Tag: genome

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DNA-Encoded Movie Points Way to ‘Molecular Recorder’

Credit: Seth Shipman, Harvard Medical School, Boston

There’s a reason why our cells store all of their genetic information as DNA. This remarkable molecule is unsurpassed for storing lots of data in an exceedingly small space. In fact, some have speculated that, if encoded in DNA, all of the data ever generated by humans could fit in a room about the size of a two-car garage and, if that room happens to be climate controlled, the data would remain intact for hundreds of thousands of years! [1]

Scientists have already explored whether synthetic DNA molecules on a chip might prove useful for archiving vast amounts of digital information. Now, an NIH-funded team of researchers is taking DNA’s information storage capabilities in another intriguing direction. They’ve devised their own code to record information not on a DNA chip, but in the DNA of living cells. Already, the team has used bacterial cells to store the data needed to outline the shape of a human hand, as well the data necessary to reproduce five frames from a famous vintage film of a horse galloping (see above).

But the researchers’ ultimate goal isn’t to make drawings or movies. They envision one day using DNA as a type of “molecular recorder” that will continuously monitor events taking place within a cell, providing potentially unprecedented looks at how cells function in both health and disease.

The Harvard Medical School team, led by Seth Shipman and George Church, built their molecular recorder using the CRISPR/Cas complex, much touted on this blog as a gene-editing tool.

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.

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In Memoriam: John A. Robertson

by David Magnus, Ph.D.

Sadly, the field of bioethics lost one of its best this week. John Robertson, a law professor at the University of Texas and a major figure in law and bioethics, passed away on July 5th. John was an important scholar whose work spanned major contributions to scholarship on end of life, organ transplantation, and genetics, but he is best known for his work on reproductive technology. John’s articulation and defense of the importance of procreative liberty, though both his articles and his important book, Children of Choice, stands as an exemplar for scholarship in bioethics. I have used his work in my classes for over 20 years, because no one has better articulated the perspective he brought to bear on issues in reproductive technology.

In addition to his scholarly contributions, what I will miss most about John is that he was a tireless and enthusiastic mentor and advocate for younger scholars. Without his support, I doubt that my career would have turned out the way it has. First, if you are reading this blog, you are aware of the success of the American Journal of Bioethics. The journal owes a great deal of its success (and perhaps its continued existence) to John. When the journal was first launched, most leaders in the field expressed a great deal of skepticism about the need or value of another journal. John not only supported us and encouraged us, he made a major contribution to ensure our success. As the Chair of the ethics committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, John was instrumental in promoting a position to accept uses of new technologies for sex selection (at least in the context of family balancing).

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.

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Personalized Medicine: Our Future or Big Data Voodoo?

Kumar Ethirajan, MD

NOTE: Kumar Ethirajan, MD, an oncologist specializing in cancer genetics in the Kansas City area since 1993 and member of the Center for Practical Bioethics’ board of directors, will present this topic as part of the Center’s BIOETHICS MATTERS lecture series on Wednesday, July 19, 7:00 pm, at the Kansas City Public Library Plaza Branch, 4801 Main Street, Kansas City, MO. Bring your perspectives, questions and personal stories. Admission is free. All are welcome. 

Personalized medicine has the potential to revolutionize medicine. Actually, that’s not true. Personalized medicine IS REVOLUTIONIZING medicine. 

Personalized medicine IS our future! Yet, based on a 2013 survey by GfK, a global consumer research firm, just 27% of people have heard of the term personalized medicine and, of those, only 4% understand what the term means.

You may have heard personalized medicine referred to as genomic medicine, precision medicine or individualized medicine. Whatever you call it, it’s medicine that uses information about your genes to prevent, diagnose and treat disease. In cancer, it’s about using information about a tumor to discover certain biomarkers or genes and, hopefully, having a drug to treat it. So far, researchers have discovered more than 1800 disease genes, created more than 2,000 genetic tests for human conditions, and have 350 drugs currently in clinical trials.

So, this is great, right? Yes. But consider that some 30% of the world’s stored data is generated by the healthcare industry – and that a single patient on average generates 80 megabytes per year! With healthcare data exploding like this, shouldn’t we be thinking about the questions it raises?

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.

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Ethical issues in foetal genome sequencing. New level of complexity to medical, family and social decisions resulting from this prenatal diagnosis

Regardless of the legal judgment that abortion deserves in different countries, any action that may induce or facilitate abortion is ethically unacceptable.

In 2012, a technique was developed that enabled the foetal genome to be determined in the first trimester of pregnancy, using a small sample of the mother’s blood (Nature 2012, 487,320-4. Erratum Nature 2012; 489,326). This attractive novel technique has opened up new medical possibilities, but also objective ethical questions. A recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine (370; 195-197) discussed this topic.

There is no doubt that this new possibility adds a new level of complexity to medical, family and social decisions resulting from prenatal diagnosis.

As discussed in the article, information can be obtained on some foetal medical issues with the usual methods, such as chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis. With genomic analysis however, information can not only be obtained on possible diseases, but also on types of autosomal recessive diseases (e.g. Tay-Sachs disease), or the risk that the future child will develop a disease such as diabetes or some type of cancer in adulthood, especially breast and ovarian cancer in women. Knowing the risks of future diseases can be used for the good of the foetus, if prenatal treatments can be applied, but also against their life if abortion is favoured.

This therefore raises several ethical questions, such as, “Should foetal genome studies be routinely offered to everyone?” or “Are parents entitled to know their future child’s genetic information?” One criterion that is probably essential to establish the ethicality of these practices, is that they are always used in the best interests of the child.

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.

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Genome sequencing in foetal .This prenatal diagnosis arrises a new level of complexity to medical, family and social decisions

Regardless of the legal judgment that abortion deserves in different countries, any action that may induce or facilitate abortion is ethically unacceptable.

In 2012, a technique was developed that enabled the foetal genome to be determined in the first trimester of pregnancy, using a small sample of the mother’s blood (Nature 2012, 487,320-4. Erratum Nature 2012; 489,326). This attractive novel technique has opened up new medical possibilities, but also objective ethical questions. A recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine (370; 195-197) discussed this topic.

There is no doubt that this new possibility adds a new level of complexity to medical, family and social decisions resulting from prenatal diagnosis.

As discussed in the article, information can be obtained on some foetal medical issues with the usual methods, such as chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis. With genomic analysis however, information can not only be obtained on possible diseases, but also on types of autosomal recessive diseases (e.g. Tay-Sachs disease), or the risk that the future child will develop a disease such as diabetes or some type of cancer in adulthood, especially breast and ovarian cancer in women. Knowing the risks of future diseases can be used for the good of the foetus, if prenatal treatments can be applied, but also against their life if abortion is favoured.

This therefore raises several ethical questions, such as, “Should foetal genome studies be routinely offered to everyone?” or “Are parents entitled to know their future child’s genetic information?” One criterion that is probably essential to establish the ethicality of these practices, is that they are always used in the best interests of the child.

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.

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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.

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The Moral Question That Stanford Asks Its Bioengineering Students

June 28, 2017

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When students in Stanford University’s Introduction to Bioengineering course sit for their final exams, the first question that they have to answer is about our ability to write DNA.

Scientists have fully sequenced the genomes of humans, trees, octopuses, bacteria, and thousands of other species. But it may soon become possible to not just readlarge genomes but also to write them—synthesizing them from scratch. “Imagine a music synthesizer with only four keys,” said Stanford professor Drew Endy to the audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. Each represents one of the four building blocks of DNA—A, C, G, and T. Press the keys in sequence and you can print out whatever stretch of DNA you like.

In 2010, one group did this for a bacterium with an exceptionally tiny genome, crafting all million or so letters of its DNA and implanting it into a hollow cell. Another team is part-way through writing the more complex genome of baker’s yeast, with 12 million letters. The human genome is 300 times bigger, and as I reported last month, others are trying to build the technology that will allow them to create genomes of this size.

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The Atlantic

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.

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How Flu Changes within the Human Body May Hint at Future Global Trends

June 27, 2017

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Evolution is usually very slow, a process of change that takes thousands or millions of years to see.

But for influenza, evolution is fast – and deadly. Flu viruses change rapidly to escape the body’s defenses. Every few years, new variants of flu emerge and cause epidemics around the world.

Controlling the spread of flu means dealing with this ongoing evolution. Each year, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) must make their best guess about how the virus will change in order to choose which flu strains to include in the annual vaccine.

This work is difficult and uncertain, and mistakes have real consequences. Worldwide, flu infects several million people each year and causes hundreds of thousands of deaths. In years when predictions miss the mark and the flu shot is very different from circulating strains, more people are vulnerable to infection.

In the past several years, advances in genome sequencing have begun to shed light on the beginnings of viral evolution, deep within individual infections. We wondered whether, for flu, this information might give us an early glimpse of future global evolutionary trends.

What could a single person’s flu infection tell us about how the virus changes across the world? As it turns out, a surprising amount.

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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.

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How CRISPR Yanked Jennifer Doudna Out of the Ivory Tower

June 27, 2017

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Jennifer Doudna remembers a moment when she realized how important CRIPSR—the gene-editing technique that she co-discovered—was going to be. It was in 2014, and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur had contacted Sam Sternberg, a biochemist who was then working in Doudna’s lab. Sternberg met with the entrepreneur in a Berkeley cafe, and she told him, with what he later described to Doudna as “a very bright look in her eye that was also a little scary,” that she wanted to start applying CRISPR to humans. She wanted to be the mother of the first baby whose genome had been edited with the technique. And she wanted to establish a business that would offer a menu of such edits to parents.

Nothing of the kind could currently happen in the U.S., where editing the genomes of human embryos is still verboten. But the entrepreneur apparently had connections that would allow her to offer such services in other countries. “That’s a true story,” Doudna told a crowd at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “That blew my mind. It was a heads-up that people were already thinking about this—that at some point, someone might announce that they had the first CRISPR baby.”

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The Atlantic

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.

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New Concerns Raised Over Value of Genome-Wide Disease Studies

June 21, 2017

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Compare the genomes of enough people with and without a disease, and genetic variants linked to the malady should pop out. So runs the philosophy behind genome-wide association studies (GWAS), which researchers have used for more than a decade to find genetic ties to diseases such as schizophrenia and rheumatoid arthritis. But a provocative analysis now calls the future of that strategy into question — and raises doubts about whether funders should pour more money into these experiments.

GWAS are fast expanding to encompass hundreds of thousands, even millions, of patients (see ‘The genome-wide tide’). But biologists are likely to find that larger studies turn up more and more genetic variants — or ‘hits’ — that have minuscule influences on disease, says Jonathan Pritchard, a geneticist at Stanford University in California. It seems likely, he argues, that common illnesses could be linked by GWAS to hundreds of thousands of DNA variants: potentially, to every single DNA region that happens to be active in a tissue involved in a disease.

In a paper published in Cell on 15 June1, Pritchard and two other geneticists suggest that many GWAS hits have no specific biological relevance to disease and wouldn’t serve as good drug targets. Rather, these ‘peripheral’ variants probably act through complex biochemical regulatory networks to influence the activity of a few ‘core’ genes that are more directly connected to an illness.

… Read More

Image via Flickr Attribution Some rights reserved by The Moonstone Archive

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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.