Tag: engineering

Bioethics News

Companies Rush to Develop ‘Utterly Transformative’ Gene Therapies

July 24, 2017

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Companies and universities are racing to develop these new therapies, which re-engineer and turbocharge millions of a patient’s own immune cells, turning them into cancer killers that researchers call a “living drug.” One of the big goals now is to get them to work for many other cancers, including those of the breast, prostate, ovary, lung and pancreas.

“This has been utterly transformative in blood cancers,” said Dr. Stephan Grupp, director of the cancer immunotherapy program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania and a leader of major studies. “If it can start to work in solid tumors, it will be utterly transformative for the whole field.”

But it will take time to find that out, he said, at least five years.

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Image: By NIAID/NIH – NIAID Flickr’s photostream, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18233598

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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

Genetically Engineering Nature Will Be Way More Complicated Than We Thought

July 20, 2017

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For more than half a century, scientists have dreamed of harnessing an odd quirk of nature— “selfish genes,” which bypass the normal 50/50 laws of inheritance and force their way into offspring—to engineer entire species. A few years ago, the advent of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology turned this science fictional concept into a dazzling potential reality, called a gene drive. But after all the hype, and fear of the technology’s misuse, scientists are now questioning whether gene drives will work at all.

Gene drive is a molecular technology that forces an edited gene to be passed along into all of an organism’s offspring, overriding nature’s 50/50 inheritance mix. The first human-engineered gene drive was only demonstrated in fruit flies in 2015, but scientists were soon talking about using gene drives to exterminate invasive pests or kill off throngs of malarial mosquitoes.

But soon after, other researchers demonstrated that as an infertility mutation in female mosquitoes was successfully passed on to offspring over many generations, resistance emerged, allowing some mosquitoes to avoid inheriting the mutation. Just as bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics, wild populations can develop resistance to modifications aimed at destroying them. Gene drive, dead.

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Image: By DBCLS 統合TV, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55175302

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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

Cross Post: Speaking with: Julian Savulescu on the ethics of genetic modification in humans

Could genetic engineering one day allow parents to have designer babies?
Tatiana Vdb/flickr, CC BY

William Isdale, University of Melbourne

What if humans are genetically unfit to overcome challenges like climate change and the growing inequality that looks set to define our future?

Julian Savulescu, visiting professor at Monash University and Uehiro professor of Practical Ethics at Oxford University, argues that modifying the biological traits of humans should be part of the solution to secure a safe and desirable future.

The University of Melbourne’s William Isdale spoke to Julian Savulescu about what aspects of humanity could be altered by genetic modifications and why it might one day actually be considered unethical to withhold genetic enhancements that could have an overwhelmingly positive effect on a child’s life.

Listen to the conversation

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

Speaking with: Julian Savulescu on the ethics of genetic modification in humans

Could genetic engineering one day allow parents to have designer babies? Tatiana Vdb/flickr, CC BY

What if humans are genetically unfit to overcome challenges like climate change and the growing inequality that looks set to define our future?

Julian Savulescu, visiting professor at Monash University and Uehiro professor of Practical Ethics at Oxford University, argues that modifying the biological traits of humans should be part of the solution to secure a safe and desirable future.

The University of Melbourne’s William Isdale spoke to Julian Savulescu about what aspects of humanity could be altered by genetic modifications and why it might one day actually be considered unethical to withhold genetic enhancements that could have an overwhelmingly positive effect on a child’s life.


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William Isdale does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

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

Participants’ Testimonials: GBI Summer School a Smashing Success, (June 19-30), 2017

The GBI Summer School proved to be even better than anticipated or described. As a newcomer to the discipline, I had expected the course to provide a broad overview of topics and speakers. Indeed, while broad, the degree of expertise and timely subject material provided an excellent and comprehensive survey of the discipline in global and local settings. Moreover, the students provided another dimension of diversity, both in nationalities and areas of expertise. The speakers made their presentation materials readily available, answered questions, and were willing to address topics of interest offline. I would strongly recommend the course to both novices and subject matter experts alike. The course especially demonstrated the need, relevance, and desirability for global bioethics to be better incorporated into public policy formulation.

Geoffrey Pack, Prevention and Protection Officer, Office of Homeland and Security, City of San Diego, M.A.L.D., Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University in Cooperation with Harvard University

The GBI Summer School, in the heart of NYC’s Pace University Campus, is a fantastic opportunity! International scholars and professionals from all over the world attended the program, contributing their experiences and engaging with bioethics experts. The City of New York – with the nearby Pace University Campus, Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall, and 9/11 Memorial – provided the perfect setting to discuss the global ethical challenges in technology and medicine. Discussions ranged from law and politics to culture and psychology, encompassing the ethical dilemmas that define the 21st century. I have immensely enjoyed not just the internationally known faculty but also hearing from the learners who come from all over the world representing diverse fields.

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

Tumor Scanner Promises Fast 3D Imaging of Biopsies

Caption: University of Washington team that developed new light-sheet microscope (center) includes (l-r) Jonathan Liu, Adam Glaser, Larry True, Nicholas Reder, and Ye Chen.
Credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington

After surgically removing a tumor from a cancer patient, doctors like to send off some of the tissue for evaluation by a pathologist to get a better idea of whether the margins are cancer free and to guide further treatment decisions. But for technical reasons, completing the pathology report can take days, much to the frustration of patients and their families. Sometimes the results even require an additional surgical procedure.

Now, NIH-funded researchers have developed a groundbreaking new microscope to help perform the pathology in minutes, not days. How’s that possible? The device works like a scanner for tissues, using a thin sheet of light to capture a series of thin cross sections within a tumor specimen without having to section it with a knife, as is done with conventional pathology. The rapidly acquired 2D “optical sections” are processed by a computer that assembles them into a high-resolution 3D image for immediate analysis.

The microscope was developed in the engineering lab of Jonathan Liu at University of Washington, Seattle. Liu got the idea after receiving an email from Nicholas Reder, a medical resident in the university’s pathology department. Reder noted that when pathologists examine a tumor specimen under a conventional analog microscope, they must first prepare the sample. That involves the laborious process of taking a thick piece of tissue, slicing it into smaller pieces for embedding in wax before cutting them again into a few paper-thin sections suitable for mounting on traditional glass slides.

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

GBI Summer School on Global Bioethics, Human Rights and Public Policy

GBI Summer School on Global Bioethics, Human Rights and Public Policy –  Our First Educational Field Trips

by Anaeke Paschal Chinonye

I am a Ph.D. in Philosophy, at the University of Lagos, Nigeria. I am the winner of a partial scholarship which gave me the possibility to attend this unique and very interesting program hosted by GBI.

Friday, June, 23, was a day for field trips. First to the United Nations Headquarters and then to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre. Initially, I thought field trips would be mere social outings and sightseeing with opportunities to take a lot of pictures. The trips proved far more than that; it was rather educational trips loaded with significance. As I got to the main entrance, some basic facts about the UN which I learnt during my Master of International Law and Diplomacy class in the University of Lagos, Nigeria began to flash in my mind. Chiefly, a commitment to international peace and security.

One of my colleagues called me across the road to take pictures, immediately I crossed the road, my eyes went straight to an inscription from the Prophet Isaiah: They shall beat their swords into plough-shares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall no longer lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war anymore. At this point, though the world is still ravaged by wars, terrorism, and insecurity, I felt the UN has a divine mandate which thus must be commended and supported.

Now, after the security check, as I walked into the compound, still lost in wondering contemplation of the critical need for global peace and security, I spotted the statue of a gun with a tied barrel…signaling no more wars.

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

Helping or hacking? Engineers and ethicists must work together on brain-computer interface technology

A subject plays a computer game as part of a neural security experiment at the University of Washington. Patrick Bennett, Author provided

In the 1995 film “Batman Forever,” the Riddler used 3-D television to secretly access viewers’ most personal thoughts in his hunt for Batman’s true identity. By 2011, the metrics company Nielsen had acquired Neurofocus and had created a “consumer neuroscience” division that uses integrated conscious and unconscious data to track customer decision-making habits. What was once a nefarious scheme in a Hollywood blockbuster seems poised to become a reality.

Recent announcements by Elon Musk and Facebook about brain-computer interface (BCI) technology are just the latest headlines in an ongoing science-fiction-becomes-reality story.

BCIs use brain signals to control objects in the outside world. They’re a potentially world-changing innovation – imagine being paralyzed but able to “reach” for something with a prosthetic arm just by thinking about it. But the revolutionary technology also raises concerns. Here at the University of Washington’s Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE) we and our colleagues are researching BCI technology – and a crucial part of that includes working on issues such as neuroethics and neural security. Ethicists and engineers are working together to understand and quantify risks and develop ways to protect the public now.

Picking up on P300 signals

All BCI technology relies on being able to collect information from a brain that a device can then use or act on in some way. There are numerous places from which signals can be recorded, as well as infinite ways the data can be analyzed, so there are many possibilities for how a BCI can be used.

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 biological status of the early human embryo. When does human life begins?

“Those who argue that that embryo can be destroyed with impunity will have to prove that this newly created life is not human. And no-one, to the best of our knowledge, has yet been able to do so.”

Introduction

In order to determine the nature of the human embryo, we need to know its biological, anthropological, philosophical, and even its legal reality. In our opinion, however, the anthropological, philosophical and legal reality of the embryo — the basis of its human rights — must be built upon its biological reality (see also HERE).

Consequently, one of the most widely debated topics in the field of bioethics is to determine when human life begins, and particularly to define the biological status of the human embryo, particularly the early embryo, i.e. from impregnation of the egg by the sperm until its implantation in the maternal endometrium.

Irrespective of this, though, this need to define when human life begins is also due to the fact that during the early stages of human life — approximately during its first 14 days — this young embryo is subject to extensive and diverse threats that, in many cases, lead to its destruction (see HERE).

These threats affect embryos created naturally, mainly through the use of drugs or technical procedures used in the control of human fertility that act via an anti-implantation mechanism, especially intrauterine devices (as DIU); this is also the case of drugs used in emergency contraception, such as levonorgestrel or ulipristal-based drugs (see HERE), because both act via an anti-implantation mechanism in 50% of cases.

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 biological status of the early human embryo. When does human life begins?

“Those who argue that that embryo can be destroyed with impunity will have to prove that this newly created life is not human. And no-one, to the best of our knowledge, has yet been able to do so.”

Introduction

In order to determine the nature of the human embryo, we need to know its biological, anthropological, philosophical, and even its legal reality. In our opinion, however, the anthropological, philosophical and legal reality of the embryo — the basis of its human rights — must be built upon its biological reality (see also HERE).

Consequently, one of the most widely debated topics in the field of bioethics is to determine when human life begins, and particularly to define the biological status of the human embryo, particularly the early embryo, i.e. from impregnation of the egg by the sperm until its implantation in the maternal endometrium.

Irrespective of this, though, this need to define when human life begins (see our article  is also due to the fact that during the early stages of human life — approximately during its first 14 days — this young embryo is subject to extensive and diverse threats that, in many cases, lead to its destruction (see HERE).

These threats affect embryos created naturally, mainly through the use of drugs or technical procedures used in the control of human fertility that act via an anti-implantation mechanism, especially intrauterine devices (as DIU); this is also the case of drugs used in emergency contraception, such as levonorgestrel or ulipristal-based drugs (see HERE), because both act via an anti-implantation mechanism in most of the time.

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.