Tag: genetically modified organisms

Bioethics Blogs

Talking back to science?

By Stephen Rainey

In June 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled that it was legal for a French citizen to sue a drug company for damages following a vaccination, and an illness. The ruling caused some consternation as it seemed a legal vindication of anecdote over scientific rigour.

This is a dramatic case, not least owing to the position in which vaccines find themselves, post Andrew Wakefield and the rise of the anti-vaxxer movement. Nevertheless, it forms a part of a wider narrative in which scientific activity is not always very open to questions from outside science. This broader theme is worth some scrutiny.

Vaccine injury

Shortly following a vaccination against Hepatitis B a French citizen, JW, found himself in declining health. Soon after the decline began, a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) was made. Having had no prior personal or family history of such an illness, and having been in good health prior to the inoculation, JW concluded that the injections must have been to blame for his developing MS. His assertion of this was not supported by scientific investigation. Rather, he could think of the vaccination as the only unusual event that preceded closely his sudden, unexpected development of the condition.

The French courts found themselves unable to agree on whether such a basis as this is sufficient to sue a pharmaceutical company. Eventually, the case was sent to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) which ruled,

“…that the temporal proximity between the administering of a vaccine and the occurrence of a disease, the lack of personal and familial history of that disease, together with the existence of a significant number of reported cases of the disease occurring following such vaccines being administered, appears on the face of it to constitute evidence which, taken together, may lead a national court to consider that a victim has discharged his burden of proof.

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 – June 2017, part two by Aaron Seaman

The first part of the In the Journals post for June 2017 can be found here. And now, for part two…

 

Medical Humanities

SPECIAL ISSUE: Communicating Mental Health

Introduction: historical contexts to communicating mental health

Rebecca Wynter and Leonard Smith

Contemporary discussions around language, stigma and care in mental health, the messages these elements transmit, and the means through which they have been conveyed, have a long and deep lineage. Recognition and exploration of this lineage can inform how we communicate about mental health going forward, as reflected by the 9 papers which make up this special issue. Our introduction provides some framework for the history of communicating mental health over the past 300 years. We will show that there have been diverse ways and means of describing, disseminating and discussing mental health, in relation both to therapeutic practices and between practitioners, patients and the public. Communicating about mental health, we argue, has been informed by the desire for positive change, as much as by developments in reporting, legislation and technology. However, while the modes of communication have developed, the issues involved remain essentially the same. Most practitioners have sought to understand and to innovate, though not always with positive results. Some lost sight of patients as people; patients have felt and have been ignored or silenced by doctors and carers. Money has always talked, for without adequate investment services and care have suffered, contributing to the stigma surrounding mental illness. While it is certainly ‘time to talk’ to improve experiences, it is also time to change the language that underpins cultural attitudes towards mental illness, time to listen to people with mental health issues and, crucially, time to hear.

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

Genome editing – the key ethical issues

Written by Dr Christopher Gyngell

This article originally appeared on the OMS website

The Nuffield Council of Bioethics released a report last Friday outlining the key ethical issues raised by genome editing technologies.

Genome editing (GE) is a powerful, and extremely rapidly developing technology. It uses engineered enzymes to make precise, controlled modification to DNA. It has the potential to radically transform many industries, including medicine, agriculture and ecology.  Despite only being developed in the past few years’, GE has already been used to create malaria-fighting mosquitoes, drought resistant wheat, hornless cows and cancer killing immune cells. The potential applications of GE in a decade are difficult to imagine. It raises a wide range of ethical issues that require careful scrutiny.

The Nuffield Council of Bioethics has formed a working group to analyse these issues. Their report titled “Genome editing: an ethical review”, is the first output of this working group.  It is a mapping project which identifies the major ethical issues arising from GE.

The report identifies several areas of GE that raise pressing ethical issues.  GE for human reproduction, and GE in livestock, are classed as requiring ‘urgent’ attention. GE for the purposes of xenotransplantation, and to alter wild populations of mosquitoes (and other disease causing animals), are classed as requiring attention ‘in the near future’.

It is unsurprising that genome editing for human reproduction is listed as requiring urgent attention. It has been at the centre of public debates about GE since scientists used the technology to alter human embryos for the first time last year.

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 Food Labeling Law

         ‘Victory wrapped inside a defeat’ ?

 

By Claire Davis

 

In his recent op-ed “G.M.O. Labeling Law Could Stir a Revolution,” published in The New York Times, Mark Bittman criticized the new amendment to the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 as “the weakest labeling law imaginable,” but went on to highlight a potential upside. Calling it a “victory wrapped inside a defeat,” he argued that increased access to information about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products will spur consumer interest in other aspects of food production.

 

Mr. Bittman named a variety of potential areas of interest, from the most rudimentary questions of where the ingredients in a food product were produced to more detailed ones, such as what pesticides remain on a food product, how much water is used to produce a crop, and whether farm laborers have health insurance. In Mr. Bittman’s vision, this “transparency revolution” will be a joint undertaking of consumers and industry producers, with consumers leading the call for change and companies providing detailed information directly on their packaging.

 

At Johns Hopkins University, we are developing a comprehensive labeling system to provide consumers with information about the ethical value of their food products. As part of the Global Food Ethics and Policy Program, the project, titled Consumers, Certifications and Labels: Ethically Benchmarking Food Systems, brings together scholars and experts from the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Berman Institute of Bioethics as well as several other participants from the US and Europe.

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

Obama Signs Bill Requiring Labeling of GMO Foods

The legislation passed by Congress two weeks ago will require most food packages to carry a text label, a symbol or an electronic code readable by smartphone that indicates whether the food contains genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

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

Eight Quick Thoughts on the NAS Gene Drive Report

Hank Greely

Gene drives, which use genome editing (and especially CRISPR/Cas9) to push edited variations of genes through whole populations at great speed, are perhaps the most exciting and frightening products of new biotechnologies, giving humans more control than ever over all life on Earth. Gene drives had been talked about in theory for about fifty years, but the first demonstration of a gene drive was not until early 2015. Yet, because of its (justly) perceived importance, it has already led to a National Academy of Sciences report (perhaps setting a world land speed record). The Report, Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values is available for free download here.  I have read the summary and recommendations carefully and have skimmed the rest. Eight points stand out to me.

One – The Report is useful. It sets out the background facts of gene drives and analyzes helpfully many of the issues they raise. I am pleased that it calls for continued research. I am also pleased that it calls for (great) care in releases and for public consultation in individual cases. And I am pleased that it does not entirely rule out (careful) use. A moratorium, though tempting, would not have been justified.

Two – Phased testing, which the Report endorses, may work in specific locations but that will depend powerfully on the organism, ecology, and other circumstances. Assessing those situations carefully will be, as the Report says, both difficult and crucial. Setting out either more detailed guidance for that testing, or proposing an entity to lay out such guidance, would have been nice.

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

Roundup Ready® Humans

Everyone is familiar with Roundup®, arguably the most well-known of any herbicide in the world and my favorite gardening tool. What may be less well known is that Monsanto has created a line of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are resistant to their famous herbicide. Called Roundup Ready®, soybeans in this product line can essentially take a bath in Roundup and still grow up to… // 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 Blogs

Who is Afraid of CRISPR Art? by Eben Kirksey

A crowd-sourced Indiegogo funding campaign that raised over $45,000 for do-it-yourself gene editing kits in December, asks: “If you had access to modern synthetic biology tools, what would you create?”  This campaign, which aims to democratize science “so everyone has access,” was launched by Josiah Zayner, who earned a PhD in Molecular Biophysics from the University of Chicago.  For $130 Zayner offers a DIY CRISPR kit that “includes everything you need to make precision genome edits in bacteria at home including Cas9, gRNA and a Donor DNA template.”  This Indiegogo campaign has a special Note to BioHackers: “Each kit comes with all sequence and cloning detail so you can perform your own custom genome engineering.”

Genetically modified organisms, created with CRISPR or other technologies, have the potential to run wild and cause harm to human health and ecological communities.  Zayner’s Indiegogo campaign attracted supporters from around the world, including many nations where there are no clear laws about containment for organisms that have been “biohacked.”  The Federal Bureau of Investigation has targeted hacking communities with the Bioterrorism Protection Team to ferret out possible malicious uses of emergent technologies.  Biohacking can pose significant risks, according to Charis Thompson, Professor of Sociology at University College London and at UC Berkeley.  But security concerns should not blind us to the creative potentials of tools like CRISPR, she says.  During Thompson’s recent address to the Human Gene Editing Summit in Washington she asked: “Are the biosecurity risks exaggerated for citizen use of these technologies? What are the creative and democratic potentials of these techniques?”

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

Genome editing CRISPR-Cas9. Biomedical and ethical considerations

Since the emergence in 2012 of the genome editing technique known as CRISPR-Cas9 [1], its use has rapidly expanded, as reflected in a notable increase in the number of publications, patented applications and funding awarded for this research area within a short period of time. A very comprehensive report has recently been published in international science journal Nature, explaining the trajectory of CRISPR-Cas9 and the different fields of application of this technique [2], which we shall discuss in this report.

The technique consists of using an RNA fragment that has a dual function: On one hand, it acts as a guide to find the piece of DNA to be modified and binds to it, while on the other, it recruits a molecule whose function is to cut the DNA, as if it were scissors (Cas9 enzyme). This enables the desired pieces of DNA to be cut, allowing the modification or removal of specific sequences. Unlike other gene-editing methods, CRISPR-Cas9 is cheap (around 30 US dollars per sequence), quick, and easy to use, and as such has been widely implemented in numerous laboratories worldwide. Furthermore, it can be applied in a large number of entities, and does not have to be limited to traditional model organisms. CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, is compiling a list of CRISPR-altered creatures, which to date “has three dozen entries, including disease-causing parasites called trypanosomes and yeasts used to make biofuels” [2].

Nevertheless, while CRISPR appears to have much to offer, some scientists are concerned that the breakneck pace at which the technology is developing leaves little time for adequately assessing the ethical and safety issues that might arise as a result of these 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

In the Journals – November 2015 Part I by Michelle Pentecost

Here’s comes the first round of what you’ll find ‘In the Journals’ from November. Apart from the listings below, also see the Somatosphere post on a Special Issue in Theory, Culture and Society on Transdisciplinary Problematics, which you’ll find here.

 

Medical Anthropology

Skillful Revelation: Local Healers, Rationalists, and Their ‘Trickery’ in Chhattisgarh, Central India

Helen Mary McDonald

To understand the workings of medicine, healing, placebo, belief, and rationality, medical anthropologists need to pay attention to the complex relations of various forms of revelation, contemplation, and rejoining revelation that attach to illness and healing. In this article two performances of a healing technique located in the agricultural plain of Chhattisgarh, central India, are compared: one representing scientific rationality; the other ‘blind’ superstition. In both performances the practitioner’s aim is to reveal: the local healer reveals witchcraft objects from the afflicted body; the local rationalist society reveals the healer’s technique as a fraudulent trick. Each performance shares ‘an aesthetics of revelation’—they rely on seeing or revealing to obtain their social effect. The interplay between forms of revelation, a reliance on aesthetics for the revelation, and the ways of seeing can indicate how distinctions are made (or not) between doctor and quack, expertise and gimmickry, and truth and falsehood.

 

Suicide and the ‘Poison Complex’: Toxic Relationalities, Child Development, and the Sri Lankan Self-Harm Epidemic

Tom Widger

Suicide prevention efforts in Asia have increasingly turned to ‘quick win’ means restriction, while more complicated cognitive restriction and psychosocial programs are limited. This article argues the development of cognitive restriction programs requires greater consideration of suicide methods as social practices, and of how suicide cognitive schemata form.

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.