Life as an Extreme Sport

Virtually Speaking Science, The Post-Show: Nerves, Jargon, and Links

VSSMy first time at Virtually Speaking Science has just wrapped, and unlike future events where I will be the host, this time out, I was the guest. It was a “getting to know you” tour hosted by Jennifer Ouellette, and we covered quite a lot of territory, from blowing up science labs to doing wildlife rehab, the computer industry, telemedicine, college, grad school, and how Leigh Turner and Carl Elliott sucked me back into the world of ethics, somewhat kicking and screaming.

It was fun, if weird to talk about myself and my interests exclusively; it’s not how we’re trained to socialize, and I kept having to tamp down the instinct to ask Jennifer questions about herself; I suspect that means it’ll be much easier to be in the host chair when it’s time to talk to others.

The other thing that I found myself pausing over, even if it might not have been noticeable on-air, was jargon.

This is probably even worse for me, since my husband is a bioethicist; not only do we have married person shorthand, but we have professional shorthand. (In fact, I’m surprised anyone can hold a conversation with both of us at once.) I tried to stay away from terms that would require background and information to understand, like 510(k) devices, or CBER, and know that as a result I did simplify some things and gloss over others.

In a short (ha—didn’t think I’d call it short 90 minutes ago) conversation, a lot of topics come up, and when you’re talking ethics and regulations and science, that’s even more true. So in the interest of chasing information, here are some links to the material Jennifer and I talked about:

– Celltex, the FDA, and Leigh Turner: Leigh is a professor of bioethics at the University of Minnesota, studying transnational medicine and the global marketplace. This made him rather uniquely situated, in early 2012, to offer comment on the Celltex stem cell offerings, communicate his concerns to the FDA, and turn into Spartacus. …it’s a bit of a long story, but his blog is a good place to start: Health in the Global Village.

I also mentioned that stem cells really are a promising area of research, and referenced clinical trials done by ACT.Note: I said that I believed they were moving on to Phase III trials based on a conversation I had with a communications person a few weeks ago, but it looks like someone may have jumped the gun a bit. I also mentioned my friend Paul Knoepfler, who runs a lab at UCDavis as well as what is basically the blog to read for stem cell news.

– 23andMe and the FDA: There is a lot of coverage out there over 23andMe and the FDA’s breakup last year, and the fallout from it. This coverage spans opinions; I thought that Kira Peikoff’s piece in the New York Times was a really good look at it, and largely matches my own thoughts.

If you want more of the technical “what was the FDA saying/thinking, and what was it classifying the genetic test as” information—slash—jargon that I was trying to stay away from, like why the FDA thought the test was a Class III device and what that means and why 23andMe disagreed and so on, Jennifer K. Wagner offered an explanation at the Genomics Law Report that managed to be accessible and technical at the same time. Wagner also covers the fact that our policy is lagging behind our science, and this is definitely a problem we need to address, and we really needed to address it a few years ago.

And finally, if you’d like a Real Live Bioethicist’s take on 23andMe, well. You can’t go wrong with Hank Greely over at Stanford.

As Leigh noted at one point when he thought I wasn’t watching Twitter, Jennifer and I did take listeners on a bit of a Baedeker’s Tour of Bioethics. Here are the other things that came up, even if only briefly:

I think that about covers it, but if I’ve forgotten anything or touched upon something you’d like more information to and links about, just let me know.

Nerves aside, and the weirdness of being All About Me, I had a great time. The Second Life audience is friendly, the teasing from my friends and family made me smile, and I’m looking forward to sitting down and talking to Janet Stemwedel about science and philosophy playing nicely in the academic sandbox together. Tune in May 28 at 5pm PT/8pm ET; I mean, if nothing else, you want to know what music I’m using for my intro, right? Right.

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