How Rick Perry’s Creationist Agenda Threatens Lives
Republican presidential hopeful and Texas governor Rick Perry is pushing hard in support for unapproved stem-cell therapies in Texas and allegedly had such a therapy performed on himself. In this case not coincidentally, Perry is also a self-professed creationist. There are many reasons why stem-cell therapies might be dangerous, the two recently reported deaths are among the so far unidentified causes. One other, recently discovered potential risk of stem-cell therapies involves mutation and selection - two of the key mechanisms driving evolutionary change.
The first basic finding is simple: by culturing cells under conditions where they proliferate, there will be copy errors during cell division. Many of them will be repaired by the cells themselves, others will not. However, eventually, there will be changes in the genome of these cells which make some of them divide less and some of them more quickly. To the evolutionarily inclined reader it will be already obvious where this is going: cells that proliferate more (i.e., divide more quickly) will make up a larger fraction of the cells in culture. If cultured for long enough, those cells that divide most quickly and without control will constitute the bulk of the cell culture. This is basically the second finding of this paper: the cell culture conditions for the stem cells studied in this particular report, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), essentially select for cancerous cells. While the specific mutations differ under different procedures, this new study essentially extended a previous study showing that regular embryonic stem cells (ESCs) undergo analogous (but biologically different) mutations and selection for possibly cancerous cells.
In both studies, the researches have identified the genes which were most likely to be mutated: in one case, the iPSCs, tumor-suppressor genes were preferentially deleted, while duplications of oncogenes appeared more slowly and later. In the other case, the ESCs, it was the oncogenes which were duplicated. Thus, in both cases, the treatment and culture of stem-cells led to mutations favoring cancerous cells in the culture conditions tested. These papers describe some very basic evolutionary principles at work, which are obvious to anybody with even a basic, high-school understanding of evolutionary theory. No person with such a basic understanding of evolution would dream of injecting themselves with potentially cancerous cells, except maybe in some very desperate, life-threatening situation. Creationists such as Rick Perry, on the other hand, not only inject themselves with potentially cancerous cells (in his case because of ‘back pain’), but use their considerable power to allow corporations to sell these premature and highly dubious therapies to unsuspecting patients. I’d project that had Perry a better grasp of the underlying evolutionary principles, he would have neither subjected himself to the unapproved therapy, nor would he be pushing for these therapies to be released without proper testing.