SOUND OFF | The Bioethics of Biomedical Research

Biomedical research and engineering, genetics, biotech — these are all disciplines rising in popularity among research, academics and scientists, and with a similar goal in mind: they emphasize the use of multi-disciplinary teams to ensure quick “bench-to-bed” results which translate basic scientific research to the medical community and then to the patient. Yet these rising disciplines are gaining ground at such a fast pace that many scientists and physicians have begun to neglect an important aspect of translational research: the native and marginalized populations around the globe that are heavily involved in the medical research, yet rarely reap its benefits. The most illuminating examples of excruciating difficult ethical questions can be seen in the emerging study of the human gut microbiome. Researchers now believe  that this microbiome, composed of millions of diverse bacteria in the human gut, plays an integral but not yet fully understood role in human health. It may hold the key to understanding  a wide variety of chronic diseases, among them allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and most directly, obesity.


It’s the year 20-something-or-other. We’ve made contact with the aliens. We still call them “the aliens,” even though it’s quite possible they’re not the only aliens out there — even though we too, are space creatures, whether or not we choose to think of it that way — and even though “the aliens” has long been a conceptual colloquialism rather than a scientific label. (“Kind of like the word planet,” says Pluto.)

So, we’ve made contact with the aliens. They tried to dodge our calls.