Tag: cells

Bioethics Blogs

Protein Links Gut Microbes, Biological Clocks, and Weight Gain

Caption: Lipids (red) inside mouse intestinal cells with and without NFIL3.
Credit: Lora V. Hooper, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas

The American epidemic of obesity is a major public health concern, and keeping off the extra pounds is a concern for many of us. Yet it can also be a real challenge for people who may eat normally but get their days and nights mixed up, including night-shift workers and those who regularly travel overseas. Why is that?

The most obvious reason is the odd hours throw a person’s 24-hour biological clock—and metabolism—out of sync. But an NIH-funded team of researchers has new evidence in mice to suggest the answer could go deeper to include the trillions of microbes that live in our guts—and, more specifically, the way they “talk” to intestinal cells. Their studies suggest that what gut microbes “say” influences the activity of a key clock-driven protein called NFIL3, which can set intestinal cells up to absorb and store more fat from the diet while operating at hours that might run counter to our fixed biological clocks.

NFIL3 is a transcription factor, a protein that switches certain genes on and off. Earlier studies had focused on its role in immune cells, but a team led by Lora Hooper at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, discovered that NFIL3 is also found in cells in the inner lining, or epithelium, of the mouse small intestine.

Intriguingly, as reported recently in the journal Science [1], they noticed that NFIL3 levels were much lower in the intestines of “germ-free” mice that don’t have any gut microbes.

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

Cells from human umbilical cord blood revitalized part of aged rats’ brain

Cord blood stem cells revitalized part of the brain in aged rats.

Umbilical cord blood is known to contain stem cells that can be used for different clinical objectives  (see HERE), especially in the promotion of cell banks. Now, a new possibility for the use of umbilical cord blood has been described. In a recent study published in Nature (see HERE), the authors report that human cord plasma when injected in the brains of rats revitalized the hippocampus and improves cognitive function in aged  rats. These findings suggest that umbilical cord blood shows plasticity that could be used to treat hippocampal dysfunctions, especially those that are age-related. Since the use of umbilical cord blood presents no ethical difficulties, any new clinical application is considered welcome.

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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 News

New clinical celular trial for treatment of Parkinson’s disease injecting stemcells in the patient brain

A first step to a Parkinson treatment with stem cells.

The first clinical trial conducted in China (see HERE) to treat Parkinson’s disease and age-related macular degeneration and the second most common neurodegenerative disorder is to be launched shortly. In the next few months, surgeons from the city of Zhengzhou have planned to conduct a clinical trial to inject neurons derived from human stem cells into the brain of patients with Parkinson’s disease. This trial would be the first in the world to treat this disease with stem cells obtained from human embryos. Some researchers who work on Parkinson’s disease, however, worry that the trials might be misguided. In a second trial, a different team from the same city also hopes to use cells derived from human embryonic stem cells to treat age-related macular degeneration. Both experiments will be the first conducted in China since these practices were regulated in 2015. From an ethical point of view, it should be highlighted that both trials start from the use of human embryonic stem cells, with the difficulties that this entails, because it must not be forgotten that human embryos have to be destroyed to obtain them, which ethically cannot be justified from any point of view.

La entrada New clinical celular trial for treatment of Parkinson’s disease injecting stemcells in the patient brain 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 News

The human embryo mapped in three dimensions. Technique and bioethical approach

A team of researchers from the Institut Vision in Paris and the Jean-Pierre Aubert Research Centre, under the direction of Alain Chedotal, have managed to map the human embryo  in three dimensions (see HERE the published study), which, they believe, permit better understanding of the mechanisms of formation of embryonic organs in normal and pathological conditions. Until this technique was developed, 3D embryonic reconstructions were obtained from thousands of embryos and fetuses, in which microscopic sections were cut at different stages of development. However, this new technique enables the inside of the entire embryo to be seen during the first trimester of its life. To that end, the researchers labeled the cells that they wanted to study with fluorescent proteins, and then made the embryo transparent by immersing it in different solvents, which removed its membranes, but conserved its protein structure; the embryo was then scanned under fluorescence microscopy. Using this technique, they analyzed embryos and fetuses from 6 to 14 weeks of gestation, constructing a three-dimensional atlas of the human embryo that can be used for both teachings and possibly for experimental techniques. There is no need to highlight the great ethical difficulties with these techniques, as they destroy human embryos with no further consideration. Therefore, although the results obtained are experimentally positive, the method used ethically disqualifies the overall process.

Photo: A view of an embryonic lung with this technique by Inserm

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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

Creative Minds: Exploring the Role of Immunity in Hypertension

Meena Madhur / Credit: John Russell

If Meena Madhur is correct, people with hypertension will one day pay as much attention to their immune cell profiles as their blood pressure readings. A physician-researcher at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Madhur is one of a growing number of scientists who thinks the immune system contributes to—or perhaps even triggers—hypertension, which increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, and other serious health problems.

About one of every three adult Americans currently have hypertension, yet a surprising number don’t know they have it and less than half have their high blood pressure under control—leading many health experts to refer to the condition as a “silent killer”[1,2]. For many folks, blood pressure control can be achieved through lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, exercising, limiting salt intake, and taking blood pressure medicines prescribed by their health-care provider. Unfortunately, such measures don’t work for everyone, and some people continue to suffer damage to their kidneys and blood vessels from poorly controlled hypertension.

Madhur wants to know whether the immune system might be playing a role, and whether this might hold some clues for developing new, more targeted ways of treating high blood pressure. To get such answers, this practicing cardiologist will use her 2016 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award to conduct sophisticated, single-cell analyses of the immune systems of people with and without hypertension. Her goal is to produce the most comprehensive catalog to date of which human immune cells might be involved in hypertension.

Back in the 1960s, animal studies provided the first indication that the immune system might play a role in hypertension.

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

Viable human embryos CRISPR genetically edited in the USA. Technique and ethical controversies

Numerous complications could go unnoticed in this study

On 26th July, the journal MIT Technology Review  announced that the CRISPR technique (see HERE) had been applied in human embryos for the first time in the United States, in a study led by embryologist Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University.

Gene editing has previously been performed on human embryos on at least three occasions in China. Accordingly, two articles from 2015 (see HERE) and 2016, respectively, reported the application of CRISPR on non-viable human embryos (see HERE) . Subsequently, in 2017, another paper reported the application of CRISPR on human embryos, this time viable (See HERE ). In all cases, the results revealed that there are still serious safety and efficacy obstacles before the method can even be considered for use in medical applications. Consequently, the editing was completely successful in only a very small number of embryos, and moreover, there were undesirable effects like mosaicism (when only some of the embryonic cells incorporate the desired change) and off-target mutations.

The findings of the new study were published on 2nd August in Nature. Most relevant, though, is not the fact that viable human embryos have been edited for the first time in the US, but that the problems of mosaicism and off-target mutations found in previous studies appear to have been largely overcome.

The technique

The experiment consisted of correcting a mutation in the MYBPC3 gene, which causes a heart disease. The mutation was found in the DNA of the sperm used to fertilize the eggs.

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

Paolo Macchiarini, Fraud, and Oversight: A Case of Falsified Stem Cell Research

by Michael S Dauber, GBI Visiting Scholar

According to a recent story by John Rasko and Carl Power in The Guardian, surgeon Paolo Macchiarini’s research in artificial windpipes, previously hailed as pioneering medicine with the promise to save many lives, has been exposed as a fraud. Miacchiarini had previously received public praise for creating artificial windpipes by grafting stem cells onto plastic frames, which allowed him to “grow” new trachea for his patients.

While much of the scientific community was eager to believe Miaccharini had made significant breakthroughs, not everyone was convinced. According to a Swedish TV series called Experimenten, most of Miaccharini’s patients died within a few years of their procedures, and it was unclear that the experimental surgeries actually helped: in fact, they may have made matters much worse. Deeper investigation revealed that Macchiarini had actually falsified much of his data, and that institutional checks that normally prevent fraudulent individuals from being hired had been ignored. For example, according to an “external inquiry,” he was hired by the Karolinska Institute in 2010 despite various fraudulent, concerning, and questionable information on his resume (including a claim from a reference that he had been “blocked from a professorship in Italy”). The report also found that there had been inappropriate contact between Macchiarini and the Karolinska Institute’s Vice-Chancellor during his recruitment.

Even more troubling, the Institute failed to comply with government regulations designed to ensure research and clinical interventions are practiced ethically. According to Rasko and Power, Macchiarini failed to test his artificial airways in animals before implanting them in three human patients, and he did not apply for approval from an institutional review board or other ethics committee, despite the fact that Stockholm’s board was housed at the Institute.

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

Web Roundup: Opioids as a National Emergency by Katherine Warren

After several years in the headlines, the U.S. opioid crisis has been in the news this summer as the federal government debates its status as a national emergency. On July 31st, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, released its interim report on the state of the U.S. opioid crisis. As their “first and most urgent recommendation” for President Trump, the members of the Commission urged him to “[d]eclare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act.”

The report emerged just as federal officials published a widely cited study showing that 91.8 million (37.8%) U.S. adults had used prescription opioids in 2015, 11.5 million (4.7%) had misused them, and 1.9 million (0.8%) had an opioid use disorder. Nearly half (40.8%) of the individuals who had misused opioids had obtained them for free from family or friends. News reports on the study also declared that “[o]pioid abuse started as a rural epidemic” of “hillbilly heroin” but has now become a “national one.”

President Trump did not initially declare a national opioid emergency, vowing instead in a briefing on August 8th to focus on prevention, increased law enforcement and drug-related prosecutions, and more aggressive policing of U.S. borders. By August 10th, after significant criticism, Trump told reporters, “We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency.” As of September 1st, the Trump administration had yet to take the legal steps to formally declare a national emergency around the opioid crisis.

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 Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: White Bear

By Kristie Garza
Image courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons.

Humans in the 21st century have an intimate relationship with technology. Much of our lives are spent being informed and entertained by screens. Technological advancements in science and medicine have helped and healed in ways we previously couldn’t dream of. But what unanticipated consequences of the rapid expansion into new technological territory? This question is continually being explored in the British sci-fi TV series Black Mirror, which provides a glimpse into the not-so-distant future and warns us to be mindful of how we treat our technology and how it can affect us in return. This piece is part of a series of posts that discuss ethical issues surrounding neuro-technologies featured in the show and will compare how similar technologies are impacting us in the real world. 



*SPOILER ALERT* – The following contains plot spoilers for the Netflix television series Black Mirror. 

Plot Summary


“White Bear” begins with Victoria, the episode’s main character, awakening in an unfamiliar room in front of a TV displaying an unfamiliar symbol. She has no memory of who she is or how she wound up in the room.
Afraid, Victoria begins to explore her outside surroundings, where she finds “onlookers,” individuals in a trance-like state, filming her with their phones. A masked man then appears and begins chasing Victoria. While fleeing, she meets Jem, a fellow individual not under the trance. Jem explains to Victoria that the onlookers were put in their trance due to the strange symbol on the screens and that the masked man is a “hunter,” part of an evil people not affected by the strange symbol.

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

Cross Post: FDA Approves First CAR-T Cell Therapy for Pediatric Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Tremendous progress continues to be made against the Emperor of All Maladies, cancer. One of the most exciting areas of progress involves immunotherapy, a treatment strategy that harnesses the natural ability of the body’s own immune cells to attack and kill tumor cells. A lot of extremely hard work has gone into this research, so I was thrilled to learn that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just announced on August 30 its first approval of a promising type of immunotherapy called CAR-T cell therapy for kids and young adults with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)—the most common childhood cancer in the U.S.

The post Cross Post: FDA Approves First CAR-T Cell Therapy for Pediatric Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia appeared first on Ampersand.

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.