Tag: blood

Bioethics Blogs

Dueling BRCA Databases: What About the Patient?

The news release Monday morning grabbed my attention:

“Study finds wide gap in quality of BRCA1/2 variant
classification between Myriad Genetics and a common public database.”

Myriad Genetics had been exclusively providing tests, for
$3000+ a pop for full BRCA gene sequencing, for 17 years before the Supreme
Court invalidated key gene patents back in 2013. Since the ruling a dozen or so
competitors have been offering tests for much lower prices. Meanwhile, Myriad
has amassed a far deeper database than anyone else, having been in the business
so much longer. And it’s proprietary.

CLASSIFYING GENE VARIANTS

(NHGRI)

Public databases of variants of health-related genes have
been around for years too. The best known, ClinVar, collects and curates data
from the biomedical literature, expert panels, reports at meetings, testing
laboratories, and individual researchers, without access to Myriad’s database.
ClinVar uses several standard technical criteria to classify variants as
“pathogenic,” “benign,” or “of uncertain significance.” (“Likely pathogenic”
and “likely benign” were used more in the past.)

ClinVar lists 5400 variants just for BRCA1. The criteria
come from population statistics, how a particular mutation alters the encoded
protein, effects on the phenotype (symptoms), and other information.
Bioinformatics meets biochemistry to predict susceptibility. The BRCA1 protein
acts as a hub of sorts where many other proteins that control DNA repair
gather. DNA Science discussed the genes behind breast and ovarian cancers here.

As gene sequences accumulate in the databases and troops of
geneticists and genetic counselors annotate them, the proportion of pathogenic
and benign entries will increase as that of the unsettling “variants of
uncertain significance” — VUS — will decrease.

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

Dueling BRCA Databases: What About the Patient?

The news release Monday morning grabbed my attention:

“Study finds wide gap in quality of BRCA1/2 variant
classification between Myriad Genetics and a common public database.”

Myriad Genetics had been exclusively providing tests, for
$3000+ a pop for full BRCA gene sequencing, for 17 years before the Supreme
Court invalidated key gene patents back in 2013. Since the ruling a dozen or so
competitors have been offering tests for much lower prices. Meanwhile, Myriad
has amassed a far deeper database than anyone else, having been in the business
so much longer. And it’s proprietary.

CLASSIFYING GENE VARIANTS

(NHGRI)

Public databases of variants of health-related genes have
been around for years too. The best known, ClinVar, collects and curates data
from the biomedical literature, expert panels, reports at meetings, testing
laboratories, and individual researchers, without access to Myriad’s database.
ClinVar uses several standard technical criteria to classify variants as
“pathogenic,” “benign,” or “of uncertain significance.” (“Likely pathogenic”
and “likely benign” were used more in the past.)

ClinVar lists 5400 variants just for BRCA1. The criteria
come from population statistics, how a particular mutation alters the encoded
protein, effects on the phenotype (symptoms), and other information.
Bioinformatics meets biochemistry to predict susceptibility. The BRCA1 protein
acts as a hub of sorts where many other proteins that control DNA repair
gather. DNA Science discussed the genes behind breast and ovarian cancers here.

As gene sequences accumulate in the databases and troops of
geneticists and genetic counselors annotate them, the proportion of pathogenic
and benign entries will increase as that of the unsettling “variants of
uncertain significance” — VUS — will decrease.

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

Creative Minds: Preparing for Future Pandemics

Jonathan Abraham / Credit: ChieYu Lin

Growing up in Queens, NY, Jonathan Abraham developed a love for books and an interest in infectious diseases. One day Abraham got his hands on a copy of Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague, a 1990s bestseller warning of future global pandemics, and he sensed his life’s calling. He would help people around the world survive deadly viral outbreaks, particularly from Ebola, Marburg, and other really bad bugs that cause deadly hemorrhagic fevers.

Abraham, now a physician-scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, continues to chase that dream. With support from an NIH Director’s 2016 Early Independence Award, Abraham has set out to help design the next generation of treatments to enable more people to survive future outbreaks of viral hemorrhagic fever. His research strategy: find antibodies in the blood of known survivors that helped them overcome their infections. With further study, he hopes to develop purified forms of the antibodies as potentially life-saving treatments for people whose own immune systems may not make them in time. This therapeutic strategy is called passive immunity.

Already, Abraham has begun collecting blood samples from survivors of Ebola, Marburg, and other hemorrhagic fevers. The next step—and it can be a long and tedious one—is to isolate the B immune cells that produce the antibodies responsible for fighting each of the viruses. When he finds one, Abraham will then identify and sequence the specific immunoglobulin genes encoding those antibodies in the appropriate B cell.

Having those DNA sequences in hand, Abraham can make large quantities of the antibodies, allowing him to study their ability to neutralize the viruses in lab dishes and infected animals.

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

Missing Genes Point to Possible Drug Targets

Every person’s genetic blueprint, or genome, is unique because of variations that occasionally occur in our DNA sequences. Most of those are passed on to us from our parents. But not all variations are inherited—each of us carries 60 to 100 “new mutations” that happened for the first time in us. Some of those variations can knock out the function of a gene in ways that lead to disease or other serious health problems, particularly in people unlucky enough to have two malfunctioning copies of the same gene. Recently, scientists have begun to identify rare individuals who have loss-of-function variations that actually seem to improve their health—extraordinary discoveries that may help us understand how genes work as well as yield promising new drug targets that may benefit everyone.

In a study published in the journal Nature, a team partially funded by NIH sequenced all 18,000 protein-coding genes in more than 10,500 adults living in Pakistan [1]. After finding that more than 17 percent of the participants had at least one gene completely “knocked out,” researchers could set about analyzing what consequences—good, bad, or neutral—those loss-of-function variations had on their health and well-being.

Gene knockouts are expected to occur more frequently in certain countries, such as Pakistan, where people sometimes marry and have children with their first cousins. That makes it much more likely that a person carrying a loss-of-function gene variation will have inherited that same variation from both of their parents.

In the latest study, a team led by Sekar Kathiresan at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Boston, turned to the Pakistan Rise of Myocardial Infarction Study (PROMIS) in hopes of finding more gene knockouts.

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

Blinded by the Promise of Stem Cell Treatments

Alan F. Cruess cautions against the use of unproven stem cell ‘treatments.’

__________________________________________

Recently, many of you may have read about three patients who are blind after receiving stem cell ‘treatments.’  The patients were ‘treated’ at a Florida clinic for age-related macular degeneration. This common eye condition is the leading cause of vision loss among people over the age of 50. The clinic harvested stem cells from the patients using liposuction and then injected these stem cells into their eyes. Again, these three patients, are now all blind as a result of this unproven ‘treatment.’

There are two types of age-related macular degeneration: ‘wet’ and ‘dry.’ In recent years, treatment of wet macular degeneration has been transformed by new drugs which can be very effective if they are applied early. Meanwhile, treatment of the more common dry macular degeneration remains elusive. As such, patients with dry macular degeneration may be desperate to prevent and reverse blindness and willing to try emerging regenerative therapies.

Some experimental stem cells treatments to prevent blindness are promising, and they are being studied worldwide in laboratories and highly regulated clinical trial settings. In these settings, the safety and efficacy of experimental treatments can be closely monitored. Yet, the safety and efficacy should be called into question when these so-called ‘treatments’ are marketed outside of the research context. This was the case at the Florida clinic.

Before subjecting oneself or a loved one to any new ‘treatment’ with stem cells patients should be informed about the risks and potential benefits of the proposed treatment.

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

Fighting Parasitic Infections: Promise in Cyclic Peptides

Caption: Cyclic peptide (middle) binds to iPGM (blue).
Credit: National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, NIH

When you think of the causes of infectious diseases, what first comes to mind are probably viruses and bacteria. But parasites are another important source of devastating infection, especially in the developing world. Now, NIH researchers and their collaborators have discovered a new kind of treatment that holds promise for fighting parasitic roundworms. A bonus of this result is that this same treatment might work also for certain deadly kinds of bacteria.

The researchers identified the potential new  therapeutic after testing more than a trillion small protein fragments, called cyclic peptides, to find one that could disable a vital enzyme in the disease-causing organisms, but leave similar enzymes in humans unscathed. Not only does this discovery raise hope for better treatments for many parasitic and bacterial diseases, it highlights the value of screening peptides in the search for ways to treat conditions that do not respond well—or have stopped responding—to more traditional chemical drug compounds.

Humans, parasites, and bacteria depend on the same cellular pathway to break down glucose for energy. This life-sustaining metabolic pathway includes essentially all of the same enzymes with one notable exception: cofactor-independent phosphoglycerate mutase (iPGM). This enzyme is found in parasites and bacteria, but not in people. Yes, we humans have an enzyme that does that same job—but it does so in a different way and is assembled from an entirely different sequence of amino acid building blocks.

Given this very exploitable difference, iPGM jumped several years ago to the top of the list as a drug target that would kill disease-causing parasites without harming people.

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 ethnographic case: series conclusion by Emily Yates-Doerr

Editors note: This entry concludes the series “The Ethnographic Case” which ran every other Monday between June 2015 and July 2016. The bookCase, which holds 27 cases, can be accessed here.

One day, early on in the series, we received two submissions. Their similar anatomy was striking. Each featured a medical waiting room. Someone entered the space with a gift for the clinical personnel, the gift was accepted, and something shifted in the resulting care.

In Aaron Ansell’s case, set within gardens of an informal clinic in Piauí, Brazil, the gift was a small satchel of milk. Rima Praspaliauskiene’s was set in a Lithuanian public hospital and the gift was a rich chocolate cake. Aaron, who works and teaches on legal orders, analyzed the exchange as a challenge to hospital norms of equalitarianism. He helped us to see how the give-and-take of milk interrupts the requirements of a deracinated liberal democracy, offering instead the warm sociality of personal affinity. Rima, who focuses on medical care and valuing, used the object of the cake to query the social scientist’s impulse to explain why people do what they do. She shows us how this impulse may rest upon the linearity and equivalence of rational calculation, uncomfortably treating sociality as a commodity.

The juxtaposition of these submissions is emblematic – a case, if you will – of something we have seen throughout this series: the art of ethnographic writing resides in a relation between what is there and what is done with it.

Beginnings

We might trace the origin of the series to a business meeting at the AAAs, when we offered the idea of “the ethnographic case” for a Somatosphere series.

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

Patient’s own menstrual blood stem cells used to treat Asherman’s syndrome

Infertility treatment.”The best option for endometrial regeneration in patients with Asherman’s syndrome.”

Asherman’s syndrome is an acquired uterine abnormality characterised by the presence of intrauterine adhesions, and which clinically causes infertility, recurrent miscarriages and menstrual changes. Its prevalence ranges between 2% and 22% of infertile women.

Several surgical and medical treatments have been proposed, but outcomes have been unsatisfactory. Now, a study published in Human Reproduction has proposed treating the condition with adult stem cells obtained from the patient’s own menstrual blood.

To date, seven infertile women with Asherman’s syndrome have been treated. All patients were of reproductive age (33.7 ± 1.5 years) and had suffered infertility for 4.8 ± 1.2 years.

Menstrual blood stem cells. The blood stem cells obtained on day 2 of menstruation were transplanted to the uterus, followed by hormone stimulation.

Another successful cell therapy with no ethical difficulties

Endometrial thickening and return to its normal morphology were observed in all patients. One patient became pregnant spontaneously; four others underwent embryo transfer and two of these became pregnant.

The findings of this study suggest that transplantation of adult stem cells obtained from the patient’s own menstrual blood may be one of the best options for endometrial regeneration in patients with Asherman’s syndrome.

This practice — from a bioethical point of view — merits a favourable assessment, since adult stem cells are used which, as we know, present no ethical difficulties for use.

La entrada Patient’s own menstrual blood stem cells used to treat Asherman’s syndrome aparece primero en Bioethics Observatory.

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 News

First cell gene therapy to treat “Bubble boy” disease has been legalised in Europe

Last July, an article was published in medical journal Blood, which described the success of a cell gene therapy modality to treat the immunodeficiency caused by adenosine deaminase deficiency – “Bubble boy” disease. This is a disease that alters purine metabolism, leading to an accumulation of metabolites that are toxic for lymphocyte development. As a result, the immune defences of these patients are much weakened, so they often suffer serious infections. It can also be associated with cognitive and hearing deficits.

Now, a group of researchers from Ospedale San Raffaele, Milan (Italy) and the Telethon Foundation, in collaboration with pharmaceutical giant GSK, have developed their product “Strimvelis”, which is the first gene therapy to use genetically modified stem cells. It is also the first product approved by the European Commission to treat the aforementioned immunodeficiency.

The medication is generated from a gene modification of the patient’s own stem cells. The defect that causes the disease is corrected in the cells, which are then injected into the patient via intravenous infusion so that they can henceforth colonise their bone marrow.

As they are genetically modified cells from the patient himself, and not from a third party, the risk of graft-versus-host disease is drastically reduced, which is clearly an unquestionable medical advantage.

Authorisation was obtained from the European Commission after assessing Strimvelis in 18 children, in whom a 3-year survival rate of 100% was found. This opens a promising path for application of this medication in patients with adenosine deaminase deficiency.

From an ethical point of view, there is no difficulty in the use of Strimvelis, provided that the necessary requisites for implementing a new cell therapy are met since the genetic modification is performed in the patient’s own adult stem cells.

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.