Many congratulations to Andrew Barnhart (Bioethics & Society, class of 2016), who recently obtained a position as a Marie Curie Research Associate at the Interfaculty Center of Biomedical Ethics and Law at KU Leuven in Belgium! Andrew will soon begin his Doctoral studies in September 2019 on a project surrounding the ethics of organoids as part of Organovir – an international consortium of academics, scientists, and early career research scholars. Here’s what Andrew had to say about the new adventure ahead:
“Recently, I obtained the opportunity to research the ethics of organoids at KU Leuven in Belgium. Thanks to my education and experience at King’s College London, I am now able to do research on cutting edge biotechnology and will eventually obtain my Doctorate. I am beyond excited to begin this new adventure!
Organoids are miniature organs or tissues made from stem cells. Scientists can now grow miniature pieces of hearts, kidneys, guts, lungs, and even brains from stem cells found in embryos or in adult patients. Organoids are a new biotechnology that can be used to study human biological development, virology, regenerative medicine, and many other forms of research. There are a lot of hopes for organoids, especially within the realm of personalized medicine. Scientists in the future could tailor treatments more specifically to patients if they can use their stem cells to create these organoid structures and study development and disease. One of my goals in this research is to consider the moral status of these organoids and ask questions such as: How are organoids morally distinct from stem cells or embryos? Do miniature brain organoids have a special moral category over liver or heart organoids? What is the best way to use this new biotechnology in the future? and Who gets priority for the use of this new biomedical technology?
The second goal with my research is to consider what implications organoids have on the use of research animals. Will this new biotechnology eliminate the use of animal models and allow scientists to move forward on giving research animals more rights? Will this biotechnology increase the likelihood of chimera research (the combining of two different kinds of animal tissues and/or DNA)? Hopefully these questions can be answered and direction can be given within the public policy sphere! Part of the program will involve working with the National (Dutch) Institute for Public Health and the Environment and the Dutch Society for the Replacement of Animal Testing.
I know that my Bioethics & Society studies at King’s College London prepared me for the work ahead. I owe a lot to the faculty and staff in the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine. Not only is the quality of the education amazing, but my mentors are the best I’ve ever met. They really care about your success and well-being, even long after you graduate from the programme. Dr. Silvia Camporesi, and so many others, deserve more praise than words can give.
In fact, I came across this PhD opportunity through the network I built at King’s. The connections you make are strong and caring in the best possible way. In my initial interview for the position, I told the search committee that I am not bringing only myself to Leuven. I am bring an entire network of highly recognized international researchers and scholars with me. There is little doubt that this network will come in handy later on in my research and beyond.
As an American, I am not afraid to look abroad for opportunity. Especially since moving to London for the Master’s program was the first time I ever lived abroad. It gave me the confidence to keep looking internationally for bioethics opportunities. I feel so welcomed by the international community! If you are considering the Bioethics & Society programme at King’s College London, you will not regret being part of it. The programme is eye-opening, mind-blowing, and, if you let it, life changing. New opportunities and deep ethical questions await you there, as they now do for me in Belgium.”