Tag: nature

Bioethics News

Cells from human umbilical cord blood revitalized part of aged rats’ brain

Cord blood stem cells revitalized part of the brain in aged rats.

Umbilical cord blood is known to contain stem cells that can be used for different clinical objectives  (see HERE), especially in the promotion of cell banks. Now, a new possibility for the use of umbilical cord blood has been described. In a recent study published in Nature (see HERE), the authors report that human cord plasma when injected in the brains of rats revitalized the hippocampus and improves cognitive function in aged  rats. These findings suggest that umbilical cord blood shows plasticity that could be used to treat hippocampal dysfunctions, especially those that are age-related. Since the use of umbilical cord blood presents no ethical difficulties, any new clinical application is considered welcome.

La entrada Cells from human umbilical cord blood revitalized part of aged rats’ brain aparece primero en Bioethics Observatory.

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

Beauty’s Knowledge: Hawthorne’s Moral Fable “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Leo Coleman

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is a nineteenth-century moral fable that sets the fruits of experimental knowledge against obligations to humanity, and stages a dramatic encounter between these two apparent goods. In many ways, the moral it offers seems familiar, and could be recognized by anyone with even a passing familiarity with contemporary bioethical debates. It features a mad scientist’s garden, a gorgeous but poisonous plant of his creation, and a lovely daughter who tends to his terrible plants, and who is—like the plant—both attractive and potentially infectious. The daughter receives the attentions of a naïve medical student, and she falls in love with him, but their fate is shadowed by the actions of not one but two bad scientist father-figures who experiment upon the younger characters and try to shape their (biological) destinies without their knowledge. But Hawthorne’s story does not simply anticipate, in an antique and allegorical way, contemporary defenses of human dignity and nature’s inviolability. Nor does it merely rehearse, with its private garden and unknowingly experimented-upon subjects, a Lockean notion of our own inevitable and natural possession of our bodies and the fruits of our lives and labor.

Hawthorne’s story puts the experimental subject at the center of its moral allegory, suffering both hopes and fears provoked by her own mutability, her own biological plasticity. That is, his titular character is no innocent pawn in the hands of the great scientist: she is an artificial being—grafted and forced—and deeply morally and biologically transformed from the very beginning; but because of this she is also able to reflect on her relations with others and her environment, and to mark (in this case, tragically) a new ethical frontier.

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

A Modest Proposal

FDA should regulate digital games, and potentially other apps, as medical devices.

Why, pray tell?

One doesn’t have to look very hard to find a growing belief (recognition?) that video games are addicting.  CBS has been on the story since at least 2007.  In 2014, “60 minutes” suggested that a violent video game could prompt murder.  Well, they posed it as a question, but to raise it as they did sounds kind of like asking someone, “have you stopped beating your wife?”  And this past April, they did a piece with a former Google employee who suggested that tech companies are designing games, if not apps in general, to draw people into compulsive use.  They revisited the topic, with the same interviewee, in June, using the term “brain hacking.”  Frontline on PBS did a series on the topic in 2010, looking at concerns about internet addiction as well as arguments that some games may hone desirable skills.

Concern about the effect our entertainment media have on us, especially on our kids, is certainly not new.  Remember Tipper Gore, who, among other things, wrote a book about the subject 30 years ago?

The difference comes if our apps and games are not just addictive and self-reinforcing, but if their creators and marketers not only know it but make them that way on purpose.

According to the FDA, a medical device, subject to premarketing and postmarketing regulatory controls by the FDA, is defined in Section 201(h) of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as (emphasis mine in what follows):

  • “an instrument, apparatus, implement, machine, contrivance, implant, in vitro reagent, or other similar or related article, including a component part, or accessory which is:
    • recognized in the official National Formulary, or the United States Pharmacopoeia, or any supplement to them,
    • intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, in man or other animals, OR
    • intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals, and which does not achieve its primary intended purposes through chemical action within or on the body of man or other animals and which is not dependent upon being metabolized for the achievement of any of its primary intended purposes.”

That strikes me as a pretty broad remit.

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

Honors for Racist Scientists

September 7, 2017

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Historians like to say that everything has a history. Yet the natural sciences remain somewhat removed from academic debates over what to do with monuments tied to dark chapters in American history.

That’s changing, though.

In a twist to discussions about campus memorials linked to slavery and racism, the natural sciences are facing new questions about monuments tied to eugenics and to individuals who denied basic rights to those nonwhite people on whom they did research.

In one example, scientists and other academics lit up social media Wednesday in a response to an editorial in Nature called “Removing Statues of Historical Figures Risks Whitewashing History.” Some critics objected to the term “whitewashing” itself, saying that leaving memorials to eugenicists and other problematic figures unchallenged is the real whitewashing.

… Read More

Image: By ESO/M. Kornmesser (photo displayed on the magazine cover) – https://www.eso.org/public/images/ann16056a/ (photo displayed on the magazine cover), CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50998461

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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

Viable human embryos CRISPR genetically edited in the USA. Technique and ethical controversies

Numerous complications could go unnoticed in this study

On 26th July, the journal MIT Technology Review  announced that the CRISPR technique (see HERE) had been applied in human embryos for the first time in the United States, in a study led by embryologist Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University.

Gene editing has previously been performed on human embryos on at least three occasions in China. Accordingly, two articles from 2015 (see HERE) and 2016, respectively, reported the application of CRISPR on non-viable human embryos (see HERE) . Subsequently, in 2017, another paper reported the application of CRISPR on human embryos, this time viable (See HERE ). In all cases, the results revealed that there are still serious safety and efficacy obstacles before the method can even be considered for use in medical applications. Consequently, the editing was completely successful in only a very small number of embryos, and moreover, there were undesirable effects like mosaicism (when only some of the embryonic cells incorporate the desired change) and off-target mutations.

The findings of the new study were published on 2nd August in Nature. Most relevant, though, is not the fact that viable human embryos have been edited for the first time in the US, but that the problems of mosaicism and off-target mutations found in previous studies appear to have been largely overcome.

The technique

The experiment consisted of correcting a mutation in the MYBPC3 gene, which causes a heart disease. The mutation was found in the DNA of the sperm used to fertilize the eggs.

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

Nature Eds: Removing Statues of Historical Figures Risks Whitewashing History

September 6, 2017

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The statues of explorer Christopher Columbus and gynaecologist J. Marion Sims stand at nearly opposite corners of New York City’s Central Park, but for how much longer? Both monuments have been dragged into a nationwide debate about memor­ials to historical figures who have questionable records on human rights. The arguments are long-standing, but were thrown onto the world’s front pages last month when protests against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, produced racially charged violence.

Last week, the Central Park Sims statue — one of many that stand in numerous US cities — was vandalized. The word ‘racist’ was spray-painted alongside his list of achievements, which include life-saving techniques he developed to help women recover from traumatic births. Yet many protest about the lionization of this ‘father of modern gynaecology’ because he performed his experiments on female slaves.

… Read More

Image: By Infrogmation of New Orleans – Infrogmation of New Orleans, 19 May, 2017.Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59320889

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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

Moral panic in the intellect

Moral panic develops intellectually. It is our thoughts that are racing. Certain mental images make such a deep impression on us that we take them for Reality, for Truth, for Facts. Do not believe that the intellect is cold and objective. It can boil over with agitated thoughts.

This is evident in bioethics, where many issues are filled with anguish. Research information about cloned animals, about new techniques for editing in the genome, or about embryonic stem cell research, evoke scary images of subversive forms of research, threatening human morality. The panic requires a sensitive intellect. There, the images of the research acquire such dimensions that they no longer fit into ordinary life. The images take over the intellect as the metaphysical horizon of Truth. Commonplace remarks that could calm down the agitated intellect appear to the intellect as naive.

A science news in National Geographic occasions these musings. It is about the first attempt in the United States to edit human embryos genetically. Using so-called CRISPR-Cas9 technique, the researchers removed a mutation associated with a common inherited heart disease. After the successful editing, the embryos were destroyed. (You find the scientific article reporting the research in Nature.)

Reading such research information, you might feel anxiety; anxiety that soon takes possession of your intellect: What will they do next? Develop “better” humans who look down on us as a lower species? Can we permit science to change human nature? NO, we must immediately introduce new legislation that bans all genetic editing of human embryos!

If the intellect can boil over with such agitated thoughts, and if moral panic legislation is imprudent, then I believe that bioethics needs to develop its therapeutic skills.

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

Pre-embryo. This term is no longer used in current discussions regarding the nature of the embryo

Everything suggests that the term has been artificially created to justify the use of embryos for IVF and biomedical experiments
A recent article has studied the use of the term “pre-embryo” (see “Determining whether the preimplantation human embryo is a living being of our species“) since its origin in June 1979 until the end of 2014, in both the scientific and bioethical literature. Its evolution over time was compared with other terms generally used in embryology. The authors also studied in which journals this term most frequently appeared, its impact factor within journals in its field, and which authors used it most. The term “pre-embryo” first emerged in the scientific literature in 1979, but it was 6 years before it next appeared. Then, after an increase in articles in the 1990s, its use began to decline, although the term never completely disappeared. This study also shows that the use of the word “pre-embryo” has not increased over time; in contrast, it is becoming less frequently used in the biomedical literature. This has not happened with other terms that refer to the pre-implantation embryo, which have continued to increase over these years, in relation to both the human and other animal species. In addition, this word has abnormally high use in humans for no apparent reason, which supports its artificial nature. Finally, the term “pre-embryo” very seldom appears in journals in the area of reproductive biology, unlike the fields of obstetrics and gynecology, where many articles on assisted reproduction are published. In conclusion, instead of substituting classical embryological terms, the word “pre-embryo” seems not to affect the use of them, while in current discussions regarding the human nature of the embryo, this term is no longer used, everything suggests that the term has been artificially created to justify the use of embryos for IVF and biomedical 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

The Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: White Bear

By Kristie Garza
Image courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons.

Humans in the 21st century have an intimate relationship with technology. Much of our lives are spent being informed and entertained by screens. Technological advancements in science and medicine have helped and healed in ways we previously couldn’t dream of. But what unanticipated consequences of the rapid expansion into new technological territory? This question is continually being explored in the British sci-fi TV series Black Mirror, which provides a glimpse into the not-so-distant future and warns us to be mindful of how we treat our technology and how it can affect us in return. This piece is part of a series of posts that discuss ethical issues surrounding neuro-technologies featured in the show and will compare how similar technologies are impacting us in the real world. 



*SPOILER ALERT* – The following contains plot spoilers for the Netflix television series Black Mirror. 

Plot Summary


“White Bear” begins with Victoria, the episode’s main character, awakening in an unfamiliar room in front of a TV displaying an unfamiliar symbol. She has no memory of who she is or how she wound up in the room.
Afraid, Victoria begins to explore her outside surroundings, where she finds “onlookers,” individuals in a trance-like state, filming her with their phones. A masked man then appears and begins chasing Victoria. While fleeing, she meets Jem, a fellow individual not under the trance. Jem explains to Victoria that the onlookers were put in their trance due to the strange symbol on the screens and that the masked man is a “hunter,” part of an evil people not affected by the strange symbol.

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

Transhumanism. Error of the gods and the power of man? A phylosofical approach

Technological progress urgently needs the emergence of moral progress so that the spark of reason does not consume the existence of humankind

The technical skills of humans have always been remarkable throughout history, so much so that, even now, the artifacts of classical antiquity leave us astounded at the ingenuity of man. Those who are familiar with the Antikythera mechanism (see video HERE) can attest to the fact that the complexity of this computing system, devised to calculate the movement of the stars, is staggering. The wonder that our creations elicit in us might make us think that the creative and technical ability that characterizes us has a divine origin.

It was Plato, among others, who described in his Protagoras, and put into the mouth of the famous Athenian sophist, the myth of the formation of man. In it, the gods forge the mortal races from other gods that have not yet finished forming in the elements of earth and fire. Thus, the gods command the brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus to capture these incomplete gods and divide their abilities to distribute them among the mortal races. Hence, the link of the mortal races with the gods is obvious according to the myth, because they are formed from the fragments of incomplete gods.

Epimetheus asks Prometheus to allow him to take charge of the formation of the new races, and distributes the fragmented abilities. His intention is to create a balance between the new beings so that they do not destroy each other. Those that enjoy some advantage over the rest are surpassed by others in another aspect.

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.