Using Tissue Samples to Make Genetic Offspring after Death

By Yu-Chi Lyra Kuo

Last month, John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka were jointly awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize for Medicine for their research on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).  iPSCs are capturing the public imagination as embryonic stem cells did fifteen years ago, but without the controversy surrounding the destruction of embryos: iPSCs can be garnered instead from living somatic tissue of an organism at any point in its lifespan–even late adulthood.  Yamanaka’s research has shown that somatic cells can be “reprogrammed” to develop into any kind of cell–including an embryo–speaking to the vast research potential of iPSCs.

In light of the research potential of iPSCs, I wanted to highlight the results of a remarkable study (published last month) where scientists induced iPSCs from mice into primordial germ cell-like cells, and aggregated them with female somatic cells to create mature, germinal oocytes. The team was then able to show that these oocytes, after in vitro fertilization, yield fertile offspring. Essentially, the research team created viable mouse embryos from skin cells, and fertilized them using IVF to produce healthy mice, some of which have already produced offspring of their own.

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Twitter Round-Up: What Our Bloggers Are Tweeting About (10/28-11/3)

By Casey Thomson
[Ed. Note: Several of our bloggers are active on Twitter.  In a new feature, we’ll be posting some highlights of their tweets each week so you can stay in the know – or think about following them directly!]
  • Dan Vorhaus (@genomicslawyer) linked to Bloomberg’s article on the current underutilization of genetic tests for Lynch Syndrome, responsible for potentially 3% of all cases of colon cancer. Authors Langreth and Lauerman note that the lack of testing is but one example of the tendency to avoid such tests due to “doctors’ ignorance and financial disincentives.” (10/29)
  • Daniel Goldberg (@prof_goldberg) shared Iona Heath’s article on the problematic nature of current breast cancer screening awareness programs, discussing how women are not given enough information to decide if the potential treatments that follow are indeed worth the psychological devastation often invoked. (10/30)
  • Michelle Meyer (@MichelleNMeyer) retweeted an editorial on medical genetic paternalism. The post by Razib Khan discussed how physicians deciding whether to tell parents about unforeseen genetic test results of their children can be considered not only an act of malpractice, but also morally wrong. (10/30)
  • Einer Elhauge (@elhauge) linked to a new review of his acclaimed book, Obamacare On Trial by the National Law Review. (10/31)
  • Daniel Goldberg also tweeted a review by Boddice of Javier Moscoso’s new book, Pain: A Cultural History. (10/31)
  • Arthur Caplan (@ArthurCaplan) linked to news about China’s promised initiative to reduce the dependence on death row inmates for organs. A new national organ donation system, based on a system previously piloted by the Red Cross Society of China, could take effect as soon as early 2013. (11/2)
  • Arthur Caplan also posted on the Vatican’s announcement to hold its second “International Adult Stem Cell Conference,” revisiting this complicated issue. (11/2)
  • Arthur Caplan additionally linked to a report on the debate and complications regarding feeding tube use, as published by Krieger of Mercury News. (11/2)

PCSBI: Privacy and Progress in Whole Genome Sequencing

Yesterday, President Obama’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released its fifth report: Privacy and Progress in Whole Genome Sequencing.  I haven’t had a chance to digest it yet, but for now, just wanted to call it to everyone’s attention.  The gist seems to be privacy, privacy, privacy.

Here are the major recommendations, straight from the Commission’s “mouth”:

Recommendation 1.1
Funders of whole genome sequencing research; managers of research, clinical, and commercial databases; and policy makers should maintain or establish clear policies defining acceptable access to and permissible uses of whole genome sequence data. These policies should promote opportunities for models of data sharing by individuals who want to share their whole genome sequence data with clinicians, researchers, or others.

Recommendation 1.2
The Commission urges federal and state governments to ensure a consistent floor of privacy protections covering whole genome sequence data regardless of how they were obtained. These policies should protect individual privacy by prohibiting unauthorized whole genome sequencing without the consent of the individual from whom the sample came.

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TOMORROW: Glenn Cohen on Action Speaks! Diamond v. Chakrabarty

Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 3 at 5:30 pm, Bill of Health co-editor I. Glenn Cohen will participate in a live national broadcast on Actionspeaksradio.org regarding Diamond v. Chakrabarty, the 1980 case that first established the right to patent life.

For information on how to listen or attend the recording live in Providence, RI, click here. And for some background from Glenn on the case and current issues, click here and here.

“The New Normal” and Reproductive Technology and the Law

Inspired in part by attending the “Baby Markets Roundtable” (an annual gathering of reproductive technology and the law scholars) this week at Indiana Bloomington, I wanted to share a few thoughts on the new NBC television show The New Normal. The series is a sitcom that follows the lives of a gay male couple (David and Bryan) who decide to employ a surrogate (Goldie), who herself has a young child through a prior relationship (Shania). The last cast member that is part of the family is the Goldie’s fairly right-wing grandmother known as “Nana.”

First the good: This is one of the few portrayals of surrogacy on TV, period. With a few exceptions, usually surrogacy comes in as a plot-of-the-week on lawyer shows when something has gone wrong. Here is one of the few positive, normalizing, portrayals of surrogacy.

Now the not-so-good:

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To Tell or Not to Tell: Should Researchers Contact Anonymous Donors to Help Them?

By Cansu Canca

A recent New York Times article drew attention to an issue with increasing importance as technology develops. Gene samples collected under conditions of anonymity reveal more and more information that may be of crucial importance for the subjects or their relatives. Researchers feel a moral obligation to disclose these important findings, which may even be life-saving, to the subjects. Yet, the anonymity clause in the consent forms prevents them from doing so.

Whether or not researchers can or must disclose the information in spite of the anonymity clause mainly turns on two issues: the scope of the informed consent and the reach of the obligation for beneficence.

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