Do you have a chronic health problem such as asthma, diabetes or arthritis? In the US, 125 million people (around 38% of the population) suffer from these types of diseases, and treating them takes up 78% of the healthcare budget. The figures are probably similar for other developed countries.
At the Faraday Institute summer course last month, the Oxford-based biologist Paul Fairchild explained that a significant proportion of chronic diseases could be treated by replacing just one of the patient’s cell types or tissues. The use of ‘stem cells’ is a rapidly growing area of research and medicine, but it also throws up some very significant ethical issues. Continue reading →
Nearly the whole of my research career took place in the present ‘golden age’ for the study of DNA, genes and genomes. At the end of the 1960s scientists had indicated how useful it would be to be able to isolate individual genes in order to study their structure and function. That wish was fulfilled in the spin-offs from the invention in the early 1970s, of genetic modification (genetic engineering), a scientific milestone that marked the start of this golden age.
By the end of the 20thcentury experiments were being done, that thirty years earlier were not even dreamed of. This was certainly true in my research group’s work on the biochemistry and genetics of DNA replication, giving us the real privilege of uncovering some of the beautifully complex and intricate mechanisms used by cells in ‘managing’ and copying their genetic material. Continue reading →
Scientists have had a remarkable technique available to them in the last few years. A new editing system called CRISPR-Cas (biologists like acronyms as much as anyone) has made it possible to accurately change the genetic code – like guiding a pair of scissors to exactly the right spot in a text.
This technology has been used to heal genetic disease in children, such as Daniel who suffered from Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome. Cells were taken from his bone marrow and cultured in the lab, the faulty genes were replaced, and the ‘healed’ cells were put back into his body. Daniel has not suffered from the severe asthma and inability to fight infections that afflicted his older brother, and he is now alive and well aged 18. Continue reading →
How will developments in AI and robotics change the way we think about what it means to be human? This was the question that Professor John Wyatt, a medical doctor with a long involvement the discussion about what it means to be human, asked in his lecture at the Faraday Institute summer course this month, which I’ll summarise here. Continue reading →
I remember touring an auto manufacturer several years ago in the United States. The whole factory was a wonder to behold. Tiny parts started on an assembly line that eventually became, at the end of the process, a completed car. Hundreds of workers added parts and pieces to an unfinished vehicle slowly over time until, eventually, it would become a complex functioning vehicle. A wheel in the wrong place or Continue reading →
Are ethical values real? According to Dr Louise Hickman, a philosopher and theologian from Newman University, this is the question that drove the ‘natural theology’ discussion in the centuries leading up to Darwin. Louise spoke about this topic at the Faraday Institute this summer, and I will summarise her lecture here in my own words.
Left to our own devices, said the natural theologians, people are capable of developing their own awareness of God and knowledge of him. This knowledge is entirely separate from any belief that God has revealed himself to people in any other way, such as God’s relationship with the people of Israel, or arriving on earth as the person of Jesus Christ. Continue reading →
At what point in human development can we recognise the presence of another person like us? It’s an age-old question which cannot be avoided, and I’ve been interested in the recent discussion about this on this blog. Each one of us comes to this question from a different perspective, so I would like to offer some reflections from the perspective of a baby doctor. As a neonatologist I have cared for many tiny and fragile babies, some as small as 22 weeks of gestation and weighing less than 500g. Continue reading →