FRC Blog

Perkins’ Perspective: More from Honduras

by Tony Perkins

August 6, 2008

Today I was far away from the news whirl with all the prognostications about vice presidential picks. Our team here in Honduras was in a small village about 20 minutes from Tela called Tornabe. Our first challenge of the day was just getting there on the old American school buses that have been given a second life here in Honduras and serve as our transportation. These buses, which are the main means of transportation for most people in the area, had to navigate the craters in the dirt road and the occasional animal that would wander into our path.


Once we are on location it takes about 30 minutes to set up the various aid stations. The people are first registered where basic information is written on a form that will accompany them through the process. Their second stop is where I spent the bulk of my time with the gospel presentation. It was there we soon discovered our second challenge.

The folks in Tornabe do not speak Spanish; they have their own dialect called Garifuna. They understand Spanish well enough to communicate, but in some cases we had to interpret from English to Spanish to Garifuna. I am pretty certain some things got lost in translation. I am accustomed to some people not laughing at my jokes, but when they laugh and I didn’t say anything funny, that causes me to wonder.

I was able to find out a little bit about the origins of the Garifuna people. They were African slaves taken from the Island of St. Vincent who were then marooned on the Island of Roatan in 1797. The Spaniards later moved them to Trujillo where they dispersed along the coast of the Caribbean. They remain pretty segregated in their small communities like Tornabe.

Today we saw around 600 people, again mostly women and children, bringing the total that we’ve been able to help with food, medicine and the gospel to over 2,000. I am constantly amazed at the natural beauty of Honduras, but at the same time the poverty and despair. I’ve also noticed that most of the area is in need of a good anti-litter campaign.


An unfortunate distinction of Tornabe is that it is reported to have one of the highest concentrations of HIV-positive people in the Western Hemisphere. The local church, under the leadership of Pastor Marvin, which hosted our clinic today, helps feed and clothe over 60 children of various ages who have been orphaned primarily because their parents died from AIDS. I have to confess that talking to these little ones, who have little more than the clothes they are wearing, was not easy. I thought of my own children having to survive on their own as these little ones do. But for a while we laughed with them, shared God’s love with them in word and in our actions, and brought smiles to their faces.

Before I shared the gospel with them I went to the back room of this cinder block building and watched as 60 children were given their one hot meal of the day. We were able to give many of the orphaned children clothes as well as leave Pastor Marvin enough food to feed the children for several weeks. We ended the day with a dinner and multi-church service at Centro Americano Iglesia where Pastor Luis Eucedo’s church made a great Honduran dinner for us. More tomorrow!


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The Most Effective Peacekeepers

by Michael Leaser

August 6, 2008

A former deputy director of children and family services in Illinois recently described her disturbing encounter with a bunch of young children witnessing, but apparently doing nothing to stop, a neighborhood fight. Visibly disturbed by the incident, she offers several solutions to reducing student violence, at the core of which is good parents building their own neighborhood.

The latest Mapping America lends support to these suggestions and demonstrates with federal survey data that married parents are the most effective peacekeeping force.

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Celebrity Stem Cells

by David Prentice

August 6, 2008

Thumbnail image for SuzanneSomersByPhilKonstantin.jpgActress Suzanne Somers has forged an alliance with the company Neostem for a multi-year awareness program. The idea is to educate the public about adult stem cell collection and storage. As part of the promotion campaign, she will have her adult stem cells (from her bloodstream, mobilized from her bone marrow) collected and stored, complete with filming of the collection procedure. The educational campaign, to start in September 2008, is apparently meant to coincide with the opening of several new Neostem collection centers.

There is certainly an increasing use of adult stem cells for treatments, with one estimate that approximately 11,000 patients in the U.S. have received adult stem cells as part of their conventional treatment in the past two years. The vast majority of these have been for various cancers and blood disorders, but an increasing number of adult stem cell clinical trials are seeing patients receiving treatment for autoimmune diseases and heart damage, which are showing published success in patients.

Still, it’s not certain whether it’s worth storing your adult stem cells at this point, especially given the cost. In most cases, your own adult stem cells can still be harvested even after diagnosis of cancer (see, e.g., Carol Franz’s story with multiple myeloma.) There IS a great need for storing cord blood, though, instead of throwing away the umbilical cord; for cord blood stem cells there is only the one chance for collection.

But Suzanne Somers is excited: “Stem cell therapy is the most exciting new breakthrough in medicine. It gives me great peace of mind to know that my own stem cells will be banked as bio-insurance for me.” So I guess having your cells already in the bank gives some people additional reassurance.

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Cloned Boogers!

by David Prentice

August 5, 2008

Five puppy clones of the deceased pit bull Booger were born July 28 and publicly unveiled today (requisite cute puppy pictures at above link, and also here.) Bernann McKinney of California paid the South Korean biotech firm RNL Bio $50,000 (a discount price from the usual $150,000) to clone her beloved dog. In cloning (technically termed “somatic cell nuclear transfer”, SCNT) the nucleus (DNA) of a body tissue cell is transferred into an egg (that has had its chromosomes removed), creating a new cloned embryo. The clones are then transferred to the womb of a surrogate mother for gestation.

Dogs have been cloned before, but these are the first commercial clones. RNL has been in a patent dispute with another dog cloning firm in the U.S. RNL was started by South Korean scientists who had worked with the cloning fraudster Hwang; Hwang (who was recently denied an application to clone humans) is the hired cloner of the U.S. firm. As a commercial cloning operation, RNL has had some orders for dog cloning, but still is searching for a big commercial payoff. Its CEO, Ra Jeong-Chan, says “For my next project, I will consider cloning camels for rich people in the Middle East.”

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Perkins’ Perspective: Greetings from Honduras!

by Tony Perkins

August 5, 2008


As reported in the Update, I am taking a week off to join my oldest daughter, Kendal, on a medical and humanitarian mission trip to the impoverished areas surrounding Tela, Honduras. This was her 16th birthday present. There has not been much downtime to blog on our activities as the doctors, nurses and others from our church have treated nearly 1,500 people in three days. The team has provided the people, mostly women and children (more on that topic later), with basic medicines, food and, in some cases, glasses (we had a limited supply of them). Of course, everyone heard and saw the gospel in action. Sunday night I had the opportunity to preach at Antioquia Evangelica Bautista Iglesia in Tela, which is a mission of our home church of Greenwell Springs Baptist.


It has been pretty hot but the afternoon rain showers help cool things off in this subtropical climate. It is a beautiful country and the Honduran people are extremely hospitable, receptive to us and grateful for what we are doing.

One thing I noticed right off in the various communities that we’ve been in, besides the abject poverty, is the absence of the men. I began asking around, talking to the local pastors through our interpreters. Two reasons were given. First, a number of the young men have gone to America (illegally) in search of job opportunities. Unfortunately, according to those I’ve spoken to, few of the men are sending money back in support of the children and their mothers. The second reason given was the influence of the messages sent from the United States through our television programs. It’s not just our families that are affected by what American entertainment puts out.

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Sister, can you spare an egg?

by Michael Fragoso

August 4, 2008

Stories have been floating around—probably thanks to Drudge—about more women donating eggs because they’re strapped for cash. Leaving aside the possible risks of egg donation and the ethics of in vitro fertilization, this speaks to a potentially growing problem of what happens when human life — in the form of human tissue or organs — is commoditized.

I once spoke on a panel dealing with the question of whether we should change the existing laws to provide monetary incentives for organ donations. A co-panelist of mine argued that a grave danger in monetizing body parts comes from a radical reevaluation of self-worth to reflect actual cash value. He gave the dystopian hypothetical of a student applying for financial aid, and being denied by the college administrator, “Well, your bank account is lean, but you still have 2 kidneys and a whole lot of eggs, so we calculate your net worth at $30,000.” The fact that some women see cashing in on their eggs as the logical step when the economy tightens does not reassure that such a hypothetical and ironic devaluation of human life is an impossibility.

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The Lie of the Needle

by Family Research Council

August 2, 2008

A group of liberal Congressmen, joined by Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), are looking for cosponsors for H.R. 6680, a bill to increase federal funding for controversial needle exchange programs. They make a rather questionable claim in their “Dear Colleague”:

With approximately 12,000 Americans contracting HIV/AIDS directly or indirectly each year from the sharing of contaminated syringes, it is critical that we make federal dollars available to programs that effectively reduce the number of contaminated syringes on our streets.”
While most of my experience with needle exchange program is more anecdotal from my time in Washington, DC (which has allowed for private funding for years and just recently allowed for taxpayer funded needle exchanges), it has not been pleasant. The areas where the needle distribution trucks would gather generally became high crime areas and also drew in a lot of drug dealers knowing they had a gathered customer base. Scientific evidence about the efficacy of needle exchange programs has been imprecise. The truth is giving needles to illegal drug users is like giving matches and gasoline to a pyromaniac. Instead of reducing cases of HIV/AIDS many cities that have needle exchange programs find higher rates among drug users.

Vancouver, Canada, has the largest needle give-away program in North America. Two million syringes are distributed each year.

Since the program started in 1988, HIV prevalence among intravenous drug users has gone from 1% to 2% to 23%, and deaths from drug overdoses have increased fivefold, giving Vancouver the highest heroin death rate in the United States and Canada.

In a Montreal study, 39% of those who participated in its needle-exchange reported sharing dirty needles, compared to 38% of nonparticipants.”

The city of Baltimore has had a taxpayer funded needle exchange for over a decade. A recent report from the Baltimore City Commission on HIV and AIDS has found that Baltimore now ranks second among cities in the nation for HIV/AIDS cases. The study also showed that AIDS cases are most prevalent in areas with high drug abuse and among injection drug users.

Congress’ newest effort would result in facilitating an extermination program of the addicted - I’m sure that is not their intention, however that would clearly be the result.

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iPS Cells from ALS Patient an Advance, But Not the First Patient-Specific Stem Cells

by David Prentice

August 2, 2008

A team of scientists from Harvard University and Columbia University has reprogrammed skin cells from two elderly patients with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), producing iPS cells, an embryonic-type stem cell. Then from the iPS cells, they produced cells resembling motor neurons, the type of neurons that are attacked in the disease. This is the first time any embryonic-type stem cell has been created directly from a patient. The iPS cell technology, developed by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Japan, directly reprograms normal cells such as skin cells into an embryonic stem cell type, using the addition of 3-4 genes. No embryos, eggs, or cloning are used in the process. Yamanaka first developed the technique in mice, then transferred the same process to use with human cells. The first human iPS cells were announced in November 2007 by Yamanaka and by Dr. James Thomson. In the few months since then over 100 human iPS cell lines have been created by various labs, but this is the first published instance where iPS cells were created from a patient with a specific disease. Further work will be needed to show whether the immature neurons that were produced can mature to functional motor neurons in the lab dish, whether they are similar to the motor neurons in ALS patients, and if they can provide any clues to the development of the disease. The team hopes that they can use the iPS-derived neurons to study the disease in the lab.

The Harvard team, led by Kevin Eggan, had been attempting to create patient-specific stem cells for over two years, by trying to produce embryonic stem cells from human embryos by cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer, SCNT) but had failed, in part because of the scarcity of human eggs (see Pining for Clones, Whining for Eggs) as well as the tremendous inefficiency of the cloning process. One of Eggan’s co-authors, Christopher Henderson, noted that if the iPS technique holds its promise in producing neurons and other cells for research, it will probably replace the cloning approach. Dr. Rudolph Jaenisch of MIT, another cloning scientist, noted that the iPS cell technology “is so much easier, [with] so many fewer restrictions and problems - ethical as well as others.” Jaenisch’s lab had also tried the cloning concept in mice and failed, but succeeded with the iPS cells. These same reasons led Prof. Ian Wilmut, cloner of Dolly the sheep, to give up on cloning in favor of Yamanaka’s technique.

The results of this study should put another nail in cloning’s coffin. Eggan still insists that he will continue with cloning research, but all the results are flowing from iPS cells. The New York Stem Cell Foundation, previously a die-hard supporter of cloning and very critical of iPS cells, wasted no time in trumpeting their “critical funding role” in the new study. One of Eggan’s major funders, the Stowers Institute, has relentlessly pushed cloning. Stowers poured $30 million into Missouri in 2006 to pass Amendment 2, a state constitutional amendment to secure the right to create cloned human embryos. Stowers CEO, William Neaves, has said that “the ultimate goal is not to create therapies with somatic cell nuclear transfer” but also that “The ultimate goal of all lines of this research is to be able, eventually, to reprogram ordinary body cells so that they could be used for therapy to replace cells that have been destroyed by injury or disease.” Sounds like iPS cells are achieving that goal. One company that rejected the iPS technique is Advanced Cell Technology (ACT). William Caldwell, CEO, had said in January 2008 that iPS “is not a substitute for what we’re doing now.” ACT was recently reported on the verge of bankruptcy. Similarly, Thomas Okarma, CEO of Geron, ignoring the facts and statements of the scientists, said that the iPS technique was “too complicated and too expensive.” (Maybe he should look at what happened to ACT.) Cloning continues to fail, iPS cells keep delivering results.

Back to some inaccuracies in most of the news reports on this latest study. What they did was show for the first time that iPS cells, an embryonic stem cell, could be made directly from patients with a disease (without harming the cell donor, and without using eggs, embryos, or cloning), and also that they could produce in the lab a specialized cell type similar to that affected in the disease. But is this the first instance of a disease-specific human cell line? No, there are lots of those, going all the way back to 1952 and the very first cultured human cell line, the HeLa cell line (the disease in that instance was cancer.)

But isn’t this the first instance of a patient-specific stem cell line? No. That honor belongs to the Australian group led by Professor Alan Mackay-Sim of Griffith University, that already made patient-specific and disease-specific stem cell lines. They isolated adult stem cells from the nasal tissue of patients, including Parkinson’s patients. AND they turned those stem cell lines into the type of tissue affected in the patient,. AND they have already gone beyond the iPS result; they used their adult stem cell lines in an animal model of Parkinson’s disease. AND the adult stem cells successfully treated the disease in the animals. Without tumor formation.

So the current iPS cell result is a nice advance, but it’s not the first evidence of patient-specific or disease-specific stem cells, and certainly not the best.

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