Tag: cells

Bioethics News

The FDA Approves a Landmark Cancer Drug

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The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved a new therapy to treat leukemia in kids and young adults—a decision whose importance is as much symbolic as it is practical.

Kymriah, from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, is a cancer therapy that represents several things at once: a game-changing way to treat cancer through genetic engineering, a novel paradigm for the biotech business, and the latest turn in the debate over just how astronomically expensive a life-saving therapy can be.

Kymriah is strikingly effective for young patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, but it is far more involved than taking a pill or getting an infusion. It requires inserting a human-designed gene into a patient’s own T cells so they recognize and ferociously attack cancer cells. Researchers began modifying T cells for patients in the 1990s—and now the technology called CAR T-cell therapy is finally ready for prime time in treating cancer.

Of several dozen ALL patients in a clinical trial for Kymriah, 83 percent were cancer-free after three months. It is a lifeline for patients in which traditional treatments like chemotherapy and bone-marrow transplants had failed. When the FDA’s advisory committee initially voted in favor of approving Kymriah, one member called it “the most exciting thing I’ve seen in my lifetime” for childhood leukemia. Novartis is hardly the only company interested in CAR T. Kymriah is the first approved therapy, but several clinical trials—mostly notably Kite Pharma’s for lymphoma—are right behind it.

(To clear up any possible confusion about terminology: The FDA and others have chosen to call CAR T-cell therapy a form of gene therapy—and thus deemed it the first gene therapy to be approved in the United States.

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

CAR-T cells: A drive to the future of cancer treatment

Conrad Fernandez describes the ethical challenges related to the use of CAR T-cell therapy for cancer patients.

__________________________________________

I am a pediatric oncologist and over the years have looked after hundreds of children with cancer – ranging in age from newborns into their early 20s. About a third of these children have suffered from leukemia. During my career of more than 25 years, I have seen my share of sadness and joy. Roughly one in five of these children have died – most often because of resistance intrinsic to their cancer but sometimes as a consequence of the toxicity of cancer therapy. These toxicities may occur acutely during the treatment (such as severe infections) or more insidiously appear years or decades later. A novel treatment approach that would overcome this resistance while avoiding chemotherapy toxicity would be most welcome.

A few years ago, I sat in a plenary session of the American Society of Hematology annual meeting (the preeminent hematology meeting in the world) where early phase CAR T-cell therapy was discussed. CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cells are genetically reprogrammed immune cells that normally have the job of fighting infection or other foreign intruders into our bodies. CAR T-cells are manufactured to target a subtype of leukemia that is called B-cell leukemia – a type especially common in childhood. I thought to myself to take special note of what I was hearing, as this marked the potential for a paradigm shift in how we approached treatment of leukemia and perhaps other cancers. It is for these relapsed and refractory B-cell leukemia patients that the FDA’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) has just recommended approval of CAR T-cell therapy – the first recommendation for approval of its kind.

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

CAR-T cells: A drive to the future of cancer treatment

Conrad Fernandez describes the ethical challenges related to the use of CAR T-cell therapy for cancer patients.

__________________________________________

I am a pediatric oncologist and over the years have looked after hundreds of children with cancer – ranging in age from newborns into their early 20s. About a third of these children have suffered from leukemia. During my career of more than 25 years, I have seen my share of sadness and joy. Roughly one in five of these children have died – most often because of resistance intrinsic to their cancer but sometimes as a consequence of the toxicity of cancer therapy. These toxicities may occur acutely during the treatment (such as severe infections) or more insidiously appear years or decades later. A novel treatment approach that would overcome this resistance while avoiding chemotherapy toxicity would be most welcome.

A few years ago, I sat in a plenary session of the American Society of Hematology annual meeting (the preeminent hematology meeting in the world) where early phase CAR T-cell therapy was discussed. CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cells are genetically reprogrammed immune cells that normally have the job of fighting infection or other foreign intruders into our bodies. CAR T-cells are manufactured to target a subtype of leukemia that is called B-cell leukemia – a type especially common in childhood. I thought to myself to take special note of what I was hearing, as this marked the potential for a paradigm shift in how we approached treatment of leukemia and perhaps other cancers. It is for these relapsed and refractory B-cell leukemia patients that the FDA’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) has just recommended approval of CAR T-cell therapy – the first recommendation for approval of its kind.

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

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

Caption: Cancer survivor Emily Whitehead with her dog Lucy.
Credit: Emily Whitehead Foundation

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 today 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.

ALL is a cancer of white blood cells called lymphocytes. Its treatment with chemotherapy drugs, developed with NIH support, has transformed ALL’s prognosis in kids from often fatal to largely treatable: about 90 percent of young patients now recover. But for those for whom the treatment fails, the prognosis is grim.

In the spring of 2012, Emily Whitehead of Philipsburg, PA was one such patient. The little girl was deathly ill, and her parents were worried they’d run out of options. That’s when doctors at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, gave Emily and her parents new hope. Carl June and his team had successfully treated three adults with their version of CAR-T cell therapy, which is grounded in initial basic research supported by NIH [1,2]. Moving forward with additional clinical tests, they treated Emily—their first pediatric patient—that April. For a while, it was touch and go, and Emily almost died.

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

Memo To White Nationalists From A Geneticist: Why White Purity Is A Terrible Idea

On
August 14th, UCLA researchers Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan presented
findings of their study,  “When Genetics Challenges a Racist’s Identity: Genetic
Ancestry Testing among White Nationalists,”
 at a sociology
conference in Montreal. They’d analyzed 3,070 comments organized into 70
threads publicly posted to the (sometimes difficult to access) “social movement
online community”  Stormfront.

Former
KKK Grand Wizard Don Black launched Stormfront on March 27, 1995. Posts exceed
12 million, ramping up since the 2016 election season. Panofsky and Donovan’s
report has a lot of sociology speak, such as “scholars of whiteness” and
“affiliative self-fashioning,” amid some quite alarming posts – yet also
reveals a sophisticated understanding of genetics from some contributors.

A
WHITE NATIONALIST ONLINE MEET-UP: STORMFRONT

“We are the voice of the new, embattled White minority!”proclaims the
bold, blood-tinged-hued message on the opening page of Stormfront, the “community
of racial realists and idealists.”
 It’s a site for white nationalists,
who are a little less extreme than white supremacists, who want to dominate the
world from their pinnacle of a perceived racial hierarchy. The Stormfronters
seem more concerned with establishing their white purity – defined as “non-Jewish
people of wholly European descent.”

Yet
the lines between white nationalist and supremacist blur, as Stormfront states, “If Blacks or
Mexicans become a majority, then they will not be able to maintain the White
man’s social, cultural and economic systems because they do not have to (sic)
minds needed to do so.”

The
idea of white rights is rather new, catalyzed by the revolts of the truly
marginalized, murdered, abused, ignored, and enslaved.

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

Memo To White Nationalists From A Geneticist: Why White Purity Is A Terrible Idea

On
August 14th, UCLA researchers Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan presented
findings of their study,  “When Genetics Challenges a Racist’s Identity: Genetic
Ancestry Testing among White Nationalists,”
 at a sociology
conference in Montreal. They’d analyzed 3,070 comments organized into 70
threads publicly posted to the (sometimes difficult to access) “social movement
online community”  Stormfront.

Former
KKK Grand Wizard Don Black launched Stormfront on March 27, 1995. Posts exceed
12 million, ramping up since the 2016 election season. Panofsky and Donovan’s
report has a lot of sociology speak, such as “scholars of whiteness” and
“affiliative self-fashioning,” amid some quite alarming posts – yet also
reveals a sophisticated understanding of genetics from some contributors.

A
WHITE NATIONALIST ONLINE MEET-UP: STORMFRONT

“We are the voice of the new, embattled White minority!”proclaims the
bold, blood-tinged-hued message on the opening page of Stormfront, the “community
of racial realists and idealists.”
 It’s a site for white nationalists,
who are a little less extreme than white supremacists, who want to dominate the
world from their pinnacle of a perceived racial hierarchy. The Stormfronters
seem more concerned with establishing their white purity – defined as “non-Jewish
people of wholly European descent.”

Yet
the lines between white nationalist and supremacist blur, as Stormfront states, “If Blacks or
Mexicans become a majority, then they will not be able to maintain the White
man’s social, cultural and economic systems because they do not have to (sic)
minds needed to do so.”

The
idea of white rights is rather new, catalyzed by the revolts of the truly
marginalized, murdered, abused, ignored, and enslaved.

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

Book Review: Cells Are The New Cure (BenBella Books, Inc., 2017). ISBN 9781944648800.

$26.95. Reviewed by Michael S. Dauber, MA

 

Cells Are The New Cure, written by Robin Smith, MD, and Max Gomez, PhD, is a book about the history of medical research on cells, both human and non-human, and recent developments in these techniques that have made cellular medicine one of the most promising fields for therapeutic exploration. While the book’s title suggests an exclusive focus on the healing aspects of genetic modification and human stem cell therapy, the text is much more than that: it is a roadmap for understanding the origins of such techniques, the current state of affairs in cellular and genetic therapies, the administrative landscape investigators must traverse in conducting research, and the areas in which we still need to make progress.

Smith and Gomez make an argument that is structurally simple yet gripping: they suggest that targeted therapies involving stem cells and genetic modifications are the future of medicine by pointing to the immense amount of studies in those fields that have yielded beneficial results. While many readers might acknowledge this fact even before reading the book, many may not be aware of the full extent of the knowledge we have gained from research on cells and genetics, or the myriad ways this knowledge has been applied. Of course, Smith and Gomez cover the big diseases that most people think of when imagining medical research: cancer, heart disease, neurodegenerative conditions, etc. However, the book also contains detailed information about how we age, what may cause certain allergies, how the body repairs itself, and the ways stem cell therapies, genetic editing techniques, and other complex medicines that build on these methods can be used to treat these conditions.

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

Reproducing the Speculative: Reproductive Technology, Education, and Science Fiction by Kaitlyn Sherman

Walter, a Synthetic, quietly makes his rounds in the brightly lit, pristine interior of the Covenant, a Weyland Corporation Spaceship. Fingers pressed to the translucent, impermeable glass, he checks the status of each crew member as they rest in their cryochambers, suspended in chemically-induced comas until they reach their destined planet in seven years and four months’ time. The ship’s artificial intelligence system, Mother, chimes, “Seven bells and all is well.” Reassured of their security, Walter moves on to the next zone, where another 2,000 cryochambers contain sleeping colonists from Earth. This zone also features a panel of drawers, each housing dozens of embryos—over 1,100 second-generation colonists. They are packed individually into river-stone sized ovoids; clear, solid, egg-like. Amid the rows, an embryo has died, and its artificial uterine-sack is clouded and dark. Observing it briefly, Walter takes it from its socket with a set of tongs and places it into a biohazard bin. The Covenant is on a mission to colonize a habitable, distant planet. Their ship contains everything that could be useful in setting up a new colony: terraforming vehicles, construction materials, and human life itself. Even though these frozen embryos aren’t yet actively developing, they reflect a technology that allows for such a feat, while ensuring a population boom that is not dependent upon the limited space of mature female colonists’ wombs.

This scene is part of the opening sequence of the latest film in Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise. Alien: Covenant (2017) is the most recent science fiction film to illustrate advances in reproductive technologies, especially that of ectogenesis, or external gestation and birth.

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

Behind the Hype of ‘Lab-Grown’ Meat

Some folks have big plans for your future. They want you—a burger-eatin’, chicken-finger-dippin’ American—to buy their burgers and nuggets grown from 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.

Bioethics Blogs

The ‘Weird’ First Fortnight of the Foetus: Implications for the Abortion Debate

Guest Post: William Simkulet
Paper: The Cursed Lamp: The Problem of Spontaneous Abortion

For many people, the moral status of abortion stands or falls whether or not a human fetus is morally comparable to you or I; whether its death is a significant loss.  Many people believe human fetuses have a right to life from conception, and thus conclude that there is good reason to think induced abortion is seriously morally wrong.  Judith Jarvis Thomson challenges this belief, constructing a scenario where she believes it is morally acceptable to end the life of a person because although he has a right to life, his right to life does not give him a right to use your body.  Her example should be familiar:

Violinist:  You wake up in the hospital, surgically attached to a violinist.  Your doctor explains that last night the Society of Music Lovers kidnapped the two of you and performed the surgery.  The violinist has a serious condition that will result in his death soon unless he remains attached to your kidneys for the next 9 months (you alone are biologically compatible).

The violinist has a right to life, and surely you are free to let him remain attached to your body to save his life.  It would be a great kindness for you to do so, but Thomson says that the violinist’s right to life does not give him the right to use your body.  Anti-abortion theories that focus on the moral status of the fetus neglect to show why the fetus’s moral status – its argued for right to life – would give it a right to use the woman’s body.

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.