Tag: science

Bioethics Blogs

More than Local Arrangements: How Conference Logistics Can Speak to Values by Sarah Pickman

In the fall of 2016, my colleagues Tess Lanzarotta, Marco Ramos, and I met as the core organizers for the “Critical Histories, Activist Futures” conference to hammer out our individual roles. We decided that I would take on the role of head of local arrangements, managing all of the practical logistics for the conference: food, room reservations, registration, etc. “Local arrangements” is, at first glance, a series of crucial but unsexy grunt work tasks. Perhaps, at this very moment, images from your own past of stacking folding chairs and wrestling with projector cords are beginning to swirl in your head at the mention of this phrase. Before you roll your eyes and click away, let me try to convince you that local arrangements can be a productive space to think about what an academic conference looks like and who it is for, as well as to grapple with the limits of the conference as a model for academic discourse.

I embraced the role initially because I do feel strongly that in order for an event to achieve its objectives, the mundane aspects must be taken care of and must run as seamlessly as possible. Prior experience organizing events has taught me that no matter how interesting and well-presented a symposium or lecture’s content is, if there is not enough food served afterwards or the room is very cold that’s all anyone will talk about. This is to say nothing of my own personal experience as a graduate student, scooping up free sandwiches at events and watching my professors race each other to the coffee dispenser during break times.

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

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 Blogs

Critical Histories, Activist Futures: Science, Medicine and Racial Violence by Sarah Pickman

A Reframed (and Reflexive) Conference Report

Organized and Edited by Tess Lanzarotta and Sarah M. Pickman

 

After a conference ends – after the last paper coffee cup has been tossed into the trash, after the adaptor cable has been disconnected from the podium laptop, after the speakers have rushed out to catch trains and flights homeward – what then? What tangible reminders survive from the days of presentations? An individual participant may have e-mails from new professional contacts and several notebook pages filled with notes hastily jotted during the talks. Fortunate conference organizers may find some funding and support to produce an edited volume of the papers. These texts will go some way to preserving the content of the conference talks. But they will not capture all of the ideas and responses generated over the course of those few days. What about the insights that arose from conversations around the coffee table, over lunch, or the bar afterwards? Or the experiences gained planning the conference or reviewing it weeks later? Where will they all go?

This series is our attempt to capture some of the insights, suggestions, critiques and experiences from a conference entitled “Critical Histories, Activist Futures: Science, Medicine and Racial Violence,” which was held at Yale University on February 24 and 25, 2017. The conference was conceived of by the History, Science, and Justice Collective (HSJC), a group of graduate students in Yale’s Program in History of Science and Medicine working towards a more just history of science. With the CFP these students asked for submissions that not only discussed historical cases of past injustices, but would also create starting points for historically informed debates about current forms of injustice and violence, including the inequities we see in the academic field of history of science and medicine.

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

Science Debate: Should We Embrace an Enhanced Future?

Caffeine and smart phones might not strike most people as human enhancements, but in changing how we use our bodies and brains, they are exactly that. They improve our subjective wellbeing and facilitate our meeting day-to-day life goals

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

Beauty’s Knowledge: Hawthorne’s Moral Fable “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Leo Coleman

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is a nineteenth-century moral fable that sets the fruits of experimental knowledge against obligations to humanity, and stages a dramatic encounter between these two apparent goods. In many ways, the moral it offers seems familiar, and could be recognized by anyone with even a passing familiarity with contemporary bioethical debates. It features a mad scientist’s garden, a gorgeous but poisonous plant of his creation, and a lovely daughter who tends to his terrible plants, and who is—like the plant—both attractive and potentially infectious. The daughter receives the attentions of a naïve medical student, and she falls in love with him, but their fate is shadowed by the actions of not one but two bad scientist father-figures who experiment upon the younger characters and try to shape their (biological) destinies without their knowledge. But Hawthorne’s story does not simply anticipate, in an antique and allegorical way, contemporary defenses of human dignity and nature’s inviolability. Nor does it merely rehearse, with its private garden and unknowingly experimented-upon subjects, a Lockean notion of our own inevitable and natural possession of our bodies and the fruits of our lives and labor.

Hawthorne’s story puts the experimental subject at the center of its moral allegory, suffering both hopes and fears provoked by her own mutability, her own biological plasticity. That is, his titular character is no innocent pawn in the hands of the great scientist: she is an artificial being—grafted and forced—and deeply morally and biologically transformed from the very beginning; but because of this she is also able to reflect on her relations with others and her environment, and to mark (in this case, tragically) a new ethical frontier.

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

“She Can’t Help The Choices She Makes”

Image via

STUDENT VOICES | CHYNN PRIZE FIRST-PLACE WINNER

By Madeleine Cardona

I will never forget the day my mother got diagnosed. I could swear that just yesterday I was thirteen years old waiting anxiously to be called in from the waiting room of some fancy New York State doctor’s office. I was young, but I had some idea of what was going on. I knew my parents and I were there because they were going through a divorce and fighting for custody of me. What I did not know was that we were about to endure a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation and that the results were going to change my life forever.

“Madeleine, your mom is very sick,” the psychiatrist attempted to explain to me. I did not understand. I did not know a sick person could look perfectly healthy. “It’s not a physical sickness, it’s in her head. She has a mental disorder called Paranoid Schizophrenia.” She went on using big words to explain how my mother’s brain “wasn’t like other people’s brains.” I sat there listening closely, hanging on every word the woman was saying to me. “She can’t help the choices that she makes, it’s not her fault that she is the way that she is. She needs help.” Every day since that day in the doctor’s office, that remark replays in my head over and over. “She can’t help the choices she makes.”

That is what gave me the most trouble. I sat around for years and years watching the choices that my mother was making, unable to intervene.

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

An Animal Bioethicist in Seattle

Andrew Fenton voices concerns about invisible unnecessary harm to non-human animals and a cost of ethical inconsistency.

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I recently had the pleasure of attending the 10th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences in Seattle, Washington. It was an interdisciplinary affair, with lots of scientists as well as philosophers, bioethicists, and representatives from various animal advocacy groups. The sessions I attended were interesting and it was great to see so many, involved in the use, care, or defense of animals used in science under one roof (and engaging each other!). It’s a hazard of our vocation as bioethicists to keep an eye out for incongruities. One jumped out at me. Let me set it up so that it jumps out at you too.

The World Congress, which began to meet way back in 1993 in Baltimore, Maryland, is geared toward the “3Rs” of animal research and facilitates discussions of breakthroughs, advances, failures of this research, as well as of research ethics. What are the 3Rs? In order of appearance in popular animal ethics framework (found in Russell and Burch’s 1959 book, The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique), they are: Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement. Replacement concerns replacing sentient animals currently used in particular areas of testing or research with either animals who are less vulnerable to harm or non-sentient animals (such as insects) or models (such as tissue cultures or computer simulations). Reduction concerns reducing the number of sentient animals used in particular studies or protocols. Refinement concerns minimizing or eliminating scientifically unnecessary or unavoidable distress in the sentient animals used in testing or 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

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.