Hot Topics: Genetics

Blog Posts (29)

November 21, 2014

Bioethics Exam

In keeping with the evaluation-obsessed spirit of the time, here is a little bioethics test. No multiple-choice fill-in-the-bubbles here, no simple true/false; but bioethics usually isn’t so simple, is it? So it’s OK if you don’t have a No. 2 pencil, you can still take today’s exam! _______________________ 1. The patient-physician relationship depends on trust, and close observation, and appreciating subtleties, and giving one’s full attention... // Read More »
October 3, 2014

Prenatal Genetic Testing, and Down Syndrome

Lots of people don’t understand prenatal genetic testing, including both patients and doctors. For instance, many people think that the BUN genetic ultrasound or the “Quad screen” or the prenatal AFP tests can tell whether or not a baby has a genetic anomaly (they can’t; they can only indicate whether a fetus has an increased risk for a genetic anomaly), or that the tests are... // Read More »
September 18, 2014

Genetic Testing For All: Is It Eugenics?

<p style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">In recent weeks, there’s been talk of three types of genetic testing transitioning from targeted populations to the general public: carrier screens for recessive diseases, tests for BRCA mutations, and non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) to spot extra chromosomes in fetuses from DNA in the maternal bloodstream.</p> <p style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">Are these efforts the leading edge of a new eugenics movement? It might appear that way, but I think not.</span></p> <p style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">When I began providing genetic counseling 30 years ago at CareNet, a large ob/gyn practice in Schenectady, NY, few patients were candidates for testing: pregnant women of “advanced maternal age” (35+), someone with a family history of a single-gene disorder or whose ethnic background was associated with higher prevalence of a specific inherited disease. Their risks justified the cost and potential dangers of the tests.</span></p> <p style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><strong style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">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 <a href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong></span></p>
September 11, 2014

Who’s Afraid of GMO?

<p style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">The answer, it seems, is quite a number of people. The question that we really need to address is why. Are these concerns rational, are they science based, should they provide the basis for public policy? People have been using selective breeding and hybridization techniques for thousands of years to alter the genetic makeup of both plant and animal agricultural products. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ecT2CaL7NA">Neil Tyson Degrasse</a> </span><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">made the point very clearly and effectively that almost nothing we grow agriculturally has been unchanged from the plants and animals living naturally. They have all been altered by the intentional action of human beings. Selective breeding, of course, has significant differences from what is currently characterized by the term genetic modification which is done using the techniques of molecular biology to insert genetic material. But they do establish the principle that most people are happy to eat food products which have been genetically altered by people. That sweet red apple you had for lunch or the fattened cattle which produced your juicy hamburger do not exist in nature.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">The techniques of genetic engineering which can be used to insert genetic material into the genome of a cell permitted the alteration of crops that resist pests requiring less use of pesticides. They allow selective herbicide resistance allowing the use of minimally toxic or nontoxic  herbicides as well as no till farming which diminishes erosion and reduces use of fossil fuels. They have also been able to use these techniques to add essential nutrients to address widespread dietary deficiencies. An example of this is the development of golden rice, the </span><a style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_rice">genetic modification of rice</a><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"> to produce vitamin A. These are good things.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 20px;">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 <a style="text-decoration: underline; color: #000099;" href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"> </span></p>
August 27, 2014

Update: How Ebola Kills

<p>Eman’s emails arrive hours ahead of the news here. He wrote on Sunday, August 17:</p> <p><em>“An Ebola quarantine site was attacked and looted. News is that most of the patients have escaped. This is going to put more fear into the population. All this because people are denying the virus.  More people might get exposed.  I’m so weak I can’t wake up this morning. Its 6:00 pm and I am still in bed listening to the news.  All this happened in a very populated area called West Point. Got pain all over my body. Keep me in your meditations.”</em></p> <p>Emmanuel is a medical student in <a href="http://blogs.plos.org/dnascience/2013/04/25/dna-day-and-world-malaria-day-the-sickle-cellmalaria-link-revisited/">Liberia</a> whom my husband and I have been supporting since he contacted me after reading my human genetics textbook in 2007. Until the fever hit him last weekend, he dedicated himself to “sensitization,” educating the public about how to stay safe. But now he’s too sick and weak to venture out.</p> <p>His email from Monday, August 18, said only <em>“Need help!”</em></p> <p style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 20px;">Ricki Lewis is the author of "<a style="text-decoration: underline; color: #000099;" href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Forever-Fix-Therapy-Saved/dp/0312681909">The Forever Fix: Gene Therapy and the Boy Who Saved It</a>," St. Martin's Press, March 2012.  To read more blogs from the author, please visit her site at <a style="text-decoration: underline; color: #000099;" href="http://www.rickilewis.com/">http://www.rickilewis.com</a>.</p> <p style="border: 0px; margin: 0px 0px 10px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; color: #333333; font-family: Georgia, 'Bitstream Charter', serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 20.296875px;"><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 20px;">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 <a style="text-decoration: underline; color: #000099;" href="http://www.amc.edu/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong></p>
June 14, 2014

Making Babies; the New “Normal”

Once upon a time in a fairy tale land that now seems far, far away, young people fell in love, got married, and started a family. But the idea of “starting a family” has taken on new meaning as pregnancy has come under the rubric of technological control. Increasingly, it is not about having children but about “making babies.” With the advent of technology and... // Read More »
June 12, 2014

Germline Alteration and Defining “Just Research”

Yesterday’s post by Steve Phillips raises a central question for us in the “biotech century”:  are there some sorts of experiments that fundamentally ought not be done because of the potential they will be grossly misapplied by bad actors?  Steve cited research by Lord Robert Winston seeking to create genetically altered pigs—that seem, from the description in the press, to be what scientists call “transgenic”... // Read More »
June 11, 2014

New method for genetic modification – genetic alteration of sperm

Germline genetic modification is a technique that some find intriguing and many find very concerning when its use is considered in humans. However there are uses of germline genetic modifications in animals that may impact humans in multiple ways. In an article in The Telegraph, British researcher Robert Winston talks about current research to develop animal organs (usually from pigs) that could be genetically modified... // Read More »
May 8, 2014

“Faking” Life?

Synthetic biology—loosely defined as the intersection of engineering and biology—is a burgeoning field with the potential to create or alter “non-naturally” occurring organisms using basic biomolecules, or similar molecules not found in living things as we encounter them.  A few years ago, Dr. Craig Venter’s group in San Diego synthesized the entire DNA of one species of mycobacterium on a lab bench, added some identifier... // Read More »
April 24, 2014

Last Week’s Stem Cell Cloning News

Readers of this blog probably saw last week’s report, as the NPR headline put it, that “First Embryonic Stem Cells Cloned from a Man’s Skin.”  I was able to read the full text of the online publication, by Cell Stem Cell, here. The stated goal of the work is to use somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) to clone an embryo that can then be used... // Read More »

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Published Articles (40)

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 14 Issue 11 - Nov 2014

Protecting Posted Genes: Social Networking and the Limits of GINA Sandra Soo-Jin Lee & Emily Borgelt

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 14 Issue 3 - Mar 2014

Addressing the Ethical Challenges in Genetic Testing and Sequencing of Children Ellen Wright Clayton, Laurence B. McCullough, Leslie G. Biesecker, Steven Joffe, Lainie Friedman Ross, Susan M. Wolf & For the Clinical Sequencing Exploratory Research (CSER) Consortium Pediatrics Working Group

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 14 Issue 3 - Mar 2014

Ethics and Empiricism in the Formation of Professional Guidelines Mildred K. Cho

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 13 Issue 10 - Oct 2013

Gender Eugenics? The Ethics of PGD for Intersex Conditions Robert Sparrow

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 13 Issue 10 - Oct 2013

Critically Appraising Prenatal Genetic Diagnosis to Prevent Disorders of Sexual Development: An Opportunity Missed Laurence B. McCullough

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 13 Issue 5 - May 2013

The Right to Know Your Genetic Parents: From Open-Identity Gamete Donation to Routine Paternity Testing An Ravelingien & Guido Pennings

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 13 Issue 2 - Feb 2013

Do Researchers Have an Obligation to Actively Look for Genetic Incidental Findings? Catherine Gliwa & Benjamin E. Berkman

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 13 Issue 2 - Feb 2013

What To Do With the Could-Be-Knowns of Genomic Medicine Richard R. Sharp

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 12 Issue 10 - Oct 2012

Review of Marion Danis, Emily Largent, David Wendler, Sara Chandros Hull, Seema Shah, Joseph Millum, Benjamin Berkman, and Christine Grady, Research Ethics Consultation: A Casebook Emily E. Anderson

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 12 Issue 4 - Apr 2012

Swabbing Students: Should Universities Be Allowed to Facilitate Educational DNA Testing? Shawneequa L. Callier

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News (787)

December 10, 2014 6:02 pm

Pfizer bets on gene therapy as technology comes of age

Pfizer Inc is moving into the gene therapy space in the latest sign that the technology for fixing faulty genes may finally be ready for prime time, following earlier setbacks.

December 4, 2014 3:21 pm

Scientists map genetic diversity of sub-Saharan Africa

Scientists have made the most comprehensive map yet of African genetic variation and say it should help them learn more about the role genes play in diseases such as malaria, hemorrhagic fever and hypertension in populations there.

December 1, 2014 3:22 pm

Exclusive: First gene therapy drug sets million-euro price record

The Western world’s first gene therapy drug is set to go on sale in Germany with a 1.1 million euro ($1.4 million) price tag, a new record for a medicine to treat a rare disease.

November 19, 2014 4:36 pm

Illumina teams with U.S. government, researchers to sequence Ebola

Gene sequencing equipment maker Illumina has teamed up with the U.S. government and academic researchers at the Broad Institute in Boston to train scientists in West Africa to improve tracking of how the Ebola virus is mutating in hopes of fighting it more effectively.

November 18, 2014 4:41 pm

EmTech: Illumina Says 228,000 Human Genomes Will Be Sequenced This Year

Henry Ford kept lowering the price of cars, and more people kept buying them. The San Diego–based gene sequencing company Illumina has been doing something similar with the tools needed to interpret the human genetic code.

November 13, 2014 4:12 pm

Newly Identified Gene Mutations Act Like A Lifetime Of Treatment With Merck Cholesterol Drug

A very large genetic study published in the New England Journal of Medicine offers compelling evidence in support of a central role for LDL cholesterol in coronary heart disease.

November 12, 2014 6:13 pm

Scientists scour the genomes of people who live past 110

How do some people live past 110 years old? Is it superior genes, clean living, good luck or some combination of those?

November 6, 2014 3:26 pm

Gene patent lawsuit aims to clear up confusion in Canada

Canadian courts have not yet ruled on whether genes can be patented. A lawsuit filed Monday over cardiac disorder Long QT aims to clear that up.

September 29, 2014 2:25 pm

If Synthetic Biology Lets Us Play God, We Need Rules

Synthetic biology has been called “genetic engineering on steroids.” It’s also been described as so difficult to pin down that five scientists would give you six different definitions.

September 29, 2014 2:24 pm

Finding Risks, Not Answers, in Gene Tests

Jennifer was 39 and perfectly healthy, but her grandmother had died young from breast cancer, so she decided to be tested for mutations in two genes known to increase risk for the disease.

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