Tag: engineering

Bioethics News

3D artificial ovary constructed with excellent results. New hope for women infertility

A team of researchers from the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University in the United States has reported that it has managed to construct the structure of an artificial ovary 3D  (see HERE) a hydrogel that, once transplanted in an animal, can interact with its tissues and create a functioning ovary. This artificial scaffold was implanted in sterilized female mice, with cell division to ovulation taking place in two months. After mating, these females became pregnant and gave birth to healthy mice that survived, after being nursed by their mothers. This is undoubtedly a great technological breakthrough with visions of being used in humans to resolve infertility issues (see HERE).

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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 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

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

What can neuroethicists learn from public attitudes about moral bioenhancement?

By Peter Reiner

Dr. Reiner is Professor and co-founder of the National Core for Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia where he is a member of the Department of Psychiatry and the Centre for Brain Health. Dr. Reiner began his research career studying the cellular and molecular physiology of the brain, with particular interests in the neurobiology of behavioural states and the molecular underpinnings of neurodegenerative disease. In 1998, Dr. Reiner became President and CEO of Active Pass Pharmaceuticals, a drug discovery company that he founded to tackle the scourge of Alzheimer’s disease. Upon returning to academic life in 2004, Dr. Reiner refocused his scholarly work in the area of neuroethics, co-founding the National Core for Neuroethics with Dr. Judy Illes in 2007. Dr. Reiner has championed quantitative analysis of public attitudes towards diverse issues in neuroethics including the propriety of cognitive and moral enhancement, the contours of autonomy in the real world, and the neuroethical implications of Technologies of the Extended Mind.

Moral behavior is fundamental to human society. Wherever one goes on the planet, one finds a set of norms that guide behavior, and following these norms is a basic tenet of peaceful coexistence with one’s fellow humans. Despite abundant evidence that the arc of human history trends towards decreased violence (Pinker, 2011), a proxy for moral behavior, scholars have suggested that society might be better off were we to enhance our moral capacities, and that using biological methods to do so is warranted (Douglas, 2008; Persson and Savulescu, 2008). This has engendered a vigorous debate that goes beyond the usual divide between bioconservatives and technoprogressives (Reiner, 2013a); in this arena, even ardent proponents of enhancement technologies have registered dissent (Harris, 2010).

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: The Entire History of You

By Somnath Das
Somnath Das recently graduated from Emory University where he majored in Neuroscience and Chemistry. He will be attending medical school at Thomas Jefferson University starting in the Fall of 2017. The son of two Indian immigrants, he developed an interest in healthcare after observing how his extended family sought help from India’s healthcare system to seek relief from chronic illnesses. Somnath’s interest in medicine currently focuses on understanding the social construction of health and healthcare delivery. Studying Neuroethics has allowed him to combine his love for neuroscience, his interest in medicine, and his wish to help others into a multidisciplinary, rewarding practice of scholarship which to this day enriches how he views both developing neurotechnologies and the world around him. 
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 may be lurking behind our 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 will 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.

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 – July 2017 by Danya Glabau

American Quarterly

Regina Kunzel

Among the central themes of the eclectic field of mad studies is a critique of psychiatric authority. Activists and academics, from a range of positions and perspectives, have questioned psychiatry’s normalizing impulses and have privileged mad-identified knowledges over expert ones. One of the most successful assaults on psychiatric authority was launched by gay activists in the 1960s and early 1970s, resulting in the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973. But if that event marked an inspirational victory against psychiatric power, it was also, as Robert McRuer notes, “a distancing from disability.”1Revisiting this history through analytic lenses offered by disability and mad studies defamiliarizes familiar historical narratives and unsettles the critique of psychiatric authority, especially when countered by claims to health.

 

Conflicts over the value, meaning, and efficacy of vaccination as a preventive practice suggest that vaccination resistance stages disagreement within modern biological citizenship. This paper explores how immunity circulates in both vaccination controversy and biopolitical philosophies. Two positions—one characterized by somatic individualism, flexible bodies, reflexive approaches to knowledge, and the idea of the immune system as “the essential relation the body has with its vulnerability,” and another characterized by the immunitary paradigm, biosecurity, trust in expert systems, and vaccination—emerge. Understanding that oppositional relation can reframe public understanding of vaccine skepticism and public health responses to it.

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

Easy and Powerful Way to Reduce Our Climate Impact

July 28, 2017

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Toward voluntary, progressive, humane population policy

At this point, what should be readily apparent is that a vast realm of educational and policy approaches to reducing fertility exists between the extremes of total blackout, and coercion. In fact, Travis Rieder of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins and his colleagues have outlined a number of such approaches. These run the gamut from educational and purely incentive-based programs such as widespread media campaigns and expanding access to family planning, which he advocates for populations of developing countries which bear minimal responsibility for the climate crisis, to changing the tax code so that it penalizes, rather than incentivizes, procreation—an approach he suggests only for the wealthy whose emissions are greatest.

Certainly there are significant cultural and political challenges to be overcome to pave the way for“population engineering” measures like those identified by Rieder et al. Yet these challenges are less daunting than the prospect of reducing our emissions adequately through technology and energy efficiency alone, and considerably more palatable than the environmental meltdown that awaits us if we shy away from adequate action.

… Read More

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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

Human genetic editing (engineering) is here

A “hat tip” again to Wesley Smith, who at the National Review Online blog, provided a link to this week’s report in the MIT Technology Review that the first editing of genes in human embryos in the US is underway—and apparently not yet formally published—at an academic center in Portland, Oregon.  Similar efforts have been undertaken in China, but US scientists have been a little more tentative about taking this step in humans.

In 2015, US scientists were clearly against trying to initiate a pregnancy with an IVF embryo whose genes had been altered in the laboratory.  They were, apparently, divided on whether experiments on early human embryos, sperm, or eggs in the laboratory were “responsible.”

This blog discussed the matter back then.

Earlier this year, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine were more open to proceeding with changing human genes in a way that would be permanent—inherited from generation to generation—as long as the process was done as carefully as they thought it could be. 

The work still appears to be held very close to the vest.  Funded by private money—the law prohibits public expenditures for this kind of work on humans—the MIT report says the Oregon scientists changed some genes (the MIT reporters did not find out which ones) in “many dozens” of IVF embryos that were created and destroyed specifically for research.

The ultimate goal sounds laudable:  repairing genes that cause inherited disease.  The posts linked to above reviewed some of these arguments, or provided further links to those discussions.

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

These Kids Are Learning CRISPR At Summer Camp

July 27, 2017

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I walked into Camp East Woods in Oyster Bay, Long Island, about twenty minutes before class started. Dozens of kids, from four years old to sophomores in high school, were trying to figure out where their friends were, checking different rooms to see who had arrived. It smelled like sunscreen and sweat.

I was there for the Serious Science program, where kids of all ages get to explore everything from biochemistry to engineering. The syllabus included CRISPR, the powerful gene editing technology that allows you to cut out and change specific sections of DNA. Researchers are using it to battle things like HIV, blindness, and malaria, just to name a few.

CRISPR is all the rage in the scientific community, and I was curious how Jane Powel, who leads the program, planned to teach this crucial subject to young kids. When new science makes its way into mainstream conversations, especially powerful science like CRISPR, those discussions can suffer when there’s a significant gap in knowledge between researchers and the public. Without everyone at the table, conversations can become tainted with confusion, fear, and impulsive decisions. And that education has to start pretty early.

… Read More

Image: via Flickr AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by National Institutes of Health (NIH)

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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

Grounding ethics from below: CRISPR-cas9 and genetic modification

By Anjan Chatterjee

The University of Pennsylvania

Anjan Chatterjee is the Frank A. and Gwladys H. Elliott Professor and Chair of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital. He is a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his BA in Philosophy from Haverford College, MD from the University of Pennsylvania and completed his neurology residency at the University of Chicago. His clinical practice focuses on patients with cognitive disorders. His research addresses questions about spatial cognition and language, attention, neuroethics, and neuroaesthetics. He wrote The Aesthetic Brain: How we evolved to desire beauty and enjoy art and co-edited: Neuroethics in Practice: Mind, medicine, and society, and The Roots of Cognitive Neuroscience: behavioral neurology and neuropsychology. He is or has been on the editorial boards of: American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience, Behavioural Neurology, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Neuropsychology, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, European Neurology, Empirical Studies of the Arts, The Open Ethics Journal and Policy Studies in Ethics, Law and Technology. He was awarded the Norman Geschwind Prize in Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology by the American Academy of Neurology and the Rudolph Arnheim Prize for contribution to Psychology and the Arts by the American Psychological Association. He is a founding member of the Board of Governors of the Neuroethics Society, the past President of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, and the past President of the Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Society. He serves on the Boards of Haverford College, the Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired and The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 

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.