Issue 46 - May 24, 2016
Making the Rounds with Founding Dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson
Friends and Colleagues,    

A few weeks ago, I discussed my service on the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethics Issues (the Bioethics Commission). Today, I want tell you about one topic we examined that was perhaps my favorite - synthetic biology.

It was the first issue President Barack Obama assigned to the Commission. I found it interesting because it was a new issue and involved cutting-edge science, which I find very exciting.

Synthetic biology is an emerging field that combines biology, engineering, genetics, chemistry, and computer science. It refers to the building of cellular DNA from chemicals based on a computer template, and then placing the newly developed DNA back into a cell to cause the cell to make new products or change its character.  Fragments of new DNA can be used to direct a cell to replicate faster than other cells or to produce new products. 

Scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute announced in May 2010 they had produced "new life" using this technique. President Obama asked us to explore the ethical issues surrounding this research and to recommend appropriate ethical boundaries for the science. 

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, took over all the cellular processes and started to replicate a new bacteria in the cellular material of a different species. You can read more here.

This was an exciting and major step forward in a field that holds great promise for making new products by putting particular genes into bacteria and using them to quickly produce greater quantities of vaccines, medicines, and clean energy sources. For instance, algae with particular genes inserted into them can produce biofuels that have potential to one day replace fossil fuels.

While there is great long-term potential, there also are risks. Some environmentalists worry about the potential of new organisms being released into the environment and causing damage.

The Commission made 18 specific recommendations on how to manage the ethics of this new field, which can be found in the monograph, New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies.  

I look forward to developing a cutting-edge research center at UNLV School of Medicine where some day our faculty, residents, and medical students will find new ways to prevent and cure diseases.

Best wishes,
 
Barbara
Community Advisory Board Spotlight

Meet Kathy Silver, president of the Culinary Union Health Fund, which provides health benefits to more than 130,000 members and dependents of Culinary Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165. Kathy has over 40 years of health care experience. Prior to joining the Culinary Health Fund, Kathy was CEO of University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, for more than five years. According to Ms. Silver, "Providing first-class graduate medical education in Southern Nevada will create a tremendous benefit for the state, the local community, and our health care system in general. I am honored to serve on the Community Advisory Board, together with so many talented and committed individuals, and I am excited about the potential impact the medical school will have on the economy, the physician workforce, and access to quality health care."  
UNLV School of Medicine Faculty Mark Guadagnoli and Monica Lounsbery at VA Research Week
VA Research Week: A Path Forward

During VA Research Week, the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System held a Poster Presentation at its North Las Vegas Medical Center Auditorium on May 19.  UNLV School of Medicine faculty members participating in the event included: Mark Guadagnoli, PhD, Director of Learning and Performance; Monica Lounsbery, PhD, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs; and Parvesh Kumar, MD, Senior Associate Dean of Clinical Research. 

Dr. Lounsbery presented work identifying the degree of physical activity in primary grades and factors that may affect this activity. She completed this work with colleagues from The Pennsylvania State University and San Diego State University. Dr. Guadagnoli presented a study related to the testing effect in academic settings. He completed this work in collaboration with colleagues from Harvard University, and found that intermittent testing during lectures enhances learning. This type of information will be helpful as we design teaching methods for the medical school.
 
Perhaps more important than the actual presentations were the amazing interactions between the people at the conference. It was a great event.

Check the VA Research Week website for last week's highlights. 
              
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