​Scientific and Medical Advances

Why does the Center for Health Law Policy and Bioethics matter so much?

Identifying Health Risks Early

Craig Venter, the genomics pioneer and founder of San Diego based Human Longevity, Inc., is unveiling a comprehensive physical called HLI Health Nucleus i, which will be the most comprehensive physical available and will help individuals learn early on what their specific health risks are, according to their genome. With this knowledge, individuals will be able to preempt health risks by making sure their doctors know of their risks and taking the necessary actions to prevent them. HLI will help make new discoveries in the medical world and detailed information in the human genome can be used to understand what makes people get sick or remain healthy. Since this new technology is still in its early stages, health insurers in the U.S. have not yet approved its use. Moreover, this technology raises concerns about inappropriate use of genetic information for purposes other than health care or without the assistance of health care professionals.

Personalizing Medical Treatment

Eric Topol, chief academic officer at Translational Science Institute, presses physicians to embrace the use of small, wireless, biosensors that do everything from monitoring glucose levels in diabetics to checking the blood pressure of people with heart disease. This data can then be sent to smartphones and relayed to health care providers. These potentially lifesaving tools are still not in widespread use and face both regulatory and institutional resistance. Reforms in law, moral culture or public perception can help bring these types of medical advances to fruition and make them readily available to patients.

Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

A team of University of California San Diego (UCSD) biophysicists has discovered how antibiotic resistance allows bacteria to multiply in the presence of antibiotics and has identified a class of possible antibiotics with the potential to disable drug—resistant bacteria, which has been called one of the world's most pressing health problems. This team is now communicating to drug companies and hospitals that there is an informative, quantitative way to guide decisions and improve patient outcomes. If administered safely, this could save lives. However, the study is still in its early stages and there are concerns about future risks. Research and policy are needed to identify and balance health tradeoff across generations.

Eradicating Malaria

A team of scientists in San Diego and Irvine has genetically engineered malaria—blocking mosquitos that would spread disease resistance throughout their species. It would represent a giant advance in the struggle against the pervasive disease, which kills nearly half a million people per year. Yet this advance also introduces dramatic changes to a native population, with the potential to throw off a complex ecosystem in unknown ways. Though the idea of eradicating malaria is extremely attractive, malaria—blocking mosquitos risk unintended consequences. For example, could the disappearance of a whole species threaten the existence of other species. Ethical research can help us proceed with caution and deploy this technology safely.