Tag: researchers

Bioethics Blogs

Neuroethics as Outreach

By Adina Roskies
Adina Roskies is The Helman Family Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and chair of the Cognitive Science Program at Dartmouth College. She received a Ph.D from the University of California, San Diego in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science in 1995, a Ph.D. from MIT in philosophy in 2004, and an M.S.L. from Yale Law School in 2014. Prior to her work in philosophy she held a postdoctoral fellowship in cognitive neuroimaging at Washington University with Steven Petersen and Marcus Raichle from 1995-1997, and from 1997-1999 was Senior Editor of the neuroscience journal Neuron. Dr. Roskies’ philosophical research interests lie at the intersection of philosophy and neuroscience, and include philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and ethics. She has coauthored a book with Stephen Morse, A Primer on Criminal Law and Neuroscience

As I write this, I am thinking more broadly about ethics and neuroscience than I usually do, pushed by political necessity. The topic of my concern is science education, construed generally. In this era in which “alternative facts” are allowed to bear that name, rather than their true name — which is “lies and misinformation” — and in which science is ignored, deemed irrelevant, or actively suppressed, I see a growing need for people in all the sciences and in ethics to speak out and to educate, wherever possible.

Neuroscientists and neuroethicists may actually have an easier time doing this than many scientists whose work has either been so politicized that they have no voice, such as people working on climate change or other environmental issues, or whose research is taken to be so esoteric that it is hard to get ordinary people to care (though much of it, like gravity waves, is really cool!).

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

Protein Links Gut Microbes, Biological Clocks, and Weight Gain

Caption: Lipids (red) inside mouse intestinal cells with and without NFIL3.
Credit: Lora V. Hooper, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas

The American epidemic of obesity is a major public health concern, and keeping off the extra pounds is a concern for many of us. Yet it can also be a real challenge for people who may eat normally but get their days and nights mixed up, including night-shift workers and those who regularly travel overseas. Why is that?

The most obvious reason is the odd hours throw a person’s 24-hour biological clock—and metabolism—out of sync. But an NIH-funded team of researchers has new evidence in mice to suggest the answer could go deeper to include the trillions of microbes that live in our guts—and, more specifically, the way they “talk” to intestinal cells. Their studies suggest that what gut microbes “say” influences the activity of a key clock-driven protein called NFIL3, which can set intestinal cells up to absorb and store more fat from the diet while operating at hours that might run counter to our fixed biological clocks.

NFIL3 is a transcription factor, a protein that switches certain genes on and off. Earlier studies had focused on its role in immune cells, but a team led by Lora Hooper at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, discovered that NFIL3 is also found in cells in the inner lining, or epithelium, of the mouse small intestine.

Intriguingly, as reported recently in the journal Science [1], they noticed that NFIL3 levels were much lower in the intestines of “germ-free” mice that don’t have any gut microbes.

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

New clinical celular trial for treatment of Parkinson’s disease injecting stemcells in the patient brain

A first step to a Parkinson treatment with stem cells.

The first clinical trial conducted in China (see HERE) to treat Parkinson’s disease and age-related macular degeneration and the second most common neurodegenerative disorder is to be launched shortly. In the next few months, surgeons from the city of Zhengzhou have planned to conduct a clinical trial to inject neurons derived from human stem cells into the brain of patients with Parkinson’s disease. This trial would be the first in the world to treat this disease with stem cells obtained from human embryos. Some researchers who work on Parkinson’s disease, however, worry that the trials might be misguided. In a second trial, a different team from the same city also hopes to use cells derived from human embryonic stem cells to treat age-related macular degeneration. Both experiments will be the first conducted in China since these practices were regulated in 2015. From an ethical point of view, it should be highlighted that both trials start from the use of human embryonic stem cells, with the difficulties that this entails, because it must not be forgotten that human embryos have to be destroyed to obtain them, which ethically cannot be justified from any point of view.

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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

Politics of Pain: Investigating the Ethics of Palliative Care as a Global Human Right

by Alix Masters

Within the last decade, strides have been made in the field of global health policy to extend the reaches of palliative care universally.  In 2014, the World Health Organization formally declared palliative care a global human right.[1] This development in global health policy is a positive one when we consider the medical politics of pain relief across racial difference.  Both in the United States and abroad, there is a long medical history of discriminatory practices against certain groups of people with regard to pain management—including withholding necessary pain medication altogether.  Therefore, in many ways the declaration of palliative care as a human right is a necessary step in ensuring all peoples, regardless of identity, have their pain taken seriously by the medical establishment and have their comfort made a medical priority.  When we consider how different cultures negotiate beliefs around death and pain relief, however, the issue of palliative care as a universal human right becomes more complex.  For example, countries with strong histories of Buddhist thought and culture have traditionally opposed the ideology of palliative care.[26]  In Buddhism, suffering is considered an inextricable part of life and masking this suffering through medical intervention is looked down upon.[2]  For example, Vietnam, a country with a culture strongly imbued with Eastern Buddhist values, has a long history of rejecting palliative care and pain medications in general.[26]  Due to this, the World Health Organization’ declaration that palliative care is a universal human right could also be understood as a Western organization blatantly ignoring Buddhist cultural traditions.  While the declaration of palliative care as a human right is important progress in many ways, it is also important that Western medicine not impose our values globally without consideration for the complex histories and belief systems of diverse cultures.

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

He Edited a Human Embryo, With Startling Results

September 8, 2017

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ORTLAND, Ore. — Biologist Shoukhrat Mitalipov knew he’d done something pretty big: He’d conducted the first experiment in the U.S. to edit a dysfunctional gene in a viable human embryo. That was sure to spark a debate about designer babies and draw ire from the anti-abortion groups that so vehemently oppose such research.

What Mitalipov didn’t expect, however, was the furious response from fellow researchers — who have aggressively picked apart not the ethics of his work, but…

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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

The human embryo mapped in three dimensions. Technique and bioethical approach

A team of researchers from the Institut Vision in Paris and the Jean-Pierre Aubert Research Centre, under the direction of Alain Chedotal, have managed to map the human embryo  in three dimensions (see HERE the published study), which, they believe, permit better understanding of the mechanisms of formation of embryonic organs in normal and pathological conditions. Until this technique was developed, 3D embryonic reconstructions were obtained from thousands of embryos and fetuses, in which microscopic sections were cut at different stages of development. However, this new technique enables the inside of the entire embryo to be seen during the first trimester of its life. To that end, the researchers labeled the cells that they wanted to study with fluorescent proteins, and then made the embryo transparent by immersing it in different solvents, which removed its membranes, but conserved its protein structure; the embryo was then scanned under fluorescence microscopy. Using this technique, they analyzed embryos and fetuses from 6 to 14 weeks of gestation, constructing a three-dimensional atlas of the human embryo that can be used for both teachings and possibly for experimental techniques. There is no need to highlight the great ethical difficulties with these techniques, as they destroy human embryos with no further consideration. Therefore, although the results obtained are experimentally positive, the method used ethically disqualifies the overall process.

Photo: A view of an embryonic lung with this technique by Inserm

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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

3D artificial ovary constructed with excellent results. New hope for women infertility

A team of researchers from the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University in the United States has reported that it has managed to construct the structure of an artificial ovary 3D  (see HERE) a hydrogel that, once transplanted in an animal, can interact with its tissues and create a functioning ovary. This artificial scaffold was implanted in sterilized female mice, with cell division to ovulation taking place in two months. After mating, these females became pregnant and gave birth to healthy mice that survived, after being nursed by their mothers. This is undoubtedly a great technological breakthrough with visions of being used in humans to resolve infertility issues (see HERE).

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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

Paolo Macchiarini, Fraud, and Oversight: A Case of Falsified Stem Cell Research

by Michael S Dauber, GBI Visiting Scholar

According to a recent story by John Rasko and Carl Power in The Guardian, surgeon Paolo Macchiarini’s research in artificial windpipes, previously hailed as pioneering medicine with the promise to save many lives, has been exposed as a fraud. Miacchiarini had previously received public praise for creating artificial windpipes by grafting stem cells onto plastic frames, which allowed him to “grow” new trachea for his patients.

While much of the scientific community was eager to believe Miaccharini had made significant breakthroughs, not everyone was convinced. According to a Swedish TV series called Experimenten, most of Miaccharini’s patients died within a few years of their procedures, and it was unclear that the experimental surgeries actually helped: in fact, they may have made matters much worse. Deeper investigation revealed that Macchiarini had actually falsified much of his data, and that institutional checks that normally prevent fraudulent individuals from being hired had been ignored. For example, according to an “external inquiry,” he was hired by the Karolinska Institute in 2010 despite various fraudulent, concerning, and questionable information on his resume (including a claim from a reference that he had been “blocked from a professorship in Italy”). The report also found that there had been inappropriate contact between Macchiarini and the Karolinska Institute’s Vice-Chancellor during his recruitment.

Even more troubling, the Institute failed to comply with government regulations designed to ensure research and clinical interventions are practiced ethically. According to Rasko and Power, Macchiarini failed to test his artificial airways in animals before implanting them in three human patients, and he did not apply for approval from an institutional review board or other ethics committee, despite the fact that Stockholm’s board was housed at the Institute.

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.