Tag: universities

Bioethics Blogs

The [Sea] Monster Inside Me

By Sunidhi Ramesh
A side-by-side comparison of a sea horse and the human
hippocampus (Greek for sea monster).
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

In 1587, Venetian anatomist Julius Aranzi gave a name to the intricate, hallmark structure located in the medial temporal lobe of the human brain—the hippocampus, Greek for sea monster.

The hippocampus, often said to resemble a sea horse, has since been identified as a key player in the consolidation of information (from short-term memory to long-term memory) and in the spatial memory that allows for our day-to-day navigation. Because of its importance in learning and memory, hippocampal damage is often a culprit in varying forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, short-term memory loss, and amnesia.
Since its discovery, the hippocampus has been the subject of extensive research ranging from understanding diet and exercise as cognitive modulators to demonstrating the three-step encoding, storage, and retrieval process that the structure so consistently performs. In this time, it has become apparent that the hippocampus is not only a vital structure for normal human functioning, but it is also necessary to what makes us uniquely human.
In the center of this hippocampal research are place cells, individual neurons in the hippocampus that become active when an animal “enters a particular cell-specific place in its environment.” These cells are able to collect distinctive components of an organism’s surroundings and then organize their outputs in a way that is useful for the brain to understand its own location in space.
The hippocampus, then, is a model system for neural information coordination.

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

Remarks on Retirement: A Career in Medicine & Bioethics

by Steven Miles, MD

The following remarks were delivered on April 27, 2017 upon Steven Miles’ retirement

Bioethics is not scholastic theorizing. It must venture outside the walls of Academic Health Centers to speak on behalf of marginalized and silenced people including those without access to affordable health care, prisoners and enemies, nursing home residents and refugees. Bioethics is about our ethos—how we live.

No one who reveres Universities ever really leaves. I set out as an itinerant emeritus carrying a backpack stuffed with University’ values and tools.…

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

Gene Editing For A Long Life – A No Brainer?

Guest Post: Isabelle L Robertson
Paper: Student Essay- Designing Methuselah: an ethical argument against germline genetic modification to prolong human longevity

I am 16 years old. I am at the start of my life and looking towards my future, deciding on universities, career options and how I want my life to be. At the moment I can expect to perhaps live to 90 years of age. To me, this seems like a pretty good life. If I was offered more would I take it? I’m not sure; perhaps, if my health and independence can be guaranteed, then yes, I might.

Scientists have identified genes in mice that regulate lifespan. They have then edited these genes and have bred mice that have lived a full generation longer than their peers. These genes have their equivalents in the human genome too. Gene editing is becoming more refined by the day and it is predictable that it will one day be technically possible to edit the genome of human embryos to extend their lifespan. Again, extending from mice trials humans with these same genes altered could live to around 130 years old, the equivalent of a whole extra generation.

Gene editing technology brings with it many exciting opportunities such as the possibility of ridding some individuals of disease causing genetic variants. The possibilities extend beyond this though. It is not an unlikely prospect that in my lifetime I will be faced with the choice of deciding if I want my children to have any genetic alterations. These alterations might not just be limited to lifespan extension either; it is foreseeable that enhancements to traits as varied as intelligence, appearance and athletic capability may be potentially on offer.

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

Final Rule, three months later

It’s been three months since the announcement of the new Common Rule. Some reactions so far:

Shweder and Nisbett hope for vast deregulation

On March 12, Richard A. Shweder and Richard E. Nisbett published an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education celebrating the new final rule:

in January the federal government opened the door for universities to deregulate vast portions of research in the social sciences, law, and the humanities. This long-sought and welcome reform of the regulations requiring administrative oversight of federally funded human-subject research on college campuses limits the scope of institutional review board, or IRB, management by exempting low-risk research with human subjects from the board’s review.

In particular, they wrote that “the overhauled policy … holds that exempted research activities should be excused from board review with no requirement of IRB approval of the exemption.”

[Richard A. Shweder and Richard E. Nisbett, “Long-Sought Research Deregulation Is Upon Us. Don’t Squander the MomentChronicle of Higher Education, March 12, 2017.

Meyer asks, what’s new?

On March 16, Michelle N. Meyer tweeted a GIF showing that several of the provisions cheered by Shweder and Nisbett have been part of the regulations for decades. Indeed, since 2009, OHRP has grudgingly acknowledged that the Common Rule allows researchers to make exemption determinations. The problem has been persuading universities to take advantage of these longstanding provisions.

On the other hand, Meyer notes that the liberation of oral history is new, and that the exemption for “benign behavioral interventions” is, in her terms, “new & awesome.”

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

VR and PTSD: Healing from trauma by confronting fears in virtual reality environments

By Katie Givens Kime
Image courtesy of Flikr

What are the ethical implications of therapeutically re-exposing patients to trauma via virtual reality technologies? Of the 2.7 million American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, at least 20% suffer from depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other studies peg that percentage even higher. As a chronic, debilitating mental illness, one PTSD symptom is hyperarousal, in which a person repeatedly re-experiences a trauma in the form of nightmares, panic attacks, and flashbacks.  One of the most long-trusted therapeutic approaches to PTSD is exposure therapy; now, virtual reality technology is increasingly being used to simulate exposure to traumatic events and to environments related to the traumatic event.


Image courtesy of Flikr

Last month’s Neuroethics and Neuroscience in the News event featured the recent research and observations of Barbara O. Rothbaum, who is the Paul A. Janssen Chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at the Emory University School of Medicine and Director of the Emory Veterans Program & Trauma and Anxiety Recovery Program. Rothbaum outlined the way in which exposure therapy (with or without the aid of virtual reality technology) is based on principles of learning and also discussed reliable findings with animals and phobic disorders (Foa & Kozak, 1986). The underlying premise of such therapy is that repeated and prolonged exposure to feared but realistically safe stimuli leads to habituation, and eventually to extinction.

The virtual reality exposure therapy (VRE) combat environments for “Virtual Vietnam” (developed by Georgia Tech and Emory Universities) includes a virtual Huey helicopter, a “fly” over the jungles of Vietnam, a “walk” in clearings near jungles and swamps, and other imaginal immersions in Vietnam-related stimuli.

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

How Ethical Is Sexual Assault Research?

Thirty-nine Australian universities will now individually release the findings of a national research project on sexual assault and harassment on campus. This announcement follows intense criticism from student bodies and sexual assault activists after it was initially announced that the findings for individual universities would not be made public

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 First Cut is the Deepest

March 23, 2017

by Sean Philpott-Jones, Chair, Bioethics Program of Clarkson University & Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

The First Cut is the Deepest

Last week, President Trump publicly unveiled his 2018 budget proposal. If left unchanged, that financial blueprint would increase US federal defense spending by more than $50 billion, while also appropriating billions more to bolster immigration enforcement and build a 2,000 mile-long wall along the US border with Mexico. A self-proclaimed deficit hawk, the President would offset those increased expenditures will sharp cuts to the US Departments of State, Energy, Health and Human Services, and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

In sharp contrast to campaign trail promises to boost the economy, create jobs, and protect Americans at home and abroad, however, Trump’s 2018 budget is likely to do the exact opposite. Consider, for example, the proposal to cut nearly $6 billion from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Made up of 27 different institutions and centers, the NIH is the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world. Through the NIH or other funding agencies, the federal government supports almost half of all the biomedical research in the US. Private businesses support another quarter, and the remainder of biomedical research support comes from state governments and nonprofit organizations.

With an annual operating budget of $30 billion, the NIH provides training and support to thousands of scientists at its main campus in Bethesda, Maryland. Moreover, through a system of extramural grants and cooperative agreements, the NIH provides financial support for research-related programs to over 2,600 institutions around the country, creating more than 300,000 full- and part-time jobs.

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

FDA Urged to Let Abortion Pill Be Sold at Pharmacies

February 23, 2017

(STAT News) – The so-called abortion pill — now dispensed only in clinics, hospitals, and doctors’ offices — should be made available by prescription in pharmacies across the US, according to a group of doctors and public health experts urging an end to tough federal restrictions on the drug. The appeal to the Food and Drug Administration came in a commentary published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Among the 10 co-authors were doctors and academics from Stanford, Princeton, and Columbia universities, as well as leaders of major reproductive-health organizations.

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

Big Pharma Quietly Enlists Leading Professors to Justify $1,000-Per-Day Drugs

February 23, 2017

(Pro Publica) – Over the last three years, pharmaceutical companies have mounted a public relations blitz to tout new cures for the hepatitis C virus and persuade insurers, including government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, to cover the costs. That isn’t an easy sell, because the price of the treatments ranges from $40,000 to $94,000 — or, because the treatments take three months, as much as $1,000 per day. To persuade payers and the public, the industry has deployed a potent new ally, a company whose marquee figures are leading economists and health care experts at the nation’s top universities.

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

A Dangerous Wait

Colleges can’t meet soaring student needs for mental health care. STAT surveyed dozens of universities about their mental health services. From major public institutions to small elite colleges, a striking pattern emerged: Students often have to wait weeks just for an initial intake exam to review their symptoms. The wait to see a psychiatrist who can prescribe or adjust medication — often a part-time employee — may be longer still

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.