Tag: researchers

Bioethics Blogs

Public Perception and Communication of Scientific Uncertainty

Scientific results are inherently uncertain. The public views uncertainty differently than scientists. One key to understanding when and how scientific research gets misinterpreted is to understand how the public thinks about scientific uncertainty.

A recent paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General explores how laypersons perceive uncertainty in science. Broomell and Kane use principle component analysis to discover three underlying dimensions that describe how the public characterizes uncertainty: precision, mathematical abstraction, and temporal distance. These three dimensions, in turn, predict how people rate the quality of a research field. Precision – loosely defined in this context as the accuracy of the measurements, predictions, and conclusions drawn within a research field – is the dominating factor. One interpretation is that the public is primarily concerned with definitiveness when evaluating scientific claims.

Members of the public lose confidence when fields of study are described as being more uncertain. This is relevant for scientists to consider when communicating results. On the one hand, over-selling the certainty of an outcome can mislead. On the other hand, the public might tend to dismiss important scientific findings when researchers describe uncertainty honestly and openly, as we have seen in the public denial of vaccinations and climate change. Perceptions of a research field do not seem to influence how people view individual studies, so each study should be treated as its own communique.

Broomell et al found some evidence that personal characteristics interpret scientific uncertainty in different ways. Self-identified Republicans are more concerned about expert disagreement, while self-identified Democrats are more concerned with the quality of evidence.

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: Fighting Urinary Tract Infections

Source: Valerie O’Brien, Matthew Joens, Scott J. Hultgren, James A.J. Fitzpatrick, Washington University, St. Louis

For patients who’ve succeeded in knocking out a bad urinary tract infection (UTI) with antibiotic treatment, it’s frustrating to have that uncomfortable burning sensation flare back up. Researchers are hopeful that this striking work of science and art can help them better understand why severe UTIs leave people at greater risk of subsequent infection, as well as find ways to stop the vicious cycle.

Here you see the bladder (blue) of a laboratory mouse that was re-infected 24 hours earlier with the bacterium Escherichia coli (pink), a common cause of UTIs. White blood cells (yellow) reach out with what appear to be stringy extracellular traps to immobilize and kill the bacteria.

Valerie O’Brien, a graduate student in Scott Hultgren’s lab at Washington University, St. Louis, snapped this battle of microbes and white blood cells using a scanning electron microscope and then colorized it to draw out the striking details. It was one of the winners in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2016 BioArt competition.

As reported last year in Nature Microbiology, O’Brien and her colleagues have evidence that severe UTIs leave a lasting imprint on bladder tissue [1]. That includes structural changes to the bladder wall and modifications in the gene activity of the cells that line its surface. The researchers suspect that a recurrent infection “hotwires” the bladder to rev up production of the enzyme Cox2 and enter an inflammatory state that makes living conditions even more hospitable for bacteria to grow and flourish.

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

Ten years since the discovery of iPS cells. The current state of their clinical application

Photo Neurons derived from human iPS cells Stem Cells Australia

Background

Few biomedical discoveries in recent decades have raised so many expectations as the achievement of adult reprogrammed cells or induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.1

Pluripotent cells are obtained from adult cells from various tissues that, after genetic reprogramming, can dedifferentiate to a pluripotency state similar to that of embryonic cells, which allows for subsequent differentiation into different cell strains.2,3

In our opinion, this discovery is relevant not only to biomedical issues but also to ethical ones, given that iPS cells could replace human embryonic stem cells (see HERE) – whose use raises numerous ethical problems – in biomedical experimentation and in clinical practice. However, after the last 10 years, the use of iPS cells has still not been clarified. A number of expectations have been met, but other mainly clinical expectations are still far from being achieved.

Current research limitations with iPS cells

There is a notable low efficacy in the techniques employed for obtaining a sufficient proportion of iPS cells, which represents a difficulty in its clinical application.4  Another limitation is the incomplete reprogramming, which depends on the type of cell employed,5 and the problems of mutagenesis resulting from inserting exogenous transcription-factor coding genes, which can cause tumors in the employed cells used.6 Recent studies aim to mitigate this effect.7 A clinical trial for treating macular degeneration with retinal pigment epithelium cells derived from autologously obtained iPS cells has recently been halted.8 After an initially successful experience with the first treated patient, the genetic sequencing of the iPS cells obtained from the second patient revealed mutations in 3 different genes, one of which was classified as oncogene in the Catalogue of Somatic Mutations in Cancer.

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

Cuts to AIDS Treatment Programs Could Cost a Million Lives

At least one million people will die in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, researchers and advocates said on Tuesday, if funding cuts proposed by the Trump administration to global public health programs are enacted

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

How you’ll grow up, and how you’ll grow old

By Nathan Ahlgrim
Nathan Ahlgrim is a third year Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience Program at Emory. In his research, he studies how different brain regions interact to make certain memories stronger than others. In his own life, he strengthens his own brain power by hiking through the north Georgia mountains and reading highly technical science…fiction.

An ounce of prevention can only be worth a pound of cure if you know what to prevent in the first place. The solution to modifying disease onset can be fairly straightforward if the prevention techniques are rooted in lifestyle, such as maintaining a healthy diet and weight to prevent hypertension and type-II diabetes. However, disorders of the brain are more complicated – both to treat and to predict. The emerging science of preclinical detection of brain disorders was on display at Emory University during the April 28th symposium entitled, “The Use of Preclinical Biomarkers for Brain Diseases: A Neuroethical Dilemma.” Perspectives from ethicists, researchers conducting preclinical research, and participants or family members of those involved in clinical research were brought together over the course of the symposium. The diversity of panelists provided a holistic view of where preclinical research stands, and what must be considered as the field progresses.
Throughout the day, panelists discussed different ethical challenges of preclinical detection in the lens of three diseases: preclinical research and communicating risk in the context of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), interventions and treatment of preclinical patients in the context of schizophrenia, and the delivery of a preclinical diagnosis and stigma in the context of Alzheimer’s disease.

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

Regenerative Medicine: Making Blood Stem Cells in the Lab

Caption: Arrow in first panel points to an endothelial cell induced to become hematopoietic stem cell (HSC). Second and third panels show the expansion of HSCs over time.
Credit: Raphael Lis, Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, NY

Bone marrow transplants offer a way to cure leukemia, sickle cell disease, and a variety of other life-threatening blood disorders.There are two major problems, however: One is many patients don’t have a well-matched donor to provide the marrow needed to reconstitute their blood with healthy cells. Another is even with a well-matched donor, rejection or graft versus host disease can occur, and lifelong immunosuppression may be needed.

A much more powerful option would be to develop a means for every patient to serve as their own bone marrow donor. To address this challenge, researchers have been trying to develop reliable, lab-based methods for making the vital, blood-producing component of bone marrow: hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs).

Two new studies by NIH-funded research teams bring us closer to achieving this feat. In the first study, researchers developed a biochemical “recipe” to produce HSC-like cells from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which were derived from mature skin cells. In the second, researchers employed another approach to convert mature mouse endothelial cells, which line the inside of blood vessels, directly into self-renewing HSCs. When these HSCs were transplanted into mice, they fully reconstituted the animals’ blood systems with healthy red and white blood cells.

As reported in Nature, both teams took advantage of earlier evidence showing that HSCs are formed during embryonic development from budding endothelial cells in the aorta.

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 Very Early Embryo & Its Moral Signifiance

by Andrew J. Prunty

As technology and biological research continue to develop in the twenty-first century, it is necessary to address and further define the ethical considerations of embryonic research and the appropriate rights that may limit the extent of human research on zygotes, blastocysts, and fetal scientific advancement. Because the area of harvesting embryonic stem cells remains significantly undefined, both legally and morally, there are vastly different opinions between researchers and bioethicists, mainly because of ethical limitations, on the rights that should be granted to cells with the potential to develop into human beings and the consequences of neglecting significant scientific research or advancement.

Current laws in the United States differ at the federal and state level, but there is no consistency in recognizing human embryos as humans, or affording them the same legal rights granted to a child; in fact, legal precedent actually detracts certain rights from developing embryos, favoring a human’s ability to destroy a potential human being (i.e. Roe v. Wade[i]) or the categorization of embryos as property (i.e. Davis v. Davis[ii], A.Z. v. B.Z.[iii], Marriage of Dahl[iv], or Reber v. Reiss[v]). These case law samples suggest the courts’ inability to reach a conclusion as to what is the status of an embryo.

The debate is not only circumscribed to matters of research, but to fundamental controversial and intertwined issues of bioethics such as: when life begins, embryonic stem cells, fetal rights, abortion, et cetera. All these topics are contentious and when one topic arises, they begin to comingle.

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: Nature Argues Against Research Censorship, New Comparative Genetics Study, WHO Considers Deploying Experimental Ebola Vaccine, Majority of Completed Stem Cell Clinical Trials Never Published

This week’s Research Ethics Roundup highlights a Nature editorial that encourages researchers to push back against both public and private forms of censorship in research contracts, the National Institute of Health (NIH)’s Comparative Genomics Branch issues new study with implications for both human and dog disease research, the World Health Organization (WHO) speaks with Doctors Without Borders about using an experimental vaccine to target a new Ebola outbreak, and bioethicists’ concern about stem cell researchers’ failure to publish study results including discoveries on side effects.

The post Research Ethics Roundup: Nature Argues Against Research Censorship, New Comparative Genetics Study, WHO Considers Deploying Experimental Ebola Vaccine, Majority of Completed Stem Cell Clinical Trials Never Published appeared first on Ampersand.

Source: Ampersand, the blog of PRIM&R.

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

Mailbag

Brief comments on four short articles from this week, on disparate topics:

James Capretta of the American Enterprise Institute (meaning he is politically right of center) pleads in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) for compromise between Republicans and Democrats on further healthcare policy reform.  Arguing that the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) may never pass, he believes that a better result politically and for public policy would be if legislators could, in essence, split the difference between the AHCA and current law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka “Obamacare”) on some points where he sees some agreements in principle.  He proposes: 1) a hybrid approach between the ACA’s income-based tax credits for health insurance purchase and the AHCA’s age-based approach; 2) ensuring continuous insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions by modifying the ACA’s penalties for not being insured to fall more heavily on higher-income people; 3) setting limits on the favorable tax treatment of employer-paid health insurance premiums; 4) automatically enrolling uninsured people into a bare-bones, no-premium plan from which they could opt out in favor of re-enrollment in a different plan (a proposal that sounds to me a lot like the Democrats’ “public option” with a guaranteed fight over scope of coverage); and 5) limiting Medicaid expansion to tie it to reform of the program (something that sounds to me a lot like what I understand is currently in the AHCA).  Mr. Capretta knows a lot more about health policy than I, and has been at it a lot longer.  His ideas seem reasonable.  But he admits that bipartisan compromise “may be wishful thinking,” and I must confess that my reaction to his article is, “when pigs fly.”

The editors of Nature smile on Pope Francis’s meeting with Huntington’s disease researchers and patients.  Many of the latter group, they note, are poor Venezuelan (who there is not poor—and oppressed—these days?) Catholics who greatly aided research with tissue donations “with little tangible reward.”  The editors further cite the Pope’s encyclical Laudato si, with its acceptance of the existence of anthropogenic climate change, as a hopeful sign that the Catholic Church will one day use its considerable influence to compromise on “sensitive issues” such as sanctity of human life from conception, and embryo selection.  Still, “there is a chasm between religion and science that cannot be bridged.  For all its apparent science-friendliness, Laudato si sticks to the traditional Vatican philosophy that the scientific method cannot deliver the full truth about the world.”  The editors call for “fresh dialogue” between science and religion—by which they mean capitulation of the latter to the flawed-on-its-face epistemology of the naturalist.  I’m not buying.

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: The Human Gut Microbiome’s Top 100 Hits

Michael Fishbach

Microbes that live in dirt often engage in their own deadly turf wars, producing a toxic mix of chemical compounds (also called “small molecules”) that can be a source of new antibiotics. When he started out in science more than a decade ago, Michael Fischbach studied these soil-dwelling microbes to look for genes involved in making these compounds.

Eventually, Fischbach, who is now at the University of California, San Francisco, came to a career-altering realization: maybe he didn’t need to dig in dirt! He hypothesized an even better way to improve human health might be found in the genes of the trillions of microorganisms that dwell in and on our bodies, known collectively as the human microbiome.

Fischbach is most interested in bacteria living in the human gut, especially the many species that generally live in harmony with us. These microbes produce thousands of small molecules, some so abundantly that they are absorbed into the bloodstream at levels comparable to a drug. Concentrations of these small molecules can vary dramatically from person to person, but researchers still don’t know exactly why.

Fischbach has received a 2016 NIH Director’s Pioneer Award to conduct research aimed at gaining a better understanding of the small molecules made by the human gut microbiome. He will begin by creating a “Top 100” list of its most-abundant molecules. Armed with this information, Fischbach’s team will set about assembling and growing beneficial communities of bacteria in the lab, with the ultimate aim of repopulating a sick person’s gut with a collection of microbes that make health-promoting small molecules.

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.