Tag: science

Bioethics Blogs

Happy 15th Birthday, Neuroethics!

[This post first appeared in the Neuroethics Blog on May 13, 2017: http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2017/05/happy-15th-birthday-neuroethics.html]

Fifteen years ago, on May 13, 2002, a two-day conference called “Neuroethics: Mapping the Field” began at the Presidio in San Francisco. And modern neuroethics was born. That conference was the first meeting to bring together a wide range of people who were, or would soon be, writing in “neuroethics;” it gave the new field substantial publicity; and, perhaps most importantly, it gave it a catchy name.


That birthdate could, of course, be debated. In his introduction to the proceedings of that conference, William Safire, a long-time columnist for the NEW YORK TIMES (among other things), gave neuroethics a longer history:

The first conference or meeting on this general subject was held back in the summer of 1816 in a cottage on Lake Geneva. Present were a couple of world-class poets, their mistresses, and their doctor. (Marcus)

Safire referred to the summer holiday of Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley; Byron’s sometime mistress, Claire Clairmont; and Shelley’s then-mistress, later wife, known at the time as Mary Godwin and now remembered as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The historically cold and wet summer of 1816 (“the year without a summer”) led them to try writing ghost stories. Godwin succeeded brilliantly; her story eventually was published in 1818 as FRANKENSTEIN: OR, THE NEW PROMETHEUS.

Camillo Golgi, image courtesy of
Wikipedia.
Safire’s arresting opening gives neuroethics either too little history or too much. If, like Safire, one allows neuroethics to predate an understanding of the importance of the brain, early human literature – both religious and secular – show a keen interest in human desires and motivations.

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

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

Radical Technology, Bodyhacking, & Medicine

Michele Battle-Fisher calls on conventional medical to consider how acts of healing will change in the context of transhumanism.

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Humanness is in flux as human bodies are being hacked (altered) by transhumanists and others in their quest for super wellness, super intelligence and super longevity.

Bodyhacking refers to changing the human body in appearance and function using a “device, technique or procedure that an individual CHOOSES to utilize, augment, modify or improve their body.” Examples of bodyhacking include implanting magnets under one’s skin to be able to open a garage door, and implanting an engineered human ear on one’s arm to gain hypersensory abilities. Typically, such ‘hacks’ are not approved by governmental agencies or traditional medical insurance. According to Body Hacking Con, while bodyhacking is typically considered fringe, bodyhackers are “simply people who hack (alter) their bodies.”

Bodyhacking is part of a counterculture movement that is often called transhumanism. Transhumanists believe that the body is obsolete and that death is a cruel end to be avoided. In their view, the time is ripe for taking advantage of fast-paced technologies to improve our imperfect bodies and eventually cheat death.

Recent revolutionary innovations such as CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology are helping to further push the boundaries of bodyhacking by fighting the genetic causes of death. While the medical community has accepted the idea of somatic cell gene editing, germline gene editing remains controversial.  There is much excitement in the transhumanism community that biohacks such as CRISPR will move from the purvue of controlled medical settings to the at-home, do-it-yourself labs.

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 Blogs

Interview with Arthur Caplan

by Kaitlynd Hiller and Rachel F. Bloom

It is a difficult task to succinctly describe the professional accomplishments of Arthur Caplan, PhD. For the uninitiated, Dr. Caplan is perhaps the most prominent voice in the conversation between bioethicists and the general public, as well as being a prolific writer and academic. He is currently the Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor of Bioethics at NYU Langone Medical Center and NYU School of Medicine, having founded the Division of Bioethics there in 2012. Additionally, he co-founded the NYU Sports and Society Program, where he currently serves as Dean, and heads the ethics program for NYU’s Global Institute for Public Health. Prior to joining NYU, he created the Center for Bioethics and Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, serving as the Sidney D. Caplan Professor of Bioethics. Dr. Caplan is a Hastings Center fellow, also holding fellowships at The New York Academy of Medicine, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American College of Legal Medicine. He received the lifetime achievement award of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities in 2016.

Dr. Caplan’s experience is not at all limited to the academic realm: he has served on numerous advisory counsels at the national and international level, and is an ethics advisor for organizations tackling issues from synthetic biology to world health to compassionate care. Dr. Caplan has been awarded the McGovern Medal of the American Medical Writers Association, the Franklin Award from the City of Philadelphia, the Patricia Price Browne Prize in Biomedical Ethics, the Public Service Award from the National Science Foundation, and the Rare Impact Award from the National Organization for Rare Disorders; he also holds seven honorary degrees.

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

Dear Mr. President: It’s Time for Your Bioethics Commission

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Last week, seven Democratic members of the U.S. House Representatives sent a letter to the White House asking President Trump to appoint a director to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), position that normally serves as the presidential science advisor. The impetus for writing the letter was a communication from the Deputy National Science Advisor that two hoax reports, that tried to undermine climate change, were circulating through the West Wing as “science.” The Congresspersons state “Where scientific policy is concerned, the White House should make use of the latest, most broadly-supported science…Relying on factual technical and scientific data has helped make America the greatest nation in the world.” Among the signers are a PhD in math and a PhD in physics. They hold that the U.S. faces strong questions that revolve around science, both opportunities and threats, and the need for a scientist who can understand and explain the importance of objective fact to the chief executive is essential.

This article led me to think that the U.S. also faces a lot of issues regarding health and medicine and their impact on society. Consider the task of creating a new health plan, CRISPR/CAS-9, in vitro gametogenesis, the threat of Zika, extra uterine gestational systems, legalized marijuana, digital medicine—pharmaceutical computing for treating disease, head transplants, and DYI science are among the bioethical issues that will effect policy in the coming few years. Thus, it is time for President Trump to call for his Presidential Bioethics Commission.

The last bioethics advisory body ended in January 2017, although many of the staff are still winding down the office and archiving the many reports and papers produced.

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

Nudges in a post-truth world.

Guest Post: Neil Levy

Full Article: Nudges in  a Post-Truth World

Human beings are motivated reasoners. We find ways to believe what we want to believe, sometimes even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary. This fact helps to explain why so many political issues are intractable, and why so many of us reject the scientific consensus on urgent issues like GMOs, vaccination and climate change. Given the importance of these issues, any means of increasing our responsiveness to evidence deserves exploration.

Nudges – proposals, stemming from the behavioural sciences, for changing the way people act by changing their environments – may be one way of increasing responsiveness to evidence. In my paper, I briefly review evidence that suggests that people resist messages for (apparently) irrelevant reasons, and that by focusing on these reasons, we can make them more responsive to these messages. For instance, people tend to dismiss testimony that comes from those who do not share their political ideology, even when the issue is an empirical one (like climate change). There is evidence that ensuring that the ideology of the source matches the ideology of the audience makes the audience more receptive to the message.

But nudges are ethically controversial. There are a number of reasons why they are controversial, but the central reason is that many people see them as threatening the autonomy of the nudged. It is one thing to address people are reasoning beings, by giving them arguments. It is another to address them as mechanisms, bypassing their reasoning.

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.