Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sheikh Zayed Institute Surgeon Calls for Regulations to Ensure Safe, Effective Synthetic Biology

Louis M. Marmon, MD, PhD, a pediatric surgeon at Children’s National Medical Center and member of the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, is coauthor of a paper in the October 2010 issue of Nature Biotechnology that calls on the scientific community to quickly implement regulations, funding, and oversight mechanisms to ensure that synthetic biology advances unimpeded and in safe and effective ways. This is the first peer-reviewed paper published by faculty of the Sheikh Zayed Institute.

Synthetic biology, the creation of synthetic life within a laboratory, could be the next scientific advancement to revolutionize medicine, potentially producing engineered microorganisms able to destroy cancer cells, repair defective genes, or break down toxins in the body. However, the promise of synthetic biology comes with risks and bioethical implications.

“Synthetic biology offers technologies that could address some of our most basic and important needs – health, clean water and clean energy," Dr. Marmon said. "At the same time, there are ethical concerns about creating synthetic or hybrid forms of life and the danger of those creations being accidentally or intentionally misused. That is why it is important to quickly develop additional regulations and oversight mechanisms to ensure that this promising science is not impeded by fear and is allowed to advance in coordinated, systematic ways that will foster innovation and competitiveness."

Coauthored with David A. LaVan, PhD, a mechanical engineer at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, the paper summarizes the discussion results of two recent national meetings on synthetic biology hosted by the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"This paper is an important contribution to the science of synthetic biology," said Anthony Sandler, MD, chief of pediatric surgery at Children’s Center for Surgical Care and leader of the Sheikh Zayed Institute’s immunology initiative. "We are working to harness the full power of technology to improve surgery and in some cases eliminate the need for surgery all together. Synthetic biology is an emerging science, which supports that work, and the promotion of sound regulations and best practices will speed our progress and reassure the public that this work is taking place in safe, ethical and effective ways."

Kurt Newman, MD, senior vice president at the Joseph E. Robert, Jr., Center for Surgical Care, said, "This is just the first of what will be many important publications and discoveries through the Sheikh Zayed Institute. Dr. Marmon is part of our growing dream team of doctors, scientists and engineers, whose groundbreaking work will transform surgery for children everywhere."

Read the news release.