Biotechnology and the Future of Medicine

June 9-11, 2021

The 2021 Annual Bioethics Conference (ABC) took place online June 9-11 and explored the potential of biotechnology to drive and shape the future of clinical care and research.

The practice of medicine over the course of the last fifty years has changed dramatically. Novel technological developments will continue to generate new discoveries, therapies, and patient outcomes. Recent advances in intertwined areas, such as stem cell-based bioengineering, organoid technology, low-cost personal genome sequencing, machine learning, and human genome editing have the potential to create more effective, personalized medical treatments. But as we progress toward this biotechnologically-driven medical future, we must consider how ethical values can shape these advancements and vice versa. This online conference examined how ethics interacts with biotechnology in medicine, and consider multiple approaches to how we might ensure that biotechnology continues to evolve ethically and for the benefit of all.

  • A Letter From the 2021 Conference Chair

    Insoo Hyun, PhD

    "Biotechnology" is a word with many modern-day connotations, especially in the greater Boston area. But biotechnology as a concept is not new; it has a long history with its origins in industrial-scale fermentation. One might say that 19th century breweries were the world's first biotech start-ups. From beer production to penicillin to vaccines and other biotechnological success stories of previous generations, it is easy to feel the pull of our ancestral temptation to redirect nature into something useful on a large scale.

    Today in 2021, biotechnology involves the technical and computational manipulation of biological systems for human purposes. Although biotechnology has far-reaching applications in agriculture, manufacturing, and environmental science, this year's annual bioethics conference focuses on biotechnology's future impact on medicine. Interrelated scientific pursuits, such as stem cell-based bioengineering, organoid technology, personal genome sequencing, machine learning, and efficient genome editing promise to produce more effective personalized treatments for patients and thus to transform medicine as we know it. Yet, as we look forward to more biotechnologically driven advances in health care, we must consider the role of ethical values. As conference chair, I welcome you warmly to our conference and ask you to reflect on how ethics must interact with biotechnology in medicine. Multiple perspectives are necessary—from scientists, clinicians, ethicists, lawyers, and many others—to ensure that biotechnology proceeds responsibly, including ensuring equitable access of advances in medicine to all
    members of society. We have designed this conference to bring many of these diverse voices together.

    I wish to thank the other conference organizers and each of our distinguished speakers for making this online gathering place possible. This event could not happen without you and your tireless efforts to help bring this conference together. I am proud of the comprehensive and balanced program we have created, which is filled with authorities in their respective fields. Also, to my colleagues at Harvard Medical School's Center for Bioethics and our dedicated and professional staff—thank you for your support and for giving me the opportunity to suggest the theme for this conference. My hope is that this event will help aid the important ethical and scientific work ahead of us that may enable biotechnology to thrive in Boston and beyond.

    Insoo Hyun, PhD
    Director of Research Ethics and Faculty, Center for Bioethics
    Senior Lecturer on Global Health and Social Medicine
    Harvard Medical School

  • Recent Progress in iPS Cell Research and Application

    A Public Bioethics Forum on June 9, 2021

    Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD launched ABC with the public lecture "Recent Progress in iPS Cell Research and Application." This lecture was included with the annual conference registration.