Kauravas Through Stem Cells: Obscurantism Beyond Tolerance

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Dr Arun Mitra

statement of Andhra Pradesh University vice chancellor G Nageshwar Rao at the
Indian Science Congress in Jalandhar about the birth of Kauravas through stem
cell transplantation needs a critical review. “We had hundreds of Kauravas from
one mother because of stem cell research and test tube baby technology. It
happened a few thousand years ago. This was science in this country,” Rao
had said.

is important to review this statement in the perspective of history and modern
medicine. Before going into other questions of rationality it is necessary that
the scientific information about stem cells is reviewed.

per the information on stem cells by the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
U.S Department of Health and Human Services, scientists discovered ways to
derive embryonic stem cells from early mouse embryos in 1981. The detailed
study of the biology of mouse stem cells led to the discovery in 1998 of a
method to derive stem cells from human embryos and grow the cells in the
laboratory. These cells are called human embryonic stem cells. The embryos used
in these studies were created for reproductive purposes through in vitro
fertilization procedures. When they were no longer needed for that purpose,
they were donated for research with the informed consent of the donor. In 2006,
researchers made another breakthrough by identifying conditions that would
allow some specialized adult cells to be “reprogrammed” genetically
to assume a stem cell-like state.

cell is the basic unit from where many complex structures of the body develop.
As the fertilization of egg takes place, the newly formed cell starts to
proliferate and form embryo. In a 3-5 days embryo, which has about 150 cells,
develop embryonic stem cells. These cells are basic raw material for the body.
They can either keep on growing and dividing into further stem cells or may
take up specialized functions.

cells are important for living organisms for many reasons. In the 3- to
5-day-old embryo, called a blastocyst, the inner cells give rise to the entire
body of the organism, including all of the many specialized cell types and
organs such as the heart, lungs, skin, sperm, eggs and other tissues. In some
adult tissues, such as bone marrow, muscle, and brain, discrete populations of
adult stem cells generate replacements for cells that are lost through normal
wear and tear, injury, or disease.

cells are distinguished from other cell types by two important characteristics.
First, they are unspecialized cells capable of renewing themselves through cell
division, sometimes after long periods of inactivity. Second, under certain
physiologic or experimental conditions, they can be induced to become tissue or
organ-specific cells with special functions. In some organs, such as the gut
and bone marrow, stem cells regularly divide to repair and replace worn out or
damaged tissues. In other organs, however, such as the pancreas and the heart,
stem cells only divide under special conditions.

stem cells research and its applications are a very complex issue developed
only very recently. It needs a lot of further research for its application to
be utilized for the benefit of health of mankind.

are yet to find evidence of such research and its applications anywhere in the
world in the past. To talk of stem cells in the ancient India when people used
to wear wooden chappals “kharawans”, ride the elephant (not even horse), used
gadaas, spears and arrows as weapons, to expect them to use the highly complex
advanced technology of stem cells is difficult to swallow. Such a statement
shows either bankruptcy of mind, irrationality of thinking or deceit in the
effort to mix science with mythology. This could also be to please the masters
for personal benefits. Whatever the reason it has raised a serious question as
to which way we are going.

time back a similar statement was given by a retired judge of Rajasthan high
court in which he had said that the peahen gives birth to the offspring when it
licks the tears of male peacock. What type of judgments this man would have
pronounced can easily be deduced from this statement, which crossed all limits of

Prime Minster Narendra Modi while addressing a gathering of doctors and other
professionals at a hospital in Mumbai said that in ancient India plastic
surgery was so advanced that an elephant’s head could be transplanted on a
human body or that “…… Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means
that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born
outside his mother’s womb,” it was no matter to rejoice but it could be
tolerated presuming that it was a gimmick by a politician to woo those who
believe in such irrational ideas. Barring a few rationalists the scientific
community did not speak much about this illogical utterance.

when such a statement comes from the mouth of an academician it is a very
serious matter. Even a more serious matter of concern is that the medical and
scientific community has not showed outrage over such obscurantist ideas being
spread by those at the helm of affairs. It is time the medical associations
came forward to condemn such irrational ideas before it is too late and the
country is pushed into medieval set of mind.

have great respect and honour for our epics Ramayana and Mahabharata for their
highlighting the cotemporary value system; but to use them for political ends
must be condemned. (IPA Service)

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