Infected and Imprisoned

The outbreak that shook the tiny town of Ninety Six, South Carolina, probably began in the spring of 2012. An elderly janitor at the local elementary school fell ill and began unwittingly spreading the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. By June 2013, more than 50 students were infected and at least ten had developed signs of […]

Until the Bitter End

Last night I read Robin Marantz Henig’s beautiful story about Peggy Battin, a bioethicist and advocate for patients who wish to end their lives, and her husband, Brooke Hopkins. A bike accident in 2008 left Brooke paralyzed from the shoulders down and in need of almost constant care. Some days Brooke wants to live; other […]

Uninformed consent, revisited

Early in my pregnancy, a research assistant sat down next to me in the waiting room of my doctor’s office, where I was scheduled to undergo a routine checkup. She asked me if I wanted to take part in a research study and described the study’s goals, risks and benefits. After I agreed to join […]

Uninformed consent

Last year, after years of writing about research studies, I agreed to become a research subject myself. I agreed to allow a local medical center to use my tissue, health records, fluids, cells, and other “specimens” for research. Not only that – I also allowed the researchers to use the same types of information and […]

Synthetic biology and weapons of war

A few years ago, Eric Klavins found himself starting at the ceiling of his room in the Athenaeum, a private lodging on the grounds of the California Institute of Technology, in the middle of the night. Unable to sleep, Klavins found himself pondering a question that had been posed to him earlier that day at […]

Body and Soul

I just wrote a story about robots whose brains are based on the neural networks of real creatures (mostly cats, rats and monkeys). Researchers put these ‘brains’ in an engineered body — sometimes real, sometimes virtual — equipped with sensors for light and sound and touch. Then they let them loose into the world — […]

Rat: Killing in the Name of Science

WARNING: IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE WITH THIS IMAGE, SKIP THIS POST. I open the lab door, flick on the light switch, and watch a herd of cockroaches scuttle for cover.  It’s seven in the evening, when most of the university’s workers have left for the night.  Even so, after I lift each rat from its […]