Rebecca Dresser on ‘The Week in Health Law’ Podcast

By Nicolas Terry and Frank Pasquale

Subscribe to TWIHL here!

twihl 5x5

This week features Professor Rebecca Dresser of Washington University. She is the author of Silent Partners: Human Subjects and Research Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2016) and When Science Offers Salvation: Patient Advocacy and Research Ethics (Oxford University Press, 2001), along with many other insightful articles on bioethics and law. Our discussion focused on Silent Partners, including Rebecca’s work’s relevance to current debates on research ethics and informed consent.

Rebecca is a past member of the President’s Council on Bioethics and National Institutes of Health Recombinant DNA Advisory Board. She is a prolific speaker and panelist at national and international symposia, conferences, and workshops on such topics as bioethics and cancer; advance treatment directives; stem cell research; biomedical research policy; and human cloning.

The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy. Subscribe at iTunes, listen at Stitcher Radio, Tunein and Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app. Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw

A New Day For Oversight Of Human Subjects Research

This new post by Holly F. Lynch appears on the Health Affairs Blog in a series stemming from the Fifth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event held at Harvard Law School on Monday, January 23, 2017.

On January 19, 2017—President Obama’s last day in office—the Federal Register published a Final Rule to amend the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, the set of regulations applicable to most human subjects research conducted or supported with federal funds, and more typically referred to as the “Common Rule.” This rule change had been a long time coming, with an Advance Notice of Proposed Rule Making (ANPRM) published in July 2011 and a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) published in September 2015. The seriousness of its impact on the research community, patients, and the public is evidenced by the more than 3,300 public comments submitted during the rulemaking process. So what changed?

First, it is important to understand where things stood. The Common Rule was initially adopted in 1991, with each relevant agency codifying the same set of regulations (the Department of Health and Human Service’s codification is found at 45 C.F.R. Part 46). The primary functions of the Common Rule are to require that research with human subjects be approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB) and that subjects provide informed consent to research participation, with some important exceptions on each front. (FDA has similar, but not identical requirements, for clinical investigations, which are now likely to be harmonized with the new Common Rule.) […]

Continue reading here.

REGISTER NOW (2/10)! Returning Results to Research Participants: A Health Policy and Bioethics Consortium

health-policy-and-bioethics-consortium-visixREGISTER NOW! Returning Results to Research Participants: A Health Policy and Bioethics Consortium

February 10, 2017 12:30 – 2:00 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East C (2036)
Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA

Register Now!

Clinical investigators, public health advocates, and IRBs have been struggling to develop appropriate policies on how to return results to patients involved in research studies. These results may come in a variety of forms, ranging from aggregated study results to individual results to incidental findings. Experts disagree over the optimal timing, how researchers should consider the burden that these results can place on patients, and whether there are circumstances in which certain findings should be withheld. Is clinical utility the appropriate standard, or does mere curiosity suffice to trigger disclosure obligations? How certain must the results be, and what if there is reason to believe that the results will be difficult for participants to understand – or cause them harm?  Two experts in the field of research law and ethics will join us to engage these and other questions, and help conceive a way to move forward in the best interests of patients and the medical research enterprise. Continue reading

MONDAY (1/23)! PFC’s 5th Annual Health Law Year in P/Review

The Fifth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium will feature leading experts discussing major developments during 2016 and what to watch out for in 2017. The discussion at this day-long event will cover hot topics in such areas as health policy under the new administration, regulatory issues in clinical research, law at the end-of-life, patient rights and advocacy, pharmaceutical policy, reproductive health, and public health law. Continue reading

Final Common Rule Revisions Just Published

This morning, the Federal Register posted for public inspection the final rule revising the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (AKA “The Common Rule”).  This has been a long, long road, beginning with an ANPRM in 2011 and a massive NPRM in 2015.  The agencies clearly wanted to slide this in before the administration change on Friday, but substantial uncertainty remains.

I’ve copied the preamble’s articulation of key changes – and key proposals that have been dropped – below the fold.  But I want to briefly address the “what now?” question.  The incoming Trump administration will have its hands full with ACA “repeal and something,” so it’s hard to imagine this regulatory change will be high on the priority list, especially with some of the most worrisome proposals having been nixed already.  But the Congressional Review Act provides Congress a streamlined process to eliminate new agency rules.  Under the Act, agencies must notify Congress of new regulations, triggering a 60 legislative day review period in which Congress can pass a resolution of disapproval for presidential signature (or veto).  So that’s a possibility here.

In addition, two bills have passed the House that could impact these regulations.  First, the Midnight Rules Relief Act would amend the Congressional Review Act to allow Congress to disapprove multiple rules at once.  In other words, Congress could pass a resolution of disapproval of ALL regulations that had been recently passed to get rid of them all in one fell swoop without individual consideration.  Second, the REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act, if passed, would require that “major” rules get a joint resolution of Congressional approval within 70 session days to take effect – “major” is defined as having an annual impact of $100M or more, a major increase in costs, or significant adverse effects on innovation.

Point being, don’t get too comfortable with the new rule just yet.  Key changes – and things that are staying the same – are listed below (from the Fed. Reg. notice).  And I’ll be presenting on these matters at Petrie-Flom’s upcoming conference, Health Law Year in P/Review, on Monday 1/23/17.

Continue reading

REGISTER NOW (1/23)! PFC’s 5th Annual Health Law Year in P/Review

The Fifth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium will feature leading experts discussing major developments during 2016 and what to watch out for in 2017. The discussion at this day-long event will cover hot topics in such areas as health policy under the new administration, regulatory issues in clinical research, law at the end-of-life, patient rights and advocacy, pharmaceutical policy, reproductive health, and public health law.

This year’s Health Law Year in P/Review is sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, Harvard Health Publications at Harvard Medical School, Health Affairs, the Hastings Center, the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) in the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund. 

Agenda

8:30 – 9:00am, Registration

A continental breakfast will be available.

9:00 – 9:05am, Welcome Remarks

  • I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center, Harvard Law School
  • Holly Fernandez Lynch, Executive Director, Petrie-Flom Center and Faculty, Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School

9:05 – 10:30am: The End of ObamaCare? Health Care Reform Under A New Administration

  • Joseph R. Antos, Wilson H. Taylor Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy, American Enterprise Institute
  • David Blumenthal, President, The Commonwealth Fund
  • Michael K. Gusmano, Research Scholar, The Hastings Center
  • John McDonough, Professor of the Practice of Public Health, Director of the Center for Executive and Continuing Professional Education, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Abigail R. Moncrieff, Associate Professor of Law and Peter Paul Career Development Professor, Boston University School of Law
  • Moderator: Einer Elhauge, Caroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Law and Founding Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center, Harvard Law School

10:30 – 10:45am, Break

10:45 – 11:10am, Precision Medicine Initiative/Cancer Moonshot

11:10 – 11:35am, Common Rule Update

  • Holly Fernandez Lynch, Executive Director, Petrie-Flom Center and Faculty, Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School

11:35am – 12:00pm, Clinical Trial Data Sharing

  • TBD, MRCT Center at Harvard

12:00 – 12:25pm, All-Payer Claims Databases

  • Gregory D. Curfman, Editor-in-Chief, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School

12:25 – 1:00pm, Lunch

Lunch will be provided.

1:00 – 1:25pm, Defining Death, Aid in Dying, and Family Rights

  • Paul Ford, Lecturer, Harvard Medical School, Winter 2017; Director, NeuroEthics Program, Cleveland Clinic; Director of Education, Department of Bioethics, Cleveland Clinic; Associate Professor, CCF Lerner College of Medicine of CWRU

1:25 – 1:50pm, Patient Advocacy, FDA, and Right to Try

  • Jerry Avorn, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

1:50 – 2:15pm, Drug Pricing and Cost

  • Ameet Sarpatwari, Instructor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital

2:15 – 2:40pm, Health IP

2:40 – 2:55pm, Break

2:55 – 3:20pm, Women’s Health

  • Aziza Ahmed, Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law

3:20 – 3:45pm, Reproductive Technology and Regulatory Oversight

  • I. Glenn Cohen, Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Petrie-Flom Center, Harvard Law School

3:45 – 4:10pm, Legal Responses to Zika

  • George Annas, William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Law, Bioethics & Human Rights, Boston University School of Public Health; Professor in the Boston University School of Medicine, and School of Law

4:10 – 4:35pm, Flint, Water Safety, and Public Health Infrastructure

  • Wendy Parmet, Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Law, Director of the Center for Health Policy and Law, and Associate Dean for Interdisciplinary Education and Research Support; Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, Northeastern University School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs

4:35 – 5:00pm, Concussion Litigation and Legislation in Sports

  • Christopher Deubert, Senior Law and Ethics Associate, Petrie-Flom Center Law and Ethics Initiative, Football Players Health Study at Harvard University

5:00pm, Adjourn

Learn More

How did our prognosticators do in predicting health law and policy developments they expected in 2016? Check out videos of all of the presentations at the 4th Annual Health Law Year in P/Review event, held in January 2016, and find out!

Register Now!

This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and registration is required. Register now!

Sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, Harvard Health Publications at Harvard Medical School, Health Affairs, the Hastings Center, the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) in the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund. 

REGISTER NOW (1/23)! PFC’s 5th Annual Health Law Year in P/Review

The Fifth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium will feature leading experts discussing major developments during 2016 and what to watch out for in 2017. The discussion at this day-long event will cover hot topics in such areas as health policy under the new administration, regulatory issues in clinical research, law at the end-of-life, patient rights and advocacy, pharmaceutical policy, reproductive health, and public health law. Continue reading

Patients in Research: What the Professionals Don’t Get

Guest Post by Rebecca Dresser

When scientists and doctors get together to talk about accelerating medical advances, someone inevitably brings up the need for more research subjects.  Not enough patients are participating in clinical trials, experts complain.  If more patients were part of medical studies, we could make more progress in treating disease and improving human lives.

Why do relatively few patients join studies?  The National Academy of Sciences and similar groups blame the problem on regulatory impediments and an inadequate supply of physician-researchers willing to ask patients to enroll in trials.  They want more funding to support physicians’ research efforts, and they want review committees like IRBs to streamline their work.

But these measures won’t be enough to fix the problem.  To really understand why patients don’t enroll in trials, and why many who do enroll drop out early, you have to ask them. I know, because I was one of the patients who turned down a trial.

Continue reading

TOMORROW (12/9)! Paying Research Participants: Ethical and Regulatory Parameters

Rolled up US paper banknote in a test tube rack representing the costs of medical research

Paying Research Participants: Ethical and Regulatory Parameters
December 9, 2016 8:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Milstein East ABC (2036), Wasserstein Hall
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Register for this event

Description

This symposium will bring together a variety of experts to discuss key ethical and legal questions regarding offers of payment to research participants. Panels will cover:

  • Why payment is offered to research participants
  • Regulatory parameters governing payment
  • Whether payment to research participants should be considered exceptional, compared to payment in other contexts
  • How offers of payment affect participants
  • How to define coercion and undue influence with regard to paying research participants
  • Which factors should be considered when evaluating proposed payments
  • The problem of low payment

This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required. Register now!

Working Agenda

Continue reading

REGISTER NOW (1/23/17)! PFC’s 5th Annual Health Law Year in P/Review

The Fifth Annual Health Law Year in P/Review symposium will feature leading experts discussing major developments during 2016 and what to watch out for in 2017. The discussion at this day-long event will cover hot topics in such areas as health policy under the new administration, regulatory issues in clinical research, law at the end-of-life, patient rights and advocacy, pharmaceutical policy, reproductive health, and public health law.

This year’s Health Law Year in P/Review is sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, Harvard Health Publications at Harvard Medical School, Health Affairs, the Hastings Center, the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) in the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund. 

Agenda Continue reading

The Precision Medicine Initiative and Access

By Leslie Francis

Persistent differences in participation in clinical trials by race and ethnicity are well known; for example, the 2015 Report of the Working Group on Precision Medicine (PMI) relies on statistics that only 5% of clinical trial participants are African-American and only 1% are Hispanic. A recently-launched website of the FDA, “Drug Trials Snapshots,” confirms this dismal picture.

Designed to “make demographic data more available and transparent,” and to “highlight whether there were any differences in the benefits and side effects among sex, race and age groups,” the website reveals instead an impressive lack of information. Reported on the website are 70 new drug approvals for 78 different indications. These data report only evidence about differences by the census categories for race (White, Black or African-American, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and Unknown). In nine of the reported trials data were considered sufficient to report detected differences in efficacy or side-effects in all racial categories, in two data were considered sufficient to report these differences for African-Americans and Asians, in seven data were considered sufficient to report these differences for Asians, and in two data were considered sufficient to report these differences only for African-Americans. No data are reported about ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, or other categories that might be important to the PMI and the benefits data about the planned cohort might bring. Continue reading

REGISTER NOW (12/9)! Paying Research Participants: Ethical and Regulatory Parameters

Rolled up US paper banknote in a test tube rack representing the costs of medical research

Paying Research Participants: Ethical and Regulatory Parameters
December 9, 2016 8:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Milstein East ABC (2036), Wasserstein Hall
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Register for this event

Description

This symposium will bring together a variety of experts to discuss key ethical and legal questions regarding offers of payment to research participants. Panels will cover:

  • Why payment is offered to research participants
  • Regulatory parameters governing payment
  • Whether payment to research participants should be considered exceptional, compared to payment in other contexts
  • How offers of payment affect participants
  • How to define coercion and undue influence with regard to paying research participants
  • Which factors should be considered when evaluating proposed payments
  • The problem of low payment

This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required. Register now!

Working Agenda

Continue reading

REGISTER NOW (12/9)! Paying Research Participants: Ethical and Regulatory Parameters

Rolled up US paper banknote in a test tube rack representing the costs of medical research

Paying Research Participants: Ethical and Regulatory Parameters
December 9, 2016 8:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Milstein East ABC (2036), Wasserstein Hall
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Register for this event

Description

This symposium will bring together a variety of experts to discuss key ethical and legal questions regarding offers of payment to research participants. Panels will cover:

  • Why payment is offered to research participants
  • Regulatory parameters governing payment
  • Whether payment to research participants should be considered exceptional, compared to payment in other contexts
  • How offers of payment affect participants
  • How to define coercion and undue influence with regard to paying research participants
  • Which factors should be considered when evaluating proposed payments
  • The problem of low payment

This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required. Register now!

Working Agenda

Continue reading

Initial Quick Thoughts on the Announcement of the Birth Through Mitochondrial Replacement in Mexico

The science media is abuzz about the birth of a child using mitochondrial replacement techniques in Mexico to Jordanian parents at the hands of NY Doctors. A few quick reactions (I am heading to this unrelated NAS/IOM Committee meeting tomorrow evening so may have some more thoughts when that settles down).

  • This is the first time this particular technique has been used to produce a live, but I am not sure from an ethical standpoint the arguments are all that different. That said, for those deeply interested in the more philosophical question of harm to children and the propriety of best interests argument in light of Parfit’s Non-Identity Problem (my take here and here) it may matter whether mitochondrial replacement is done through Pronuclear Transfer or Maternal Spindle Transfer as argued quite well here.
  • The fact that the doctors are from New York, the Patients are from Jordan, and the procedure took place in Mexico is not insignificant. This is a form of medical tourism, a topic I wrote a book on, most similar to cases of fertility and stem cell therapy tourism I cover in the latter half of the book. Absent making domestic prohibitions extraterritorial, something that I argue is permitted by international law and justified in some instances, there is very little that a home country can do about this. The going abroad is likely in part at least a function of some U.S. laws on the subject Eli Adashi and I wrote about for JAMA prohibiting FDA from considering approval of the technology.
  • As I wrote on this blog in February in relation to the IOM report “whatever the US policy in a world where medical tourism is possible and other countries adopt their own systems, so long as not everyone adopts the approach of the US some of these problems will manifest no matter what. So this is about harm reduction not harm avoidance.” This was a bit quicker than even I thought, but is not surprising. More generally if your concern about MRT is harm to offspring and transmission to future generations, people born elsewhere through the technology will inevitably enter the United States and/or marry, and procreate with U.S. citizens who themselves become U.S. citizens. To sound a bit X-Files about it “THEY WILL BE AMONG US!” This is a great example of the limits of unilateral regulation in a world of globalized health care.
  • Interesting that it was a male birth. This may be coincidence or in keeping with the IOM recommendation that only male embryos be transferred (to get rid of germ line transmission). Eli Adashi and I raised some ethical questions in Nature about whether that was an ethically problematic form of sex selection or not but in the reporting I have seen so far it has not been clear that they used only male embryos on purpose.
  • I wish we could stop calling it in the media “Three Parent IVF” or “Three Parent Reproduction.” That assumes the answer to what I think of as a subtle and interesting set of questions — is the mitochondrial donor a “parent” and what sense of the word do we mean.

More soon, I hope!

Bioethicist Art Caplan: Right-To-Try Laws For The Terminally Ill Are Bad Policy

A new piece by Bill of Health contributor Art Caplan in Forbes:

Nathan Nascimento thinks that right-to-try laws aimed at the terminally ill are sound public policy. He is wrong.

Mr. Nascimento’s commentary misrepresents the complexities of the drug development process and the issues surrounding granting access to experimental medicines before they have been fully tested.

The overarching issue, despite his rhetoric to the contrary, is that the safety and efficacy profile of a new medicine is not sufficiently understood until after the drug has completed at least a pivotal Phase 3 clinical trial.

The underlying principle of every clinical development program is to understand, via testing first for safety usually in a small number of patients afflicted with the target condition, and, subsequently, in increasing numbers of patients, the benefits as well as the risks of new medicines. Like it or not, this is a time-consuming, expensive, but appropriate and necessary process. []

Read the full post here.

Petrie-Flom seeks Harvard student RA for project on human subjects research

The PFC Logo-New-Horizontal_slidePetrie-Flom Center for Health Law and Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics seeks a part-time research assistant for a project with Harvard Catalyst (Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center) on challenges and innovation in human subjects research, addressing such issues as the regulatory and ethical aspects of research using electronic and online mediums, payment of research participants, models of community engagement and patient-centered research, and participant comprehension in informed consent. The work will initially involve 6-8 hours per week for 3 months. Applicants who have completed at least one year of a graduate program in law, health policy, or a related field are particularly encouraged to apply. Please contact Luke Gelinas, PhD, lgelinas@law.harvard.edu.

Social Media Use in Research Recruitment: A New Guidance Document from Petrie-Flom and Harvard Catalyst

stethoscope_computerImagine this scenario: you are a researcher conducting a clinical trial on a promising treatment for a rare but serious heart condition. Unfortunately, you are struggling to locate and enroll enough eligible participants and your study is at risk of not completing. Then you discover a Facebook support group for precisely the condition you are studying. The group is open: you do not need to be invited or to suffer from the condition to become a member—anyone can join. Here are the eligible participants you have been looking for!

But what are your obligations in approaching members of this group for recruitment? Would such recruitment be ethically advisable? Under what conditions? And what ethical norms apply when approaching sick and potentially vulnerable people for recruitment over social media? How should you (and the IRB) evaluate this type of activity from an ethical perspective?

Continue reading

NIH Announces Plans for new Rules for Funding Chimera Research (Human-Animal Mixtures)

As reported by Science, today the NIH announced plans to lift a preemptive year long moratorium on funding chimera research – that which mixes human and animal cells, often at the embryonic stage.

Here is a snippet from the Science article about the new proposed NIH process:

According to two notices released today, NIH is proposing to replace the moratorium with a new agency review process for certain chimera experiments. One type involves adding human stem cells to nonhuman vertebrate embryos through the gastrulation stage, when an embryo develops three distinct layers of cells that then give rise to different tissues and organs. The other category is studies that introduce human cells into the brains of postgastrulation mammals (except rodent studies, which won’t need extra review).

These proposed studies will go to an internal NIH steering committee of scientists, ethicists, and animal welfare experts that will consider factors such as the type of human cells, where they may wind up in the animal, and how the cells might change the animal’s behavior or appearance. The committee’s conclusions will then help NIH’s institutes decide whether to fund projects that have passed scientific peer review.

The devil will, of course, be in the details. It will be interesting to see how much NIH takes a more categorical approach as opposed to more case-by-case rule making like in the Institutional Review Board or ESCRO setting. Continue reading

National Academies Report Recommends Withdrawing the NPRM and Calls for a New Belmont Report

[Crossposted from Ampersand – The PRIM&R Blog]

By Elisa A. Hurley

On June 29, the National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering released Part 2 of their report, Optimizing the Nation’s Investment in Academic Research: A New Regulatory Framework for the 21st Century. The report, written by the Committee on Federal Research Regulations and Reporting Requirements in response to a Congressional request, examines the impact of regulations and policies governing federally funded academic research in the United States. Part 1, released in September 2015, concluded that the continued expansion of federal regulations is “diminishing the effectiveness of the U.S. research enterprise, and lowering the return on federal investment in basic and applied research by diverting investigators’ time and institutional resources away from research and toward administrative and compliance matters” (xii). It made specific recommendations to reduce regulatory burden, and also recommended the creation of a “public-private Research Policy Board to streamline research policies.”

Part 2 concludes the analysis of regulations governing federally funded research and includes, in Chapter 9, a critical examination of the ethical, legal, and regulatory framework for human subjects research. The chapter begins by acknowledging that the research landscape has changed dramatically since the publication nearly 40 years ago of the Belmont Report, which established the three basic principles that provide the ethical foundation for the conduct of human subjects research in the United States. Changes in research methodologies and technologies, including comparative effectiveness research, research on de-identified biospecimens, observational studies of large datasets, cluster randomized trials, and research in emergency settings—as well as longstanding questions about the applicability to social and behavioral research of rules written for the biomedical research context—raise challenging questions about how to apply and balance the Belmont principles of respect for persons, beneficence, and justice across much of today’s research enterprise. Continue reading

Trial by Fire: CRISPR takes the next step

CRISPR-Cas9 has drawn applause for being one of the biggest technological advancements in recent history, but it also raises important ethical issues. This technology, an efficient genome editing tool, is now taking its next big step: CRISPR might be going in for human trials for its potential use in fighting cancer (namely, by altering T-cells to treat cancer cells as “foreign bodies”). Trials have been proposed to be conducted at three sites over a period of two years. The Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) at the NIH gave its unanimous approval for these trials earlier this week. Now permissions from FDA and Institutional Review Boards remain before this becomes a reality.

Whether or not the studies will get that approval is uncertain. The RAC already expressed concerns about conflict of interest, and the ghosts of the trial involving Jesse Gelsinger 17 years ago at UPenn have resurfaced.  There are also important questions about risks, uncertainty, and informed consent from the research participants.

The scientific community and regulators have been wary of the gravity of the implications of genome editing. When a Chinese study involving gene editing in human embryos was submitted for publication, there was a hue and cry over whether journals should accept it, given ethical concerns. Currently, there is a moratorium on altering DNA that will subsequently pass on to new generations. Even when the CRISPR technology was approved for editing human embryos in the UK, it was mandated that embryos be destroyed within fourteen days.

Continue reading