Tag: nature

Bioethics Blogs

Search and destroy—or at least, select

This week’s issue of Nature carries a feature article on the explosion of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) in China.  Because women are having children later in life, partly because of relaxation of the old one-child policy; because Chinese culture sees it as a duty to seek to bear healthy children; because some Chinese want to try to enable their kids to exploit some features of… // Read More »

Source: bioethics.net, a blog maintained by the editorial staff of The American Journal of Bioethics.

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

Reproducing the Speculative: Reproductive Technology, Education, and Science Fiction by Kaitlyn Sherman

Walter, a Synthetic, quietly makes his rounds in the brightly lit, pristine interior of the Covenant, a Weyland Corporation Spaceship. Fingers pressed to the translucent, impermeable glass, he checks the status of each crew member as they rest in their cryochambers, suspended in chemically-induced comas until they reach their destined planet in seven years and four months’ time. The ship’s artificial intelligence system, Mother, chimes, “Seven bells and all is well.” Reassured of their security, Walter moves on to the next zone, where another 2,000 cryochambers contain sleeping colonists from Earth. This zone also features a panel of drawers, each housing dozens of embryos—over 1,100 second-generation colonists. They are packed individually into river-stone sized ovoids; clear, solid, egg-like. Amid the rows, an embryo has died, and its artificial uterine-sack is clouded and dark. Observing it briefly, Walter takes it from its socket with a set of tongs and places it into a biohazard bin. The Covenant is on a mission to colonize a habitable, distant planet. Their ship contains everything that could be useful in setting up a new colony: terraforming vehicles, construction materials, and human life itself. Even though these frozen embryos aren’t yet actively developing, they reflect a technology that allows for such a feat, while ensuring a population boom that is not dependent upon the limited space of mature female colonists’ wombs.

This scene is part of the opening sequence of the latest film in Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise. Alien: Covenant (2017) is the most recent science fiction film to illustrate advances in reproductive technologies, especially that of ectogenesis, or external gestation and birth.

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

China’s Embrace of Embryo Selection Raises Thorny Questions

August 16, 2017

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Getting time with Qiao Jie is not easy. At 7:30 a.m., the line coming out of the fertility centre that she runs blocks the doorway and extends some 80 metres down the street. Inside, about 50 physicians on her team are discussing recent findings, but Qiao, a fertility specialist and president of Peking University Third Hospital in Beijing, is still in an early-morning consult.

When she finally emerges, she jumps to the topic at hand: spreading awareness of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a procedure that helps couples undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) to avoid passing on genetic mutations that could cause disease or disability in their children. Qiao typically refuses interview requests, but she’s concerned that people aren’t getting the message about PGD fast enough. “Now, more and more diseases can be stopped — if not immediately, in the generation after next,” she says.

Early experiments are beginning to show how genome-editing technologies such as CRISPR might one day fix disease-causing mutations before embryos are implanted. But refining the techniques and getting regulatory approval will take years. PGD has already helped thousands of couples. And whereas the expansion of PGD around the world has generally been slow, in China, it is starting to explode.

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Image: By Zephyris at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5971161

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Source: Bioethics Bulletin by the Berman Institute of Bioethics.

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

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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Source: Bioethics Bulletin by the Berman Institute of Bioethics.

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

Can We Feed The World With Farmed Fish?

August 16, 2017

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But new research suggests there is space on the open ocean for farming essentially all the seafood humans can eat. A team of scientists led by Rebecca Gentry, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that widescale aquaculture utilizing much of the ocean’s coastal waters could outproduce the global demand for seafood by a staggering 100 times.

Their paper, published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, could have significant implications for a planet whose human population is projected to reach 10 billion by 2050. Nearly every coastal country has the potential to meet its own domestic demand for seafood, “typically using only a minute fraction of its ocean territory,” write the authors.

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Image: By Asc1733 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47649920

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NPR The Salt

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Source: Bioethics Bulletin by the Berman Institute of Bioethics.

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 Politics of Elder Care, Social Care, and the “Dementia Tax”: A View from the United Kingdom

By Richard Ashcroft
Professor Richard Ashcroft, an AJOB Neuroscience Editorial Board member, teaches medical law and ethics at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level in the Department of Law at Queen Mary University of London.

The United Kingdom has recently gone through a General Election. The main reason the election was called by Prime Minister Theresa May was to secure a stronger mandate for the ruling Conservative Party, which was governing with a small overall majority of 19 seats over the Opposition parties. PM May’s argument was that in the negotiations with the other member states of the European Union over the UK’s exit from that Union (Brexit), an increased majority would give her a stronger bargaining position. As the election turned out, the electorate returned the Conservatives with fewer seats, and PM May had to form a minority administration, with a partial agreement to support the Conservative Party made with one of the smaller parties, the Democratic Unionist Party, which only contests seats in Northern Ireland. As a result PM May has a working majority, but one that is more fragile, rather than stronger.
Commentators have suggested a number of reasons for this outcome, but there seems to be general agreement that a turning point in the electoral campaign was the release of the election manifesto of the Conservative Party. While there are many reasons that might explain the downturn in support for PM May, one particular policy announced in the manifesto, deemed the “dementia tax,” attracted widespread criticism. 

UK population distribution.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

By Brian D. Earp (@briandavidearp)

Please note: this piece was originally published in Quillette Magazine.

 

Four members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Islam living in Detroit, Michigan have recently been indicted on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the first time the US government has prosecuted an “FGM” case since a federal law was passed in 1996. The world is watching to see how the case turns out.

A lot is at stake here. Multiculturalism, religious freedom, the limits of tolerance; the scope of children’s—and minority group—rights; the credibility of scientific research; even the very concept of “harm.”

To see how these pieces fit together, I need to describe the alleged crime.

* * *

The term “FGM” is likely to bring to mind the most severe forms of female genital cutting, such as clitoridectomy or infibulation (partial sewing up of the vaginal opening). But the World Health Organization (WHO) actually recognizes four main categories of FGM, covering dozens of different procedures.

One of the more “minor” forms is called a “ritual nick.” This practice, which I have argued elsewhere should not be performed on children, involves pricking the foreskin or “hood” of the clitoris to release a drop of blood.

Healthy tissue is not typically removed by this procedure, which is often done by trained clinicians in the communities where it is common. Long-term adverse health consequences are believed to be rare.

Here is why this matters. Initial, albeit conflicting reports suggest that the Dawoodi Bohra engage in this, or a similar, more limited form of female genital cutting – not the more extreme forms that are often highlighted in the Western media.

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

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

Does Female Genital Mutilation Have Health Benefits? The Problem with Medicalizing Morality

By Brian D. Earp (@briandavidearp)

Please note: this piece was originally published in Quillette Magazine.

 

Four members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect of Islam living in Detroit, Michigan have recently been indicted on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM). This is the first time the US government has prosecuted an “FGM” case since a federal law was passed in 1996. The world is watching to see how the case turns out.

A lot is at stake here. Multiculturalism, religious freedom, the limits of tolerance; the scope of children’s—and minority group—rights; the credibility of scientific research; even the very concept of “harm.”

To see how these pieces fit together, I need to describe the alleged crime.

* * *

The term “FGM” is likely to bring to mind the most severe forms of female genital cutting, such as clitoridectomy or infibulation (partial sewing up of the vaginal opening). But the World Health Organization (WHO) actually recognizes four main categories of FGM, covering dozens of different procedures.

One of the more “minor” forms is called a “ritual nick.” This practice, which I have argued elsewhere should not be performed on children, involves pricking the foreskin or “hood” of the clitoris to release a drop of blood.

Healthy tissue is not typically removed by this procedure, which is often done by trained clinicians in the communities where it is common. Long-term adverse health consequences are believed to be rare.

Here is why this matters. Initial, albeit conflicting reports suggest that the Dawoodi Bohra engage in this, or a similar, more limited form of female genital cutting – not the more extreme forms that are often highlighted in the Western media.

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

Chimpanzees First Animal to Display Markers of Alzheimer’s

Researchers at Kent State University have found that aged chimpanzees develop brain characteristics that resemble those found in brains of humans with early Alzheimer’s disease. Nature has suggested that the “findings from humanity’s closest relatives could help researchers to understand why people develop dementia, as well as suggest that caretakers of aging, captive chimpanzees watch them closely for behavioural changes.”

Until the research was published in Neurobiology of Aging, it was widely thought that only human suffered from the disease and its severe symptoms of dementia. Neurological markers of the disease include plaques of amyloid-β proteins, tangles of tau protein and the complete loss of neurons.

The research team examined 20 brains of chimpanzees that had died between ages 37 and 62, assessing the regions typically affected in Alzheimer’s patients. They found that contrary to prior belief that only human primates can have both plaques and tangles in their brains, damaged brains of chimpanzees also contain both.

The United States has not permitted biomedical research on chimpanzees since 2015, but some researchers believe that such research could be highly valuable for aging human and animal populations alike.

The post Chimpanzees First Animal to Display Markers of Alzheimer’s appeared first on Global Bioethics Initiative (GBI).

Source: Global Bioethics Initiative News and Articles.

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

CRISPR, Pigs, Organs, Ethics: Some Key Considerations

Michael S. Dauber, M.A., GBI Visiting Scholar

Luhan Yang and members of her research team at eGenesis have taken a crucial step in growing organs in animals that may be used to provide organs for therapeutic transplants in humans, according to a study published in Science Magazine on Thursday, August 10th. Researchers involved in the study used CRISPR, a genetic editing technique, to “knock out” 25 genes that cause porcine endogenous retroviruses (sometimes referred to as “PERV genes”) that make ordinary pig organs unsuitable for transplants because PERVs can infect human transplant recipients. The result was the birth of 37 baby pigs without PERV genes.

The move comes at a time when CRISPR experiments are becoming increasingly popular. Last week, a team led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov published the results of the first successful attempt to modify human embryos using CRISPR by American scientists in Nature. The researchers successfully deleted a gene responsible for several fatal heart conditions.

While the results are a significant step in developing techniques for growing organs suitable for human transplantation, scientists must still travel a long road before any human patients will receive such organs. Researchers will need to determine whether or not organs from pigs developed using CRISPR can be safely and effectively transplanted into other animals first. Another hurdle is the cost and complexity of the technique: Yang’s experiments with her team involved embryos produced through cloning, an expensive technique that is not always completely effective: indeed, in Yang’s study, only a few of the cloned embryos were viable.

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.