also cheering. According to Harris, the organization has banked
$320,000, most of it from wealthy conservatives.  Dr. Laura Schlessinger,
the controversial talk-show host, has contributed $10,000. Richard Mellon
Scaife, the Pittsburgh billionaire credited with funding the New Right, has
thrown in $75,000 through his Allegheny Foundation. And Jim Woodhill, a
Houston venture capitalist and self-proclaimed member of the "Republican
Rebel Alliance," has given $125,000. 
Woodhill makes no secret of his desire to bring in new leadership to build a
larger, more influential organization. "I'm sure we can get a good executive
director whose specialty is fundraising and have her go around and hit up
members of the 'vast right-wing conspiracy,'" he says. "We can raise the
money." Woodhill has hired Chris Brand, a British psychologist, who is
working to expand CRACK overseas. Brand, a self-proclaimed "race realist,"
claims that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites, and advocates
taking a "eugenic" approach to "wanton and criminal females." Such language
gives chills to opponents. "Limiting reproduction as a way of solving social
problems has a very horrible history," says Dorothy Roberts, a law professor
at Northwestern University and author of Killing the Black Body. "It ends up
targeting people who society feels are unworthy of reproduction." The
eugenics movement of the early 20th century, she notes, advocated the
systematic sterilization of what it called "worthless race types," including
the poor and the mentally ill; states adopted laws that resulted in more
than 40,000 women being sterilized without their consent.  Indeed,
physicians and attorneys worry that the drug-dependent women approached by
CRACK are in no condition to consent to sterilization- especially when
enticed with an offer of cash. Rewarding someone for having a surgical
procedure, they note, violates a basic principle of medical ethics: Health
care decisions should be made by patients, without any form of pressure. 
"It's an economic coercion of the poor, giving them a financial incentive to
forgo their reproductive choices," says Rocio Cordoba, staff attorney with
the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "The ultimate
question is whether the woman is undergoing sterilization with full,
informed consent-and that means without coercion." 

Wednesday November 7 2:54 PM ET 
Britain to Reject Clone Application
The government said Wednesday it plans to reject an expected application
from an Italian fertility doctor who wants to clone babies in Britain. 
Dr. Severino Antinori, who is part of an international team seeking to
become the first to clone a human being, has said he intends to apply to
Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority for a license to
begin work on cloning babies. 
His group says it is pursuing cloning as a treatment for couples who are
unable to have their own children. 
"Worldwide, this is not considered acceptable and it will remain illegal in
the United Kingdom," junior health minister Hazel Blears told lawmakers. 
"The government is absolutely clear that reproductive cloning cannot take
place in the U.K.," she said. 
The government insists the creation of babies by cloning is illegal in
Britain. But an anti-abortion organization has challenged that view in
court, saying the law applies only to embryos created by fertilization of an
egg by sperm. The government insists it applies to all embryos.  Legislators
have urged the government to clarify the matter by introducing a separate,
explicit cloning ban. 
In cloning, scientists remove the genetic material from an egg and replace
it with that of a cell taken from the person being cloned. The reconstructed
egg is then prodded to divide. Classic fertilization does not take place. 
In January, Britain became the first country to specifically authorize some
cloning when it tweaked its embryo research laws to allow cloning only for
research on embryonic stem cells. 
Stem cells are the master cells found in embryos that give rise to all other
cells. Doctors hope they will be able to cure or treat hundreds of diseases
by directing stem cells to develop into any type of tissue needed for
The stem cells are extracted when the embryo is a few days old. Scientists
hope that by taking stem cells from embryos created by cloning a cell from a
sick person, transplants would be a perfect match, eliminating the basic
problem of the immune system rejecting transplants because they come from
someone else's body. 

Wednesday November 7, 3:29 am Eastern Time
Iceland's deCODE finds 350 genes linked to disease 
LONDON, Nov 7 (Reuters) - 
Iceland's deCODE genetics Inc (NasdaqNM:DCGN - news) said on Wednesday it
had found a total of 350 genes linked to more than 40 common diseases and
had filed patents on their use as drug targets.
Reykavik-based deCODE is sifting through the medical records of Iceland's
population, which has changed little in genetic make-up since the Vikings
arrived in the ninth and 10th centuries, to uncover the connections between
genetic abnormalities and disease. 
Like other genomics companies set up in the wake of the decoding of the
human genome, deCODE bases its research on sophisticated data-mining
"The identification of these targets is a resounding confirmation of the
power of our data-mining tools and of the inherent strengths of our
population approach and integrated data," said Chief Executive Kari
Patent offices in the United States and Europe have become more stringent
about granting gene patents following a "landgrab" for intellectual property
among some companies. 
But Stefansson said he was confident of securing patents since his firm's
filings included additional information highlighting the biochemical
pathways by which genes are linked to disease.  DeCODE has a growing
in-house drug discovery programme based on its gene research, as well as a
wideranging product development agreement with Switzerland's Roche Holding
AG . 
Shares in deCODE, which floated in July 2000 at $18, closed on Nasdaq on
Tuesday at $8.32. 


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