The current set of possible future work topics is as follows:
Animals and research
There is a global push to reduce the number of animals used in biomedical research. Recent scientific developments have made this increasingly possible and yet also increasingly challenging – read more.
Artificial wombs (ectogenesis)
Partial ectogenesis (PE) would involve the use of an artificial womb (or aspects of a womb, such as an artificial endometrium and placenta) for part of the reproductive process, and could also be used to further human embryo research – read more.
Recent research into the genetics of autism has raised speculative questions about the prospect of prenatal testing for the condition and the development of preventative interventions and treatments in the future. This research also has wider implications for our perception of behavioural disorders in general – read more.
Biotechnology and globalisation
Biotechnology refers to any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products and processes for specific uses, for example in the fields of agriculture, pharmacology and bioengineering. The interplay between the phenomenon of globalisation and the biotechnology industry raises significant ethical and policy issues – read more.
Building genomes from scratch
Small viral and bacterial genomes synthesised from scratch have demonstrated the feasibility of creating synthetic genomes and it may soon be possible to synthesise an entire human genome de novo. This differs from the recoded genomes that have been made possible by genome editing tools such as CRISPR/Cas9 and could allow more widespread manipulation of genetic material – read more.
A chimera is a single organism with a genetic composition from genetically different zygotes but in which the DNA is never mixed on a chromosomal or intracellular level. Research using animal models containing human cells is not a new phenomenon; for example chimeric animal models with human cells in the brain have been used to study neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and human tumour cells are routinely grown in mice to study cancer processes. However, newer forms of stem-cell-based chimera research, which may involve the use of embryos, has raised special concern about the possibility of a human cell contribution to multiple organs and tissues in animals and hence increased human/non-human mixing – read more.
Citizen science is the term given to research that involves amateurs or non-professionals. These projects vary from contributory and collaborative ventures that typically involve the public collecting and processing data for researchers, to projects entirely devised by individuals or communities and directed towards personal or local priorities – read more
The human/technology frontier in health and social care
The frontier between humans and technology has become increasingly blurred; in some instances, we are seeing a merger of human biology and technology into one, in others technology has come to replace traditionally human roles. The transhumanist belief is that the human race itself can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations with the help of science and technology – read more
The human/technology frontier in the wider context
The blurring of the boundary between humans and technology has far reaching consequences throughout different areas of society – find out more
In-vitro derived gametes and embryos
New reproductive technologies allowing the creation of rudimentary embryos and the possibility of generating gametes in-vitro have the potential to overhaul how we conceptualise reproduction and parenthood – read more
An innovative therapy (IT) is a newly introduced or modified therapy with unproven effects. Unlike research, which follows a predetermined course of action set out in a protocol, experimental or innovative therapy involves a more speculative approach to the patient’s care and may be adapted to the individual’s response. However, such innovations may blur the distinction between treatment and research. Innovative medicines (unlicensed or ‘off-label’ use) are used quite commonly, but there are issues to be explored and addressed concerning other innovative treatments and the recording and sharing of IT results (both positive and negative) – read more.
The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity (Nagoya Protocol), which was adopted in 2010 and entered into force on 12 October 2014, is a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It provides a legal framework that governs access to non-human genetic resources and traditional knowledge – read more.
Predicting phenotype from genotype
It is increasingly possible to predict an organism’s phenotype (observable physical properties including behaviour), or aspects of an organism’s phenotype, by studying their genotype (complete set of genes). The focus here is on using this technique in humans – read more.
Social egg freezing
Egg freezing is a relatively new medical procedure that involves extracting and subsequently freezing and storing eggs for (potential) later use in assisted reproduction. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine removed its experimental label in 2013 and recommended it for use in response to medical premature infertility. It is now also increasingly available to healthy women who wish to bear children later and ‘insure’ against natural fertility loss with age – dubbed ‘social egg freezing’ (SEF) – read more.
Whilst sports science is a broad discipline, the central issue identified here concerns the use of performance enhancing techniques (PETs) in sport. It can also involve the study of the impact of sport on health – read more.
Suppressing the extra chromosome in Down’s syndrome
Research on the silencing of the extra copy of chromosome 21 has led to speculations that a chromosomal therapy for Down’s syndrome could be developed in the future – read more.
Whole genome sequencing of newborns
Advances in genome sequencing technologies have made it increasingly quick and cheap to generate data on the entire sequence of the human genome. This has led to the prediction that sequencing will become available as a ‘once-only’ test at the start of life and will largely replace¹ existing newborn screening programmes – read more.
You can also view a list of other topics that were suggested and have been considered by the Council.
Lists of possible future work topics from previous years are also available.
Have your say
If you would like to suggest a topic for us to consider as part of our future work list, we would like to hear from you.