Stem cells – Briefing paper

September 19, 2006

Stem cells are the subject of our most recent Bioethics Briefing paper.  Written by Prof John Bryant from Exeter University, the paper is intended to give background information on both the science and the ethics of stem cells.

Earlier Briefing papers on Ethics and Bioethics, Crop plants genetic modifications, Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis and Xenotransplantation can be reached via these links.  The Bioethics Briefings are hosted on the website of the Centre for Bioscience, Higher Education Academy.

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Recent developments in stem cell research – Podcast

September 15, 2006

This post is associated with a BioethicsBytes podcast on recent developments in stem cell research.  The episode focuses on two scientific papers published at the end of August 2006.  These are:

Klimanskaya I., Chung Y., Becker S., Lu S.J. and Lanza R. (2006) Human embryonic stem cell lines derived from single blastomeres Nature Eprint ahead of publication [PubMed]

Takahashi Y. and Yamanaka S. (2006) Induction of pluripotent stem cells from mouse embryonic and adult fibroblast cultures by defined factors Cell 126:663-676 [PubMed]

Reference is also made to an article from the Daily Mail:
MacRae F. (2006) Stem cells created without harming embryos Daily Mail August 23rd 2006 [link]


Xenotransplantation & Stem cells – Holby City

September 14, 2006

This episode is a bit of a bioethics-fest!  In addition to the xenotransplantation storyline started in the previous episode, there is also a discussion of the clinical use of stem cells, and some ethics of whether or not to honour a “do not resuscitate” order thrown in for good measure.  Several sections could prove useful for introducing xenotransplantation (6:30 to 7:40; 10:06 to 11:00; 29:14 to 30:28).  I think that the clip from 10 minutes into the episode is the most valuable discussion start; in a conversation between Abra and Mickie several of the main safety concerns are clearly expressed.  For more on the science and ethics of this procedure, see a Bioethics Briefing on Xenotransplantation that I wrote a couple of years ago.

Regarding stem cells, the best clip is from 22:13 to 23:30.  In this section, Gina (who is suffering from Motor Neuron Disease) discusses with her doctor whether or not she should fly to Singapore for injections of stem cells.  This is the sort of procedure that was also being discussed in Susan Watt’s excellent Newsnight investigation into experimental stem cell therapies (a streamed video can be reached from this link).


Euthanasia – Million Dollar Baby

September 13, 2006

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!)  I was really caught out by this film when I first saw it, so I hope I’m not ruining it for you with this entry.  Maggie, the female boxer played by Hilary Swank, suffers a serious accident and ends up in hospital.  She tries to persuade her coach Frankie (Clint Eastwood) to kill her and end her suffering.  To feel the full impact you really need to watch the whole, but that’s not really feasible in a teaching setting both because of the length of the movie and the violent content.  Try watching just the section where Maggie asks her coach to end her life.  This is about 1hr 45 into the film; a 3 minute clip could from that point be used as a discussion starter.  There is one verbal cross-reference in this section to “do[ing] what my daddy did for Axl” (her father put down the family dog, mentioned 1 min 14 into film) but this section still stand alone reasonably well.  Other potentially useful clips come with Frankie’s visit to his priest to discuss the situation and then a 2 minute clip starting at 1:58 where he administers a large dose of adrenalin to end Maggie’s life. 


Xenotransplantation – Holby City

September 8, 2006

 A recent episode of the medical drama Holby City has a 90 second clip that could prove a very nice introduction to the concept of xenotransplantation.  In the episode “Better the devil you know“, first broadcast on September 6th 2006 (Sept 7th in Scotland), a terminally ill man has to come to terms with the fact that he can no longer receive the kidney transplant he had been expecting.  Just at the end of the episode (starting 54 and a half minutes in), Dr Percival Durant (known as Abra, and played by Adrian Edmondson) tells the patient that he may be able to offer him a new solution and proceeds to give a very useable explanation of xenografts.  This could lead easily into a discussion of the scientific and ethical problems with a transplant of this type.  For those with access to the services of BUFVC, the TRILT identifier for the episode is 005BDB24.  The actual operation takes place in the next episode “Star maker (September 12th/13th).