Thomas R. O'Donnell

We sought candidates’ science policy views. One side mostly ignored us.

In Government, Uncategorized on November 1, 2022 at 7:24 am
The Iowa Science Policy Candidate Survey website header, featuring an Iowa map.

I’ve been involved with what began as the March for Science Iowa, now Science Iowa, almost since its inception. Launched as part of the national March for Science, its greatest achievement may have been drawing around 2,500 people to the Iowa Capitol on April 22, 2017. The Des Moines event was one of thousands around the world on Earth Day.

Another top achievement is the Iowa Science Policy Candidate Survey, an attempt to get every person seeking office in Iowa, from state legislature to U.S. Senate, on the record regarding science and science-related policy. Science Iowa has led this effort since the 2018 midterm election.

In 2020, Science Iowa’s survey received logistical support from Science Debate and the National Science Policy Network (NSPN), nonprofits that sought to foster similar efforts in other states. We joined with Iowa State University’s ASPIRE, an NSPN chapter, and the University of Iowa’s Connecting Science to Society, now an NSPN chapter, to devise the survey. Our coalition worked with multiple other Iowa science, environmental, education and agriculture organizations to compose the questions.

The 2022 midterm Iowa Science Policy Candidate Survey is having its best year yet. More, and more prominent, organizations signed on with input to our questions.

The Des Moines Register and multiple other Iowa newspapers, plus the Bleeding Heartland political blog, published opinion pieces promoting the survey. (Our attempts to appear on a conservative-leaning blog failed.)

Most importantly, we’ve received 24 candidate responses. The highlight: Both U.S. Senate candidates, Democrat Michael Franken and Republican Charles Grassley, weighed in.

Yet, that’s still only around 10 percent of the possible responses – and those we did receive revealed a worrisome phenomenon.

The ramifications of using pigs for people parts

In Uncategorized, University research on April 5, 2022 at 12:22 pm
University of Maryland surgeons prepare a pig heart for transplant into a 57-year-old man. Credit: University of Maryland.
University of Maryland Medical Center surgeons prepare a pig heart for transplant into a 57-year-old man. Credit: University of Maryland.

Xenotransplantation – replacing human organs with ones from animals – has advanced since I reported last fall that the first pig kidney attached to a living human came from Iowa.

Doctors repeated the experiment at least twice, once at the University of Alabama at Birmingham on September 30, 2021 and again at New York University, which conducted the first kidney xenotransplant.

Then, in early January, University of Maryland Medical Center surgeons replaced a 57-year-old man’s failing heart with one from a genetically engineered pig. He has since died.

All the organs came from Revivicor, a division of medical conglomerate United Therapeutics. The first kidney transplanted at NYU came from a pig raised at an Iowa facility operated by Exemplar Genetics, a subsidiary of Sioux Center’s Trans Ova Genetics.

The pigs are engineered to remove three genes that would prompt a human body to reject the transplanted organ. Six human genes that Revivicor inserted into swine DNA are designed to help human bodies accept a transplanted organ.

The genetically modified pigs must be raised in medically conditions avoid exposing them to diseases hogs share with humans. Trans Ova subsidiary Exemplar specializes in providing such settings for research animals.

Although the first NYU kidney came from Iowa, it appears the other pig organs may have come from elsewhere. The Alabama pig was raised at the university. The New Yorker magazine notes that the heart transplanted in Maryland came from a Virginia facility.

Iowa may not have a monopoly on genetically modified hogs for transplant purposes, but the question remain: Is it ethical to turn animals into spare parts stores for humans?

Iowa company produced first pig kidney grafted onto a human patient

In Industry Research, Uncategorized, University research on November 28, 2021 at 4:24 pm
A genetically engineered pig kidney, raised in Iowa, is cleaned and prepared for transplantation to a human. Credit: Joe Carrotta for NYU Langone Health.

The day is nearing when doctors will safely transplant animal kidneys, hearts and other organs to ailing humans.

When they do, there’s a good chance that animals providing those body parts will be grown in Iowa – at least in the early stages.

In September, New York University surgeons connected a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a patient destined to die but kept alive on a ventilator. (The subject’s family consented to the experiment.) The kidney functioned normally, removing urine and other wastes from the person’s bloodstream, for more than two days. Because researchers had modified the pig’s genetic code, there were no signs of immediate – hyperacute – rejection from the patient’s immune system.

The Associated Press reported last month that the pig was part of a herd of 100 raised “in tightly controlled conditions at a facility in Iowa.”

I’ve identified the Iowa company that did the work and the facility’s likely, approximate location. What’s less clear is what animal-sourced organs could mean for the state.

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