Issue 61 - Sept. 6, 2016
Making the Rounds with Founding Dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson
Friends and Colleagues,    

Back row: Raju Kucherlapati, PhD, COL Nelson Michael, MD, PhD, Nita A. Farahany, JD, PhD, Daniel Sulmasy, MD, PhD, John D. Arras, PhD. (deceased), Anita L. Allen, JD, PhD, and Christine Grady, RN, PhD. Front row:  Stephen L. Hauser, MD,  Amy Gutmann, PhD, James W. Wagner, PhD, and Barbara Atkinson, MD
I traveled to Philadelphia last week for an in-person meeting of President Barack Obama's Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues ( Bioethics Commission). The commission's purpose is to discuss current issues in science and medicine and provides guidance to the president, as needed.
 
The current commission, of which I am a member, was created in 2009 and held its first meeting in 2010. During each President's term in office, they appoint an advisory group such as ours, and similar bioethics commissions have been in place since Congress appointed the first one in 1974.
 
The commission is chaired by University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann, PhD. The Vice Chair is held by James Wagner, PhD, who until recently was the president of Emory University. President Gutmann is an international expert in bioethics and political and public ethics. President Wagner is an engineer. Other members include myself; Anita Allen, JD, PhD, and Nita Farahany, JD, PhD, both lawyers who specialize in bioethics; Raju Kucheriapati, a genetics researcher; Nelson Michael, MD, PhD, director of the Army HIV research program; Daniel Sulmasy, MD, a physician bioethicist; Christine Grady, RN, PhD, chief of bioethics at NIH Clinical Center; and Stephen Hauser, MD, a neurologist. 
 
We spent our last meeting reflecting on our work over the past six years to provide history and guidance for the next presidential commission. I have learned a lot about many emerging topics that will shape the future of our profession. For example, our  first assignment was a hot topic that came up suddenly in May 2010 when J. Craig Venter, MD, announced that his institute had created "new life."  The president asked us to evaluate this finding - and the new field of synthetic biology - and provide recommendations that would maximize the potential contributions of the field and minimize associated risks. 

The J. Craig Venter Institute had taken the genetic DNA code of one of the simplest bacteria in existence. They then used a DNA synthesizer to make a matching DNA chain from its chemical components. When this chain was put into a cell of a different species of bacteria with its own DNA removed, the cell converted to the new bacterial type and reproduced. 
 
The Commission found the scientists actually did not create "new life." Instead we found that the scientists used a synthetic DNA construction of an already occurring bacterial genome. The manufactured genome, when placed into the cell of a different bacteria overtook all the cellular processes and began to replicate a new bacteria in the cellular material of a different species. While this was an important research step that continues to hold great promise, it wasn't exactly producing new life.
 
Over the past six years, we covered 10 projects and wrote summaries and recommendations on each of them. Several were direct requests from the president, such as synthetic biology. We also discussed if and how the anthrax vaccine could be tested on children so the country would be ready if a bioterrorism event occurred, and we reviewed a research study funded by the U.S. Public Health Service in the 1940s that involved human subjects.
 
As our committee met for the final time, we had a great discussion on possible topics for future bioethics commissions. A few topics that have been discussed are end-of-life care, pain management, and health disparities. Others of importance include the FDA approval process and the balance between assuring safety and speed of getting drugs onto the market.
 
One of the most important things we did accomplish as a commission was to involve public deliberation. We listened to experts in the field, read extensively, and provided recommendations based on public input. Each meeting had speaker experts, supplemented by public comments and questions. We provided a video live stream of all of the meetings. Staff did an amazing job of synthesizing all the work from the various sources provided to the commission. We then published our recommendations, which were practical and concrete based on our findings. The Commission did reach consensus on each topic, often after much substantial discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed working with this esteemed group of colleagues, and with the staff. It was a very rewarding experience that I look forward to sharing with our students, staff and community.
 
Best wishes,
 
Barbara
Meet Mario Gaspar de Alba, MD

As the Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion for UNLV School of Medicine, Mario J. Gaspar de Alba, MD assists the school to achieve and maintain a diverse faculty and student body, with the goal of creating a culture of inclusion throughout the enterprise. Dr. Gaspar de Alba also specializes in developmental pediatrics and is responsible for the evaluation and treatment of children with neurodevelopmental challenges at the new UNLV Medicine Ackerman Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment Solutions. 
UNLV School of Medicine Interim Campus Taking Shape

Progress continues on the renovation of the Shadow Lane Campus B-building to support the UNLV School of Medicine's students.  The interim space encompasses 17,000 square feet. Facilities include classrooms, virtual anatomy laboratory, a medical library, small group study rooms, student lounge, recreational gym, and student locker space. The project is more than 50-percent completed with all the walls now in place, painting finished in most areas, as well as flooring and fixtures. It's coming together nicely. I look forward to sharing more photos soon. 

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