Monday, February 6. 2017
I admit it. I have been MIA in the blogging world for the past six months. Mea culpa.
There is a good reason. I am working in a neurobiology lab at the local university. We are researching ways to stop or slow the progression of Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative disorders.
I love it. After a decade of doom and gloom writing about the out-of-control biotechnology sector, I needed a change. One where I was actively contributing to positive research.
I haven't totally abandoned writing though. Here is a teaser from my latest at the National Catholic Register:
Tuesday, October 22. 2013
This is so horrific and evil that it almost defies reason. Officials have rescued a girl from Somalia that was brought to the UK to harvest her organs. They are sure that this is not an isolated incidence. The Telegraph has the story:
The unnamed girl was brought to the UK from Somalia with the intention of removing her organs and selling them on to those desperate for a transplant.This is exactly what I mean when I say that we abandon the embryo at our own peril. Once we accept the exploitation of one of our species for parts, then we all start to look like harvestable biological material that could be used better somewhere else.
Is it just a coincidence that as the West creates and destroys embryos on a massive scale, exploitation of those in the third world for their body parts by rich Westerners is on the rise? I doubt it.
This is the world we live in. Without a fundamental shift back to the understanding that human life is sacred no matter the stage of development, skin color, or socioeconomic status, this is going to continue and likely get worse.
Maybe it is time to consider Scott Carney's proposal to get rid of anonymity in the flesh trade. Carney is an investigative journalist who has covered the red market, the market in human parts, all over the world. His book, The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers, covers everything from blood transfusions, to kidney transplants, to egg donation, to surrogacy. The book sadly exposes the exploitation of the poor and weak that is rampant.
Carney asserts that it is the anonymity of organ transplants, blood transfusion and even egg donations that allows body brokers to exploit the poor and allows the recipients of ill-gotten parts to turn a blind-eye. Would you be so quick to accept that kidney if you knew it came from a girl from Somalia? Would a doctor transplant such an organ?
Obviously, anonymity is in place to protect both donor and recipient. But that is in a wholesome system were parts are obtained ethically. Anonymity in a world such as ours, where the West seems to have an insatiable appetite for parts, just protects the black marketeers and keeps their victims out of sight. No one is responsible because no one knows anything.
It is time to bring sunlight to the dark shadows of a growing organ market. Maybe getting rid of the anonymity that clouds the trade in body parts is a step in the right direction.
Wednesday, April 3. 2013
Obama has announced his latest project, the BRAIN Initiative. BRAIN is short for Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies. Hinting at this $100 million project (to start) in his State of the Union address, Obama pronounced:
“If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas... Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy... Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s… Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.”This "Next Great American Project" seeks to map the activity of the human brain. Not a small endeavor, which means there is no projected end. We know practically nothing about how the human brain works. As neurobiologist Lesile Vosshall tweeted when she heard about Obama's plans, "Baffled by the NIH Brain Activity Map Project. We don't understand the fly brain yet."
Initially the project will focus on improving technologies to study the brain. What we have now simply cannot give us a picture of how the brain's 100 billion neurons work together.
Putting the wisdom of spending money on such research in a time of sweeping budget cuts aside, this initiative may give us a better understanding of devastating conditions like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and schizophrenia. (I say "may" because some scientists are skeptical that big government initiatives are the best way to forward progress. Some believe that such big interventions hurt rather than help. UC Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen wrote on his blog. "I think it is now clear that big biology is not a boon for individual discovery-driven science. Ironically, and tragically, it is emerging as the greatest threat to its continued existence.")
Beyond budget and possible therapeutic discoveries, there are a couple of red flags with BRAIN. Big, shiny, flashing ones.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Wednesday, November 28. 2012
This is one of the strangest treatment plans I have ever read about. Doctors in New York will purposefully give young adults with autism parasitic worms in hopes of treating their autism. Yes, you read that right. Worms.
The thought is that the non-harmful parasitic worms will engage immune system which doctors hope will reduce the inflammation characteristic in patients with autism. The Scientist has the slimy, squirmy details:
A growing body of evidence suggests that in some patients, increased inflammation contributes to autistic behaviors. Now, a Phase I clinical trial is under way to measure the effects of infecting autistic patients with a non-pathogenic parasitic worm. Scientists at Montefiore Medical Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and biotech company Coronado Biosciences will test the hypothesis that treating these patients with Trichuris suis, a non-pathogenic parasitic pig whipworm, will dampen their immune responses and ameliorate repetitive and irritable behaviors.Cool, but seriously gross. I am not sure I could get over the "infected with parasitic worms" part. The trial will be for 10 adults aged 18-35. Here is hoping this trial has some positive results. Otherwise it might just be opening a can of worms. Sorry....I couldn't resist.
Friday, June 8. 2012
When I talk to my fellow Americans about biotechnology, they have this idea that all the bad stuff will happen in places like China and that the horrors of Huxley's Brave New World will never happen here. Cloning, human genetic engineering and the like will happen somewhere else, but not in the good ol' USA.
Unfortunately we Americans are woefully ignorant about biotechnology and the laws that govern emerging technologies in other countries. Essentially, that other countries have laws and we don't.
Why not? We have Roe v. Wade. I am no constitutional scholar, but I can see the writing on the wall. See Roe v. Wade is not simply about abortion. Thanks to the landmark decision we think we have rights found in our Constitution that aren't actually in there: "reproductive rights." A right to reproduce or not. Which means a right to have a child or not. Which means children are a right, not a gift. I doubt the framers of our Constitution thought there was such a right, otherwise it would have been included, specifically. The Declaration of Independence does not say that part of our inalienable rights are, "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.... oh! and a child when we want, however we want, and one of our choosing."
The legacy of Roe means that anytime any federal legislation is proposed that would address the ethical implications surrounding new technologies like prenatal testing, IVF, cloning or genetic engineering, it will fail to pass (or will be struck down in court) because somewhere, somehow, someone's "reproductive rights" might be affected.
Continue Reading at Creative Minorty >>
Tuesday, March 6. 2012
An AIDS vaccine developed in Cuba will begin human testing this year. From the Deccan Chronicle:
Tuesday, January 10. 2012
This last year has shown hope for a cognitive treatment for Down Syndrome. And yet there has been some reservations about such treatment by parents of children with Down Syndrome. They worry that treating their child for cognitive dysfunction implies that there is something wrong with having Down Syndrome. That somehow their beautiful, loving, happy child is not good enough and needs fixing.
In her article for LifeNews, Effie Caldarola, a mother of a child with Down Syndrome, asks:
Is this good? The idea raises questions on so many levels. Who would hesitate to immunize their child against disease, buy them the eyeglasses they need, or let’s face it, indulge the American desire for every child to have the perfectly aligned set of teeth? But to alter someone’s intelligence level with a drug? Does this suggest that there is something wrong, something diseased or misaligned, about the I.Q. with which we are born?I am not a parent of a special needs child so it is incredibly difficult for me to comment on these very valid concerns. Making genetics my profession, I have always thought a person is more than just a sum of their genes. So for me a person with Down Syndrome is so much more than their extra chromosome 21. The syndrome is not who they are. It does not define them. And so therefore I have never personally perceived treating the cognitive issues associated with Downs as a rejection of their person. I also do not believe that a person with Down Syndrome needs to be "fixed." But I could certainly see how such measures could be perceived as such.
Dr. Gerard Nadal has written a fantastic response to the ethical issues surrounding the treatment of Down Syndrome. I thank him for writing it. A father of a special needs child Joseph, Dr. Nadal adroitly handles this very sensitive issue by explaining that treatment that allows children to be the best they can be is not a rejection of who they are:
Do we want Joseph to only become “functional enough” and then leave him looking sufficiently autistic? No, of course not. We want him to be all that he is capable of becoming, given the brain with which God has blessed him. He will never not have autism. He will forever retain certain of the traits that define autism. However, we want him to have as many options in life as possible.
Tuesday, January 3. 2012
Reflecting on 2011, I began thinking of the 5 events in biotechnology that were the greatest threats to the sanctity of human life. True to my mission though, I couldn't just talk about what is bad in the biotech arena. I also have to celebrate the 5 ways biotechnology has improved or preserved human life.
Sunday, October 2. 2011
One of the most asked about and difficult ethical issues for Catholic parents to deal with is the issue with vaccination. Many vaccines are created with cell lines that originated from an aborted fetus. Cell lines MRC-5 and WI-38 are common cell lines used to produce vaccines for rubella, polio, hepatitis A and chicken pox. MRC-5 was developed from lung cells from a 14-week-old male fetus that was electively aborted in 1966. The WI-38 line was derived from a female fetus that was aborted in 1964. There are alternatives possible to using these cell lines that originated from abortion, but unless manufacturers are pressured to change to alternative cell lines, it is unlikely that they will.
Many people often argue that using fetal cells from an aborted fetus is morally acceptable because the fetus was going to die anyway. The Catholic Church rejects this argument. If an organism must be intentionally destroyed to harvest cells, then the cells are morally tainted. If these fetal stem cells had come from a natural miscarriage, then it would be morally permissible for parents to donate these cells to research. The morality of fetal cell use is analogous to that of organ donation. If the patient died of natural causes or a traumatic event, then is is morally permissible to use their organs for the benefit of others. It is not morally permissible to intentionally and prematurely end a person's life and then take their organs for donation. Using fetal stem cells from aborted fetuses is analogous to using organs from death row inmates or victims of euthanasia.
So can Catholic parents, in good conscience, get their children vaccinated with vaccines made with cell lines like MRC-5 and WI-38? Yes, but only if certain conditions are met. Parents must ask their health care provider for an alternative to vaccines made with cell lines from aborted fetuses. If there are no alternatives, then they must voice their objection. Bishop Robert Vasa wrote the following about vaccines that used cell lines obtained through immoral means:
Thus my reading of [Dignitas Personae] inclines me to conclude that parents may use these vaccines derived from cell lines of illicit origin but they should inquire about the availability of a more ethical alternative and they must make their objections known to the physician, to the health care system and to the FDA. Clearly, the use of these vaccines, while morally permissible, is not entirely morally neutral....Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute is a Seattle company has "developed a certification program to let consumers know how their vaccines, drugs and cosmetics are manufactured so that they can make informed choices about what to purchase." You can contact them if you have questions about whether a certain vaccine or other drug is morally tainted.
Monday, February 8. 2010
The prolife movement has been screaming about this for years and it nice to see that those diagnosed as being in a persistive vegetative state (often called "vegetables" by the so very enlightened elite) are finally being heard. From New Scientist's Giving the 'unconscious' a voice:
Tuesday, September 29. 2009
My mother is an artist. I did not inherit her talent. I have tried to like all kinds of art. I toured all of the best museums in Europe but her love of art has yet to rub off on me.
But this exhibit in Des Moines would be one I would love to see:
Tuesday, June 30. 2009
HIV needs cholesterol to infect cells. So removing cholesterol from a cells membrane is one possible way to prevent HIV infection. From a John's Hopkins study:
This starchy substance that removes the cholesterol HIV needs to infect cells from cell membranes is called cyclodextrin. It sounds like a drug, but it isn't. Cyclodextrins are used for all kinds of things from diet supplements to Febreze. Cyclodextrins are now being investigated as a treatment for Niemann-Pick disease, type C a fatal genetic disease of cholesterol metabolism. Patients with Niemann-Pick disease, type C cannot break down cholesterol and it builds up in their cells.
Cyclodextrin could be used in a cream that would prevent HIV transmission during sex which just might squash the raging debates over condom use as a strategy to prevent the spread of AIDS. This could mean a prevention of HIV transmission without the contraceptive effect. A concept the Catholic Church could possibly get behind for married couples where one partner has HIV.
Friday, October 3. 2008
The human papilloma virus or HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer. And you guessed it, HPV is a sexually transmitted virus. It is estimated that over 6 million people contract HPV and close to 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the U.S. The annual pap smear is the first line of defense against HPV and cervical cancer.
There has been a lot of debate about where the new vaccine against HPV is going to promote promiscuity. The vaccine is recommended for girls as young as 11. The argument is that the earlier that vaccination, the better the protection against HPV.
There are some Catholics who feels very strongly that the HPV vaccination is evil. I disagree and so does the Catholic Medical Association. Just because HPV is a sexually transmitted virus does not mean that prevention is unethical.
What is unethical is making the vaccine mandatory. HPV is not pertussis or polio or the measles or even the chicken pox. You do not "accidentally" get HPV. HPV can be prevented by responsible sexual behavior. Girls and their parents should have a choice whether or not vaccination for HPV is right for them.
That is why this story from USA Today makes me angry:
I have to wonder how much the immigration official who made this insane decision is getting from the makers of the vaccine.
Wednesday, January 23. 2008
Monday, May 7. 2007
Everywhere in the the world infectious disease is a problem, but it is definitely a huge problem for the poorest nations. Think HIV in Africa. One of the problems with infectious disease is diagnosis. You cannot treat infectious disease like HIV or Hepatitis B or C unless you know who has it and in poor rural areas access to and cost for testing is a problem.
One of the most powerful tools for infectious diesase testing is polymerase chain reaction or PCR. PCR essentially makes millions of copies of a particular stretch of DNA. The reason PCR is so useful is that it is very difficult to detect an active virus in a small blood sample. Using PCR, if a virus is present in a sample, millions of copies of the viral DNA (or RNA) can be made and then easily detected. Also, using PCR, if a bacteria like Tuberculosis or B. Pertussis (whooping cough) is present, millions of copies of the bacterial DNA can be made in a couple of hours and treatment can start right away if needed.
We use PCR to detect and quantitate hepatitis B and C in my laboratory. Many other labs do the same for HIV and bacterial infections. But that means the sample needs to be collected properly and brought to the lab under the right storage conditions.
Victor Ugaz of Texas A&M University in College Station has developed a portable, hand-held PCR machine that may revolutionize the way we test for disease. From New Scientist:
Fast, cheap and portable. This device may help millions in poor countries who do not have access to proper diagnostic testing. Proper diagnosis means proper treatment and that is a very good thing.
Friday, April 27. 2007
Tuesday, April 24. 2007
From the Guardian:
Monday, March 5. 2007
The University of Utah has the coolest science animations ever. They have a section on drugs of abuse and their affect on the brain. This really piqued my interested because I once worked in a toxicology laboratory. Check out the Drugs of Abuse and Mouse Party animations to learn more about the effects of illicit drug use. Might want to pass these on to the teenager in your life.
Hat Tip: My Biotech Life
Saturday, March 3. 2007
In case you don't know who Craig Venter is, he is the man behind Celera, the company that was in a race with the Human Genome Project to be the first to sequence the entire human genome. Celera and the HGP declared a tie. Contrary to what you see on Heroes, Venter is one of a very few people who have had their DNA sequenced in the race for the entire human genetic code.
Wednesday, February 28. 2007
From Wired News:
Hat Tip: Bioethics.com
Monday, February 19. 2007
When we think cancer, most of us think cancer not something you can "catch." Actually, there is a virus, the human papilloma virus or HPV that is the leading cause of cervical cancer. And you guessed it, HPV is a sexually transmitted virus. It is estimated that over 6 million people contract HPV and close to 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the U.S. The annual pap smear is the first line of defense against HPV and cervical cancer.
But now there is a vaccine called Gardasil for HPV and there is much debate about whether or not to vaccinate girls against HPV. Some say that vaccinating girls against a sexually transmitted virus would promote promiscuity. I am of the mind that while my girls may not be sexually promiscous, their future husband just may be. So, I will likely vaccinate my girls.
In summary, the CMA thinks that the HPV vaccine is ethical. Just because HPV is sexually transmitted does not mean a vaccine against it is unethical. The CMA also states that certain conditions need to be met, including that the vaccine is not mandatory and that parents and minors are properly informed about risks and efficacy.
Monday, January 29. 2007
Nanotechnology will become the new great biotechnology challenge for mankind. What is nanotechnology? Nanotechnology is an umbrella term that is used to describe a variety of techniques to fabricate materials and devices on the nanoscale. That means that the materials are measured in nanometers (nm) or one billionth of a meter. To put that in perspective, the diameter of a DNA double helix is 2 nm.
You need to care about nanotechnology because it has great promise while at the same time poses great peril. The idea is that with nanotechnology we can create nanomachines that can repair our cells, clean up a dirty water supply, kill cancer or even boost our intelligence.
Nanotechnology could, of course be, used by terrorsits to deliver an attack of killing nanomachines invisible to the naked eye.
And of course there is the proposed scenario that self-replicating nanomachines could take over the environment and destroy everything. This would be the famous grey goo scenario.
How does nanotechnology relate to transhumanism, the movement to make humans "better than human" through enhancement? Well, transhumanists want to use nanotechnology to boost human abilites and make us more than human.
Nigel Cameron and George Dvorsky face off on nanotechnology and transhumanism at Belief.net. Dvorsky is a transhumanist that embraces the possibilites that nanotechnology may transform the human race and Cameron worries about abandoning the things that make us human.
Both Q&As are must reads. I want to point out that Dvorsky does what many people do when discussing technology that has great possibility to cure disease: he equates therapy with enhancement like they are the same thing. Cameron rightly points out that there is a difference between using nanotechnology to cure disease (therapy) and using it to make an already healthy individual "better than human" (enhancement.)
The Catholic Church would say that therapy is sound medicine if the dignity of the person is respected, and enhancement is an affront to the sanctity of human life and would always be unethical.
Friday, January 12. 2007
I found this at My Biotech Life and was thoroughly grossed out, then utterly fascinated. Researchers at the University of Utah are working on a molecular condom that will fight the transmission of AIDS:
At first, I was totally disgusted by this. As a Catholic, my knee-jerk reaction against the word "condom" made me overlook what this is really about. The site mentions nothing about the prevention of pregnancy, just a way to deliver anti-HIV drugs to the place they are needed the most:
I doubt that if the molecular condom turns to liquid upon intercourse that it would not be very effective as a contraceptive. HIV is carried in the semen, not the sperm.
As with most announcements in the biotech arena, I have to stop and think if this development is inherently good, bad or neither. In this case, after much thought, my sentiment is that the molecular condom against HIV could be a good thing. If it doesn't have any significant contraceptive action, then it may be a blessing for married couples where one partner is HIV positive. They could even have a child with a significantly lower risk of either the mother or baby contracting HIV.
Of course the molecular condom could promote promiscuity if used incorrectly, but so can a lot of things (like television). And in the case of widespread rape in some areas of Africa, it maybe the only way a woman could protect herself against HIV:
What is your opinion?
Monday, October 2. 2006
Remember the anthrax scare of 2001? The federal government was charged with quickly getting an anthrax vaccine in mass production. Things aren't going as well as planned. From the Washington Post:
Friday, September 8. 2006
I have never blogged about Terri Schiavo simply because her tragic death had more to do with the law and the culture of death than with biotechnology. Until I read this. From Wired Magazine:
Hat tip: Women's Bioethics Blog
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