Chapter Eight: The Project
A month after Richard’s 21st birthday he had submitted an article for The Quarterly Medical Review. The piece was titled: ‘The Resurgent Power of Foetal Blood’ Richard, along with many of his peers of that time, had developed an ardent interest in researching stem cells.
In the 1990′s a raft of studies had been conducted on the beneficial properties of embryonic, foetal and adult stem cells. However the much younger Richard was instinctively drawn to the subject of foetal stem haematids. Early research had shown that foetal blood was a super-rich source of haemopoietic stem cells, which flourished more rapidly than those in embryonic or adult cells.
The study of foetal stem cells intrigued the doctor to no end. Richard saw blood - foetal blood - as a fascinating, multifarious cluster of ripened grapes; tiny individual cells bursting with a wealth of microscopic instructions.
‘The older the grapes, the finer the wine....’ In his research paper the passionate doctor discussed the matter of finding other ways to obtain and test the potency of foetal blood.
Unlike the leading experts of the day, the young Richard did not believe that the emphasis should be placed on studying the cells found in the umbilical cord, or in the placenta for that matter. Admittedly, he did concede that although it was indeed easier and far safer to do so, biomedical science was overlooking a huge link, by not finding more meticulous ways to study the blood of live foetuses.
His passionate writings conveyed his love for this area of study. The more he wrote, the bolder he became.
In Richard’s second research paper; titled: ’Foetal Blood: The benefits outweigh the risks,’ he went on the academic offensive, arguing that leading cytologists and those in the industry were wasting precious time and resources on their persistence in the study of specimens that were less than 24-weeks old. In his thesis he argued:
“Although the concentration of stem cells in foetal blood is higher than at any other time of life, only a third was left in the placenta once the foetus was delivered. Surely, the emphasis should be placed on studying the matter which contains the remaining two-thirds of the stem cells? Certainly, the risks are greater when interfering with an older foetus, but with steady measures put in place the overall outcome will ultimately justify the means.”
Richard went on to say that it would be in the researcher’s best interest to study the stem cells of 40-to-42-week old foetuses. Not only because the blood is at its optimal richness, but because, more importantly, once the foetus is delivered, the blood is unable to hold onto to its’ potency.
Harking back to a study he recalled from his undergraduate classes, Richard highlighted that as soon as a baby draws its first breath, the lungs begin to break down from their original cellular structure. This in turn has a knock-on effect on the baby’s heart and blood pressure. And as soon as the pressure increases, the previous vital units within the heart begins to close. Thus, seeing an end to the old structure and the birth of a new respiratory system. However, Richard strongly contended that, while this unique and very natural process was taking place, it was then, that the foetal stem cells began to lose much of their potency. Ultimately, forfeiting any chance of anyone obtaining the blood specimen at its most potent.
Unfortunately, this particular article was not received as warmly by some of the QMR’s reviewers. In fact it proved to be highly divisive with criticisms crashing in from all angles.
‘So Einstein. What do you suggest?’
‘Dr. Lawson. You have no prior experience or qualifications in this field. I suggest you proceed with caution.’
‘If you don’t mind me asking, honourable colleague, are you an expectant father? If so, care to put your foetus up for experimentation?’
Richard who was fresh out of medical school thought he was prepared for the criticisms. The onslaught was unrelenting; as if he’d happened upon a swarm of killer bees. Richard was hurt. You could ridicule his choices, his demeanour. But his work? His output? - That was a bridge too far. He could admit he was an obstinate prig – granted, but he didn’t believe he was deserving of this. He would never forget that stinging sensation...
Nonetheless, the young doctor continued with his own private research. But there was no blowing off course the encroaching clouds of depression that were silently making their way towards him. For it became apparent that the scathing criticisms had not only hurt him, but it had also unearthed; not one, not two, but three glaring medical stumbling blocks.
‘They were right,’ Richard realized
To begin with, where could he get his hands on a live foetus? One, as close to its due date as possible?
Two: How could he collect the stem cells before the baby’s heart commenced with its natural reparative procedure?
And last of all, three: Even if it were possible, how could he obtain this specimen without drawing attention to what he was doing?
Richard’s days became a brooding mix of panic and depression as he realized he could no longer go on with his precious research. There were far too many moral and ethical questions - and not one feasible answer.
He spent many nights thinking up various elaborate and often unrealistic methods. All were futile.
Wallowing in semi-depression was the state Richard had arrived at before his chance meeting with Diligence. When Diligence came onto the scene everything changed. The impossible became possible...
As it turned out, the people at Diligence were also keen on the study of Human DNA. They, too, wanted to undertake further studies on foetal stem cells. But unlike Richard, they were better resourced and light years ahead.
They had foreseen the many challenges that Richard was now wrestling with, and had found a way to iron out some of the potential hurdles.
To say the young doctor was completely awe-struck was an understatement. To Richard, it was as if Diligence had pre-empted his very arrival. His painstaking research was similar to the findings that Diligence had also arrived at.
This pharmaceutical giant had seen what he had guessed all along. If at any time Richard was looking for vindication, this day he had received it in spades. Diligence not only welcomed him, they championed his ideas.
“You are on the brink of making medical history,” the man from Diligence had said. “I think you’ll enjoy working with us.” He paused. “Although Richard…You should consider this arrangement more like a partnership. We are together on this”
‘Partnership?’ Again, Richard couldn’t believe his good fortune.
For every month he was working on this project he was going to receive triple his monthly salary. Notably Richard came from a reasonably wealthy family. But like most of the world’s rich, he had to admit there was nothing more satisfactory than accumulating more.
‘The older the grapes, the finer the wine…’ Richard smiled. It was time. He was about to make his dream a reality.
After a series of discussions, Diligence said it was willing to facilitate him in any way they could. However, the company had one order. And it was a very tall one.
Diligence wanted the stem cells of no less than 20 live foetuses. This was more than Richard could ever dream of obtaining. They said he would need to select between 20 and 25 pregnant woman, and all these candidates had to give birth at 42-weeks. No sooner...
’42-weeks?He was a medic not a magician. How on earth was he going to control this colossal aspect of nature? The babies arrived when they were ready!’
Richard opened his mouth to protest but it seemed the man from Diligence had anticipated this response. He did not allow Richard to speak. Instead he said in a level voice. “Richard. Listen carefully to me. We will provide you with ALL the necessary tools you will need, and we’ll also show you how to use them. But you have to do EXACTLY what we tell you. Believe me Richard, we are on the same page here. If you follow our instructions precisely everything will go according to plan, you’ll see. Now Richard, are you ready to listen?”
And listen Richard did.
The consultants at Diligence were very thorough. They understood exactly what needed to be done.
Richard’s new sponsors gave him a drug; it was called Miroplyome. He had never seen anything quite like it before, it was cool, clear and untraceable.
He was told that it was a special drug that the company had been working on with one of their many clients.
Miroplyome was similar to some of the already well-known drugs on the market which were used to induce miscarriages. But unlike them, it didn’t actually carry out this function. It only mimicked the symptoms of a miscarriage.
Richard needed to find expectant mothers that had never been vaccinated, or who hadn’t received their vaccination jabs in a long period of time. This was because after the 20-weeks’ gestation period had passed, women who wished to be vaccinated against Tetanus, Diptheria or Pertussis were allowed to be given the Tdap vaccine.
This provided a perfect window for the doctor. He was able to mix the drug with the Tdap vaccination, which he made sure to administer to the expectant mother in her 30th week of pregnancy. The women chosen for the task went into labour exactly twelve weeks after they had received their vaccinations.
“Richard…it is imperative that the foetus be born in the 42nd week - understood? Like us, you’re aware that the foetal blood is at its most potent then. Once you have the stem cells in your possession they should be stored correctly and ready for pick-up. We’ll show you how.”
“I understand fully,” Richard replied.
He had heard many times how doctors liked to play God, although, he never really understood what that meant. In his opinion the sciences were forever trailing behind that great architect in the sky. But something about this quest made him feel, omnipotent…omniscient...He didn’t know what it was. Was it the secrecy of others not knowing the power he had? There was something about this level of control which hit him harder than the greatest high.
Once the 42-weeks were up, the unsuspecting- mother-to-be was rushed into the labour ward, where Richard was conveniently waiting on hand to collect his specimen.
But because it was not a naturally induced labour, it was no ordinary affair...
‘…It was a cataclysmic, gut-wrenching ordeal. Excruciating beyond words…’
The report sent to Diligence had read.
All the same, there was little the consultants at Diligence could do about this, as it was the effect brought on from the use of Miroplyome.
‘…As long as it did not lead to the death of the mother, it would just have to do in the interim…’
The report back from Diligence had concluded.
However, there was another drawback to this well-laid plan. For although the mother was able to avoid death, the baby’s chances were a whole lot slimmer. This, was apparently another blip, which, those at Diligence were working tirelessly to rectify. But until they found a solution, the baby would just have to take its chances.
It had been a little over two years since this covert plan between Richard and Diligence had begun. And to date, they had collected 17 specimens. And of the 17 specimens not one of the neonates had made it home…
The project was soon nearing its end. There were only three more specimens to go.
Richard was well aware that what he was doing, along with Diligence was tremendously unethical – illegal even. But if he subscribed to anything it was the belief of the great thinkers that came before him; Darwin, Newton, Einstein. All, showed, that as a matter of principle, man and science could create solutions for everything. And in the long run wasn’t he doing just that? Finally, he would get to walk with the greats, because he thoroughly believed, in his heart, that he was now thinking just like them.
Without reason, Richard’s right hand shot up to gently massage the smooth skin between his eyebrows. It only lasted a moment but it was an idiosyncrasy he’d had since he could remember.
The motion came from his great, great, grandfather - a Church of England Bishop - and the second son of a noble family. The gesture was spawned directly from this particular Ancestor. But this heinous plot to unscrupulously take the lives of unborn babies, just as they were preparing to enter into the world. Well…that was all Richard.
The doctor wholeheartedly believed that this project was his raison d’être and this ardent belief empowered his every waking move.
Richard continued to level his iron gaze on where baby Tobey lay. But just like his true thoughts and feelings, his smile too, was carefully concealed from the world to see.