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Synthetic Biology for Human Health: Ethical and Legal Issues (SYBHEL)
Start date: Oct 1, 2009, End date: Sep 30, 2012 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Synthetic Biology (SynBio) is a relatively new field of scientific endeavour. Rather than seeking to understand living organisms, SynBio researchers aim to design and build entirely new living systems at the molecular, cellular, tissue and organism level. SynBio uses methods and tools from many disciplines, notably engineering, genetics, biotechnology and biochemistry; but also nanotechnology, physics and computational modelling. A key attribute is the use of principles of engineering with components from the life sciences to build or exploit living organisms rather than machines. Applications of SynBio research include environmental and health benefits, for example bio-fuels, biosensors and therapeutics.Researchers in SynBio are keen to address the ethical, legal and social aspects of their work. To date, however, ELSI considerations of SynBio have targeted safety and regulatory aspects of the field as a whole. No studies have focussed specifically on the ethical implications of SynBio for human health. The SYBHEL project will address this gap to provide the first detailed analysis of one of the key global applications of SynBio.SYBHEL will examine several aspects of SynBio as it applies to human health including: philosophical and social understandings of life (including new human-like entities); appropriate methodology for bioethical analysis in SynBio for health; ethical issues arising in utilising SynBio for health; regulatory and commercial aspects and public policy in SynBio for health care.The RTD work-packages will be underscored by several cross-cutting themes to ensure maximum flexibility and relevance of outcomes. SYBHEL will therefore be informed by existing work on: the definition and scientific state of the art of SynBio; safety aspects and issues of distributive justice. SYBHEL will adopt an approach that recognises the non-reductionist, non-essentialist, dynamic and integrative nature of SynBio and will develop a comparable ethics response.

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