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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Sickle Cell, Stem Cells, and My Friend Art

This article, which appeared in Google News today, reports that scientists, using skin-derivied stem cells, have found a way to cure mice of sickle cell anemia.

Sickle cell is a disabling and often fatal disorder that is inherited, and, though this article makes no mention of it, its preferred victims are Rainbows, that is, people of recent African descent.

I can relate to this in the most personal way because for a long time one of my best friends was Art .A., who all his life struggled with sickle cell, before succumbing at last, seven or eight years ago.

By chance we attended the same elementary school in D.C., but because he was two years behind me neither of us recalled seeing the other there, and we didn't meet till later, in a writing class at Howard University in D.C., not long after we had both served in the military, he in the Army and I in the Air Force. This was in the late 1950s, and from then on we stayed in contact of varying degrees until his death.

For a while at Howard he and I and a third fellow named Joe W. were a close-knit trio that spent a lot of time roaming through Howard and the city streets, talking about writing and many other subjects, before eventually both Art and Joe left town, to take the next logical step of pursuing their literary destinies in New York City, while I stayed behind in D.C. But whatever Art did in the writing field, whether as an editor or as a literary agent or later in Los Angeles while trying to break into movies as a producer, he never forgot me, and both of my only published books, though they were not my favorite works, were his idea.

Meanwhile Joe went on to be the most commercially successful of us, writing a play about rainbow family life that appeared on Broadway and was later even filmed. But by that time we were totally out of touch, as he largely was with Art also, and while I saw the play I never saw the film, which appeared in theaters only briefly, and just a couple of years ago he, too, left this world.

At the end, however, because of certain distractions on both our parts, I wasn't in that close touch with Art. either, though he and his partner had taken a film option out on one of my novels, and he had been gone for two years before I heard about his death through that partner, who was intrigued by the fact that he had left behind a whole shelf of my manuscripts.

She never told me what had caused his death, but it's safe to assume that it was some result of the sickle cell. Even when he was young he would often have attacks that were extremely painful, and sometimes he would need blood transfusions. At least once and maybe more I donated blood for him, for which he was very grateful.

Sickle cell is so deadly that, as it was, Art was lucky to live as long as he did, well into his 60's. But it's too bad that this stem cell research didn't get going till it was too late for him or that he was born 10 or 12 years too soon.
We can expect that the Republicans, eager to claim any worthwhile victory that they can for their figurehead, GW Bush, since such triumphs are rare for him and in fact non-existent, will quickly and loudly trumpet this breakthrough, saying something like, "Look, this didn't happen till scientists got over resisting our lord's unbending opposition to embryonic research, and they started looking hard at using cells from skin instead." But note that in the article the scientific spokesman said that the advance was based on embryonic stem cell research.

This breakthrough has been announced so quickly, just weeks after the scientists had announced that skin cells could be used, that I wouldn't be surprised if, years hence, when the Repubs have been sufficiently declawed and defanged, it will come out that in fact embryonic instead of skin stem cells were actually used on the sickle cell mice. Otherwise everything happened way too fast, I would say.


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