Tag: laboratories

Bioethics News

China Launches Brain-Imaging Factory

August 16, 2017

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Neuroscientists who painstakingly map the twists and turns of neural circuitry through the brain are about to see their field expand to an industrial scale. A huge facility set to open in Suzhou, China, next month should transform high-resolution brain mapping, its developers say.

Where typical laboratories might use one or two brain-imaging systems, the new facility boasts 50 automated machines that can rapidly slice up a mouse brain, snap high-definition pictures of each slice and reconstruct those into a 3D picture. This factory-like scale will “dramatically accelerate progress”, says Hongkui Zeng, a molecular biologist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington, which is partnering with the centre. “Large-scale, standardized data generation in an industrial manner will change the way neuroscience is done,” she says.

The institute, which will also image human brains, aims to be an international hub that will help researchers to map neural connectivity for everything from studies of Alzheimer’s disease to brain-inspired artificial-intelligence projects, says Qingming Luo, a researcher in biomedical imaging at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) in Wuhan, China. Luo leads the new facility, called the HUST-Suzhou Institute for Brainsmatics, which has a 5-year budget of 450 million yuan (US$67 million) and will employ some 120 scientists and technicians. Luo, who calls himself a “brainsmatician”, also built the institute’s high-speed brain-imaging systems.

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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

NIH Family Members Giving Back: Charlotte Phillips

Caption: Charlotte Phillips during a visit to a Missouri Mennonite community.
Credit: Richard Hillman

At 1 a.m., most people are fast asleep in their beds. But Charlotte Phillips sometimes finds herself up at that odd hour, waiting anxiously in a deserted Missouri parking lot far from her home. Phillips drives there to meet a contact for a very special delivery: a packet of cheek swabs and blood samples from a newborn Mennonite baby at risk of a life-threatening genetic condition called maple syrup urine disease (MSUD).

For more than two decades, Phillips, an NIH grantee at the University of Missouri, Columbia, has volunteered to ensure that the DNA in these swabs and samples is tested for MSUD within hours of a baby’s birth. If found to be positive for the condition, the baby can receive a needed special formula. Without it, the baby would suffer brain damage within days from its inability to break down amino acids in protein-rich foods, including breast milk and standard infant formula. Hurrying off at a moment’s notice isn’t always convenient, but Phillips, who is not Mennonite, feels a personal calling to do it. She wouldn’t want any babies to die.

MSUD is named for the sweet smell associated with the urine of people left untreated for the condition. The lifelong condition is exceedingly rare, affecting about 1 in 185,000 infants [1]. But, it’s relatively common among Old Order Mennonites, affecting about 1 in 380 infants. That’s because many Mennonites carry one copy of the mutated gene, meaning they won’t develop MSUD but can pass it on to their children if their spouse is also a carrier.

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

How Kids See the World Depends a Lot on Genetics

Caption: Child watches video while researchers track his eye movements.
Credit: Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis

From the time we are born, most of us humans closely watch the world around us, paying special attention to people’s faces and expressions. Now, for the first time, an NIH-funded team has shown that the ways in which children look at faces and many other things are strongly influenced by the genes they’ve inherited from their parents.

The findings come from experiments that tracked the eye movements of toddlers watching videos of other kids or adult caregivers. The experiments showed that identical twins—who share the same genes and the same home environment—spend almost precisely the same proportion of time looking at faces, even when watching different videos. And when identical twins watched the same video, they tended to look at the same thing at almost exactly the same time! In contrast, fraternal twins—who shared the same home environment, but, on average, shared just half of their genes—had patterns of eye movement that were far less similar.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that the visual behaviors most affected in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—attention to another person’s eyes and mouth—were those that also appeared to be the most heavily influenced by genetics. The discovery makes an important connection between two well-known features of ASD: a strong hereditary component and poor eye contact with other people.

The new study was led by Warren Jones, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, and John Constantino, Washington University School of Medicine, St.

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 one by Aaron Seaman

Anthropology and Aging (open access)

The Social Context of Collective Physical Training among Chinese Elderly: An Anthropological Case Study in a Park in Beijing

Yeori Park

This study analyzes the social context in China where the elderly participate in collective physical training, a cultural activity specific to the country. For this study, senior citizens aged 60 or above who participated in collective physical training in a park in Beijing were observed for five months. Research results found that collective physical training enables formation of social networks providing mutual caring and support. On the other hand, the participants conform to the self-disciplined modern discourse to survive in the post-Mao society. They do collective physical training due to their social conditions, such as the poorly established welfare system for the aged, severance pay that is too low to cover medical expenses. Although the participants seem to autonomously choose collective physical training based on their own preferences, the context of Chinese society, including hidden government intentions, leads the elderly to participate in training activities.

Social Contract on Elderly Caregiving in Contemporary Chile

Carola Salazar

This paper explores the definitions of social contract on elderly caregiving among a group of seven Chilean aging experts. The data show that for Chileans, family remains a strong institution that should provide care of its members, with daughters or daughters-in-law being the preferred person to provide care. Also, age segregation, along with the gradual privatization of services such as health care and the pension system, promotes individuality: this can become a problem for future generations because they are no longer concerned with helping others.

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

Book review: Traces of the Future: An Archaeology of Medical Science in Africa by Damien Droney

Traces of the Future: An Archaeology of Medical Science in Africa

Paul Wenzel Geissler, Guillaume Lachenal, John Manton, and Noémi Tousignant, editors

Intellect Ltd./University of Chicago Press, 2016, 256 pages, 500 color plates

 

The first reaction to an encounter with Traces of the Future: An Archaeology of Medical Science in Africa is likely to be a set of questions. Firstly, “what is it?” This 7×9” hardcover book, brimming with pleasingly displayed full-color photographic contributions by 18 authors, resembles a museum exhibit as much as it does a conventional academic volume. The contributing authors themselves describe it as a “sutured assemblage” (12) and a “fragmentary and idiosyncratic” (27) result of collaborative research presented in “a book-like package” (12).

Traces of the Future is the remarkable product of a long-term collaborative research project by a group of anthropologists, historians, and photographers. It examines the legacies of twentieth century biosciences in Africa in five historical sites of transnational medical science. Each of these sites manifested dreams of medical modernity and social progress characteristic of the twentieth century, dreams which are unevenly remembered in these sites today. The book is driven by the diverse research objects that it assembles. Beyond some rewarding orienting essays, the bulk of the book appears as a profusion of material. Each chapter includes an array of images, including fieldwork snapshots, archival documents, blueprints, manuscripts of musical scores, and unearthed beakers. These images are interspersed with timelines, interview transcripts, fieldnote excerpts, quotes from academic literature, and essays.

It also features haunting professional art photographs of Amani Hill Research Station by Evgenia Arbugaeva and Mariele Neudecker.

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

Guest Post: Crispr Craze and Crispr Cares

Written by Robert Ranisch, Institute for Ethics and History of Medicine, University of Tuebingen

@RobRanisch

Newly discovered tools for the targeted editing of the genome have been generating talk of a revolution in gene technology for the last five years. The CRISPR/Cas9-method draws most of the attention by enabling a more simple and precise, cheaper and quicker modification of genes in a hitherto unknown measure. Since these so-called molecular scissors can be set to work in just about all organisms, hardly a week goes by without headlines regarding the latest scientific research: Genome editing could keep vegetables looking fresh, eliminate malaria from disease-carrying mosquitoes, replace antibiotics or bring mammoths back to life.

Naturally, the greatest hopes are put into its potential for various medical applications. Despite the media hype, there are no ready-to-use CRISPR gene therapies. However, the first clinical studies are under way in China and have been approved in the USA. Future therapy methods might allow eradicating hereditary illnesses, conquering cancer, or even cure HIV/AIDS. Just this May, results from experiments on mice gave reason to hope for this. In a similar vein, germline intervention is being reconsidered as a realistic option now, although it had long been considered taboo because of how its (side)effects are passed down the generations.

The developmental history of genome editing reveals itself as a recalibration of ethical standards in research. Two years ago, the first-time use of these new tools on (non-viable) embryos in China led to a solid scandal; in retrospect, it is not clear anymore whether the outrage was triggered by ethical concerns or by the circumstance that this (perceived) taboo was broken by China of all countries.

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

Gender Bias in the Sciences: A Neuroethical Priority

By Lindsey Grubbs
Lindsey Grubbs is a doctoral candidate in English at Emory University, where she is also pursuing a certificate in bioethics. Her work has been published in Literature & Medicine and the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience, and she has a chapter co-authored with Karen Rommelfanger forthcoming in the Routledge Handbook of Neuroethics.   
In a March 29, 2017 lecture at Emory University, Dr. Bita Moghaddam, Chair of the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University, began her talk, “Women’s Reality in Academic Science,” by asking the room of around fifty undergraduate and graduate students, “Who’s not here today?”
The answer? Men. (Mostly. To be fair, there were two.) Women in the audience offered a few hypotheses: maybe men felt like they would be judged for coming to a “women’s” event; maybe they wanted the women in their community to enjoy a female-majority space; maybe they don’t think that gender impacts their education and career.
Moghaddam seemed inclined to favor this third view: anecdotally, she has noticed a marked lack of interest from younger men when it comes to discussing gender bias in the sciences. More interested, she suggested, are older men who run laboratories or departments and watch wave after wave of talented women leave the profession, and those who have seen their partners or children impacted by sexism in science.
Dr. Moghaddam was invited to speak in Atlanta for her work against the systemic bias facing women in the sciences. She co-authored a short piece in Neuropsychopharmacology titled “Women at the Podium: ACNP Strives to Reach Speaker Gender Equality at the Annual Meeting.”

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

Decades on from Henrietta Lacks, we’re still struggling to find an adequate consent model

The ‘immortal’ HeLa cells. Heiti Paves/Shutterstock

When 30-year-old Henrietta Lacks walked through the doors of a Baltimore hospital in 1951 to get a “knot in the stomach” checked, she couldn’t have known she was about to change the face of medical research.

After undergoing a biopsy on her “knot”, Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer; it was so aggressive that she died only a few months later.

Henrietta Lacks.
Oregon State University/Flickr., CC BY-SA

But that was not the end of Lacks’s “life”. A small part of the cervical biopsy was retained and conveyed to the hospital’s tissue culture laboratory. There Dr George Gey, head of the laboratory, had been working for a few years on a system whereby human cells would continuously divide and grow in culture dishes. Gey had had no success thus far, but when he placed Lacks’s cells in culture, they behaved very differently.

Lacks’s cells survived, multiplied, grew robustly, and continued to do so for weeks and months afterwards – subsequently generating the first immortalised human cell line.

Gey never made a profit from these “HeLa” cells – named after Henrietta Lacks – but did distribute them to other scientists. Since then, the HeLa cells have been grown in countless laboratories across the globe and have now lived for twice as long outside Lacks’s body as they did inside it.

HeLa cells have revolutionised medical research, made countless contributions to medicine – from vaccine production to fertility treatment – and have been the foundation of a multi-billion dollar industry.

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

Stem cell research. The two sides of the coin

Science facing market

The “heads” of stem cell research

Stem cells today represent a great hope for the future of regenerative medicine due to their ability to differentiate into cell lines of almost any tissue, making them a promising therapeutic option for many diseases.

These pluripotent cells are found in embryonic and also in adult tissues. Their isolation and culture in specific media may lead to the development of tissues that are useful in regenerative therapies for conditions such as heart disease, myelopathies, diabetes, nerve injuries, retinopathies, etc. After their isolation, they are injected directly into the tissues to be regenerated, so that the stem cells differentiate into cells of these same tissues.

A third way of obtaining pluripotent cells is that described by Yamanaka 10 years ago, a finding for which he was awarded the Nobel prize in Medicine. Starting from a differentiated adult cell, Yamanaka managed to find a way of “dedifferentiating” it so that it returned to its pluripotent state, to then “redifferentiate” it into a particular cell line with therapeutic utility. These are known as iPS or induced pluripotent stem cells.

Similarly, tissues that simulate the function of certain organs have been reproduced in vitro from stem cells, and could, in the future, be an alternative to current organ transplantation.

The current state of the clinical application of stem cells remains uncertain. Although successful outcomes have been reported in some fields, such as cardiology and haematology, many clinical trials and therapeutic applications have failed due to problems arising in the differentiation processes and the appearance of tumours.

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

Snapshots of Life: Biological Bubble Machine

Credit: Chi Zhao, David Busch, Connor Vershel, Jeanne Stachowiak, University of Texas at Austin

As kids, most of us got a bang out of blowing soap bubbles and watching them float around. Biologists have learned that some of our cells do that too. On the right, you can see two cells (greenish yellow) in the process of forming bubbles, or plasma membrane vesicles (PMVs). During this blebbing process, a cell’s membrane temporarily disassociates from its underlying cytoskeleton, forming a tiny pouch that, over the course of about 30 minutes, is “inflated” with a mix of proteins and lipids from inside the cell. After the PMVs are fully filled, these bubble-like structures are pinched off and released, like those that you see in the background. Certain cells constantly release PMVs, along with other types of vesicles, and may use those to communicate with other cells throughout the body.

This particular image, an entrant in the Biophysical Society’s 2017 Art of Science Image Contest, was produced by researchers working in the NIH-supported lab of Jeanne Stachowiak at the University of Texas at Austin. Stachowiak’s group is among the first to explore the potential of PMVs as specialized drug-delivery systems to target cancer and other disorders [1].

Until recently, most efforts to exploit vesicles for therapeutic uses have employed synthetic versions of a different type of vesicle, called an exosome. But Stachowiak and others have realized that PMVs come with certain built-in advantages. A major one is that a patient’s own cells could in theory serve as the production facility.

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.