Tag: biological research

Bioethics Blogs

A Feminist Neuroethics of Mental Health

By Ann E. Fink
Ann Fink is currently the Wittig Fellow in Feminist Biology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with an appointment in Gender and Women’s Studies and concurrent affiliations with Psychology and the Center for Healthy Minds. Her research in cellular and behavioral neuroscience has appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Neurophysiology, PNAS and other journals. Ann’s interdisciplinary work addresses the ethics of neuroscience in relation to gender, mental health and social justice. 

Emotionality and gender are tied together in the popular imagination in ways that permeate mental health research. At first glance, gender, emotion, and mental health seem like a simple equation: when populations are divided in two, women show roughly double the incidence of depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders1-3. Innate biological explanations are easy to produce in the form of genes or hormones. It could be tempting to conclude that being born with XX chromosomes is simply the first step into a life of troubled mood. Yet, buried in the most simplistic formulations of mental illness as chemical imbalance or mis-wiring is the knowledge that human well-being is a shifting, psychosocial phenomenon. Learning and memory research offers a treasure trove of knowledge about how the physical and social environment changes the brain. Feminist scholarship adds to this understanding through critical inquiry into gender as a mode of interaction with the world. This essay explores how a feminist neuroethics framework enriches biological research into mental health. 
Problems with “Biology-from-birth” stories 
What if understanding gender and health isn’t a tale of two gonads (or genitalia, or chromosomes)?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Grounding ethics from below: CRISPR-cas9 and genetic modification

By Anjan Chatterjee

The University of Pennsylvania

Anjan Chatterjee is the Frank A. and Gwladys H. Elliott Professor and Chair of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital. He is a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his BA in Philosophy from Haverford College, MD from the University of Pennsylvania and completed his neurology residency at the University of Chicago. His clinical practice focuses on patients with cognitive disorders. His research addresses questions about spatial cognition and language, attention, neuroethics, and neuroaesthetics. He wrote The Aesthetic Brain: How we evolved to desire beauty and enjoy art and co-edited: Neuroethics in Practice: Mind, medicine, and society, and The Roots of Cognitive Neuroscience: behavioral neurology and neuropsychology. He is or has been on the editorial boards of: American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience, Behavioural Neurology, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Neuropsychology, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, European Neurology, Empirical Studies of the Arts, The Open Ethics Journal and Policy Studies in Ethics, Law and Technology. He was awarded the Norman Geschwind Prize in Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology by the American Academy of Neurology and the Rudolph Arnheim Prize for contribution to Psychology and the Arts by the American Psychological Association. He is a founding member of the Board of Governors of the Neuroethics Society, the past President of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, and the past President of the Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Society. He serves on the Boards of Haverford College, the Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired and The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

The Very Early Embryo & Its Moral Signifiance

by Andrew J. Prunty

As technology and biological research continue to develop in the twenty-first century, it is necessary to address and further define the ethical considerations of embryonic research and the appropriate rights that may limit the extent of human research on zygotes, blastocysts, and fetal scientific advancement. Because the area of harvesting embryonic stem cells remains significantly undefined, both legally and morally, there are vastly different opinions between researchers and bioethicists, mainly because of ethical limitations, on the rights that should be granted to cells with the potential to develop into human beings and the consequences of neglecting significant scientific research or advancement.

Current laws in the United States differ at the federal and state level, but there is no consistency in recognizing human embryos as humans, or affording them the same legal rights granted to a child; in fact, legal precedent actually detracts certain rights from developing embryos, favoring a human’s ability to destroy a potential human being (i.e. Roe v. Wade[i]) or the categorization of embryos as property (i.e. Davis v. Davis[ii], A.Z. v. B.Z.[iii], Marriage of Dahl[iv], or Reber v. Reiss[v]). These case law samples suggest the courts’ inability to reach a conclusion as to what is the status of an embryo.

The debate is not only circumscribed to matters of research, but to fundamental controversial and intertwined issues of bioethics such as: when life begins, embryonic stem cells, fetal rights, abortion, et cetera. All these topics are contentious and when one topic arises, they begin to comingle.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

In the Journals–March 2017, Part II by Julia Kowalski

This is Part II of March’s article round-up. You can find part I here.

In addition to the articles below, Theory, Culture and Society features an interview with Michel Foucault from 1983.

New Genetics and Society

Everything and nothing: regulating embryo research in Canada

Alana Cattapan & Dave Snow

This article examines how medical and scientific professionals experience and engage with the governance of embryo research in Canada. Drawing on the history of embryo regulation in Canada and the findings of a survey conducted with lab directors in Canadian fertility clinics, we identify a disjuncture between the rules established by legislation, regulations, and research ethics guidelines and the real-life experiences of professionals in the field. This disjuncture, we argue, is the result of both the absence of implementation mechanisms that would give substance to the governing framework, as well as an inability on the part of medical and scientific professionals to engage in robust self-regulation. Overall, we demonstrate that in an ethically charged and highly technical area of policy-making like embryonic research, clarity about the roles and responsibilities of government and professionals in policy-making and implementation is critical to effective governance.

Not just about “the science”: science education and attitudes to genetically modified foods among women in Australia

Heather J. Bray & Rachel A. Ankeny

Previous studies investigating attitudes to genetically modified (GM) foods suggest a correlation between negative attitudes and low levels of science education, both of which are associated with women. In a qualitative focus group study of Australian women with diverse levels of education, we found attitudes to GM foods were part of a complex process of making “good” food decisions, which included other factors such as locally produced, fresh/natural, healthy and nutritious, and convenient.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

SHEEFs, Sentience, and the 14-Day Rule

March 31, 2017

by Professor Bonnie Steinbock 

Embryo research, made possible by IVF, raised the question of the moral status of human embryos. Are human embryos human subjects, who are entitled to stringent protections? Or are they clumps of cells that can be used in research, so long as the permission of their creators is obtained?

Various commissions (Ethics Advisory Board, 1979; Warnock Commission, 1984; National Institutes of Health, 1994) considered this issue, and all arrived at a similar conclusion. Embryos are neither persons nor mere tissue, but a very early form of human life and, as such, entitled to special respect. Specifically, they all agreed on the 14-day rule, which specifies that experiments with human embryos must not let them develop beyond 14 days.

Fourteen days is when the primitive streak (PS), the precursor of the spine and nervous system, appears. This is important because of the connection between the nervous system and sentience, the ability to experience pain or pleasure. Sentience is regarded as morally relevant because causing pain is, in general, wrong. Kicking a can down the road is perfectly permissible, but it would be very wrong to do the same to a sentient guinea pig. On a sentience criterion, nonsentient beings do not have the moral standing that sentient beings do, and research on nonsentient embryos is morally acceptable.

Some argue that what makes it wrong to kill an embryo has nothing to do with sentience. Rather, the embryo is the earliest stage of a unique human being. If it would be wrong to kill a developed human, it is equally wrong to kill that same human being in its earliest stages.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

A New Form of Stem-Cell Engineering Raises Ethical Questions

As biological research races forward, ethical quandaries are piling up. In a report published Tuesday in the journal eLife, researchers at Harvard Medical School said it was time to ponder a startling new prospect: synthetic embryos

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

In the Journals – January 2017 by Anna Zogas

Welcome to a new year of Somatosphere’s In the Journals section! Here are some of the articles available in January 2017. Enjoy!

Medical Anthropology

Chronic Subjunctivity, or, How Physicians Use Diabetes and Insomnia to Manage Futures in the United States
Matthew Wolf-Meyer & Celina Callahan-Kapoor

Prognostication has become central to medical practice, offering clinicians and patients views of particular futures enabled by biomedical expertise and technologies. Drawing on research on diabetes care and sleep medicine in the United States, in this article we suggest that subjectivity is increasingly modeled on medical understandings of chronic illness. These chronic conceptions of the self and society instill in individuals an anxiety about future health outcomes that, in turn, motivate practices oriented at self-care to avoid negative health outcomes and particular medical futures. At its most extreme, these anxieties of self-care trouble conceptions of self and social belonging, particularly in the future tense, leading patients and clinicians to consider intergenerational and public health based on the threats that individual patients pose for others.

Decoding the Type 2 Diabetes Epidemic in Rural India (open access)
Matthew Little, Sally Humphries, Kirit Patel & Cate Dewey

Type 2 diabetes mellitus is an escalating public health problem in India, associated with genetic susceptibility, dietary shift, and rapid lifestyle changes. Historically a disease of the urban elite, quantitative studies have recently confirmed rising prevalence rates among marginalized populations in rural India. To analyze the role of cultural and sociopolitical factors in diabetes onset and management, we employed in-depth interviews and focus groups within a rural community of Tamil Nadu.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Regenerative Medicine: New Clue from Fish about Healing Spinal Cord Injuries

Caption: Tissue section of zebrafish spinal cord regenerating after injury. Glial cells (red) cross the gap between the severed ends first. Neuronal cells (green) soon follow. Cell nuclei are stained blue and purple.
Credit: Mayssa Mokalled and Kenneth Poss, Duke University, Durham, NC

Certain organisms have remarkable abilities to achieve self-healing, and a fascinating example is the zebrafish (Danio rerio), a species of tropical freshwater fish that’s an increasingly popular model organism for biological research. When the fish’s spinal cord is severed, something remarkable happens that doesn’t occur in humans: supportive cells in the nervous system bridge the gap, allowing new nerve tissue to restore the spinal cord to full function within weeks.

Pretty incredible, but how does this occur? NIH-funded researchers have just found an important clue. They’ve discovered that the zebrafish’s damaged cells secrete a molecule known as connective tissue growth factor a (CTGFa) that is essential in regenerating its severed spinal cord. What’s particularly encouraging to those looking for ways to help the 12,000 Americans who suffer spinal cord injuries each year is that humans also produce a form of CTGF. In fact, the researchers found that applying human CTGF near the injured site even accelerated the regenerative process in zebrafish. While this growth factor by itself is unlikely to produce significant spinal cord regeneration in human patients, the findings do offer a promising lead for researchers pursuing the next generation of regenerative therapies.

As reported in the journal Science, researchers led by Kenneth Poss and postdoctoral fellow Mayssa Mokalled of Duke University, Durham, NC, made this discovery by screening for genes that switch on soon after spinal cord injury.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

BIOETHICS TV 10/27 – Modern miracles, body hacking, and sex trafficking

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Pure Genius (Seasons 1, Episode 1)

This new TV show might be the ethicists worst nightmare. The show opens with Dr. Mulroney at a hearing where he admits to giving a patient an unapproved FDA drug to a patient who died. He is dismissed. The point of this opening scene is to present medicine as too conservative, too stodgy, and not willing to take risks for innovation.

The second presents a case takes in an Oakland, CA hospital where a 15-year-old girls is unresponsive in a “coma” for some unknown reason. A team of people wearing brown jackets shows up to transfer the patient to a new hospital, Bunker Hill. The parents have to sign a transparent touch screen and all treatment will be free. This scene is an obvious reference to the Jahi McMath case.

The premise of this show is that James Bell, a Silicon Valley billionaire, brings together innovative physicians with the most cutting edge technology that can be envisioned in a high-tech hospital. Bell’s vision is to cut out the bureaucracy—apparently federal law and regulation do not apply in this world. At the end of the episode, the viewer learns that Bell has Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker syndrome (GSS)—a rare neurodegenerative genetic disorder that that will begin to affect him in a few years. He built the hospital to find a cure for himself and may help a few people along the way.

Among the great leaps—a patient table with self-administered finger-stick to allow for more frequent monitoring. A full wall screen displays all of a patient’s vitals and works as a giant iPad.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Cool Videos: Regenerating Nerve Fibers

If you enjoy action movies, you can probably think of a superhero—maybe Wolverine?—who can lose a limb in battle, yet grow it right back and keep on going. But could regenerating a lost limb ever happen in real life? Some scientists are working hard to understand how other organisms do this.

As shown in this video of a regenerating fish fin, biology can sometimes be stranger than fiction. The zebrafish (Danio rerio), which is a species of tropical freshwater fish that’s an increasingly popular model organism for biological research, is among the few vertebrates that can regrow body parts after they’ve been badly damaged or even lost. Using time-lapse photography over a period of about 12 hours, NIH grantee Sandra Rieger, now at MDI Biological Laboratory, Bar Harbor, ME, used a fluorescent marker (green) to track a nerve fiber spreading through the skin of a zebrafish tail fin (gray). The nerve regeneration was occurring in tissue being spontaneously formed to replace a section of a young zebrafish’s tail fin that had been lopped off 3 days earlier.

Along with other tools, Rieger is using such imaging to explore how the processes of nerve regeneration and wound healing are coordinated. The researcher started out by using a laser to sever nerves in a zebrafish’s original tail fin, assuming that the nerves would regenerate—but they did not! So, she went back to the drawing board and discovered that if she also used the laser to damage some skin cells in the tail fin, the nerves regenerated. Rieger suspects the answer to the differing outcomes lies in the fact that the fish’s damaged skin cells release hydrogen peroxide, which may serve as a critical prompt for the regenerative process [1].

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.