Tag: radiation

Bioethics Blogs

The Value of Oversight in a Century of Promise & ‘Cures’

This post, by CEC member Paul McLean, originally appeared on WBUR’s CommonHealth blog.
The blood-thinner heparin is not a 21st-century cure. It was discovered 100 years ago by a scientist looking for something else entirely, and is one of the oldest drugs still in regular use.
After my daughter was diagnosed with a potentially fatal blood disorder, heparin played a key daily role in her treatment. We’d wash our hands meticulously, lay out gloves and antiseptic wipes, saline flushes for the access lines to her fragile immune system, and finally the sealed heparin syringe.
For many months, we went through boxes of heparin and never questioned its safety. Never had reason to.
But in 2008, after my daughter was officially declared cured and we’d used heparin for the last time, contamination in the supply from China killed 19 Americans and harmed many others. Writing that sentence still gives me the chills. My daughter survived thanks to medicine, but it also could have killed her.
So you can understand why, as the 21st Century Cures Act sailed to passage, I experienced both excitement and dread.
That heparin contamination was in part due to lax oversight of the drug supply chain. It reminds me why I do not want to see the work of the Food and Drug Administration compromised by overeager drug companies taking advantage of the hopes of desperate patients, and taking shortcuts on safety.
The “giant piñata” of a bill, as science blogger Derek Lowe aptly described the 21st Century Cures Act, is destined to explode in unexpected ways.

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

Stoking the Flames of Competitiveness on an Overheating Planet

Image via

STUDENT VOICES

By: Michael Aprea

This essay is in response to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs video “Climate Protectionism and Competitiveness.”  

Steam put the world in motion. It lit up the night, and tightened humanity’s grasp on the forces of nature. Nature, however, has eluded the human race and has forced civilization to reconsider its power in the most fundamental sense. Scientist, politicians, and citizens now face the heat as they scramble to address a cycle of global warming spawned by the progress of the industrial revolution that threatens to unhinge the fragile balance of Earth’s ecosystems. Reducing carbon emissions has been the answer to the problem. This standard that has taken hold in developed nations has morphed into a global economic crusade against carbon emissions through regulation, taxation and sanctions seeking to curb the emissions of the developing world. Although consumer responsibility and global collaboration in an endeavor to reverse global warming trends are laudable, it is important to recognize the risks these steps pose on global trade, the citizens of developing countries, and the debt developed nations have as beneficiaries of the first fruits of fossil fuels.

The United States owes its status as an economic superpower to the progress of the industrial revolution; a revolution fueled by carbon emitting fossil fuels. The rapid growth of nations such as Unites States reliant on fossil fuels came at price–rising global temperatures. Carbon doesn’t only heat up cold economies, it also has the ability to raise average global temperatures as it gets trapped in the atmosphere and captures solar radiation.

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

Space to grow? Neurological risks of moving to Mars

By Carlie Hoffman
Artistic rendition of a human colony on Mars, image
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Humans have been venturing into space for over 50 years. Starting in 1961 when the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, by 1969 Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans on the moon, and by 1998 the International Space Station had launched its first module. More recently our exploration of space has started to reach new heights, with 2011 seeing the launch of the Mars One company and its mission to produce the first human colony on Mars by 2033.

Despite our half century of space exploration, scientists have only recently started researching the effects of space travel on the brain. The question of what our brains will look like after spending an extended amount of time in space is increasingly pressing with the impending inception of the Mars colony. The first group of Mars colonists are expected to begin training later this year and will undergo 14 years of training before departing Earth in 2031 and finally landing on Mars in 2032. Though establishing a human colony on Mars will be another giant leap for mankind, will the colonists that travel to and live on Mars have the same brains as when they left Earth? 

Scientists have known for some time that space travel is hard on the body. As astronauts become farther away from Earth, the pull coming from Earth’s gravitational field becomes weaker and astronauts experience weightlessness; however, the human body is not designed to live in a weightless state.

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

Chronic Pain and the Opioid Epidemic: Wicked Issues Have No Simple Solutions

Written By Myra Christopher
My mom was a steel magnolia (i.e., southern and perfectly charming), but she had a steel rod up her back. After her first surgery for stomach cancer at age 53, she refused pain medication because she said that she “could take it.” She was young and strong and committed to “beating cancer.” After nearly two years of chemotherapy, radiation and two more surgeries, the cancer won. Eventually, I watched her beg nurses to give her “a shot” minutes before another was scheduled and be told they were sorry but she would have to wait. I could tell by the expressions on their faces they truly were sorry.

Calls of Desperation

When the Center for Practical Bioethics began more than 30 years ago, I frequently had calls and letters from other family members telling me that an elderly loved one was dying in terrible pain and that the care team refused to give pain medication more often than scheduled or to increase the dose because they were told their loved one might become addicted and/or because a higher dose of morphine might affect the patient’s respiration and hasten death.
·      ICU nurses regularly reported calling physicians and pleading for orders to increase pain medication only to be told, “Absolutely no and do not call again!”
·      Physicians told me about patients who refused medication and suffered unnecessarily because they believed their pain was punishment from God and that their pain was “redemptive.”
·      A case I will never forget involved a father who coaxed his son dying of bone cancer to “be a man” and refuse the pain meds his doctor had prescribed.

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

Built for the Future. Study Shows Wearable Devices Can Help Detect Illness Early

Caption: Stanford University’s Michael Snyder displays some of his wearable devices.
Credit: Steve Fisch/Stanford School of Medicine

Millions of Americans now head out the door each day wearing devices that count their steps, check their heart rates, and help them stay fit in general. But with further research, these “wearables” could also play an important role in the early detection of serious medical conditions. In partnership with health-care professionals, people may well use the next generation of wearables to monitor vital signs, blood oxygen levels, and a wide variety of other measures of personal health, allowing them to see in real time when something isn’t normal and, if unusual enough, to have it checked out right away.

In the latest issue of the journal PLoS Biology [1], an NIH-supported study offers an exciting glimpse of this future. Wearing a commercially available smartwatch over many months, more than 40 adults produced a continuous daily stream of accurate personal health data that researchers could access and monitor. When combined with standard laboratory blood tests, these data—totaling more than 250,000 bodily measurements a day per person—can detect early infections through changes in heart rate.

The study, led by Michael Snyder, a scientist at Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, grew out of a larger ongoing clinical research study that tracks adults who are healthy or pre-diabetic for genomic and biochemical clues into health and disease. The researchers wondered whether adding wearables to the study could give them another window into the differences between early diabetes and health.

After evaluating more than 400 wearables, the team members settled on seven that were inexpensive and easy to use.

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

Precision Oncology: Epigenetic Patterns Predict Glioblastoma Outcomes

Caption: Oncologists review a close-up image of a brain tumor (green dot).
Credit: National Cancer Institute

Scientists have spent much time and energy mapping the many DNA misspellings that can transform healthy cells into cancerous ones. But recently it has become increasingly clear that changes to the DNA sequence itself are not the only culprits. Cancer can also be driven by epigenetic changes to DNA—modifications to chemical marks on the genome don’t alter the sequence of the DNA molecule, but act to influence gene activity. A prime example of this can been seen in glioblastoma, a rare and deadly form of brain cancer that strikes about 12,000 Americans each year.

In fact, an NIH-funded research team recently published in Nature Communications the most complete portrait to date of the epigenetic patterns characteristic of the glioblastoma genome [1]. Among their findings were patterns associated with how long patients survived after the cancer was detected. While far more research is needed, the findings highlight the potential of epigenetic information to help doctors devise more precise ways of diagnosing, treating, and perhaps even preventing glioblastoma and many other forms of cancer.

Earlier studies had suggested that glioblastoma comes with widespread epigenetic changes to DNA. However, the picture was far from complete, focusing only on the most common and well-studied DNA modification, known as 5-methylcytosine (5-mC). The new study, led by Kevin Johnson and Brock Christensen at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, Lebanon, NH, broke new ground by applying laboratory [2] and statistical approaches [3] that now make it possible to distinguish between 5-mC and another chemical mark called 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5-hmC) to tumor samples.

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

Creative Minds: Building the RNA Toolbox

Caption: Genetically identical mice. The Agouti gene is active in the yellow mouse and inactive in the brown mouse.
Credit: Dana Dolinoy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Randy Jirtle, Duke University, Durham, NC

Step inside the lab of Dana Dolinoy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and you’re sure to hear conversations that include the rather strange word “agouti” (uh-goo-tee). In this context, it’s a name given to a strain of laboratory mice that arose decades ago from a random mutation in the Agouti gene, which is normally expressed only transiently in hair follicles. The mutation causes the gene to be turned on, or expressed, continuously in all cell types, producing mice that are yellow, obese, and unusually prone to developing diabetes and cancer. As it turns out, these mutant mice and the gene they have pointed to are more valuable than ever today because they offer Dolinoy and other researchers an excellent model for studying the rapidly emerging field of epigenomics.

The genome of the mouse, just as for the human, is the complete DNA instruction book; it contains the coding information for building the proteins that carry out a variety of functions in a cell. But modifications to the DNA determine its function, and these are collectively referred to as the epigenome. The epigenome is made up of chemical tags and proteins that can attach to the DNA and direct such actions as turning genes on or off, thereby controlling the production of proteins in particular cells. These tags have different patterns in each cell type, helping to explain, for example, why a kidney and a skin cell can behave so differently when they share the same DNA.

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

Imaging Advance Offers New View on Allergic Asthma

Caption: OR-OCT images of the airways of a healthy person (left) and a person with allergic asthma (right). The colorized portion highlights airway smooth muscle, with thinner areas in purple and black and thicker areas in yellow and orange.
Credit: Cho et al., Science Translational Medicine (2016)

You probably know people who sneeze a little when they encounter plant pollens, pet dander, or other everyday allergens. For others, however, these same allergens can trigger a serious asthma attack that can make breathing a life-or-death struggle. Now, two NIH-funded research groups have teamed up to help explain the differences in severity underlying the two types of reactions.

In the studies, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, used an innovative imaging tool to zoom in on a person’s airways safely in real time to gain an unprecedented view of how his or her body reacts to allergens [1,2]. The imaging revealed key differences between the asthma and non-asthma groups in the smooth muscle tissue that surrounds critical airways, and is responsible for constriction. In a complementary series of experiments, researchers also uncovered heightened immune responses in the airways of folks with allergic asthma. The findings offer important new clues in the quest to better understand and guide treatment for asthma, a condition that affects more than 300 million people around the world.

The factors driving airway constriction in people with asthma have been poorly understood in part because, until now, there hasn’t been a way to view airway smooth muscle in action. As described in the journal Science Translational Medicine, Melissa Suter and colleagues adapted an established form of imaging called optical coherence tomography (OCT) to help fill this gap.

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

Research Ethics Roundup: Biorights, Soda and Public Health, ACHRE’s Anniversary, and New Zika Findings

This week’s Research Ethics Roundup highlights specimen donors’ wishes, beverage companies’ funding practices, a symposium on the White House Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, and what researchers discovered about Zika moving to the brain.

The post Research Ethics Roundup: Biorights, Soda and Public Health, ACHRE’s Anniversary, and New Zika Findings appeared first on Ampersand.

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.