Tag: researchers

Bioethics News

Companies Rush to Develop ‘Utterly Transformative’ Gene Therapies

July 24, 2017

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Companies and universities are racing to develop these new therapies, which re-engineer and turbocharge millions of a patient’s own immune cells, turning them into cancer killers that researchers call a “living drug.” One of the big goals now is to get them to work for many other cancers, including those of the breast, prostate, ovary, lung and pancreas.

“This has been utterly transformative in blood cancers,” said Dr. Stephan Grupp, director of the cancer immunotherapy program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania and a leader of major studies. “If it can start to work in solid tumors, it will be utterly transformative for the whole field.”

But it will take time to find that out, he said, at least five years.

… Read More

Image: By NIAID/NIH – NIAID Flickr’s photostream, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18233598

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NYTimes

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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 News

New artificial species. Could they affect biodiversity?

An article was recently published in the blog Practical Ethics, defending the use of synthetic biology and gene editing to obtain new organisms that do not exist in nature. Its author argues that if biodiversity is valuable, then it should be promoted, adding new species instead of conserving it as it is.

Contrary to the commonly assumed idea that current levels are optimal, he says that global biodiversity has been deeply affected by the acts of humans, having lost countless species. Moreover, he denies that ecosystems are fragile and finely balanced units, arguing on one side that the interactions between organisms tend to undermine their stability and, on the other, that the introduction of a new species does not have a major biological impact, statements that seem contradictory.

Artificial species and biodiversity

The aforementioned article lacks references that support these novel views on biodiversity and ecosystems, which contrasts with what has so far been understood and observed from the biological and environmental sciences. Nevertheless, even if his statements were true, this does not lead to the conclusion that it is advisable to increase the present biodiversity by producing new artificial species.

Neither does it mention whether the species produced should be non-pathogenic, or whether the researchers should take into account the type of organisms produced, their number, place of release, evolution perspectives (never completely controllable), organisms with which they would interact, etc. We do not believe it necessary to explain why it would not be appropriate to introduce organisms into the natural environment without first taking into account these and other considerations.

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

To Shrink Mosquito Population, Scientists Are Releasing 20 Million Mosquitoes

July 21, 2017

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This summer, scientists in California are releasing 20 million mosquitoes in an effort to shrink the population of mosquitoes that can carry diseases.

It sounds counterintuitive. But the plan is to release millions of sterile male mosquitoes, which will then mate with wild female mosquitoes. The eggs the females lay won’t hatch, researchers say.

The project is called Debug Fresno and it’s being undertaken by Verily, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s holding company. It’s the company’s first field study involving sterile mosquitoes in the U.S.

Scientists say the goal is to cut the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes — the species responsible for spreading Zika, dengue and chikungunya. A. aegypti have been present in California’s Central Valley since 2013 and have been a problem in Fresno County.

… Read More

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NPR The Two-Way

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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

More about Charlie Gard

Dr. Robert Truog, the bioethicist and transplant physician who has pushed the envelope on the definition of death, has weighed in on the Charlie Gard case in a “Perspectives” piece that is generally available (i.e., without a subscription) from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).   By all means read it.

Dr. Truog approaches the case from the standpoint of limiting medical research—indeed, that’s in the title of his article.  He says the case is about “the best interest of the patient, financial interest, and scientific validity.”  On the first point, he is cautious about the British courts’ assertions that it can assess how much pain and suffering Charlie is experiencing, and whether the courts know this better than the baby’s patients.  This caution seems wise.  As I have reflected further on this case it strikes me that I may be missing a legal distinction between Britain and the US; frankly, I am not well-versed on British law in these cases.  I do tend to think of the Gard case in terms of substituted decision-making in the case of severe or terminal illness.  My thought process runs through the checkpoints.  First, the patient’s wishes are paramount.  In this case, the patient cannot express wishes and may not be able to form them.  In that case, second, a surrogate decision-maker should speak for the patient using “substituted judgment” or “substituted perspective” to express how the patient might have approached the case if able to express wishes.  Here, the parents are available to speak for the patient.  It would be only in the absence of a decision surrogate that “the best interests of the patient,” as judged by the physicians or the courts, would control.  Apparently British law grants rather more primacy to third parties, other than the patient and any surrogate decision-maker.  Under the rubric I’m used to, the parent’s wishes would control.  Here, the British authorities argue, they do not.

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

Genetically Engineering Nature Will Be Way More Complicated Than We Thought

July 20, 2017

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For more than half a century, scientists have dreamed of harnessing an odd quirk of nature— “selfish genes,” which bypass the normal 50/50 laws of inheritance and force their way into offspring—to engineer entire species. A few years ago, the advent of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology turned this science fictional concept into a dazzling potential reality, called a gene drive. But after all the hype, and fear of the technology’s misuse, scientists are now questioning whether gene drives will work at all.

Gene drive is a molecular technology that forces an edited gene to be passed along into all of an organism’s offspring, overriding nature’s 50/50 inheritance mix. The first human-engineered gene drive was only demonstrated in fruit flies in 2015, but scientists were soon talking about using gene drives to exterminate invasive pests or kill off throngs of malarial mosquitoes.

But soon after, other researchers demonstrated that as an infertility mutation in female mosquitoes was successfully passed on to offspring over many generations, resistance emerged, allowing some mosquitoes to avoid inheriting the mutation. Just as bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics, wild populations can develop resistance to modifications aimed at destroying them. Gene drive, dead.

… Read More

Image: By DBCLS 統合TV, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55175302

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Gizmodo

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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 News

Zika Rewrites Maternal Immunization Ethics

July 20, 2017

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Ever since the shocking realization in 1961 that the morning sickness pill thalidomide caused shortened limbs in babies, doctors have been extremely wary of giving any medicine to a pregnant woman—and testing experimental drugs has raised even more concerns. But the recent discovery that exposure to Zika virus in utero can cause severe brain damage and other problems in children triggered an international effort to develop a vaccine for pregnant women. A new report written by an ad hoc group of prominent researchers, bioethicists, clinicians, and drugmakers concludes that pregnant women should be included in trials of Zika vaccines, once safety in animals and nonpregnant adults is demonstrated. The risk/benefit issues spelled out in the report also apply to experiments with maternal immunization for other diseases, which are winning increasing support.

Researchers have been too reticent to include pregnant women in clinical trials of vaccines, contends the working group behind the report. “Even for the vaccines we now recommend in pregnancy, pertussis and flu, the original trials did not include pregnant women,” says Carleigh Krubiner, a bioethicist at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics in Baltimore, Maryland, who is part of the group, which was sponsored by the London-based Wellcome Trust. “This project is trying to be more proactive.”

The half-dozen Zika vaccine trials now taking place only enroll women of childbearing age who are on contraception or have a sterile male partner. That is appropriate, according to the risk/benefit analyses spelled out in the report, as these early studies assess only safety and basic immune responses.

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 Specter of Authoritarianism

by Andrew J. Pierce

ABSTRACT. In this essay, I provide an analysis of the much-discussed authoritarian aspects of Donald Trump’s campaign and early administration. Drawing from both philosophical analyses of authoritarianism and recent work in social science, I focus on three elements of authoritarianism in particular: the authoritarian predispositions of Trump supporters, the scapegoating of racial minorities as a means of redirecting economic anxiety, and the administration’s strategic use of misinformation. While I offer no ultimate prediction as to whether a Trump administration will collapse into authoritarianism, I do identify key developments that would represent moves in that direction.

The unorthodox campaign and unexpected election of Donald Trump has ignited intense speculation about the possibility of an authoritarian turn in American politics. In some ways, this is not surprising. The divisive political climate in the United States is fertile soil for the demonization of political opponents. George W. Bush was regularly characterized as an authoritarian by his left opposition, as was Barack Obama by his own detractors. Yet in Trump’s case, echoes of earlier forms of authoritarianism, from his xenophobic brand of nationalism and reliance on a near mythological revisionist history, to his vilification of the press and seemingly strategic use of falsehoods, appear too numerous to ignore. In this essay, I attempt to provide a sober evaluation of the authoritarian prospects of a Trump administration. As presidential agendas inevitably differ from campaign platforms, much of this analysis will be unavoidably speculative. However, the nature of Trump’s carefully studied campaign, the early actions of his administration, and the wealth of philosophical reflections on earlier forms of authoritarianism provide ample resources to inform such speculation.

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

Excluding Pregnant Women From Clinical Studies Because They’re Classed As ‘Vulnerable’ Is ‘Harmful’

July 20, 2017

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Excluding mums-to-be from clinical studies is unfair and could be potentially harmful, researchers have said.

Pregnant women are often ruled out of participating in clinical trials because they’re classified as a “vulnerable” group, and this creates a knowledge void around the impact of drugs taken during pregnancy and “unfairly excludes” them from taking part in clinical studies, concluded researchers writing in the ‘Journal of Medical Ethics’.

“There is a desperate need to shift the paradigm to protect pregnant women through research, not just from research,” the researchers wrote.

… Read More

See Also – Commentary: Pregnant women should not be categorised as a ‘vulnerable population’ in biomedical research studies: ending a vicious cycle of ‘vulnerability’

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HuffPost UK

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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

Another Milestone in the Cystic Fibrosis Journey

Caption: Two-year-old Avalyn is among the cystic fibrosis patients who may be helped by targeted drugs.
Credit: Brittany Mahoney

As NIH Director, I often hear stories of how people with serious diseases—from arthritis to Zika infection—are benefitting from the transformational power of NIH’s investments in basic science. Today, I’d like to share one such advance that I find particularly exciting: news that a combination of three molecularly targeted drugs may finally make it possible to treat the vast majority of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF), our nation’s most common genetic disease.

First, a bit of history! The first genetic mutation that causes CF was discovered by a collaborative effort between my own research lab at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto—more than 25 years ago [1]. Years of hard work, supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, painstakingly worked out the normal function of the protein that is altered in CF, called the cystic fibrosis transmembrane regulator (CFTR). Very recently new technologies, such as cryo-EM, have given researchers the ability to map the exact structure of the protein involved in CF.

Among the tens of thousands of CF patients who stand to benefit from the next generation of targeted drugs is little Avalyn Mahoney of Cardiff by the Sea, CA. Just a few decades ago, a kid like Avalyn—who just turned 2 last month—probably wouldn’t have made it beyond her teens. But today the outlook is far brighter for her and so many others, thanks to recent advances that build upon NIH-supported basic research.

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

Why Zika Is Especially Hard On The Women Of Brazil

July 19, 2017

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It started with the task of keeping mosquitoes at bay — a task that often fell to the women and girls in a family. And it continues today with women shouldering much of the care for babies born with congenital Zika syndrome, which includes microcephaly, a birth defect characterized by a smaller than normal head and brain damage.

The government has not given women the support they need, says Margaret Wurth, a children’s rights researcher who worked on the study.

Wurth and her colleagues visited Brazil in 2016, a year after a state of emergency had been declared (it ended this May). They interviewed women (including mothers of children with microcephaly), men, officials from nongovernmental groups, medical service providers, researchers and others about their experiences related to Zika. They conducted interviews in Pernambuco and Paraíba, two states in northeastern Brazil particularly hard-hit by Zika.

… Read More

See Also: Pregnant Women and the Zika Virus Vaccine Research Agenda: Ethics Guidance on Priorities, Inclusion, and Evidence Generation

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NPR Goats and Soda

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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.