Team:BGU Israel/Human Practice/Ethics


Marketing and False hopes

The ethical conflict occurred between our two major drives- the wish to spread the word of synthetic biology and the commitment to scientific integrity.

Synthetic Biology Ethics

New and advanced science fields like synbio always bring with it many ethical question regarding the treatments and methods it introduces and improves. When does innovation and advancement become more of a danger than a benefit?

Marketing and False hopes

A part of Human Practice as we see it is sharing knowledge and preparing the atmosphere for Synthetic Biology R & D. However, what if you raise the expectations from the research, too far from your actual progress?

This Ethical case is especially relevant for iGEM groups whose Human-Practice team doesn't necessarily have the proper background in life sciences. On the one hand stands the drive to spread the word of Synthetic Biology, to push forward, gain more publicity and more recognition. This encouraged us to praise our project and make it attractive for the interest of journalists and different business people. On the other hand, there is our commitment to scientific integrity, which is with no doubt a part of iGEM community's mission, to give accurate information and explain every capability and limitation.

We were very dedicated to share our vision and promote this project. In order to accomplish this, we released a video that reached tens of thousands of people; we have met many important figures such as the Mayor of Be'er-Sheva, the Israeli Minister of Health and Diabetes community's leaders. As our project developed, we discovered some people were beginning to gain hope on the success of our project. We got letters from patients proposing themselves for clinical trials, asking for information and searching for a solution to their medical condition.

Consulting our research team, we were confronted with the fact that before a medical treatment is approved for mass production, a long process must be done and it will take an extended period of time and hard work before our project will get there. With this understanding, we tried to adjust the information we publish to concur with the research's progress.

In order to deal with this ethical issue we set some basic guidelines: Honesty – always tell the facts as they are. Vision – the goal is to create an impact and inspire others even if the research doesn’t accomplishes actual results. In conclusion, we've faced a tough ethical obstacle and had to find our path to deal with it. We did this by balancing between our two major drives- the wish to spread the word of synthetic biology and the commitment to scientific integrity.

Synthetic Biology Ethics

With the progression of our project as we dived into the field of synthetic biology we became more and more aware not only of the scientific side of this new field but also to the ethical side of it. The advantages and benefits that Synbio can bring to humankind are obvious – developing new and advanced drugs, preserving and rehabilitating the environment, improving our industry capabilities and many more. Despite all of this, many questions arise regarding the dilemmas involved in this research field. starting with the definition of life and the meaning of creating and designing new syntactic life forms, the dangers of malicious use of these life forms or the standardized biological parts data base (Bioterrorism), amateurish or inexperienced use of open data sources and even how financial profit aspects influence the progress of research. We decided to take only one dilemma of the many, one that directly affect our research – the use of Gene Therapy - and explore the pros and cons of using it. .

Gene therapy is the use of DNA as a drug to treat disease by delivering therapeutic DNA into a patient's cells. In simple words it generally means substituting defective genes in a cell with the correct ones. Although the term gene therapy was first introduced back in the 1980s, the controversy about using this line of treatment still rages on today.

On the pro side, the most beneficial aspect of this treatment is the incredible therapeutic potential. For example, genetic disorders most obvious cure is replacing defective gene with the correct one and this is what gene therapy is all about. We also need to remember that this option allows us not only to cure one person, but eventually to get rid of the defect for good. It is especially meaningful for diseases that will otherwise result in death.

On the con side, arguments state that gene therapy can be used to enhance of modify human capabilities, a property that could be used for anything from sports achievements to developing the ultimate soldier, and in the hand of the wrong people who knows where the technology will take them. Another aspect is financial, given the use of new technologies, the treatment is expected to be expensive – will it become a wealthy people only kind of benefit and enhance even more the difference between rich and poor? Religious arguments mention that it is not our place to play god. More philosophical arguments state the meaning of having an unnatural part in the human body and will it still be considered human. Social claims state that the idea discriminates or invites discrimination against persons with disabilities.

All of those claims are even before we reach scientific issues – delivering DNA to cells other than target cells might cause unforeseen results, inserting the genes in desired place is a complex process, unknown effects of changing reproductive cells, involvement of the immune system in the process and many more implication that researches need to considered.

It is not a clear answer whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and as with many other things in life we find moderation to be the key word. We want to advance science and technology and use it for the good of mankind, but we also need to be aware of the public needs, think of how and should we try and answer them, and always ask ourselves if we might be creating more problems than we solve