Tag: pedigree

Bioethics Blogs

Forgotten Stories of the Eugenic Age #5: Creating Super-People

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, 1480s

[Forgotten Stories of the Eugenic Age is a blog series exploring the lesser-known ways that eugenics affected and engaged American lives during the first half of the twentieth century.]

“Can science produce a superman?” science writer Waldemar Kaempffert wondered in the New York Times in 1928. “What kind of a superman do we want? And who shall dictate his specifications?”

In the early twentieth century, new genetic discoveries prompted supporters of eugenics to ponder the potential creation and characteristics of a superior human race. Many believed that encouraging the eugenically “fit” to mate and isolating or sterilizing the eugenically “unfit” would yield over time a superior population. They argued that breeding a better race represented the next step in human evolution. After all, careful husbandry had improved crops and livestock. Surely the production of “human thoroughbreds” could not be much different.

“Scientific” Creation
With new scientific knowledge and technologies, eugenists believed that they at last had the tools to create improved people. They were particularly interested in developing technologies for assisted reproduction, including the human application of animal husbandry techniques like artificial insemination. Dr. Julian Huxley, grandson of champion of the theory of evolution T. H. Huxley, predicted that such techniques would allow eugenically fit men and women to marry whomever they chose, but—regardless of their partners’ fertility—have children with third parties who had been specially selected for their genetic qualities. (Those who might object to this cold calculation were merely exhibiting “outworn sentimentalism,” said Huxley.)

Exhibiting similar thinking, Dr.

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

So are “reprogrammed” stem cells “just as good” as those from embryos?

There is considerable enthusiasm for the use of “reprogrammed” pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs, for use in the laboratory and as possible cellular treatment for people with certain injuries or diseases.  This enthusiasm is warranted; human iPSCs (hiPSCs) are readily obtained, and without the destruction of a human embryo as is needed to obtain a “natural” human embryonic stem cell (hESC).  Therefore, iPSCs are often described as the “ethical” stem cells.

Just how dissimilar iPSCs may be to “natural” ESCs has been controversial, however.  A recent publication in the journal Nature Biotechnology strongly suggests that while not identical, it may well be that they can be treated interchangeably in the lab or for possible clinical use.

In the paper (journal subscription or $32 online article purchase required), scientists from Harvard, MIT, Johns Hopkins, and other major research institutes in the U.S. and Italy describe an elegant experiment.  They took two previously established hESCs—derived from two different human embryos, to be sure—and let them differentiate into a specific type of adult cell called a fibroblast.  Then they took the fibroblasts and reprogrammed them into hiPSCs using a technique that avoids the risk of making the cells malignant—a risk associated with some other reprogramming methods.  To put it another way, they let the hESCs mature and then “back-translated” them, as it were, to a pluripotent state with the reprogramming step.  (Recall that a “pluripotent” cell is capable of becoming many different adult cell types.)  They did the appropriate experimental controls.

They looked specifically at whether the expression—or transcription into messenger RNA—of the hESCs and the hiPSCs differed. 

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 Privacy Conundrum And Genomic Research: Re-Identification And Other Concerns

No matter what the arena — finance, health care, or national security — questions surrounding the provision of personal data are always the same:  how much benefit vs. how much risk?  Who handles these data, and can those individuals be trusted?  How do organizations guard against data misuse?   What are the legal safeguards to protect privacy, and are they sufficient in an era when more data are shared more widely?

Nowhere is the privacy discussion more personal than in genomics, the very hardwiring of our existence.  Genomic data are unique to individuals (or identical twins) and, except for occasional mutations, do not change over a lifetime, thereby rendering disclosures permanent.  Genomic data also have special properties regarding privacy, especially as comprehensive whole genome sequencing becomes the major technique.

The benefits of amassing genomic data in sufficient case numbers for validity and making this knowledge available to an appropriately wide body of expert investigators are extensive. Research derived from genomic databases offers potentially large health payoffs.  Genomics can help scientists predict who will develop a disease (e.g., Huntington’s disease) and tailor treatments.  It also holds the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in how we think about and classify disease; i.e., allowing us to move from the pathology-based approach begun in the late 19th century — which focuses on the progression of disease in a specific organto a biochemical-and genomics-based approach.  This new approach is already being applied to a number of diseases, including certain cancers.

Yet the damage caused by the misuse of genomic data can be irreparable.

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.