Hot Topics: Genetics

Blog Posts (97)

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.