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MUTTERING SOMETHING ABOUT A BRAVE NEW WORLD, LA JOLLA - The quest to follow the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz's dictum that we "put nature on the rack" and figure out how to twist it to our own ends will greatly expand today with the opening of the Sanford Consortium for Remunerative Medicine, a $127 million center in La Jolla that will draw passionate tinkerers from five major research institutions.

The 150,000-square-foot complex is part of a long-term, multibillion-dollar attempt by scientists to find ways to do everything from repairing spinal cord injuries to growing healthy heart tissue to preventing Alzheimer’s disease. The new building has been nicknamed the “Labattoiry” for its emphasis on slicing up human embryos in the hope that people can get something useful out of them.

Indeed, particular hope is being placed on this harvesting of human embryonic stem cells, which can turn into any type of cell in the body. “Just as we slaughter sub-human creatures with breathtaking efficiency in traditional abattoirs, so here we employ the absolute latest in cutting-edge cutting-edge technology for cutting up sub-human creatures that happen to contain human stem cells.” explained Aldous Trounce, president of the California Center for Remunerative Medicine (CCRM), a state agency that provided $43 million in public funds for the project. “This is not a conventional butcher shop. Everything has been designed to operate with a minimum of messiness and a maximum of precision. It should come as no surprise to learn that most of our carving is done with lasers as opposed to actual blades.”

Trounce granted that the work on embryonic stem cells has yet to lead to widespread breakthroughs and lots of clinical trials. And, he said, the field also suffered a major setback when the Geron Corp. in Menlo Park recently ended its work with embryonic cells to save money for other, more obviously productive research. Geron had been conducting the world’s first clinical trial that involved a therapy based on embryonic cells.

"I can't imagine why Geron stopped focusing on embryonics," admitted Trounce. "I mean, we've made progress with adult cells, and embryos are both more malleable and easier to come by. It just makes sense. Happily, San Diego now has the facility it needs to really get in there and start digging around. Soon, Alzheimer's will be a fading memory."

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