On BioScience and Life and Such

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A Scientific Communications Manifesto

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2010 at 10:58 am

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We need to improve the trust in science and scientists. Steven Hill has a recipe for how.

A series of posts on Testing hypotheses…. lists 7 things that would improve trust in science and scientists. This list strikes me as containing all the essentials, and if I may, I’d like to propose that this list becomes the Scientific Communications Manifesto. Below you’ll find the list and links to all 7 posts. Please, go read, it’s probably some of the best few minutes ever spent (if you are a scientist, that is).

We need to get this message out and work for acceptance for taking these measures in the scientific community. If successful, public perception of the importance of science and what science is about may get a long needed overhaul.

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The slope is only slippery when dictated to be so

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2010 at 9:33 am

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Frankenstein's monster
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In a democracy, are there any reasons to fear the horror-scenarios of our biotech-future ?

I am listening three audiobooks by Dean Koontz. The books are called Frankenstein (apparently there’s no copyright on that name), and I bought them based on a recommendation from Mary Meets Dolly. In her blogpost she makes the point that the books are about transhumanism. Of this I am not so sure. The story is about how Frankenstein, still alive and going strong, is making enhanced humans to replace the existing, and in his eyes flawed, human race. Consequently, the story distinguishes itself from transhumanist thinking. Transhumanism is not about replacing anything and it is certainly not about diminishing the value of life. On the contrary, transhumanism is about valuing all life equally, even to the extent that entities harboring artificial intelligence is considered to have equal value to any biological life form. My self-declared transhumanist values gives anyone (and hopefully everyone) the right to enhance their own life as they wish. It is essential that a choice to do such enhancement is a free one. If these choices are forced, we are not talking about transhumanism anymore, we are talking about tyranny.

It struck me that all these scenarios of a future dominated by improved humans are all based on some crazy person dictating their view of “the correct human nature”. I wish someone would write a book on how genetic sorting and human improvements would play out in a modern democratic society with respect for individual rights and freedom of choice. Now that would be interesting to read. It would also give us a literary reference a lot more useful than the horror-scenarios everyone is using today, when discussing genetic engineering and human enhancement.

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Errors in ethics of genetic sorting

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2010 at 12:32 pm

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Six day old human embryo implanting
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The traditional ethical reasoning when it comes to embryo-sorting, is that sorting out embryos with a certain condition diminishes the value of those already born with this condition. Consequently, by this way of thinking, a selected embryo must have an increased value. The selection itself (the absence of a given condition) increases it’s value over any other embryo in the pool of embryo-candidates.

Using the following arguments one can see how this is a logical error.

All human life is valued equally, must have equal rights and must be paid equal respect. This is regardless of how it was made (sons of bitches are as valuable as sons of kings) – these concepts are straightforward, uncontroversial and commonly held by enlightened people.

It follows that the process of sorting is irrelevant to the value of the selected embryo. The human that is born has equal value to any other human, not more – not less.

How then, can this human born out of selection in any way influence the value of anyone else ?

Answer is: he cannot and he does not.

Sorting is not a process that creates or changes value. Not for humans, not for animals, not for any object. The value is assigned later and is usually set by arbitrary or fixed rules. Gold is worth more than silver due to scarcity, a race horse is worth more than a donkey due to the size of potential revenues. Nature does the sorting of humans (decides which individuals who will mate and when they mate, decides whether the fertilized egg will implant and so on..). We have striven to assign equal value to any and all life that is born, even if it is sorted by nature’s sometimes chaotic set of rules. We have reached the point where all civilized people agree upon equal value for all.

Us taking charge in the sorting process does not change that. Sorting is consequently not unethical in terms of human value. Sorting only becomes unethical if it becomes mandatory by rules set by others than the parent(s). The right to say no to sorting is vital. If the right to say no is respected, then embryo sorting is ethically uncomplicated.

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New years resolution: Respect anti-vaccers, believe it or not

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2009 at 10:08 pm

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I get mad at anti-vaccers. I get frustrated with extreme conservatives and overly religious people. Not necessarily because of their beliefs, but because of what their beliefs lead them to – like anti-abortion, anti-stem cell research and, in general, anti-technology and anti-science.

But, from now on, I’ll stop getting mad, and I’ll welcome my frustrations. I just realized that I need to take the consequences from advocating the right to say “no” to technology. I believe the right to say “no” or more importantly, accept this “no” as just as fair and worthy a choice as “yes”, is the only way to protect ourselves from the perils of technology, be they merely ethical or plain deadly. My motto has long been, and still is: Equal rights for tech-denialists.

Why I realized ? I read two H+ magazine columns, one on correcting color blindness and one in athletic enhancement, both predicting the imminent arrival of the slippery slope genetic sorting future. A slippery slope I have done much thinking on myself, and now some re-thinking.

I very strongly believe that the only way to avoid the pitfalls at the end of the slippery slope is by giving everyone the irrefutable right to refuse to use all or any technological (including biomedical) advancement. And then to respect their choice. Only by giving equal rights to naysayers and tech-proponents will you avoid that any potentially society-threatening technology becomes pervasive and/or all-dominant. There will always be “anti-vaccers” to any new technology, and if the technology proves dangerous, they will, like it or not, become humanity’s saviors.

The consequence is that I need to accept the existence of anti-vaccers, I even need to respect their personal choice.

This does not mean that I will stop arguing my own beliefs, nor should anyone else. I still think the anti-vaccers are crazy, no offense !, and achieves only evil by allowing all but eradicated diseases to re-emerge. But, it means that I need to argue from a respectful perspective. Respectful because the principle of “the right to say no” is more important than any single cause, regardless how worthy.

Let this be my new-years resolution.

2 year anniversary :-)

In Uncategorized on December 7, 2009 at 2:29 pm
Happy Birthday album cover
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BIOpinionated is two years old today (7/12 2009). Will keep going !

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Calculating your health predictions

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2009 at 3:01 pm

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Casio COLLEGE FX-100 Pocket Calculator
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In our lab we’re setting up the PCA3-test designed to aid prostate cancer diagnostics. The test is representative of many emerging diagnostic tests in that it is a) a supplement to existing testing and b) useful only in a subset of conditions.

The PCA3-test complements results from digital rectal examination, PSA tests,  and prostate biopsies. Three tests that until recently have constituted the cornerstones of prostate cancer screening and diagnostics. The relationship between the results from these tests is dynamic and interpretation of test results is often complicated, sometimes very confusing and can, in the worst case, be very uncertain. Add the gene expression results from the PCA3-test and you have  a lot of valuable information, but a tough time filtering it into useful clinical information.

Physicians will learn how to combine the information either in med-school or in update learning courses later in their career. A slow and sometimes insufficient way to convey diagnostic information to the clinic, treating physician and ultimately, the patient.

Thankfully, we live in the information age and medicine 2.0 is well underway. Now the doctor or the patient can separately or together get online assistance in interpreting prostate cancer test-results. Well designed and user-friendly calculators like the “Risk of Biopsy Detectable Prostate Cancer” calculator or prostatecancer-riskcalculator.com (professional use) will help anyone undertand and begin to interpret lab-results. A big step forward in my opinion since information flow becomes quick and targeted.

Such calculators have also been made available for cancer risk prediction:  nomograms.org, for Marevan/Warfarin dosing: Warfarindosing.org, and as demonstrated in a previous post, for Testosterone: Testosterone.

There are probably a lot of calculators out there that I haven’t found yet and it’s highly likely that many more will be developed.

It seems clear to me that interpretation of clinical lab-results may not remain entirely in the physician domain much longer. Hopefully such automated interpretation will lead to patient empowerment and make  deciding on clinical action an easier task.

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Quote of the month November 09

In Uncategorized on November 26, 2009 at 9:32 am

It is a sad truth, but we have lost the faculty of giving lovely names to things. Names are everything. I never quarrel with actions. My one quarrel is with words….The man who could call a spade a spade should be compelled to use one. It is the only thing he is fit for.

Oscar Wilde, Irish playwright, poet, and novelist, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890

Swine flu. A family history

In Uncategorized on November 20, 2009 at 11:30 am

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Swine flu
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Here’s how the flu season has played out in my own family (parents (38 and 40) and three kids, a daughter 10 years old, and twin boys  6 years old). I’ve added a couple of references for comparison with public health recommendations and published swine-flu info.

Late August 09: The boys were coughing and had slight fever, our daughter was coughing only. One son, the daughter and the father (me) tested positive for fluA, but negative for SwineFlu. At this time the public health information available said that only SwineFlu was going around since “Any widespread influenza activity in August is uncommon.” (ref). Clearly not in our family though – we had seasonal flu of some sort.

Late September 09: Our daughter gets high fever and headache. I felt scruffy, but did not have any fever. None of us were tested since we were abroad on holiday. We, gave our daughter Tamiflu®, since symptoms suggested possible SwineFlu infection.

Early November 09: One of the boys gets Swine flu vaccinated since he is in one of the risk groups (asthma). I get vaccinated for seasonal flu.

Mid November 09: The other boy gets high fever and headache. He is given Tamiflu®. He is later tested positive for SwineFlu. I tested negative. The rest of the family was not tested since they had no symptoms.

Late November 09: Our daughter is scheduled for SwineFlu vaccination.

This fall our family has had influenza two times, possibly three. We had seasonal flu first and this at a time where seasonal flu is not expected to be common. This infection had very mild symptoms in my family. Two of us then had more severe flu symptoms a month later, but this infection was not confirmed by testing. Some weeks later one of us gets a confirmed SwineFlu infection while the rest of the family apparently escapes disease.

One should not draw epidemiological conclusions based on results from one family, but nevertheless, working in a diagnostic lab being able to test so often has been an interesting experience. If i may, I’d like to speculate a little bit:

1. Seasonal flu may not be as “seasonal” as we think since seasonal flu can give very mild symptoms and remain undiagnosed.

2. Vaccination has worked fine in our family since the vaccinated boy did not get infected through his brother.

3. Seasonal flu does not protect against SwineFlu in children (same boy tested positive for seasonal flu and later on SwineFlu), but may protect against SwineFlu in adults. This is supported by a recent NEJM publication.

4. Following infections longitudinally could give valuable insight into the epidemiology of influenza and other seasonal viral infections.

5. Frequent testing reduces worrying to a minimum. While I realize that I am subjective since I have my own laboratory to develop tests in (and run them as often as I want), I strongly recommend that such frequent testing be performed for everyone.

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The Testosterone Project II

In Uncategorized on November 10, 2009 at 2:58 pm

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A vial of the injectable anabolic steroid, dep...
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Previous post in series: The Testosterone project.

Recap: Project Testosterone is my main project aimed at alleviating  mature age growing pains.

Plan is as follows:

  1. Test my testosterone levels.
    – Done. Twice now. Turns out I’m still at the low end of the normal spectrum. This second time I also measured Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) to get an accurate measure of Bioavailable Testosterone. Detailed results were: Testosterone – 8,1 nmol/L (normal level 8-35 nmol/L), SHBG – 12,6 (normal level 8-60 nmol/L), Bioavailable Testosterone (calculated from here) – 10,20 nmol/L (normal level 3,85-13,67 nmol/L).
  2. If low (and yes it feels low, even if it is within the normal spectrum, it’s my manliness we’re talking about after all), then learn more.
    – Done, but will continue reading about this.
  3. If not to scary, find out how to get a hold of it.
    – Have gone to see a gullible physician, but was turned down because I was in the normal range. Plan was to measure a second time to see if values were lower and then go back, but it seems values are reasonably stable. Legally prescribed testosterone plan scrapped. Next: probe the illegal substance market.
  4. If not too illegal, then get some. Topic for next blog post.
  5. Try low doses. Future posts.
  6. If adverse events acceptable, continue and report effects continously on blog.
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Thoughts on H+

In Uncategorized on November 5, 2009 at 2:38 pm

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The last H+ magazine is full of articles telling us that we’ll soon rid ourselves of various body parts, mood swings and even the physical acts of sexual relations. I am still a transhumanist, but will have to distance myself from H+ if this continues because:

Bodies are nice – I like them. Mood swings are nice – I like them too. Sex is also nice, and anticipation of physical sex can be even nicer. Probably because  constant and unhindered sexual interaction is unattainable. Consequently, such anticipations are major drivers of behavior. Messing with the availability of sex is not something one should do without caution.

Fellow transhumanists, please put some restraint on your desires to remove yourselves from the physical world. And, do not underestimate our biology – it isn’t always as bad as you’d think.