Life as an Extreme Sport

Coming Soon to a TV Near You: PharmaTV!

If you’re European and find yourself jealous of the many options pharma companies have for advertising in the United States, you will be happy to learn that

four of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies are proposing to launch a television station to tell the public about their drugs, amid strenuous lobbying across Europe by the industry for an end to restrictions aimed at protecting patients. Pharma TV would be a dedicated interactive digital channel funded by the industry with health news and features but, at its heart, would be detailed information from drug companies about their medicines.

Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Novartis and Procter & Gamble, are behind the pilot, which they are offering to the European commission as a way to give patients more information. The industry has been lobbying in Europe to be allowed direct access to patients. It argues that lifting restrictions would help its competitiveness and has hinted that companies may relocate to the US, where they can advertise to patients who then demand drugs from their doctors. Profits have soared there as a result.

Of course, pesky things like the detrimental effects to patients and the inaccurate information provided by pharmaceutical industry advertisements, playing down the risks and emphasizing the rewards, are all just part of the fun when proposing a self-regulating, on demand channel of 24/7 advertainment.

-Kelly Hills

Originally posted on the American Journal of Bioethics Editors Blog.

Robots Are a Soldier’s Best Friend

While we have written about a robot code of ethics, the Washington Post has an incredibly touching and illuminating story about soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan interacting bonding with their robots:

Humans have long displayed an uncanny ability to make emotional connections with their manufactured helpmates. Car owners for generations have named their vehicles. In “Cast Away,” Tom Hanks risks his life to save a volleyball named Wilson, who has become his best friend and confidant. Now that our creations display elements of intelligence, however, the bonds humans forge with their machines are even more impressive. Especially when humans credit their bots with saving their lives.

Ted Bogosh recalls one day in Camp Victory, near Baghdad, when he was a Marine master sergeant running the robot repair shop.

That day, an explosive ordnance disposal technician walked through his door. The EODs, as they are known, are the people who ”” with their robots ”” are charged with disabling Iraq’s most virulent scourge, the roadside improvised explosive device. In this fellow’s hands was a small box. It contained the remains of his robot. He had named it Scooby-Doo.

“There wasn’t a whole lot left of Scooby,” Bogosh says. The biggest piece was its 3-by-3-by-4-inch head, containing its video camera. On the side had been painted “its battle list, its track record. This had been a really great robot.”

The veteran explosives technician looming over Bogosh was visibly upset. He insisted he did not want a new robot. He wanted Scooby-Doo back.

It’s a heartwarming story, although it’s actually the introduction, which talks about an Army colonel stopping a test on a centipede-style mine detonation robot because it was “inhumane”, that makes me wonder if the entire point of a robot code of ethics misses something intrinsic in our interaction with robots: how we, ourselves, bond to the robot, regardless of just how sentient that robot is.

-Kelly Hills [with a tip of the hat to Art Caplan]

Originally posted at the American Journal of Bioethics Editors Blog.

Massachusetts Proposes hESC Funding

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick unveiled plans, today, for a $1 billion investment in biotechnology and stem cell research, directly attempting to challenge California as the place to be for stem cell research. Like California, Patrick’s plan is a 10-year plan that will fund, among other things, a stem cell bank and the nation’s first centralized repository of new public and private stem cell lines, which will be overseen by the University of Massachusetts. It will be the world’s largest of its kind (according to Patrick’s office, anyhow), with Harvard, MIT, Massachusetts General and other hospitals contributing their lines.

Massachusetts might actually be able to give California a run for its money (or talent) here; in addition to being able to learn from CIRM’s mistakes, Massachusetts has over 500 life science companies, several major universities, two dozen teaching hospitals, and four medical schools. This is just one of a list of things Patrick has done to undo Republican presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s time in office; Patrick’s proposal requires legislative approval that he is very likely to get. In 2005, both the Senate and House supported a bill to encourage stem cell research that Romney promptly killed.

And continuing to deviate from party line, California Governor Schwarzenegger says he welcomes the competition; the more research being done, the better.
-Kelly Hills

Originally posted at the American Journal of Bioethics Editors Blog.

is it time to change the formula, or time to stop using it entirely?

The forensic pathologist who developed the currently used system of lethal injection has told CNN that while there might be new drugs that should cause the injection formulation to be revisited and revised, the procedure itself is medically sound if done by competent people.

While the article talks about Dr. Jay Chapman’s motivation for devising this particular method of execution, and his opinion that perhaps we should consider bringing back the guillotine, the option of actually not killing people is nowhere to be found.

-Kelly Hills

Originally posted at the American Journal of Bioethics Editors Blog.

For the softest hair, use hamster extract

Oliver has Hurler Syndrome, leaving him unable to break down deadly toxins in his body. Oliver also has hamster extract. The hamster extract appears to counteract some of the worst side effects of Hurler’s Syndrome, and as an added bonus? Makes his hair softer, too.

Of course, the Daily Mail’s take on the story brings to mind vast legions of hamsters being milked for their extract in some sort of dystopic hamster version of The Matrix. A quick trip to Google brings a slightly less science fiction, more science fact account of the treatment, which involves enzymes taken from genetically modified Chinese hamsters, given via slow IV drip once a week. The enzymes appear to mimic those Oliver is missing, cleaning up the toxins, helping him grow, and giving him much-needed energy.

Me, I’m just slightly disappointed there will be no hamster Neo.

(With thanks to birthday girl Laurie for the tip!)

-Kelly Hills

Originally posted at the American Journal of Bioethics Editors Blog.