Tag: embryos

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.

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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

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

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

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

Pre-embryo. This term is no longer used in current discussions regarding the nature of the embryo

Everything suggests that the term has been artificially created to justify the use of embryos for IVF and biomedical experiments
A recent article has studied the use of the term “pre-embryo” (see “Determining whether the preimplantation human embryo is a living being of our species“) since its origin in June 1979 until the end of 2014, in both the scientific and bioethical literature. Its evolution over time was compared with other terms generally used in embryology. The authors also studied in which journals this term most frequently appeared, its impact factor within journals in its field, and which authors used it most. The term “pre-embryo” first emerged in the scientific literature in 1979, but it was 6 years before it next appeared. Then, after an increase in articles in the 1990s, its use began to decline, although the term never completely disappeared. This study also shows that the use of the word “pre-embryo” has not increased over time; in contrast, it is becoming less frequently used in the biomedical literature. This has not happened with other terms that refer to the pre-implantation embryo, which have continued to increase over these years, in relation to both the human and other animal species. In addition, this word has abnormally high use in humans for no apparent reason, which supports its artificial nature. Finally, the term “pre-embryo” very seldom appears in journals in the area of reproductive biology, unlike the fields of obstetrics and gynecology, where many articles on assisted reproduction are published. In conclusion, instead of substituting classical embryological terms, the word “pre-embryo” seems not to affect the use of them, while in current discussions regarding the human nature of the embryo, this term is no longer used, everything suggests that the term has been artificially created to justify the use of embryos for IVF and biomedical experiments.

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

Questioning whether genes in human embryos were in fact successfully edited

Nature reports that the editing of a gene in human embryos–reported earlier in August and discussed recently on this blog–has been questioned by a different group of scientists. Read a fuller, general-public-level description here. The questioning scientists doubt a specific claim of the initial work; namely, that a faulty gene in human sperm was edited through a corresponding gene in the human egg fertilized by… // Read More »

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

Doubts Raised on Key Points of Nature Paper on CRISPR Gene Editing of Human Embryos

August 31, 2017

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Is it possible that CRISPR gene editing actually didn’t happen in many of the human embryos in that big Naturepaper that made such news a couple weeks back?

Some doubts have emerged that call the main conclusions of the paper into question and argue that more definitive studies are needed to be sure.

An international team of top scientists led by first author Dieter Egli has responded via a preprint on Biorxiv to that Mitalipov team high-profile Nature paper on CRISPR gene editing of human embryos. Egli, et al. raise the possibility that the CRISPR gene editing as reported in the Nature study may actually not have happened, at least not in every case and perhaps not the way the Ma, et al. paper argued it did (via homology directed repair (HDR)-based CRISPR-Cas9 action specifically depending on interaction between normal maternal and mutant paternal chromosomes).

On one level it isn’t so unusual to see a scientific critique of and technical questions raised about a published paper that made splashy news. However, I see this particular case as a striking turn of events because although the new Egli, et al. piece is very collegial and diplomatic, they convincingly lay out a number of rather compelling reasons why the main conclusions of the Ma paper might be incorrect and the reasons why there may not have been CRISPR gene editing in many of the embryos. To be clear, Egli and colleagues don’t seem to be saying the Ma, et al. paper is definitely wrong, but they describe some quite reasonable ways in which the Ma paper could hypothetically have inadvertently reached incorrect central conclusions.

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

Fetal tissue and commerce

You may have seen in the general press that Indiana University is asking a federal judge to declare unconstitutional that state’s law banning research on the remains of aborted fetuses.  I noticed an article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).  An open-access account can be found here.

I oppose abortion, but I can imagine for the sake of argument that, if one allows for abortion, that it might be claimed that the tissue of an aborted unborn human could ethically be donated for research.  It seems to me that such an argument would construe this donation to be similar to donation of organs for transplantation.  In this case, the mother would be speaking for her (newly-deceased) unborn to make the decision, since the aborted one would not have decision-making capacity.

For such an action to be remotely ethical, donation of tissue could not in any way influence the decision to have an abortion–as, indeed, federal restrictions on fetal tissue research currently require.  There should be no profit to the donor or the abortion provider in the process.  In light of the Planned Parenthood brouhaha over this subject, I might suggest that the researchers seeking the tissue for research be required to bear any costs for the preparation of the tissue.  And something like the dead donor rule for organ transplantation would have to apply.  But that’s probably a trivial point in this case.  Never mind that the dead donor rule itself is under attack these days.

I imagine it’s clear that I don’t find this argument very persuasive. 

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 News

Will CRISPR Fears Fade with Familiarity?

The first “test-tube baby” made headlines around the world in 1978, setting off intense debate on the ethics of researching human embryos and reproductive technologies. Every breakthrough since then has raised the same questions about “designer babies” and “playing God” – but public response has grown more subdued rather than more engaged as technologies have become increasingly sophisticated and powerful

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.