TGIF Funny Fix for December 2, 2016

advocatsMeet a member of the jury of 2143 AD: the altered human, here

Happy Friday All!

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Arrival: A Review


By Brad Allenby (LSI Faculty Fellow)

The cult movie The Matrix (the first in the series; the others were lightweight by comparison) is perhaps best appreciated as an extended soliloquy on Descartes.  Similarly, Arrival can be appreciated as an extended meditation on a blending of Einstein and Nietzsche:  Einstein for his famous remark in a letter to a recently deceased friend’s grieving family (“For we convinced physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”), and Nitzsche for his doctrine that in the fullness of time, all things reoccur endlessly (“Everything becomes and recurs eternally – escape is impossible!”), and that such a reality can only be embraced by one who is truly the ubermench, the overman, the superior individual of the future.

On top of that, it is a good movie. It is far better than most of the self-indulgent quasi-documentary ruminations on various technologies that seem to be so popular these days, because it is coherent and doesn’t bury normative railings under a false patina of pretended objectivity.  It is also far better than most scifi, because it eschews the violence and simplicity of the space opera genre which remains so popular – and deservedly so . . . a good space opera is a fun piece of escapism which shouldn’t be denigrated unnecessarily.  But Arrival operates on a different level, not unlike a few other recent scifi gems such as Ex Machina: the story flows not around action, but around plot and ideas.  And, like the best in its field, it takes complex ideas and makes them visual, and thus real and accessible.  So, while you won’t learn much about the Internet, you will enjoy a good movie, and might even end up asking yourself: could I, like Louise, embrace Nietzsche’s challenge?

Reviewer’s grade: A-


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Worldwide Web Watch

WWWearthNovember 30, 2016

While the precautionary principle, which essentially translates into “better safe than sorry,” may seem like a reasonable approach in the face of certain uncertainties, it is all too often employed to halt beneficial, tested technologies and scientific applications.  The European Union is a big fan of the principle — even in situations where science indicates otherwise as explained by Marcel Kunz in Overly Cautious and Unscientific.  As Kunz notes, precautionary “scare tactics” make it generally “impossible for an ordinary citizen to distinguish truth from lies.”

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LSI Life Sciences Cohort Visit to TGen

t-1On November 29, 2016 the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law LSI life sciences student cohort was invited to TGen to glean insight into the entity’s current projects and future ambitions.

From the non-profit’s website, “[m]edicine is at a crossroads. Genomic and other -omic generated information provides a greater understanding of the underlying biological defects associated with a particular disease or disorder. Since day one at TGen, our mission has always been to champion the use of -omics driven decisions to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. The mission of the TGen Foundation is to positively impact the lives of patients and their families. We do this by raising funds that accelerate TGen’s efforts to make and translate genomic discoveries into advances in human health.”

In addition to two presentations, the cohort was treated to a facility tour — which included a visit to the fish tanks.  TGen currently studies the effects of cancer, in this case pancreatic cancer, on zebra fish.  These particular fish offer many advantages over other test animals,  including space and reproduction capabilities.  By editing fish genomes  (including “removing” their stripes to better monitor a tumor’s progression) the TGen team hopes to isolate cancer triggers, monitor tumor progression and align potential treatments — in humans… and man’s best friend.


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Technology Triple Trivia

Tech Trip Triv

November 29, 2016

  1. What specific issue will the European Court of Justice be uberthinking today?


Image result for images taxi

Answer:  Uber tried to convince the ECJ today that it is a digital platform, connecting drivers with customers, not a taxi service.  The distinction is an important one as transportation services are subject to stringent rules and regulations not applicable to digital applications.  The European Union generally supports e-commerce as a driving force behind a progressive economy.  Nonetheless, those providing transportation services are not ready to see Uber get off on a technicality.  More here.

2. Ready, Sweat, Go! — Or rest?


Image result for sweaty runner

Answer: exercising, heat, illness — all produce sweat.  Not just any sweat, but smart sweat.  Scientists are in the midst of developing a skin patch that detects health abnormalities in sweat.  Wearable biosensors provide a level of awareness and ease of use that make them especially useful in particular and unusual situations, such as traveling to remote areas or extreme sports.  Read the details here.

3.  For those who think it’s limited to Bitcoin and financial transactions, perhaps, think again?


Image result for images blocks in a row

Answer: blockchain technology is not limited to currency.  It is also used in other areas, such as food monitoring.  Wal Mart recently deployed the technology to enhance traceability of certain products it sells, from their origins to point of sale, in the hopes of reducing food-borne illnesses and unnecessary waste, among other things.  This means Wal Mart will know Jane Doe purchased a particular package of tainted pork at a particular location on a particular day and can alert her toute suite.  And Wal Mart won’t have to toss all the pork, only the bad stuff, which it will be able to quickly trace.  It is unfortunate Chipotle did not have access to this technology when its customers began dropping like flies a few months ago.  Read the story here.

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TGIF Funny Fix for November 25, 2016


Happy post turkey day all!

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Call for Abstracts – 2017 Governance of Emerging Technologies Conference


CLICK HERE TO SUMBIT AN ABSTRACT – Deadline is January 15, 2017


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Worldwide Web Watch

Worldwide Web Watch

November 23, 2016

With greater emphasis placed on the role of genetics with regard to human disease, behavior, traits and so forth,  there is a tendency to overlook external factors that interact with the genome and have an impact on how genes are expressed and function.  In How Our Environment Affects Our Genes, Michael White highlights that “our genes and our physical and social environment are tied up together.”  Light to moderate drinking may reduce colon cancer risk; exercise helps those with a higher BMI risk; and Alzheimer’s risk increases for yet another group — all depending on the variations, alleles and mutations of particular genes.  So, next time someone says “it’s all in my genes” you’ll know it’s only part of the story.

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The Aging Brain: Workshop

November 22, 2016

On November 18, 2016 ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, along with the Center for Law, Science & Innovation (LSI) and The Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, hosted The Aging Brain Workshop.  Leading scholars, attorneys, medical researchers, neuropsychologists, physicians, ethicists and policy advocates from around the nation gathered to discuss the causes and implications of aging on the brain.  The workshop focused on ethical, legal and policy implications of new scientific findings related to the aging brain, ranging from medical conditions such as dementia and its subsets to addressing brain health, and examining end-of-life concerns from guardianship to death.

The Mayo Clinic’s Richard Caselli discussed dementia’s blurry, complex landscape where disease, in this case, Alzheimer’s (AD), does not express overnight, symptoms may not be readily apparent in life, and where biomarkers are in play along with several genetic triggers.  AD is associated with deterministic factors stemming from dominant autosomal inheritance (APP, PSEN1, PSEN2) — key in the development of early-onset familial AD — and other genetic risk factors, particularly APOE4 in later-onset.  Individuals with one copy of the APOE4 genetic mutation may, however, never get the disease, while others who develop AD do not carry the APOE4 gene variant.  Among other things, Caselli asked the group to consider whether people should be tested for AD risks and predispositions (for a myriad of reasons) and whether AD is a disease or part of normal aging.

For Banner Health’s Eric Reiman, AD is an “unacceptable problem” for both those affected and their caregivers.  As a matter of global urgency, prevention is key according to Reiman.  Prevention, the earlier the better, potentially consists of diet, exercise, vaccine therapies and anti-amyloid medication (amyloid-build-up in the brain is AD’s partner in crime).  Pre-clinical biomarkers will be central to successfully researching and implementing preventive strategies for AD.

Weill Cornell Medical College’s Joseph Fins examined different brain states and their dynamic nature.  Individuals may reemerge from some brain states, such as acquired TBI, and others may not be reversible.   What are the implications for capacity and competency determinations for reemerging decision-making? Focusing on the minimally conscious state (MCS), for example, there is evidence of a conscious existence, a condition that patients may reach as a result of brain impairment (regressively) or eventually enter into (progressively) from a vegetative state, often unnoticed by others.  Fins expressed that the community has a “moral obligation” to care for the MCS population such as establishing effective legal structures.  He discussed medical interventions such as electrode implants and volitional neuro-imaging and the related concept of re-emergent capacity — where interventions have a positive impact on a patient or a patient otherwise improves and no longer requires guardianship with full restrictions.

Stanford Law School’s Henry “Hank” Greely explained disease prediction via genetics, biomarker and specific diagnostic tests and the ethical and legal implications of prediction.  Primarily, these were described by Greely as family impacts, employment discrimination, insurance access and privacy protections, and, from an insurer’s perspective, the problem of adverse selection.

LSI Faculty Fellow, Betsy Grey, discussed public policy’s influence on the concept of capacity, noting three particular movements in that area: autonomy and informed consent; desegregation of the mentally disabled corresponding with community integration; and the disability rights movement.  All of these movements led to individualized, needs-based assessment of capacity.  Grey then moved on to explore the potential impact that pre-clinical biomarkers will have on capacity assessment and guardianship decisions, including improving the accuracy of capacity assessment, as well as potential problems with biases and privacy concerns.

The Mayo Clinic’s Cynthia Stonnington focused her discussion on keeping the brain active with a healthy lifestyle and exercise, noting that some habits, like a  low-hypertension diet or the Mediterranean diet appear to have a positive effect on healthy brain aging.  The role of such factors in preventing or delaying diseases such as AD have yet to be definitely confirmed scientifically, although there is some suggestive evidence there may be a benefit.

LSI Faculty Director Gary Marchant reviewed recent research into the causes of aging and aging interventions.  There are indications that senescent cells, which accumulate in aging tissues and organs accelerate the aging process and are to blame, at least in part, for human aging, either because they have stopped dividing or not destroyed themselves.  Drugs called senolytics destroy these damaging cells but their availability on the market is fraught with regulatory roadblocks.  Other drugs, like metformin and rapamycin, approved for particular endpoints have also demonstrated effectiveness in combating aging and age-related diseases. However, they face similar regulatory roadblocks in large part because aging is not recognized as a disease by the FDA and because of the FDA’s outdated “one disease endpoint at a time” drug approval model.  Given the expense of drug R&D, manufacturers are unlikely to invest in a product that cannot be marketed as preventing a multitude of age-related diseases and generally will not be covered by insurance for non-approved indications.

Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson Law’s Katherine Pearson weighed in with  guardianship concerns respecting the elderly.  She highlighted the need to take proactive steps when working with cognitively impaired individuals.  For example, she suggested using limited guardianships where warranted and creating shifting presumptions — placing the evidentiary burden on a caregiver that actions taken, giving rise to a legal dispute, were not inappropriate in the circumstances — as opposed to a plaintiff having the burden to show otherwise.

End of Life Liberty Project’s Kathryn “KT” Tucker advocates for choice at the end of life — not for more life-promoting  interventions when an individual wishes otherwise.  End of life procedures are often referred to as physician-assisted suicide or death with dignity.  Tucker prefers the term “aid in dying” as a middle ground.  She argues for choice and fewer statutory limitations on aid in dying and predicts choices and availability will expand in this area.  Legal statutes permitting the practice typically provide immunity from liability to physicians, lessening the threat of survivor-initiated lawsuits.  At the workshop, Tucker discussed the importance of having legally recognized directives in place to put individual wishes into effect before cognition is impaired and capacity is called into question.  Tucker concluded her presentation with a poignant observation that “preservation of true self” is not the same as “suicide.”

Interestingly, only a couple of days after the workshop, results of a study were published showing “the percent of older US adults with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, declined from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012, a decrease of nearly a quarter.”  This is positive news because, among other things, “[t]hese new numbers not only portend a lesser burden on the health care system (and families) but also suggest that something has changed over the generations — and identifying that change could drive down dementia rates even further.”  Details of that study are available here.

A corresponding Aging Brain Conference, for the general public, is planned for Fall 2017.  More on age delay here.



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Technology Triple Trivia

TTT133 Questions. 3 Hints. 3 Answers.

November 22, 2016

1. What case establishes that just because DNA indicates a potential threat, doesn’t mean it’s a direct threat?


Answer: in a lawsuit brought by parents of a Palo Alto Unified District student who although is at risk for potentially developing cystic fibrosis (CF) does not currently express symptoms of the disease, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently remanded for review allegations that the student was discriminated against under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.  The student was asked to leave his school because its administrators mistakenly believed he would be a threat to two other students who have CF — cross-contamination being a real health concern for CF patients.  It is unclear whether the student is a merely carrier with one copy of the CF gene mutation or whether he has two copies but is asymptomatic.  Only when the disease expresses is there a risk to others.  The Court of Appeals noted that the lower court’s conclusion that a “direct threat” existed was not supported by the facts.  Read more here.

2.What country is using a bait, cut and switch approach to defeat cancer in humans?


Answer: Chinese scientists were the first to extract, edit, multiply and reinsert genetically modified cells into a human being using CRSPR Cas9, the revolutionary gene-editing tool.   In that case, a particular gene was silenced to suppress the function of a protein involved in promoting the growth of metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer.  Somatic cell gene therapy is less controversial than germline gene therapy because it affects only the patient undergoing treatment as opposed to ongoing generations.  Nonetheless, there are still issues such as ‘off-target’ edits — where unintended parts of DNA are affected and, potentially, the immune system’s rejection of the edited cells.  Read the details here.

3. How is augmented reality minimizing big problems?

Hint:Answer: when there isn’t enough man power or an expert can’t physically be on the scene, augmented reality is the fix.  Crime scene augmented reality allows those on the scene to digitally project the area in question to other investigators or experts who can then advise and weigh in on the scene and related investigation.  It’s a team effort with both sides receiving information from the other.  The system also makes for a less chaotic and disturbed crime scene. Read the story here.

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