Tag: biology

Bioethics Blogs

Human genome editing: We should all have a say

Françoise Baylis stresses that decisions about the modification of the human germline should not be made without broad societal consultation.

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Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive biologist at Oregon Health and Science University, is nothing if not a pioneer. In 2007, his team published proof-of-principle research in primates showing it was possible to derive stem cells from cloned primate embryos. In 2013, his team was the first to create human embryonic stem cells by cloning. Now, in 2017, his team has reported safely and effectively modifying human embryos with the MYBPC3 mutation (which causes myocardial disease) using the gene editing technique CRISPR.

Mitalipov’s team is not the first to genetically modify human embryos. This was first accomplished in 2015 by a group of Chinese scientists led by Junjiu Huang. Mitalipov’s team, however, may be the first to demonstrate basic safety and efficacy using the CRISPR technique.

This has serious implications for the ethics debate on human germline modification which involves inserting, deleting or replacing the DNA of human sperm, eggs or embryos to change the genes of future children.

Those who support human embryo research will argue that Mitalipov’s research to alter human embryos is ethically acceptable because the embryos were not allowed to develop beyond 14 days (the widely accepted international limit on human embryo research) and because the modified embryos were not used to initiate a pregnancy. They will also point to the future potential benefit of correcting defective genes that cause inherited disease.

This research is ethically controversial, however, because it is a clear step on the path to making heritable modifications – genetic changes that can be passed down through subsequent generations.

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

Human genome editing: We should all have a say

Controversial gene editing should not proceed without citizen input and societal consensus. (Shutterstock)

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive biologist at Oregon Health and Science University, is nothing if not a pioneer. In 2007, his team published proof-of-principle research in primates showing it was possible to derive stem cells from cloned primate embryos. In 2013, his team was the first to create human embryonic stem cells by cloning. Now, in 2017, his team is reported to have safely and effectively modified human embryos using the gene editing technique CRISPR.

Mitalipov’s team is not the first to genetically modify human embryos. This was first accomplished in 2015 by a group of Chinese scientists led by Junjiu Huang. Mitalipov’s team, however, may be the first to demonstrate basic safety and efficacy using the CRISPR technique.

This has serious implications for the ethics debate on human germline modification which involves inserting, deleting or replacing the DNA of human sperm, eggs or embryos to change the genes of future children.

Ethically controversial

Those who support human embryo research will argue that Mitalipov’s research to alter human embryos is ethically acceptable because the embryos were not allowed to develop beyond 14 days (the widely accepted international limit on human embryo research) and because the modified embryos were not used to initiate a pregnancy. They will also point to the future potential benefit of correcting defective genes that cause inherited disease.

This research is ethically controversial, however, because it is a clear step on the path to making heritable modifications – genetic changes that can be passed down through subsequent generations.

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

How Kids See the World Depends a Lot on Genetics

Caption: Child watches video while researchers track his eye movements.
Credit: Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis

From the time we are born, most of us humans closely watch the world around us, paying special attention to people’s faces and expressions. Now, for the first time, an NIH-funded team has shown that the ways in which children look at faces and many other things are strongly influenced by the genes they’ve inherited from their parents.

The findings come from experiments that tracked the eye movements of toddlers watching videos of other kids or adult caregivers. The experiments showed that identical twins—who share the same genes and the same home environment—spend almost precisely the same proportion of time looking at faces, even when watching different videos. And when identical twins watched the same video, they tended to look at the same thing at almost exactly the same time! In contrast, fraternal twins—who shared the same home environment, but, on average, shared just half of their genes—had patterns of eye movement that were far less similar.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that the visual behaviors most affected in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—attention to another person’s eyes and mouth—were those that also appeared to be the most heavily influenced by genetics. The discovery makes an important connection between two well-known features of ASD: a strong hereditary component and poor eye contact with other people.

The new study was led by Warren Jones, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, and John Constantino, Washington University School of Medicine, St.

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

New artificial species. Could they affect biodiversity?

An article was recently published in the blog Practical Ethics, defending the use of synthetic biology and gene editing to obtain new organisms that do not exist in nature. Its author argues that if biodiversity is valuable, then it should be promoted, adding new species instead of conserving it as it is.

Contrary to the commonly assumed idea that current levels are optimal, he says that global biodiversity has been deeply affected by the acts of humans, having lost countless species. Moreover, he denies that ecosystems are fragile and finely balanced units, arguing on one side that the interactions between organisms tend to undermine their stability and, on the other, that the introduction of a new species does not have a major biological impact, statements that seem contradictory.

Artificial species and biodiversity

The aforementioned article lacks references that support these novel views on biodiversity and ecosystems, which contrasts with what has so far been understood and observed from the biological and environmental sciences. Nevertheless, even if his statements were true, this does not lead to the conclusion that it is advisable to increase the present biodiversity by producing new artificial species.

Neither does it mention whether the species produced should be non-pathogenic, or whether the researchers should take into account the type of organisms produced, their number, place of release, evolution perspectives (never completely controllable), organisms with which they would interact, etc. We do not believe it necessary to explain why it would not be appropriate to introduce organisms into the natural environment without first taking into account these and other considerations.

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

Some Comments about Being a Philosopher of Color and the Reasons I Didn’t Write a (Real) Paper for this (Seemingly) Ideal Venue for my Work

by Sean A. Valles

ABSTRACT. This special issue conspicuously lacks work by Philosophers of Color (with the exception of this commentary). I have been given this opportunity to discuss the impediments that kept me from submitting my relevant work, offered as a small step toward recognizing the impediments faced by other Philosophers of Color. I highlight factors including direct and indirect consequences of a disproportionately White community of US philosophers, and some underrecognized risk-reward calculations that Philosophers of Color face when choosing an article project. I urge further discussion of the topic, starting with an exhortation to choose the right phenomenon and accordingly frame the right question: Why are White philosophers deliberating the “ethical and social issues arising out of the 2016 US presidential election” in a prestigious journal, while Philosophers of Color are deliberating the same issues in tense classrooms, closed offices, and on-/off-campus forums?

This is not a real article. But in this special issue on the 2016 US election and Trump it is, to my knowledge, the only contribution written by a Philosopher of Color. It is a commentary about the fact that it is the only contribution written by a Philosopher of Color.

After Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Kukla expressed consternation that the issue was full of excellent papers, but written by a roster of White philosophers, I offered to say something about why I didn’t submit any of my relevant philosophical work (on nativism, racism, health policy, Latinx health, etc.), and why it didn’t surprise me that almost none of the other well-qualified Philosophers of Color did either.

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

Salk Institute Under Fire For ‘Smear’ On Women Suing It For Discrimination

July 20, 2017

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Leaders of the San Diego, California, research center have strenuously denied the allegations made by biologists Vicki Lundblad and Katherine Jones, and publicly questioned their productivity and the quality of their scientific work.

The case has divided the institute’s staff, and Salk’s statements about the women have drawn social media dismay and rebukes from prominent biologists, including Nobel laureates. “The fact that an institution would treat its own distinguished faculty in this way is very disturbing,” says Nancy Hopkins, professor emerita of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, who in the late 1990s led a groundbreaking review of MIT’s treatment of its female faculty.

Salk President Elizabeth Blackburn said in a statement that she is “saddened that an institute as justly revered as the Salk Institute is being misrepresented by accusations of gender discrimination. … I would never preside over an institute that in any way condoned, openly or otherwise, the marginalizing of female scientists.”

… Read More

Image: By TheNose – http://www.flickr.com/photos/tatler/339218853/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1708238

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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

Speculation, Certainty and the Diagnostic Illusory: The Tricorder and the Deathless Man by Thierry Jutel

In the paragraphs which follow, we will be discussing the ways in which two pieces of speculative fiction, the science fiction film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and the novel The Tiger’s Wife use diagnostic and prognostic certainty as part of their creative narratives. In both cases, the confidence vested in the diagnosis and its outcome is contrasted to the “diagnostic illusory” of contemporary medicine.

Even while diagnosis is medicine’s primary classification tool, it is far less circumscribed than diagnostic taxonomies suggest, as well as the power afforded those who diagnose. Even very material conditions have porous boundaries (Jutel 2013) which muddy the waters in a system that is based on tidy categories. Sarah Nettleton and her colleagues have developed the term “diagnostic illusory” to describe how medicine invests in generalisation as a way of understanding disease. In the diagnostic illusory, for the cases that resists classification, or perturb a diagnostic category, one turns to ever-more sophisticated forms of technology, with the belief that it’s just a matter of time before the explanation will become clear, and the diagnosis justified. Nettleton and her colleagues raise the idea of “illusory” to highlight the “ambiguities and nuanced complexities associated with the biomedical imperative to name and classify” (Nettleton, Kitzinger, and Kitzinger 2014).

In this short essay, we will explore how two speculative texts represent diagnosis, highlighting through their respectively futuristic and supernatural approaches the yearnings of contemporary medicine, and the society it serves, for diagnostic certainty.

 

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and the Tricorder

In the science fiction epic Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Nimoy 1986), the Starship Enterprise and its crew have come back to planet earth in 1986 to save the humpback whale from extinction and by extension, to save planet earth from destruction in the future.

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

Charlie Gard, the sick baby hospital doctors want to disconnect. Our medical and ethical assessement

He and his parents await the Judge’s decision regarding the possibility of withdrawing or not the life support who keep him alive and the possibility of receiving an experimental treatment in the United States

Medical aspects

Charlie was born on 4 August 2016. In October the same year, he was admitted to Great Osmond Street Hospital (GOSH-NHS) in London, and diagnosed with a disease that affects mitochondrial function, called mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome (MDDS). This means that he cannot obtain sufficient energy for his muscles, kidneys, brain and other organs, which causes progressive muscle weakness and brain damage.

Although there seemed to be no specific treatment for the mitochondrial abnormality at that time, in January 2017, his mother became aware of an experimental treatment using nucleosides that was being evaluated in the United States in patients with a disease similar to Charlie’s. Consequently, his parents assessed the possibility of taking him to the US for treatment because, according to them, it might improve their son’s health by at least 10%.

At the same time, British newspaper “The Guardian” announced that the US Hospital that had the medication offered to ship it so that Charlie could be treated immediately, but GOSH (NHS hospital) disagreed, proposing instead to withdraw the child’s respiratory support.

In effect, New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Irving Medical Center, also in New York, published a statement saying that they were willing to admit and clinically evaluate Charlie, as they had FDA approval for the use of an experimental treatment using nucleosides.

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

Copenhagen Conference: Legal Perspectives on Synthetic Biology and Gene editing

Join us at the Centre for Information and Innovation Law (CIIR) Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen on 20 November, 2017 to discuss Legal Perspectives on Synthetic Biology and Gene Editing. CALL FOR PAPERS Emerging technologies in Synthetic Biology and Gene … Continue reading

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

Human Contamination: The Infectious Border Crossings of Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X by Sophia Booth Magnone

“What if an infection was a message, a brightness a kind of symphony? As a defense? An odd form of communication? If so, the message had not been received, would probably never be received” (Acceptance 490).

“What if containment is a joke?” (Acceptance 576).

It all begins with a thorn: the delicate, glittering prickle of an unidentified plant growing at the base of a lighthouse in a sleepy coastal town. On a peaceful sunny day, the thorn pricks a man’s thumb, an act of violence so mild, so mundane, it scarcely attracts notice. Yet the end of the world starts there, where one organism pierces the skin of another. That tiny rift swells to a full-fledged invasion; the man and his lighthouse become the first targets of an inexplicable transformative force. When the initial cataclysm subsides, the coast has been purged of all human life, its inhabitants dead or transformed beyond recognition. The rest of the world is left only with questions. What exactly happened at the lighthouse? What lies dormant in that lonely landscape? Most importantly, how can whatever remains there be contained?

This nebulous, quietly sinister premise forms the foundation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novels Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, collectively known as the Southern Reach trilogy. The novels take place, for the most part, thirty years after the mysterious event at the lighthouse, which has been officially categorized an “environmental disaster” and, by most people, forgotten about entirely. Only the government organization known as the Southern Reach continues to investigate the cordoned-off region now designated “Area X”: from the byzantine depths of its crumbling bureaucracy, the Southern Reach dispatches research expeditions, interprets findings, and scrabbles desperately at the possibility of defensive action.

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.