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05/20/2019 - 1:43pm

Dr. Susan Hockfield, the first female President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has written a beautiful and powerful book, “The Age of Living Machines,” articulating her vision of the merging of engineering and biology. This merger, she argues, has potential to lead to a scientific revolution that she believes will create the future. The ability to distill complicated concepts into concise, understandable prose, is a skill with limitless value, regardless of the subject matter. Dr. Hockfield is clearly a master in this art, and why should we be surprised that the past Provost of Yale and President of MIT would possess such skill and aplomb.

In her book, Dr. Hockfield, an accomplished biologist who was recruited early in her distinguished career by Nobel Laureate James Watson to the iconic Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, lays out the case for Convergence 2.0. This is, of course, the sequel to Convergence 1.0, the confluence of physics and engineering, which produced the electron and the information technology revolution, leading to breathtaking innovation that has altered virtually every aspect of human life.



Dr. Hockfield, brimming with optimism and hope, yet firmly grounded in scientific reality, tells us that the world is about to change again, arguing:

“Biology and engineering are converging in previously unimaginable ways, and this convergence could soon offer us solutions to some of our most significant and seemingly most intractable problems. We are about to enter an era of unprecedented innovation and prosperity, and the prospects for a better future could not be more exciting.”

Through the eyes and laboratories of five scientific geniuses, Dr. Hockfield gives the reader a glimpse into the potential to harness nature’s supremacy to build living machines. Virus-based batteries, protein-based water filters, nanoparticle-based cancer detection systems, brain-enabled prostheses, and computational-mediated selection of new crops illustrate the unlimited potential and possibilities associated with the merging of engineering and biology.

Much of this revolution is occurring at MIT and in Kendall Square, the epicenter of biotechnology. As the leader of Cambridge Science Corporation (CSC), I have the privilege to observe and participate in Convergence 2.0. I have the distinct pleasure to work in Lab Central, the world’s premier biotech-capable shared lab facility. As the CEO of Vivtex, CSC’s first investment, I have a “front row seat and uniform,” to one of the most fascinating developments in human history: The moment when man deciphers the code to how he is built. I couldn’t think of anything more enthralling or challenging. May you live in interesting times: Yes please and thank you.

Vivtex is commercializing transformative drug formulation and development technology developed at the world-famous Langer Lab in the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT. Dr. Langer is a central figure in both Dr. Hockfield’s book and the story of Convergence 2.0.  She describes him as an “inspiring” figure, “regarded as the most prolific biological engineer in the world, with over a thousand granted or pending patents, and the founder of more than twenty-five companies.”

Vivtex is Dr. Langer’s latest company, dedicated to developing technologies designed to deliver complex molecules called antisense oligonucleotides, which will bind directly to RNA intercepting damaged code. None of this would have been possible 30 years ago, for the simple fact that nobody understood the implications of messenger RNA at that time. Sidney Altman and Thomas Cech had yet to win the Nobel Prize.

“The Age of Living Machines” left me feeling more positive than ever that man will find ways to fix manmade problems. Politicians talk of incurable diseases, drone on about doom and coming catastrophes caused by global warming. But when offered the chance to back the scientists who believe they can solve these problems with their unbridled courage and genius – sadly they fall short.

In the last chapter, Dr. Hockfield points out the declining federal funding for important research. After peaking in the 1960s at 2% of GDP, federal investment in research and development has been on a steady decline in both inflation adjusted and percentage of GDP terms. It now stands dangerously and disgracefully below 1%. America needs to rethink our funding models for Translational Research, if we are to continue to be the preeminent player, or risk being reduced to observer status as Convergence 2.0 changes the world – without us. The implications of the United States ceding its leading position in the commercialization of technology in the 21st century will be broad and deep, carrying significant consequences well beyond this generation.

Philanthropy is an important early funder of research and development, but with an annual spend of less than $2.5 billion, the impact from this constituency is limited. The key is for-profit funding, which raises significant legal and ethical issues, but ones that must be, and can be dealt with. True long-term permanent capital must come into the Translational Research zone. Dr. Hockfield references a plan proposed by Larry Fink, the chairman and CEO of the investment group Blackrock. In order to encourage capital to flow into Convergence 2.0 opportunities, the government should offer tax benefits that grow proportionally with the length of time of an investment. We must also rethink our immigration policies, which are currently on a trajectory to make it difficult for US based research institutions to employ the necessary scientific talent.

As my friend Eric Lander, the CEO of the Broad Institute says, “The world is changed by people who are doing things that are too ambitious.”

But these ambitious revolutionaries, like all who came before, need money if they are to succeed in their quest to solve some of the most challenging problems we face. It is our responsibility – our moral obligation – to provide them with the necessary resources, to save us from ourselves.

The post The World is About to Change—Again appeared first on Bill of Health.

05/20/2019 - 11:09am

An Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo — the second-largest in history — is escalating in part because locals don’t trust health workers and government officials

05/20/2019 - 11:07am

"I felt like I was being attacked by this invisible enemy," Witt says. "It was nothing that I asked for, and I didn't even know how to battle it." So he channeled his frustration into music and art that depicted his pain. It was "a way I could express myself," he says. "It was liberating."

05/20/2019 - 11:03am

“There is very little data to justify how these drugs are being used and why they should be in the top 10 in sales,” a researcher said

05/20/2019 - 10:09am

The draft rules mean that anyone who manipulates human genes in adults or embryos is responsible for adverse outcomes

05/20/2019 - 8:35am

By Alicia Ely Yamin and Jonathan Chernoguz

To complement the Petrie-Flom Center’s annual conference this year, Consuming Genetics, the Global Health and Rights Project at Petrie-Flom (GHRP) convened a small meeting of feminists, students, and other activists. On May 16, Harvard University’s Global Health Education and Learning Incubator , which co-sponsors GHRP, hosted the forum in conjunction with Marcy Darnovsky and Katie Hasson of Center for Genetics and Society (CGS).

Focusing on “Gene Editing, Ethics, Rights and Health Equity Issues,” and in particular the irrevocability of germline gene editing, the meeting began with Marcy Darnovsky, Executive Director of CGS asking, “How might we begin the discussion from [the perspective of] human rights, feminism, equity, and social justice, rather than from the science and biotechnology?”

This question echoed some of those posed during the Consuming Genetics conference, for example, by Jonathan Kahn in interrogating the equivocation of social diversity and empirical diversity in genomic research. 

Indeed, we have a significant historical record of the use of genetics for human rights (as well as the specter of eugenics, of course). In Argentina, the brutal military dictatorship between 1976-84 hatched what has been called the “unprecedented and systematic plan to steal and sell the babies of its victims”. Dozens of young women who were alleged to be “subversives” gave birth in clandestine detention centers only to have their newborn children taken from them and adopted by military families to raise as their own. Genetic matching played a crucial role in enabling investigators to reunite over 120 of these children, or adults, much later, with their biological families. Here, it is important to note that the DNA was evidence of a stolen social identity—which in every individual reflected the broader societal identity that the military was attempting to erase from the nation.

Similarly, in the United States, we have seen the use of DNA in forensic settings to set free falsely accused/condemned individuals—often people of color—and thereby to hold up a mirror for the larger society regarding the baked-in racism of US society, which is embedded in our criminal justice system.

In both cases, the narrative of humanness in human rights is inexorably tied to the social order, which does not mean rejecting the importance of scientific progress, including the rapidly proliferating uses of genetic manipulation. Thus, for example, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities rejects biomedicine’s individualism that treats disability as individual defect in relation to “species-normality” and locates disability in the interaction between social structures and relations and an array of biological issues. It is when the biological body—or parts or cells (or parts of cells) of that body—are divorced from the location of a social being in race, gender, class relations, and indeed may be used to reaffirm social hierarchies in practice—that advocates for social justice become concerned.

The conversation at GHELI was inspired by the need for broader public awareness and understanding regarding the implications of the rapidly advancing yet distinct genetic technologies, from pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to mitochondrial replacement therapy to the possibilities and risks of gene editing in humans, as well as other species.

Among other things, we concluded that although there have been a great many calls for broader public discussion, and “genetic literacy,” it is not at all clear that those calls are referring to the same degree of meaningful public deliberation necessary to assess both the promises and perils of such biotechnologies. Both students and activists who participated came away wanting to become more engaged and delve more deeply into the intersections of genomics and social justice issues.


This post is part of a digital symposium hosted by Bill of Health in conjunction with the Petrie-Flom Center’s 2019 Annual Conference, “Consuming Genetics: Ethical and Legal Considerations of New Technologies.”

Read the rest of the symposium!


Jonathan Chernoguz is a contributing writer at the Center for Genetics and Society and a Master of Bioethics Student at the Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics.

The post How Might we Approach Discussions on the Implications of Using Genetic Data from a Human Rights or Social Justice Perspective? appeared first on Bill of Health.

05/20/2019 - 7:01am
With the approval of numerous appeals through multiple tribunals, a French medical team is now withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from Vincent Lambert over his parents' objections.
05/19/2019 - 3:07pm

by Daniel J Brauner, MD

Wait a minute! I made up the term DNE—Do Not ECMO—not because I thought we needed another RULE, but to motivate a cautionary tale about CPR that may help to avoid the order becoming necessary in the first place.

Cautionary Tale

Attention to the changing indications for resuscitation over its more than 200 year history reveals what in retrospect was a natural experiment performed by the American Medical Association (AMA). The AMA conceived of the Current Procedural Terminology or CPT in response to their fears about increasing government involvement with the medical enterprise.…

05/19/2019 - 12:53pm

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

I am a man writing about abortion. I am a bioethicist outraged that a bunch of JDeities believe they know more about medicine than doctors, and more about a woman’s body than a woman living in her body. I am a citizen incensed that a bunch of legislators are trying to force their narrow view of morality on a nation that has prided itself on freedom and individual liberty. I am a scholar petrified that these moves are intended to favor one religion over all others and to subjugate women to second class citizen status.…

05/20/2019 - 11:04pm

The main idea is that we most likely live in a “Fermi simulation”,

paradox via simulating possible global risks, or in a “Singularity...