Tag Archives: Biology and Genetic Endowment

Personal Health Technology: Potential, perils, and privacy

Personal health information refers to demographic information, medical history, test and laboratory results, insurance information, and other data that a healthcare professional collects to identify an individual and determine appropriate care1. In the past decade or so, some of the tests and techniques used to collect personal health information have become publicly accessible. For example, private companies now offer genetic testing and genome sequencing to anyone able to pay. At the same time, there has been an explosion of wearable health monitoring devices. Given this revolution in personal health technology, important implications for individuals, the practice of medicine, and privacy must be considered.

Continue reading Personal Health Technology: Potential, perils, and privacy

Storytelling and Asperger Syndrome: A Key for Social Integration

Author: Alain Nathan Sahin


Storytelling is a universal way of communication between human beings. It is inhibited when neurodevelopmental disorders hinder human reciprocity, the understanding of body language, and nuances of language. Asperger Syndrome (AS), one of these disorders, is characterized by social impairment and repetitive patterns of behaviour. Messages cannot be conveyed through storytelling, which causes social isolation and withdrawal of individuals with AS from society. The development of the mirror neuron system in the brain, which incites imitation of peers, might be altered in AS by a mechanism that is not entirely understood. Because mirroring the emotions of others is key to understanding their feelings and perceptions of the world, the “theory of mind” is not formed in individuals with AS as it normally would be. While studies have suggested this impediment, current views and evidence show that people with AS may use storytelling as a powerful tool to integrate themselves into society. Future research should investigate storytelling as an intervention to increase social interaction of individuals with AS.

Continue reading Storytelling and Asperger Syndrome: A Key for Social Integration

The Zika Virus: A Global Public Health Emergency

In May 2015, the Zika virus infiltrated Brazil (Higgs, 2016). Since then, autochthonous transmission of the virus has been confirmed in 19 other countries in the Americas (Hennessey, 2016). By October 2015, almost 4,000 cases of microcephaly were identified; a sharp increase from the previous year, in which fewer than 150 cases were diagnosed in all of 2014 (Dyer, 2016b). Although a causal link between the Zika virus and microcephaly has not yet been established, the circumstantial evidence is alarmingly suggestive (Torjesen, 2016). With no vaccine or treatment available, concern over the spread and effects of the disease is rapidly increasing.

Continue reading The Zika Virus: A Global Public Health Emergency

The Angelina Jolie Effect: The Problem and Promise of Personalized Medicine

Following the decision for a preventative double mastectomy in 2013, Angelina Jolie announced this past March that she has had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed in an effort to prevent cancer. A blood test showing a mutation in the BRCA1 gene gave her an 87 per cent risk of breast cancer and a 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer.

Especially in cases for cancer, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative diseases, precision or personalized medicine (PM) is a promising approach that identifies disease biomarkers for prevention and prediction of therapeutic measures and lifestyle changes. By using a blood, skin, or tissue sample to examine an individual’s DNA, clinicians are able to uncover defects or mutations that are known to be associated with a type of hereditary disease and can allow for early action and improved health outcomes (Canadian Cancer Society, 2015).

Continue reading The Angelina Jolie Effect: The Problem and Promise of Personalized Medicine

The Growing Concern of Antimicrobial Resistance

Few will have heard that it is coming up. With Breast Cancer Awareness month just behind us, and “Movember” in full swing (also Lung Cancer Awareness and Diabetes month, for those keeping track), most people are unaware that November 17-23 is Antibiotic Awareness Week. The campaign, launched by the Public Health Agency of Canada, centers on the growing concern surrounding antibiotic resistance, both in Canada and globally. And, while it does not involve fun-runs, mustaches, or ice buckets, this is also a cause that deserves our attention.

Continue reading The Growing Concern of Antimicrobial Resistance

Ebola : The famous infection

On March 21st 2014, the Ebola virus finally got the attention of the world. This virus is responsible for the hemorrhagic fever that killed inhabitants of several villages and towns in West Africa (Dixon & Schafer, 2014). The natural reservoir of the virus is a variety of wild animals such as the fruit bat, the monkey, and the wood antelope. Additionally, the virus transmits itself through direct contact with biological fluids (i.e. blood, urine, sweat, semen, breast milk, etc.) of an infected person. Those who are most at risk are health care workers, family members and guests who attend funerals where the deceased are buried (WHO, 2014). Ebola is diagnosed through the detection of RNA or antibody of Ebola virus in the blood (Dixon & Schafer, 2014).

Continue reading Ebola : The famous infection

The Epidemiology of Ophthalmological Disease among School Age Children in Rural India

Author: Clive VelkersMacKenzie Turpin, Raywat Deonandan


Preventable blindness is one of the primary health concerns in rural India, yet little is known about the prevalence of eye disease among India’s school-aged children. The clinical database of the Srikiran Institute of Ophthalmology, which describes clinicians’ visits to schools in Kakinada, India, was analyzed retrospectively to determine the prevalence of eye disease among 8488 students aged 18 years and younger. Among diagnosed illnesses, basic refractory impingement (including degrees of astigmatism) was the most common, followed by squinting. Vitamin A deficiency was not a factor in any of the tested subjects.

Continue reading The Epidemiology of Ophthalmological Disease among School Age Children in Rural India

Biology and Genetic Endowment

“My scientific studies have afforded me great gratification; and I am convinced that it will not be long before the whole world acknowledges the results of my work” (as cited in Chaskey, 2014, p.52). These words certainly ring true for renowned founder of modern genetics, Gregor Mendel, whose experiments on plant hybridization led to the discovery of the underlying principles of heredity. Your DNA might offer you an explanation as to why you have your father’s eyes and your mother’s dimples, but your genetic make up can provide you with vital information beyond your physical attributes.

Continue reading Biology and Genetic Endowment

The Ethics of Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis in Practice: An Analysis of the Feasibility and Ethical Considerations of Applying and Regulating Genetic Enhancement

Author: Helena BLEEKER


Pre-Implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) has many therapeutic and enhancement applications. In a previous work, I presented arguments in favour of all types of PGD, whether for medical therapies or human enhancement. These arguments were based on the absence of moral distinctions between genetic therapy and genetic enhancement.

The implication of these arguments is that, if one cannot distinguish between therapy and enhancement on moral grounds, then all PGD applications must be either moral or immoral. Although logically speaking this argument may be true, in practice I believe that it is possible and necessary to draw a line between what is morally permissible and what is not with respect to applications of PGD for genetic enhancement.

In order to draw this line, I move away from analyzing the moral substance of PGD as a technology and focus instead on the moral agents that will employ PGD. As humans, I believe we are both morally accountable and morally unreliable as agents for the use of PGD, and this feature forms the basis of the delineation of acceptable PGD practices.

Continue reading The Ethics of Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis in Practice: An Analysis of the Feasibility and Ethical Considerations of Applying and Regulating Genetic Enhancement

Role of estrogen receptors in male reproductive physiology

Authors: Richard R. LEE & Karen PHILLIPS


Canonical estrogen receptors (ER α/β) have a genomic mechanism of action, functioning as nuclear transcription factors for estrogen-dependent genes.  Estrogen receptors are well established within the male reproductive tract with estrogen playing an essential role for male fertility.

The recent characterization of novel G-protein coupled estrogen receptor GPR30 (alternatively known as GPER1), depending on non-genomic intracellular signaling pathways to transduce estrogenic signals, requires a re-examination of the roles of estrogen receptors in male reproduction.  Further, the affinity of environmental estrogens (xenoestrogens) for estrogen receptor subtypes may provide additional understanding of the reproductive effects of these chemicals on male fertility.

Here we review the structure and functions of each estrogen receptor within the context of male reproduction, with special consideration of the reproductive implications of xenoestrogen exposure.

Continue reading Role of estrogen receptors in male reproductive physiology