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Should the neuronal environment of the brain be genetically modified to treat some forms of neurodegeneration?

Problem: Neuro-degeneration: more specifically, the accumlation of protein tangles called plaques which occur in Alzheimers/ Dementia

Proposed Solution: Modifying native neuronal support cells (microglia) to target and break down the Plaques which may relieve the symptoms

1) Is it ethical for scientists to use genetic treatments which involve introducing new genes into native cells and injecting into the brain for the benefit of patients? 2) How much external intervention into the brain is appropriate?
3) Can we assess the risks for patients and the public at large?
4) Should valuable time and resources be allocated to this line of research?

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      Jul 28 2013: That is interesting Deepak. It suggests that neurons can become dormant through under-use and can be re-awakened through a specific type of meditation.

      Does that mean that what we see as neurodegeneration in many cases might actually be dormancy? Have I got that right?

      I know of the beneficial value of meditation myself and the effects it can have on well-being, but haven't really looked into what might be its value in the physical regeneration of neurons.

      Upfront though, I apologise that I struggle with the concept of "meeting God"...
  • Aug 13 2013: Microglia are macrophages of the central nervous system. They can (and physiologically DO) "eat" entire neurons (if they are non-functioning). However, I can't see how can they eliminate plaques located INSIDE the neuron without engulfing and removing the entire neuron.

    Specifically manipulating the genome microgila cells is theoretically possible, though I can't see how would it help the plaque-infested neurons for the reason stated above.
  • Jul 28 2013: I have no objection on Q1 of yours, but to Q2 nd Q3, there are a number of questionable problems here. The most important thing is the genetic regeneration of major organs in the human body. We should at least master the procedures in the easily replaceable organs such as gallbladder, kidney or even the heart, but then then we should consider the regeneration of neuron cells or the "destroying" the plaques in the brain. The reason is that the brain is the most important organ for the essential identity of a human being, so that we must be careful not to "replace" anything in the brain unless we can be sure that it won't CHANGE THE PERSON'S THINKING PROCESS COMPLETWELY. For example, there was a discussion that there could be organ regeneration in every organ to make a person to live forever. However, if the brain is regenerated, especially with a genetically modified brain, we are really making a different human being unless we are certaing to make the new one to think in more or less the same way as the old version of himself. Would you agree? Is it safer to destroy the plaques in the arteries in other places, rather than the brain so that it won't interfere the thinking process in a human?
  • Jul 27 2013: As long as its handled responsibly and ethically, I can't see why not.

    Its like asking if its ethical to test new medication on patients (given their consent of course). Side effects and complications may cause problems, potentially fatally so, but the long term benefit outstrips the risk--we couldn't advance medical science without it.
    The only difference in what's being discussed here is that the treatment is different, but on a fundamental level, it has no more ethical limitations than say, a new drug or surgical procedure that requires further testing.

    The only question which may pose a problem is #4, resource allocation. The market will decide, same as everything else--if it can churn a profit, it'll get done.
  • Jul 27 2013: If you are talking about research, you have to remember the context. In the USA researchers have the right to research whatever they choose, so long as they do not violate the rights of others. This freedom is why we now live in an age of technological wonders.

    As long as the researcher is fully honest and open with the people he is working with, I see no ethical problems at all with brain research or genetic modification research.

    It is the nature of medical research that not all of the risks can be quantified. We do not know everything that we do not know, we do not even know all the questions we should be asking. I think it is wonderful that there are people who realize how risky medical research can be, and are still willing to participate as subjects. Unless I was hitting bottom and desperate, I would not be willing.
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    Jul 27 2013: What is unethical today becomes ethical tomorrow. It happened time and again in the human history. The speed of innovation has always been faster then the evolution of morality and ethics in society .