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Topic: Stem Cell Research
August 3, 2012 | Posted By Ricki Lewis, PhD

On Sunday morning, July 21, I faced a room of people from families with Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), an inherited blindness caused by mutations in any of at least 18 genes. It was the final session of the Foundation for Retinal Research’s bi-annual LCA family conference, and I was there to discuss the history of gene therapy. But I zapped through that quickly, because the future is much more intriguing.

The excitement pervading the room that day was palpable, following a day of scientific updates, and not only because those with young children were soon to visit Sesame World and the sights of Philadelphia.


E
xome sequencing identified the rare mutation that causes Gavin Stevens’ hereditary blindness (Leber congenital amaurosis, or LCA). (Photo: Jennifer Stevens)

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.

May 29, 2012 | Posted By Ricki Lewis, PhD

 

Hannah Sames, here with her dog Ginger, awaits gene therapy. (photo: Dr. Wendy Josephs)

The pharmaceutical industry rightly calls the stage in drug development between basic research and clinical trials the “Valley of Death.” This is when a potential treatment that’s worked in mice, monkeys, and the like catapults to a phase 1 clinical trial to assess safety. It’s rare.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

 

December 1, 2011 | Posted By Ricki Lewis, PhD

We humans might not be able to regrow a leg, as can a cockroach or salamander, or regenerate a missing half, like a flatworm, but our organs can replenish themselves – thanks to stem cells. Two new reports about opposite ends of the respiratory system may pave the way for replacement breathing parts.

A 36-year-old grad student from Eritrea was facing certain death from a golf-ball-sized tumor obstructing his trachea and sending tentacles towards his bronchi, the paired tubes that lead into the lungs. He was saved with a “tailored bioartificial nanocomposite” replacement trachea seeded with his own bone marrow stem cells, reported in The Lancet.

Cancer of the trachea is often inoperable and rapidly fatal because even a ventilator can’t push air into the lungs. But the combination of a glass-like tube standing in for the natural cartilage plus the patient’s own stem cells lets biology take over. Extracellular matrix spread over the tube, new capillaries sprouted, and a coat of epithelium knitted itself. The man is now well and lived to see the birth of his child, thanks to the tissue engineers at the Karolinska Institute and the University of Iceland.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

November 7, 2011 | Posted By Ricki Lewis, PhD

Gene therapy is experiencing a renaissance, with many of the recent successes in children. For some conditions, the younger the child, the better the genetic correction, because affected tissues degenerate with time. This is the case for adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), the “Lorenzo’s Oil” disease that strips the insulation from brain neurons. One goal of the not-for-profit Stop ALD is to team gene therapy with newborn screening, to help boys before they begin to lose abilities. 

Should gene therapy be attempted even earlier? Before birth?

Fetal gene therapy is already being done in non-human animals, presumably in preparation for phase 1 clinical trials. Gene therapy is technically more challenging than inserting a shunt to drain a hydrocephalic brain or repairing an open spine, because it entails delivering gene-carrying viruses to affected cells and not anywhere else. It is fetal medicine on a different scale. 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

October 19, 2011 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Long ago, in embryology class, we learned about remarkable cells that were totipotent. These embryonic cells had the amazing ability to develop into any other type of cell and also, given the right conditions, to develop into an entire organism. In 1998 researchers announced they had isolated human embryonic cells and the arcane terms totipotent and pluripotent became firmly implanted in the public consciousness. The new ability to isolate and culture these cells launched a brand-new field of biomedicine — stem cell research.

The new field has engendered great hope for the potential development of treatments for deadly genetic diseases and severe chronic diseases such as cancer, stroke, and diabetes. The new field has also created bitter controversies that have raged between supporters and opponents of embryonic stem cell research.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

October 3, 2011 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Reproductive cloning has the potential to provide great happiness to many people around the world. When available, this newest assisted reproductive technology will enable infertile couples to have children to whom they are genetically related. RC will also be of significant benefit to many other couples and individuals. Those interested in reproductive cloning include many couples who do not have problems related to fertility.

Of course, none of this technology is available as yet. These are very early days regarding cloning research. It’s important to have wide-ranging discussions of the ethical concerns and implications of reproductive cloning well in advance of the development of the techniques themselves.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

September 22, 2011 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

If and when reproductive cloning becomes a reality, there will be plenty of takers. Many families would greatly benefit if cloning could eventually become an additional highly effective strategy for assisted reproduction.

Reproductive cloning would also be of great benefit for same-sex couples, as well as for those prospective parents who are at risk for transmitting a genetic disease.

The availability of reproductive cloning would completely change the landscape of assisted reproduction.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

September 2, 2011 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

The first human clone has not yet been born, but the fields of molecular biology and reproductive genetics are making rapid progress. Methods for cloning mammals have been available for more than a decade. Attempts to clone a primate utilizing these technologies have not yet been made, and it’s likely that human cloning will present even greater challenges. But the overall structure is in place.

This may be good news to some and bad news to others. Regardless, cloning is not a benign technology. Creating a clone may sidestep many genomic safeguards, resulting in novel permanent alterations to the human genetic code. If sufficient alterations accumulate over numerous generations, the evolving human genome may no longer accurately be called human.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

 

August 16, 2011 | Posted By Ricki Lewis, PhD

A new biomedical abbreviation debuted July 22, ACHM (for Animals Containing Human Material) in a report of the same name from the UK Academy of Medical Sciences. ACHM will soon replace, I hope, the phrase “humans and animals,” which implies to the taxonomically inclined that we are instead fungus, plant, or microbe. Even the editorial in Nature on the report notes “the distinction between humans and animals.”

Perhaps because I write college biology textbooks that treat Homo sapiens as any other animal species, I’ve long thought a new term necessary. “Non-human animal” is cumbersome. And so I was thrilled at the UK’s acknowledgement of our Kingdom membership, joining us to the others distinguished by our lack of cell walls. But I fear ACHM isn’t catchy enough, and may head straight into the abbreviation graveyard of RFLPs, SNPs, and iPS cells, none of which really caught on beyond the scientific community. Neither will ACHM work as an acronym; it sounds like a clearing of the throat.

Semantics aside, the report is important. It prepares the biomedical community for future use of animals in research that will increasingly include human material. Said Professor Martin Bobrow, chair of the working group, “Our report recommends … a national expert body, within the existing stringent system of animal research regulations, to provide specific advice on sensitive types of ACHM research.”

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

July 28, 2011 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Opponents of reproductive cloning fear that the resulting children will not be able to live fully independent lives. Opponents fear that these children’s choices will be constrained in numerous ways and assert that an open future — which is a right of every child — will never be possible for a child who is a clone. Reproductive cloning naysayers believe that the human rights of these children will be violated and therefore the process should be banned.

Various premises provide the background to these beliefs. Various mental constructs may significantly constrain the child's choices and development in ways that mitigate the possibility of an open future. In this regard, being a clone violates the child's rights as a human being.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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