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Use of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cure Macular Degeneration


Introduction to the Global Issue

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss caused by the deterioration of the macula, the small center of the retina which allows you to see clearly. 11 million Americans are currently affected by macular degeneration and by 2020, a predicted 196 million people worldwide will be affected. There is currently no known treatment for the disease, which is often brought about by old age, and loss of vision/full blindness is usually the most common outcome. Browse the infographic below for an introduction to macular degeneration and the bioethics issue at hand: HPSC as a cure.

FYI-there will be an opportunity for you to interact and generate your own ideas, so be thinking about your own position! 🙂

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Assessing Controversy: Intro to the Field of Bioethics

Now that the issue has been introduced, we need to generate a set of bioethical questions surrounding what course of action we should take. Here are some possible questions for this topic: 1) Should HPSC be used as a treatment for MD? 2) Should people be able to decide whether or not they want to use HPSC as a treatment despite mainstream objections? 3) Should HPSC be used if it can have potentially harmful effects in the future?

Now, to address the questions: In the field of bioethics, there is a universal standard, though sometimes imperfect, in which we use to assess a case. These standards are called principles where a given course of action should align with as many principles as possible. The principles are also considered through the lenses of multiple perspectives so they can be weighed against one another. Take a look at the infographic below to learn more about the principles and how they apply to this case.

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Framing the Issue: A Broader Context

This fantastic Ted Talk by Susan Solomon covers some basics of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell research and its possible long-term benefits.

More about the uses of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Let’s Interact

Share your opinion and respond to others! In the Padlet below, let’s get a conversation going. What are your thoughts on using HPSC to cure macular degeneration? Do you think some principles “win” over the others, why? Try taking another perspective: What opposing viewpoint could you qualify and what principles could that viewpoint connect to?

Made with Padlet

Conclusions & My Opinion

I learned a lot over the course of this project. For me, I have had experience with losing my vision due to retinal detachments, so I very much understand how life-changing it is to gain back vision after you lose it. I also understand some of the ethical counterpoints to the use of HPSC as a cure, because it can have either good or bad long-term consequences. After my research, I personally believe that the ethical principles of autonomy and beneficence “win” for the pro side. If HPSC became a mainstream cure, it could have the potential to bring back the eyesight for millions, and I think that it is crucial that people have the choice to receive that treatment. No compromise is perfect, but I think a good start in using HPSC would be to generate a set of regulations which tackle informed consent for adult cell donors in order to promote transparency and prevent to misuse of HPSC. I recognize that the potential misuse of HPSC (in informed consent issues or cloning humans) can result in breaches of non maleficence and autonomy, but I think that if regulations were established earlier to combat issues of misuse, HPSC could become a valid cure. Lastly, with the idea of religious objections, I believe that autonomy prevails for both the pro and con side here. Those with religious objections should reserve the right to refuse HPSC treatment, and those in support should have the autonomy to undergo treatment. This way, everyone has a form of autonomy. Thanks for stopping by!

A Word From Me!

Link to Sources

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1FdkFeP0_cTLizUuKsn0naVV72WTNaA-_1_K7coY39lQ/edit?usp=sharing

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COMMENTS: 5
  1. April 26, 2019 by Erica

    Hi Anjali! I really loved the pros and cons element that you included! I really liked what you said at the end of how you acknowledge the religious viewpoints, but you think that those that want treatment should still be able to get it! How you believed that by allowing everyone to make their own decisions, everyone would be afforded a type of autonomy, was also really powerful. How would you create a set of regulations that promote informed consent? What do you think is specifically missing from the system/documents we use now?

    • April 29, 2019 by Anjali.Mirmira

      Hey Erica! Great question. In terms of informed consent, I think that the best regulations state the technology behind HPSC, the possible usages, and its risks. Since stem cells are always a debated subject, I think a proper set of regulations regarding informed consent are neutral, acknowledge the debate, and present the facts. As of now, there aren’t really many widely-used commercial therapies using stem cells, so this would be an opportunity to create a set of informed consent regulations from scratch.

  2. April 28, 2019 by Laura Reysz

    Hi Anjali! I love the way you present your ideas in light of the bioethics model. Stem cells have such possibilities in so many areas of health and it looks like, from your research, they would be useful for macular degeneration also. Excellent work and congratulations on your award!

    • April 29, 2019 by Anjali.Mirmira

      Thanks so much, Mrs. Reysz!

  3. April 30, 2019 by Aminah.Asghar

    Hey!
    Very interesting presentation and it was especially insightful to see both perspectives on the bioethical principles.

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