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Moreno to lead bioethics during presidential transition

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on November 18th, 2008

Jonathan Moreno

Jonathan Moreno has been appointed to the transition team of US President-elect Obama. Moreno, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting Professor at the University of Virginia, will lead the review of the President's Council on Bioethics. At the Center for American Progress, he has been a Senior Fellow, directed the Bioethics program, and been the editor of the Center's Science Progress website and magazine. Moreno serves on the East Coast Advisory Board of the Women's Bioethics Project, and in 2004 to 2005, he co-chaired a committee of the National Academies that drew up guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research [PDF].

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Bipartisan inquiry into California’s stem cell agency to hear from Jesse Reynolds

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on November 18th, 2008

Jesse Reynolds - CGS policy analyst, Biopolitical Times contributor, and one of the most knowledgeable and astute independent observers of California's stem cell program - will testify this Thursday to the Little Hoover Commission, a "bipartisan, independent state body that promotes efficiency and effectiveness in state programs."

The hearing is the first public session of the Commission's study of the state's $3 billion stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine [CIRM]. According to the Commission's executive director, Stuart Drown, the inquiry will "deal with issues of governance, transparency, accountability and the use of state bond funds."

The Little Hoover Commission decided to launch the study of CIRM following legislation authored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), who heads the state Senate Health Committee. The bill - which requested Little Hoover to study the CIRM - was passed overwhelmingly by the California legislature, but vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In addition to CGS's Reynolds, one other speaker, John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, represents a public interest organization. Also testifying Thursday [PDF] are CIRM Chair Robert Klein and President Alan Trounson, two representatives of institutions that have received CIRM grants (one of whom is also a member of the CIRM board of directors), and two law professors.

CIRM Chair Bob Klein has made it clear that he is unhappy about the Little Hoover Commission study. In September he told the San Diego Tribune that the Commission should "recognize the exhaustive reviews we've already been through." Responding to that remark, the California Stem Cell Report's David Jensen - the de facto journalistic monitor of the CIRM - penned a piece titled "Poppycock and CIRM" that opened, "The California stem cell agency generates a certain amount of nonsense from time to time."

Update (Nov. 21): Reynolds's prepared testimony is now online.

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Last Second Shot

Posted by Osagie Obasogie on November 17th, 2008

ESPN recently ran a web feature story and televised segment (Nov 17: now offline) on NBA All- Star forward Carlos Boozer and his son's struggle with sickle cell anemia. After months of trying to find a blood marrow donor to save Carmani's life, they tried an alternative route: having a pregnancy with genetically screened IVF embryos for the specific purpose of having a child that could produce cord blood that could treat Carmani's illness.

Savior siblings, or having a child only to save another child, raises numerous ethical questions. This except from the ESPN story captures many of them:

The second wave of guilt came hard and fast. CeCe had been so focused on finding a way to save Carmani that she'd never stopped to think about these babies. They weren't for her or for Carlos. She wasn't bringing them into the world out of love for them, or for what they might be or for who they might become. She was bringing them out of love for the suffering son she already had. She watched her abdomen grow and tried to feel for them. She couldn't picture them. Maybe there was no room in heart yet. Carmani was everything. Save Carmani. That was the mission.

Caruso and Darnovsky on Synthetic Biology

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on November 17th, 2008

The ETC Group's portrayal of synthetic biology

If you are doing some crash preparation to attend tonight's debate in San Francisco on synthetic biology with Drew Endy and Jim Thomas, here are two resources to help bring you up to speed.

Denise Caruso published a lengthy piece at Science Progress. There, she asks tough but reasonable questions about the lack of oversight of the emerging field, and offers a stepwise strategy to address them.

While there may be encyclopedic knowledge of the mechanics of electronic components and their interactions, clearly there remain far more questions than answers about the biological mechanisms that govern living organisms.

In fact, in many respects scientists know less today about these mechanisms than they did even just five years ago. As the NHGRI [.S. National Human Genome Research Institute] said at the release of the ENCODE [Encyclopedia of DNA Elements] report, scientists are now challenged “to rethink some long-held views” about genetic components and what they do. Given this scarcity of knowledge, can synthetic biologists truly claim to know enough about living, reproducing biological systems to design artificial organisms—and, more important, to reliably predict their behavior and effects once they have been released? Are the parallels they draw between electronic components and biological parts accurate, or even relevant?...

Rarely, if ever, has scientific discovery been so tightly coupled with proprietary commercial development, with so little time set aside for reflection and testing, so little consideration of results in the context of broader understanding, and so little independent review of research findings in anticipation of commercial release.

And on Friday, CGS's Marcy Darnovsky discussed the field with Prof. Ignacio Chapela of UC Berkeley on KPFA radio's Terra Verde show. You can download an MP3 of the show here, or stream it at KPFA's site.

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