Interesting Scribbles

Working in Witness for Christ as a Scientist

August 8, 2017

Notes from a talk by Steve Keller on August 1, 2017 at Young Catholic Professionals.

Make the phone call. NIH program was recruiting for twelve students, filling from the East Coast. I was on the West Coast; I told them they were missing out. Okay, if you can get interviews set up at three schools, I’ll fly out: it lets me write off my sister’s wedding. I wasn’t the most qualified person applying, but I got a job there.

Is God trending among scientists? Not so much.

Few studies have been done on beliefs among scientists, but its much lower (50%) than the general public (95%). And among them, biologists are the least. Those studies reflect my personal experience. It’s not something people are eager to talk about at work. And that’s a problem. I worry about the lack of God’s voice in that field, in things like policy and choices.

Sure, it would be great to have more colleagues who were Catholics, but that’s not the point. Sure, conversion of non-believers would be great, but again, not the point.

At this point, at least 20 kinds of animals have been cloned, and companies will sell clones of your pet. Embryonic stem cells… There haven’t been a lot of great success yet but the idea is that you can regrow cells at the site of some injury. And, destroying a human embryo.

Induced pluripotent — de-differentiating adult cells that can become re-differentiated. No embryo involved. The big use is in organoids — clumps of cells that act leek an organ, which are useful in drug development. (But also not a huge success in clinical treatments.) A way to do early screening of things like toxicity to the liver.

De-extinction. “We are not especially disappointed for the death of the cloned newborn, because such deaths in cloning experiments are common.” Bucardo, cloned in Spain, but lived only ten minutes. Extinct in 2000.

Engineered embryo for the cells — transferred nucleus from a skin cell into an egg cell, and cultured heart cells in a petri dish.

A chimera is an organism with two or more distinct genetic tissues. Starting to be tested, with some recent successes, like rat/mouse. You can mark the cells so they fluoresce, and see the mix of makeup.

(This should raise your Creepy Meter a little bit. It does for me.)

Organs are in significant demand. Only 3 in 1,000 donors die in a way that they can actually donate. Twenty-two people die daily for lack of organ transplant. So… grow human hearts in a pig?

At what point is this pig/human no longer just a pig? This is the kind of place where policy — and faithful thought/prayer to develop it — is needed. We need witnesses in our workplaces.

Being pro-life in a very pro-choice world and business. Some people want to argue it, but that’s not my personality. I’m not a great evangelist.

Sourcing cells — are those derived from a fetal source? I have had a case where my team ordered cells that were derived from human embryos. Test was was the last step to get FDA approval. Very hard but finally found a different cell line. And, wouldn’t you know it, the experiment that had not been working with the other started working. Had a lot of discussions with two priests while this was going on.

Stay calm. Be kind. Turn hearts. (Not apologetics and argument, at least for me.)

Our Lady of Guadalupe socks. It’s a conversation starter; and it’s something I give to people around the office.

“Don’t worry about the little stuff, like what school our kids are getting into. Our only job as parents is to get our kids into heaven.”