Tag: disease

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

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 Blogs

Do health professionals have a prototype concept of disease? The answer is no

Health and disease are core concepts in health care and have attracted substantial interest and controversy. In recent and interesting contributions to the debate it has been argued that the challenges with th…

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

Politics of Pain: Investigating the Ethics of Palliative Care as a Global Human Right

by Alix Masters

Within the last decade, strides have been made in the field of global health policy to extend the reaches of palliative care universally.  In 2014, the World Health Organization formally declared palliative care a global human right.[1] This development in global health policy is a positive one when we consider the medical politics of pain relief across racial difference.  Both in the United States and abroad, there is a long medical history of discriminatory practices against certain groups of people with regard to pain management—including withholding necessary pain medication altogether.  Therefore, in many ways the declaration of palliative care as a human right is a necessary step in ensuring all peoples, regardless of identity, have their pain taken seriously by the medical establishment and have their comfort made a medical priority.  When we consider how different cultures negotiate beliefs around death and pain relief, however, the issue of palliative care as a universal human right becomes more complex.  For example, countries with strong histories of Buddhist thought and culture have traditionally opposed the ideology of palliative care.[26]  In Buddhism, suffering is considered an inextricable part of life and masking this suffering through medical intervention is looked down upon.[2]  For example, Vietnam, a country with a culture strongly imbued with Eastern Buddhist values, has a long history of rejecting palliative care and pain medications in general.[26]  Due to this, the World Health Organization’ declaration that palliative care is a universal human right could also be understood as a Western organization blatantly ignoring Buddhist cultural traditions.  While the declaration of palliative care as a human right is important progress in many ways, it is also important that Western medicine not impose our values globally without consideration for the complex histories and belief systems of diverse cultures.

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

A Modest Proposal

FDA should regulate digital games, and potentially other apps, as medical devices.

Why, pray tell?

One doesn’t have to look very hard to find a growing belief (recognition?) that video games are addicting.  CBS has been on the story since at least 2007.  In 2014, “60 minutes” suggested that a violent video game could prompt murder.  Well, they posed it as a question, but to raise it as they did sounds kind of like asking someone, “have you stopped beating your wife?”  And this past April, they did a piece with a former Google employee who suggested that tech companies are designing games, if not apps in general, to draw people into compulsive use.  They revisited the topic, with the same interviewee, in June, using the term “brain hacking.”  Frontline on PBS did a series on the topic in 2010, looking at concerns about internet addiction as well as arguments that some games may hone desirable skills.

Concern about the effect our entertainment media have on us, especially on our kids, is certainly not new.  Remember Tipper Gore, who, among other things, wrote a book about the subject 30 years ago?

The difference comes if our apps and games are not just addictive and self-reinforcing, but if their creators and marketers not only know it but make them that way on purpose.

According to the FDA, a medical device, subject to premarketing and postmarketing regulatory controls by the FDA, is defined in Section 201(h) of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as (emphasis mine in what follows):

  • “an instrument, apparatus, implement, machine, contrivance, implant, in vitro reagent, or other similar or related article, including a component part, or accessory which is:
    • recognized in the official National Formulary, or the United States Pharmacopoeia, or any supplement to them,
    • intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, in man or other animals, OR
    • intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals, and which does not achieve its primary intended purposes through chemical action within or on the body of man or other animals and which is not dependent upon being metabolized for the achievement of any of its primary intended purposes.”

That strikes me as a pretty broad remit.

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 Blogs

Moral panic in the intellect

Moral panic develops intellectually. It is our thoughts that are racing. Certain mental images make such a deep impression on us that we take them for Reality, for Truth, for Facts. Do not believe that the intellect is cold and objective. It can boil over with agitated thoughts.

This is evident in bioethics, where many issues are filled with anguish. Research information about cloned animals, about new techniques for editing in the genome, or about embryonic stem cell research, evoke scary images of subversive forms of research, threatening human morality. The panic requires a sensitive intellect. There, the images of the research acquire such dimensions that they no longer fit into ordinary life. The images take over the intellect as the metaphysical horizon of Truth. Commonplace remarks that could calm down the agitated intellect appear to the intellect as naive.

A science news in National Geographic occasions these musings. It is about the first attempt in the United States to edit human embryos genetically. Using so-called CRISPR-Cas9 technique, the researchers removed a mutation associated with a common inherited heart disease. After the successful editing, the embryos were destroyed. (You find the scientific article reporting the research in Nature.)

Reading such research information, you might feel anxiety; anxiety that soon takes possession of your intellect: What will they do next? Develop “better” humans who look down on us as a lower species? Can we permit science to change human nature? NO, we must immediately introduce new legislation that bans all genetic editing of human embryos!

If the intellect can boil over with such agitated thoughts, and if moral panic legislation is imprudent, then I believe that bioethics needs to develop its therapeutic skills.

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

Transhumanism. Error of the gods and the power of man? A phylosofical approach

Technological progress urgently needs the emergence of moral progress so that the spark of reason does not consume the existence of humankind

The technical skills of humans have always been remarkable throughout history, so much so that, even now, the artifacts of classical antiquity leave us astounded at the ingenuity of man. Those who are familiar with the Antikythera mechanism (see video HERE) can attest to the fact that the complexity of this computing system, devised to calculate the movement of the stars, is staggering. The wonder that our creations elicit in us might make us think that the creative and technical ability that characterizes us has a divine origin.

It was Plato, among others, who described in his Protagoras, and put into the mouth of the famous Athenian sophist, the myth of the formation of man. In it, the gods forge the mortal races from other gods that have not yet finished forming in the elements of earth and fire. Thus, the gods command the brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus to capture these incomplete gods and divide their abilities to distribute them among the mortal races. Hence, the link of the mortal races with the gods is obvious according to the myth, because they are formed from the fragments of incomplete gods.

Epimetheus asks Prometheus to allow him to take charge of the formation of the new races, and distributes the fragmented abilities. His intention is to create a balance between the new beings so that they do not destroy each other. Those that enjoy some advantage over the rest are surpassed by others in another aspect.

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

Human genetic architecture, mapped for the first time, shows objective sexual differences

Men and women is not just a social construct as affirm gender ideology. This work provides evidences of the sex-differential transcriptome and its importance to human entire body and physiology. Around 6,500 genes with activity that was biased toward one sex or the other in at least one tissue.

Shmuel Pietrokovski and Moran Gershoni, both researchers in the Molecular Genetics Department at the Weizmann Institute of Sciences, have revealed that close to 6,500 protein-coding human genes react differently in males and females (BMC, 6 – 1 – 2017, see HERE).

This finding is contrary to gender ideology, which considers that the difference between men and women is a social and/or cultural fact, i.e., a construct, rather than something biological or natural (see HERE). In a recent article, the scientists said that, in order identify the thousands of genes, they turned to the GTex project, a very large study of human gene expression in which numerous organs and tissues of the body had been examined in more than 550550 adult donors

Human sex genetic architecture differences were mapped

According to the authors, “that project enabled, for the first time, the comprehensive mapping of the human sex-differential genetic architecture”.

The researchers examined close to 20,000 protein-coding genes, classifying them by sex and searching for differences in expression in each tissue.

The eventually identified “around 6,500 genes with activity that was biased toward one sex or the other in at least one tissue”.

In the same manner, many genes that are associated with sexually dimorphic traits might undergo differential selection, which will likely impact reproduction, evolution, and even speciation events.

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.