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Living in the Biotech Century

News, Resources, and Commentary

October 12, 2007



Another biomedical “first”...


Blood Vessels Grown From Patient’s Skin




Potential Blood vessels from skin may help patients whose vessels are damaged and children whose vessels need to grow along with them.

“From a snippet of a patient’s skin, researchers have grown blood vessels in a laboratory and then implanted them to restore blood flow around the patient’s damaged arteries and veins.


“It is the first time blood vessels created entirely from a patient’s own tissues have been used for this purpose, the researchers report in the current issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.


“Cytograft Tissue Engineering of Novato, Calif., made the vessels, in a process that takes six to nine months. Because they are derived from patients’ own cells, they eliminate the need for antirejection drugs. And because they are devoid of any synthetic materials or scaffolding, they avoid complications from inflammatory reactions.


“Doctors in Argentina have performed the first human tests of the vessels on six patients, the team reported. Two additional implants have been performed since the report was submitted, said Dr. Todd N. McAllister of Cytograft....”


The New York Times – October 9, 2007 (free registration required)




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Ongoing ethical and legal problems in giving away California’s stem-cell billions...


California Stem-Cell Institute Takes Back $3 Million in Grants



“The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine is having more trouble than it may have expected giving away millions of dollars to stem-cell researchers.


“One grant application was withdrawn by the applicant, and one grant was rescinded by the agency, after investigations turned up information that made CIRM directors reconsider handing over more than $3 million.


“Critics say the agency’s secretive grant-approval process is at fault, and that a more open process would have found problems with the grant candidates sooner. But better late than never: They also say the results of the administrative reviews raise confidence in the agency’s integrity....”


Wired – October 5, 2007


Assessing the promises and perils of a new technology...


Small Scanners Could Spot Hidden Heart Disease


Coming soon to your doctor’s office: Pocket-size ultrasound devices



Image: Joan Anderson

Joan Anderson, center, a nurse practitioner, gets training using an ultrasound scanner.

“What if your doctor could swipe a wand over your neck and reveal whether you have hidden heart disease?


“That is now possible in places other than the sickbay of the starship Enterprise.


“Miniature ultrasound machines are starting to make their way into ordinary doctors’ offices, where they may someday be as common as stethoscopes and EKGs. A pocket-sized one weighing less than 2 pounds hit the market last week....


Early detection


“Is that a good thing...?”


Associated Press/MSNBC – October 9, 2007


Bots replacing bodies, as helpers, friends, pets, and members of the family...


Robots Take on Social Tasks



“Dominated by home-cleaning gadgets, the consumer robotics market is expanding with the arrival of ’bots that can spy inside your home when you’re away or arrange virtual meetings of family or friends.


“Robotics experts say gadgets introduced Thursday could usher more socially oriented robots into the U.S. market, though they bear little physical resemblance to humans or pets as robots embraced by consumers in Japan and South Korea do.


“‘As these kinds of devices mature in the years ahead, I expect them to gradually become more sophisticated in terms of providing gestures, object interaction such as picking things up, and eventually moving toward a more human shape,’ said James Kuffner, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute....”


AP/Google – September 27, 2007





“You don’t want to be invisible to your children while you’re away on business...”


ConnectR Robot to Replace Your Spouse



ConnectR on Table.JPG

Virtual Pa takes the corner seat.

“iRobot introduced two robots today. The first was the gutter-cleaning Looj. The second robot, ConnectR is a little machine looks like a Roomba. Instead of sweeping your floor, it has a camera and microphone. iRobot says that it ‘enables today’s busy families and individuals to be virtually in two places at once.’


“The ConnectR’s purpose is to scoot around, following your family, while a far-off parent or grandparent watches, hears, and chats with the family remotely.... [T]he ConnectR is controlled by a remote, or remotely via the internet. We would call it a spy bot, but it’s neither small nor subtle....” – September 27, 2007


Mainstreaming Transhumanist philosophy...The Templeton Research Lectures at Arizona State University...


Lecture Opens Talk on Future Technology’s Influence on Humans



“Artificial hearts. Kidney transplants. Mood-altering drugs. Gene-mapping. Robotic arms. In vitro fertilization.


“There’s no question about it. Scientists and medical researchers have come along way on the path to altering human life.


“But, according to Brad Allenby, we haven’t seen anything yet....


“Adults in 2007 have difficulty imagining the not-too-distant future when some scientists say that people will be able to download their intelligence on a computer, order a new set of lungs from the ‘organ store,’ manage battlefields from afar through the brain implants of soldiers, and genetically engineer people to see colors that no human being has ever seen.


“But Allenby says such ideas already are being worked on in research labs – and they will be part of the life experience of future generations, whether we like it or not....”


ASU News – October 3, 2007


Boomers are putting “old” on hold...


Replaceable You



“As the tail end of the enormous 78 million-member baby boom generation enters middle age, Americans are living longer and expecting to enjoy better fitness and health than previous generations. The human body can’t necessarily do at 50 what it did at 25, but when a part wears out from age or overuse or both, older Americans increasingly expect that it can be fixed or replaced.


“How does medicine try to keep pace with all these aging bodies...?”


The Washington Post – September 17, 2007


What does the fMRI really tell us about the awareness of unconscious persons?


The Light’s On, but Is Anybody Home?

by Robert Burton


An extraordinary brain study concludes that a woman in a vegetative state is aware of herself. It’s a dangerous claim that could throw families and physicians into turmoil.



Mind Reader

Salon reproduction of a collaborative work done by Cambridge neuroscientist Adrian Owen with the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre.

“In a recent article in the Archives of Neurology, a team of British and Belgian neuroscientists describe a clinically unconscious accident victim who can, on command, imagine herself playing tennis and walking around her house. By showing that her functional brain imaging studies (fMRI) are indistinguishable from those of healthy volunteers performing the same mental tasks, the researchers claim that the young woman’s fMRI ‘confirmed beyond any doubt that she was consciously aware of herself and her surroundings, and was willfully following instructions given to her, despite her diagnosis of a vegetative state.’


“Their extraordinary conclusions are beyond provocative; they raise profound questions about the very notion of consciousness. What’s more, they could throw thousands of families and doctors into utter turmoil. As with the Terri Schiavo controversy, patient advocacy groups, self-serving lawyers and politicians with personal agendas could use the study’s stamp of certainty as a given.


“Yet the study’s conclusions are not beyond a doubt. There are plenty of questions about whether this young woman is conscious and capable of choice....”


Salon – September 25, 2007


“Society should accommodate disabled children, rather than modify them to fit into society...”


Mother Defends Hysterectomy for Disabled Daughter


Campaigners say surgery raises ethical issues



“Disability rights campaigners yesterday criticised a mother’s request for her teenage daughter, who has severe cerebral palsy to have a hysterectomy.


“Alison Thorpe says the operation is in the best interests of her daughter, Katie, to spare her the monthly discomfort of menstruating. But the medical consent application being prepared on behalf of the 15-year-old from Billericay, Essex, has already proved controversial.


“A similar case in the US this year provoked an international outcry when a disabled patient - known as Ashley X - had a hysterectomy to stop menstruation and had her breast buds surgically removed....”


The Guardian – October 8, 2007


Editor’s Note:  For a very helpful discussion of the similar case of Ashley X, see Wesley J. Smith’s “An Ethically Unsound ‘Therapy’” in National Review Online.


Have attitudes really changed toward Downs children when “96-98% of all positive screenings end in termination”?


Children like Grace

by Jon Healey


Last month it emerged that the playwright Arthur Miller had put his newborn son, who had Down’s syndrome, into an institution. People were shocked, but back in the 60s that was the norm. Jon Henley talks to four generations of parents about how things have changed



“Fifty-five years and an awful lot of unhappiness separate the births of Gordon and Grace. When Gordon arrived in the world, at home in Willesden, London, in March 1951, no one said a word. ‘I knew at once,’ recalls his mother Jessica, who had three children already and a certificate in childcare to boot. ‘There was something about his eyes; something in his face. It was quite plain to see. Of course, no one mentioned it.’ It was six weeks before her baby son had his first official check-up: ‘The doctor looked at me. She said, “Not to worry, there are plenty of places for children like him.” And she said, “In any case, they don’t live long.”’


“When Grace was born, also at home, in a quiet west London suburb in May last year, there was ‘never any question, not for a moment, of us not keeping her’, says her mother, Jane. ‘I was in shock at first; I couldn’t imagine what our life was going to be like. It was hard. But it was a matter of weeks before I realised she was really just like her sister. Now she has home visits, health visits, physiotherapy, speech therapy. She’s making huge strides. She’ll go to the local playgroup and primary, we hope, and a mainstream secondary school. She’ll have friends. We have no reason not to think that she’ll have a long and happy life.’


“Hands were flung up in horror when it emerged last month that the great (and fiercely moral) American playwright Arthur Miller had fathered a son with Down’s syndrome, committed the boy, Daniel, to an institution in his early infancy, and declined either to see him or publicly acknowledge his existence for nearly 40 years....”


Guardian – October 4, 2007


Editor’s Note:  Numerous articles about the care of people with Down’s syndrome, such as this one in the Guardian, were provoked by the following article, “Arthur Miller’s Missing Act,” which appeared in the September issue of Vanity Fair.





The moralist who defended humanity—but who abandoned his own son...


Arthur Miller’s Missing Act

by Suzanna Andrews


For all the public drama of Arthur Miller’s career—his celebrated plays (including Death of a Salesman and The Crucible), his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, his social activism—one character was absent: the Down-syndrome child he deleted from his life.




“No photograph of him has ever been published, but those who know Daniel Miller say that he resembles his father. Some say it’s the nose, others the mischievous glimmer in the eyes when he smiles, but the most telling feature, the one that clearly identifies him as Arthur Miller’s son, is his high forehead and identically receding hairline. He is almost 41 now, but it’s impossible to say whether his father’s friends would notice the resemblance, because the few who have ever seen Daniel have not laid eyes on him since he was a week old. When his father died, in February 2005, he was not at the funeral that took place near Arthur Miller’s home, in Roxbury, Connecticut. Nor was he at the public memorial service that May, at Broadway’s Majestic Theatre, where hundreds of admirers gathered to pay homage to his father, who was, if not the greatest American playwright of the last century, then certainly the most famous. In the days after his death, at the age of 89, Arthur Miller was eulogized around the world. Newspaper obituaries and television commentators hailed his work—including those keystones of the American canon Death of a Salesman and The Crucible—and recalled his many moments in the public eye: his marriage to Marilyn Monroe; his courageous refusal, in 1956, to ‘name names’ before the House Un-American Activities Committee; his eloquent and active opposition to the Vietnam War; his work, as the international president of Pen, on behalf of oppressed writers around the world. The Denver Post called him ‘the moralist of the past American century,’ and The New York Times extolled his ‘fierce belief in man’s responsibility to his fellow man....’”


Vanity Fair – September 2007


Worth considering...


from Human Dignity and Public Bioethics

by Gilbert Meilaender



“It may be that we cannot make good sense of an egalitarian and non-comparative understanding of human dignity, to which our civilization has in many ways been committed, if we abstract it entirely from the context of the religious beliefs that formed it. That context is certainly apparent in the Declaration of Independence, upon which Lincoln relied when making his case, and it is worth articulating here. Suppose, as Kierkegaard puts it in Works of Love,


there are two artists and one of them says, ‘I have traveled much and seen much in the world, but I have sought in vain to find a person worth painting. I have found no face that was the perfect image of beauty to such a degree that I could decide to sketch it; in every face I have seen one or another little defect, and therefore I seek in vain.’ Would this be a sign that this artist is a great artist? The other artist, however, says, ‘Well, I do not actually profess to be an artist; I have not traveled abroad either but stay at home with the little circle of people who are closest to me, since I have not found one single face to be so insignificant or so faulted that I still could not discern a more beautiful side and discover something transfigured in it. That is why, without claiming to be an artist, I am happy in the art I practice and find it satisfying.’ Would this not be a sign that he is indeed the artist, he who by bringing a certain something with him found right on the spot what the well-traveled artist did not find anywhere in the world—perhaps because he did not bring a certain something with him! Therefore the second of the two would be the artist.


“The truth of equal human dignity may be, as the Declaration seems to suggest, self-evident (in the sense that this truth shines by its own light and cannot be derived from other more fundamental truths), but it is not obvious. Indeed, perhaps we will see it only insofar as we ‘bring a certain something’ with us when we look. And, for Kierkegaard, that ‘certain something’ is very specifically the neighbor-love that Christians are enjoined to show to every human being made in God’s image. I doubt, in fact, that there is any way to derive a belief in the equal worth of every human being from the ordinary distinctions in merit and excellence that we all use in some spheres of life; it is grounded, rather, not in our relation to each other but in our relation to God, from whom—to use a mathematical metaphor—we are equidistant. ‘The thought of God’s presence makes a person modest in relation to another person, because the presence of God makes the two essentially equal....’”


Gilbert Meilaender holds the Richard and Phyllis Duesenberg Chair in Theological Ethics at Valparaiso University and is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. This essay, which appeared in the Summer 2007 issue of The New Atlantis, is adapted from one that will appear in a forthcoming Council volume on human dignity.




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Copyright © 2007