Cancer, human cloning, embryonic stem cells, designer babies, and gene typing: Each of these research projects frequently appears on the front page of our newspapers. But how far along are we? And to what extent will research in those areas improve our lifestyles? Should some of those projects, such as editing the genes of newly fertilized human eggs to produce "designer babies", be pursued?
Cancer, for example, remains the second leading cause of death in the USA. Current research is focused on understanding the genetic changes that control normal cell growth and cell death. We will review screening exams that can detect some precancerous conditions and early-stage cancer. Our goal will be to assess the prospects for "cancer cures," and to discuss the issue of "who will pay for expensive treatment regimens?"
Very recently, methods have been devised for transferring genes from an adult mammal (e.g. sheep, mouse, dog, etc.) back into its eggs. Some of those "injected" eggs develop into normal adults. Hence, identical copies (clones) of some adult animals can now be made in large quantities, using laboratory techniques. Although these methods have not yet been used on humans, it is possible that they soon will. Once the techniques are perfected, we can expect to encounter duplicates, triplicates, or even dozens of copies of ourselves! The implications are profound: Should people be allowed to make copies of themselves? What should be done with the copies, which, due to experimental error, are defective? Will the copying process represent "eternal life"?
Embryonic stems cells, which display remarkable abilities to grow into "this or that" type of tissue, offer promise for organ replacement. But collecting true embryonic stem cells requires killing an embryo. Should we do it? The issues are complex, and require development of moral and ethical standards. However, can a culture that prides itself on diversity develop a consensus?
Gene typing and gene therapy represent pioneering research designed to recognize our "bad genes" (e.g., genes which cause diseases such as hemophilia) and correct them with copies of "good genes." Will those projects yield clinical applications? Who will be able to afford them?
During class, students will be provided with the necessary college-level "science background." Thus, the only course prerequisites are high school courses in biology and chemistry.
Catalog Information: COLL-S 105 FRESHMAN SEMINAR IN N & M