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Biomedical Science

The New Law on Admixed Embryos and the Genetic Heritage of the Living Kingdom

Scientists in the US recently created a fluorescent human embryo. This was achieved by inserting a gene for green fluorescent protein. This shows that it is possible to successfully transfer a gene from a non-human animal to a human and for that gene to express its function. Other animal studies have shown that such gene transfer is both safe and effective, creating super animals, such as mice with colour-vision derived from human genes transferred.

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Humane Evolution

Professor John Harris wonders Who’s afraid
of a synthetic human?
in the Times. He argues we should support
the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill because it will help us develop
effective therapies and enhance ourselves. Science is about bettering our lot,
after all. In particular, he says, synthetic biology may help us avoid going
extinct due to our vulnerabilities and instead enable us to choose (or become)
our successors as a species.

Many people become confused by the
possibility of a posthuman future. The traditional view of the future is a
stark one: either humanity extinct, or humans roughly as they are today. The
posthuman options would be that we either change ourselves so radically that
the resulting species is so  fundamentally different from humanity that we
would regard it as something entirely new, or that we create some kind of independent
beings that continue our culture even as traditional humanity retires from the
forefront (hopefully as proud parents of the new beings). The range of possible
options within these scenarios is endless, inviting equally endless and loud
speculation. That tends to distract from the key message of Harris’ essay: we
are leaving the realm of natural evolution and entering what he calls a realm
of enhancement evolution.

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The Ethics of ‘Human Admixed Embryos’: Concerns and Responses

By Loane Skene, Professor of Law, University of Melbourne and Julian Savulescu,  Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics and Director Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) Bill, currently before the UK Parliament, will, if passed, permit HFEA to license the creation for research of embryos that combine human and animal genetic material (called, in the Bill, ‘human admixed embryos’). These embryos include cybrids which are formed by inserting the nucleus of a human body cell into an animal egg that has had its nucleus removed. Cybrids would produce embryonic stem cells that are 99.9% human. The Bill would also permit other types of embryos to be formed from human and animal genetic material that would be up to half animal. This post explains why scientists want to create human admixed embryos. It then outlines some ethical concerns about the creation of these embryos and responses that may be made to those concerns.

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The Choice to Have Artificial Blood: Less than the Best?

Controversy has erupted around whether experiments to test artificial blood should stop. Experimental blood substitutes raised the risk of heart attack and death, yet U.S. regulators allowed human testing to continue despite warning signs, says a scathing new report.

Blood substitutes, or artificial blood, could be stored for years without refrigeration, and be used in battlefield situations. It would carry no risk risk of infection with hepatitis or HIV. It would be an acceptable alternative to Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse life saving blood transfusions.
In a new report, researchers pooled data from 16 separate studies of five different blood substitutes, involving over 3,700 patients. Researchers found a 30 percent higher risk of death overall for patients who received transfusions using the blood substitutes. The risk of heart attack was nearly tripled in the groups receiving blood substitutes.

“Experts speculate that hemoglobin in the blood substitutes scavenges nitric oxide from the blood, causing blood vessels to constrict and sticky platelets to build up. That increases the risk of heart attacks.”

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Do we own our bodies? Should we?

There was a sad story last week about a young woman who died unexpectedly at the age of 19.   She was on the organ donor register, and her own mother was on the waiting list for a kidney donation, but the mother was refused one of the kidneys.  Even the transplant coordinator was ‘crying her eyes out’, but there was apparently no escape.  Rules were rules.  Cadaveric donations must go impartially and anonymously to the most compatible people at the top of the waiting list, and the authorities decreed that these organs must go to three strangers – whose identity the mother will never even know.

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