NWABR Bioethics, Day 5


Benaroya Research Institute Laboratory

We spent the morning of the today talking about human subjects in research at Amgen.  Specifically, we focused in on the Belmont Report and how it related to four case studies, the most famous involving Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell line.  The conversation focused on principles related to benefits to families in research, ownership of genetic property, fair compensation for participants, the structure of informed consent,and  lack of education as it relates to research.  These are all principles that need to be rectified with the 3 facets of Ethics: Justice, Respect for Persons, and maximizing the benefits while minimizing the risk.  One of the most interesting facts that I learned was the fact that informed consent is meant to be written at the 8th grade level.

Dr. Kelly Edwards lead a discussion about Biobanking and how it relates to our current ethical understandings.  We talked about residual tissues leftover from a procedure and whether they can be used in research.  One of the biggest current topics in biology is the fact that many Universities are trying to build large biological sample collections.  We are trying to measure risk using risk models while respecting individuals privacy.  With the ease that genetic information may be amplified, it’s really hard to now guarantee that something is completely anonymous.  Kelly gave us two links- One to the People Matter Project and one for Reg 4 All.


Machines at Benaroya Research Institute

Later, we went to Benaroya Research Institute, which is part of Virginia Mason here in Seattle.  I thought it was really interesting that their model was “BRIng it on,” (and they had really awesome t-shirts)because I think science is just a series of problems, and we need critical thinkers and people who live the adventure for trying to solve the problems.  We were greeted by Dr. Lynn Rose, who explained what Benaroya researches, and how there are 5 different departments- Immunology, Diabetes (type 1), Translational Research, Clinical Research, and Matrix Biology.

We were then given a talk about Matrix Biology and tissue engineering by Dr. Robert Vernon.  We talked about artificial tissues as a scaffold to cells, and how collagen from cattle can be used in humans as a therapeutic scaffold.  Lines placed in the collagen matrix can allow the cells to self-align.  Dr. Vernon spent a long time talking about bioengineered islet replacement using a delivery in a medical device with an alginate interior.  Ultimately, he’d like to be able to put a credit card sized device in a human to restore function to the pancreas with functional islets of langerhans.

We took a tour of Benaroya Research Institute laboratories, which was very interesting, up to date, and had a pleasant atmosphere.  It was really interesting to see how items that would be collected at the clinic are transported and prepared for analysis.


Spun down cells seperated into different layers (of blood)

Next, we spoke with a panel of individuals that work at Benaroya Research institute.  I was amazed at how all 3 individuals did not plan to be where they are now, but are happy to have take STEM jobs and it worked out to where they are very happy with their jobs.  A lot of the thoughts I had need to be summarized on my personal blog.

We had two more guests at the end of the day.  The first of these guest was Dr. Jane Buckner, associate director of BRI.  She talked at length about what drives autoimmunity, but more towards what makes good science.  Her big thought involved how few people go into science clinical research.  We then met with Dr. Carla Greenbaum, who talked about clinical trials and how important they are.  So few people in the United States participate in clinical trials, which slows down progress for all.  Clinical trials are also super expensive, which is a problem (probably necessary) with FDA regulations.  Overall, it was a very interesting day, and so much of the topics we discussed will have a direct impact on how I teach my students about current research.  I am also planning on bringing in more scientists from the community, so that my students can see different STEM careers in action.


A liquid nitrogen refrigerator at BRI