Hot Topics: Genetics

Blog Posts (77)

July 14, 2016

Two more biomedical editorials about the cutting edge

1)      The new issue of Nature Biotechnology carries an erratic editorial complaining that “alarmist” responses to the recent announcement that a project to synthesize an entire human genome may be launched “missed the point.”  The editors say that worries about “synthetic life and secret meetings” missed the point.  The lesser goals of the project—more “nearfetched,” if you will—call for synthesizing long, sub-genomic stretches of DNA... // Read More »
June 10, 2016

Testing, testing: Prenatal genetic screening

The June 2016 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology includes a study of the conversations between patients and “Health Care Providers” about prenatal genetic screening (PGS). The objective of the study was to “assess how obstetric health care providers counsel patients regarding prenatal genetic screening and how these conversations influence patients’ screening decisions.” PGS refers to blood and ultrasound tests performed early in pregnancy to determine... // Read More »
June 9, 2016

Mitochondrial replacement boosterism

A new Viewpoint article (available for free, without a prescription) from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) asserts that the United States is acting too slowly to advance mitochondrial replacement techniques (MRTs), the so-called “3-parent baby” approach that would seek to prevent mitochondrial DNA disease, which is transmitted maternally.  The authors approve of the recent recommendations by the afore-named Institute of Medicine (IOM),... // Read More »
June 9, 2016

National Academies on Gene-Drives

Why would you read all the coverage of the National Academies Gene-Drives report when you could actually read the report itself? My thoughts will appear here later, after I've read the report itself.
June 2, 2016

Upcoming Update on Human Gene Editing

The American Society of Hematology (ASH) will hold a workshop on gene editing July 14-15, 2016 in Washington, D.C.   I regret I will not be able to attend, but interested parties may at least glean some information about the scope of the meeting by following the link to review the program. The information there is necessarily limited, but it looks like most of the presentations... // Read More »
June 1, 2016

Deliberating Over Ending Two Species When We Are Bringing Tens of Thousands to the Brink of Extinction

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

One of the first news articles I ever wrote in journalism was as an intern at Stanford Magazine.…

May 27, 2016

A Bump on the Road to “3-Parent Babies”

As described in my post of February 25, and at other times on this blog, efforts are proceeding to apply “mitochondrial replacement techniques” (MRTs) to prevent severe, maternally-inherited mitochondrial disease from being passed on to children of affected women.  MRTs involve attempting to put the nucleus of an egg or embryo from an affected woman into a cell or embryo from an unaffected mom, so... // Read More »
May 20, 2016

Roundup Ready® Humans

Everyone is familiar with Roundup®, arguably the most well-known of any herbicide in the world and my favorite gardening tool. What may be less well known is that Monsanto has created a line of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are resistant to their famous herbicide. Called Roundup Ready®, soybeans in this product line can essentially take a bath in Roundup and still grow up to... // Read More »
May 20, 2016

Fabricating Man

It has been reported that last week, a group of scientists met in a closed-door session at Harvard Medical School to discuss concrete steps and industry involvement to achieve the goal of synthesizing—creating in the laboratory—an entire human genome, and putting it into a cell, within 10 years.  Reportedly led by Harvard’s George Church, a leader and chief enthusiast of the technical prospects of genetic... // Read More »
May 16, 2016

Taking a ride down the slippery slope

Did you know: we can now make sperm from embryonic stem cells (in mice).  Not only can we create this sperm, but we can use it to successfully fertilize an egg and develop into a fully grown mouse.  And what is the role of bioethics in this scientific discovery, according to the article?  A brief mention of theoretical ethical issues relegated to the end of the news article that no one reads far enough to see, anyway.

 

Scientific advancements in reproduction have occurred at an unbelievable rate.  We not only have the ability to create sperm, but we can also create an embryo using three genetic donors, choose or reject embryos based on their genetic traits, such as sex, and correct genetic defects by essentially cutting and pasting healthy DNA sequences over defective ones.  Conversely, using such technology, we also have the potential to clone human beings, choose or reject embryos based on traits such as hair color or athletic ability, and irreversibly alter a germ cell line, potentially leading to unknown negative effects in later generations.

 

While breakthroughs in reproductive technologies have the potential to address issues as important and varied as male infertility, uterine factor infertility, mitochondrial disease, genetic defects and disease, and even artificial gestation, one wonders whether anyone is stopping to ask: to what end?  How will we use this technology?  What are the short- and long-term effects?  How might this technology be misused?  And, my personal favorite, when will we start to regulate how and when we tinker with biology at a genetic level?

 

Despite the promise of treatment or eradication of genetic diseases using this technology, there is still a persistent and very realistic fear that this technology will be misused.  Even worse, the misuse may become so common as to be considered acceptable, particularly in our profit-driven fertility industry.  Will the desire to prevent Huntington’s disease also lead to the desire to enhance intelligence?  Can we really resist the urge to create so-called designer babies, and should we accept that while some may win the genetic lottery, others will be able to afford to stack the deck?

 

Bioethicists are sometimes viewed as obstructionists on the path of progress, unnecessarily blocking scientists from discovering all that can be accomplished through science and medicine. (For an excellent rebuttal, read here).  But the very purpose of the vast and diverse field of bioethics is to identify and acknowledge the normative implications of scientific advances and engage in a dialogue that directly addresses the “should” in a world of “could.”  Hence, the age-old question that is often asked but rarely answered: just because we can do it, does it mean we should?

 

In the world of reproductive technologies and germline manipulation, perhaps the answer, sometimes, is no.

 

 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

 

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Published Articles (53)

AJOB Primary Research: Volume 7 Issue 3 - Jul 2016

Concerns about genetic testing for schizophrenia among young adults at clinical high risk for psychosis Ryan E. Lawrence, Phoebe Friesen, Gary Brucato, Ragy R. Girgis & Lisa Dixon

AJOB Primary Research: Volume 7 Issue 3 - Jul 2016

Clarifying ethical responsibilities in pediatric biobanking Merle Spriggs & Craig L. Fry

AJOB Primary Research: Volume 7 Issue 3 - Jul 2016

Lay attitudes toward trust, uncertainty, and the return of pediatric research results in biobanking John Lynch, Janelle Hines, Sarah Theodore & Monica Mitchell

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 12 - Dec 2015

Germline Manipulation and Our Future Worlds John Harris

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 12 - Dec 2015

Human Germline CRISPR-Cas Modification: Toward a Regulatory Framework Niklaus H. Evitt, Shamik Mascharak & Russ B. Altman

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 12 - Dec 2015

Engineering Values Into Genetic Engineering: A Proposed Analytic Framework for Scientific Social Responsibility Pamela L. Sankar & Mildred K. Cho

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 12 - Dec 2015

CRISPR Critters and CRISPR Cracks R. Alta Charo & Henry T. Greely

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 12 - Dec 2015

“Editing” Genes: A Case Study About How Language Matters in Bioethics Meaghan O'Keefe, Sarah Perrault, Jodi Halpern, Lisa Ikemoto, Mark Yarborough & UC North Bioethics Collaboratory for Life & Health Sciences

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 7 - Jul 2015

Looking for Trouble: Preventive Genomic Sequencing in the General Population and the Role of Patient Choice Gabriel Lázaro-Muñoz, John M. Conley, Arlene M. Davis, Marcia Van Riper, Rebecca L. Walker & Eric T. Juengst

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 7 - Jul 2015

Preventive Genomic Sequencing in the General Population: Do PGS Fly? Mildred K. Cho

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News (855)

July 11, 2016 8:09 am

Juno Halts Cancer Trial Using Gene-Altered Cells After 3 Deaths (New York Times)

Three patients in a study testing the use of genetically engineered cells as a treatment for cancer have died from swelling in the brain, dealing a setback to one of the most exciting pursuits in oncology.

June 24, 2016 8:00 am

First CRISPR Human Clinical Trial Gets a Green Light from the U.S. (Scientific American)

CRISPR, the genome-editing technology that has taken biomedical science by storm, is finally nearing human trials.

June 6, 2016 8:48 am

Families Isolated By Rare Genetic Conditions Find New Ways To Reach Out (NPR)

Shortly after Milo Lorentzen was born, nurses whisked him away to the neonatal intensive care unit for low blood sugar and jaundice. An exam then found a cluster of irregularities, including a cleft palate and a hole in his heart.

June 3, 2016 9:48 am

Scientists Announce HGP-Write, Project to Synthesize the Human Genome (New York Times)

Scientists on Thursday formally announced the start of a 10-year project aimed at vastly improving the ability to chemically manufacture DNA, with one of the goals being to synthetically create an entire human genome.

May 10, 2016 8:07 am

Researcher under fire for New Yorker epigenetics article (Nature)

A story about epigenetics in the 2 May issue of The New Yorker has been sharply criticized for inaccurately describing how genes are regulated. The article by Siddhartha Mukherjee — a physician, cancer researcher and award-winning author at Columbia University in New York — examines how environmental factors can change the activity of genes without altering the DNA sequence. Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois, posted two widely discussed blog posts calling the piece “superficial and misleading”, largely because it ignored key aspects of gene regulation.

April 12, 2016 8:00 am

How Do 'Genetic Superheroes' Overcome Their Bad DNA?

Scientists say they’ve figured out how to track down people they call “genetic superheroes.” These are people who remain healthy even though they were born with genetic mutations that would usually lead to devastating disorders. If enough of these people can be identified and studied, the researchers hope they could yield important new insights into the causes of many genetic disorders and possibly lead to new ways to prevent or treat them.

March 14, 2016 12:19 pm

When Gene Tests for Breast Cancer Reveal Grim Data but No Guidance

At a time when genetic testing and genetically personalized treatments forcancer are proliferating, buoyed by new resources like President Obama’s $215 million personalized medicine initiative, women with breast cancerare facing a frustrating reality: The genetic data is there, but in many cases, doctors do not know what to do with it.

March 14, 2016 12:18 pm

Screening for Alzheimer’s Gene Tests the Desire to Know

Marty and Matt Reiswig, two brothers in Denver, knew that Alzheimer’s disease ran in their family, but neither of them understood why. Then a cousin, Gary Reiswig, whom they barely knew, wrote a book about their family, “The Thousand Mile Stare.”

February 16, 2016 5:00 pm

How a bite of pizza led to an arrest in the Grim Sleeper serial killer case

For several years before the arrest, a group of detectives worked exclusively on identifying the Grim Sleeper killer, chasing lead after lead down dead ends. In 2010, they got a break: LAPD officials learned that a “familial search” of the DNA database by the California Department of Justice had come up with a convicted felon whose genetic blueprint indicated he was a close relative of the suspect.

February 15, 2016 10:31 am

In Embryo Research We Need Laws First, Then Science

The U.K. Human Fertilization & Embryology Authority (HFEA) decision to approve a study in which researchers will use CRISPR gene-editing technology to alter the genes of human embryos has created such a stir because it is the first such project approved for use in potentially viable human embryos.

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