Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, December 17, 2012

NOTE to Bioethics students

Amazon has the paper edition of Richard Powers' Generosity: An Enhancementone of our required texts, for just $6 ,& the e-book for $10. (There's also a terrific audio version at audible.com.) It's the last thing we'll read, in April. But you'll probably want to get a jump-start on it. It integrates many of the themes of our course, especially the question of species perfectability through genomic engineering.

I just joined Goodreads to post a little review in its support. 
I was already a Powers fan, when "Generosity" came along just in time for my "Future of Life" philosophy class (Gen1Gen2). It served our purposes well there, and I'm going to try it next semester in Bioethics. And then in Philosophy of Happiness. 

Those who like the more cerebral Powers but think this is comparatively conventional or mainstream may be missing levels of complexity that present themselves on second and third reading. My present focus, pedagogically, is on the crucial bioethical choices we'll be making in the near future that promise great or terrible consequences for what the Aussie humanist calls the future of "human nature." Powers does a great job of setting those problems & questions in motion, leaving us with a story still to be written. I'd love to see his sequel, and am even more curious to anticipate ours.

“But this is when the story is at its most desperate: when techne and sophia are still kin, when the distant climax is still ambiguous, the outcome a dead heat between salvation and ruin.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Playing Craig Venter

I recently read the first chapter of Craig Venter's autobiography. Had no idea he'd been such a hellion back in his youth, before he started to play Himself.

Monday, December 10, 2012

HIV vs. cancer

a promising treatment, but will it be affordable in the U.S.?
...Emma, then 6, was near death from leukemia. She had relapsed twice after chemotherapy, and doctors had run out of options.
Desperate to save her, her parents sought an experimental treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one that had never before been tried in a child, or in anyone with the type of leukemia Emma had. The experiment, in April, used a disabled form of the virus that causes AIDS to reprogram Emma’s immune system genetically to kill cancer cells.
The treatment very nearly killed her. But she emerged from it cancer-free, and about seven months later is still in complete remission. She is the first child and one of the first humans ever in whom new techniques have achieved a long-sought goal — giving a patient’s own immune system the lasting ability to fight cancer...The Pennsylvania researchers said they were surprised to find any big drug company interested in their work, because a new batch of T-cells must be created for each patient — a far cry from the familiar commercial strategy of developing products like Viagra or cholesterol medicines, in which millions of people take the same drug.
But Mr. Hoppenot said Novartis was taking a different path with cancer drugs, looking for treatments that would have a big, unmistakable impact on a small number of patients. Such home-run drugs can be approved more quickly and efficiently, he said, with smaller studies than are needed for drugs with less obvious benefits.
“The economic model is totally acceptable,” Mr. Hoppenot said.
But such drugs tend to be extremely expensive. A prime example is the Novartis drug Gleevec, which won rapid approval in 2001 for use against certain types of leukemia and gastrointestinal tumors. It can cost more than $5,000 a month, depending on the dosage..." A Breakthrough Against Leukemia Using Altered T-Cells - NYTimes.com
Patenting a new drug helps finance its immense cost to develop -- but that same patent can put advanced treatments out of reach for sick people in developing nations, at deadly cost. Ellen 't Hoen talks about an elegant, working solution to the problem: the Medicines Patent Pool. TEDX

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tissue engineering

Each of our bodies is utterly unique, which is a lovely thought until it comes to treating an illness -- when every body reacts differently, often unpredictably, to standard treatment. Tissue engineer Nina Tandon talks about a possible solution: Using pluripotent stem cells to make personalized models of organs on which to test new drugs and treatments, and storing them on computer chips. (Call it extremely personalized medicine.) Nina Tandon studies ways to use electrical signals to grow artificial tissues for transplants and other therapies...
Nina Tandon: Could tissue engineering mean personalized medicine? | Video on TED.com