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Beyond EngineeringHow Society Shapes Technology$
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Robert Pool

Print publication date: 1997

Print ISBN-13: 9780195107722

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195107722.001.0001

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Six Risk
Beyond Engineering

Robert Pool

Oxford University Press

In June 1995, speaking to an audience of 250 fellow doctors and medical researchers, Steven Decks described what he hoped would be a breakthrough treatment for AIDS. The human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, attacks key components of a person’s immune system and gradually destroys the body’s ability to fight off infection. Consequently, an AIDS patient generally succumbs to what doctors call “opportunistic infections”— invasions by viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms that take advantage of the body’s weakened defenses. If some way could be found to rebuild a patient’s devastated immune system, Deeks said, it could be lifesaving news for the 100,000 or so Americans in the advanced stages of AIDS. It might even make it possible for people with AIDS to live relatively normal lives. The treatment Deeks advocated was dramatic. He proposed extracting bone marrow from a baboon, separating out a special portion of it, then injecting that bit into a patient with an advanced case of AIDS. Because bone marrow contains the special cells that produce the immune system, Deeks hoped that the bone-marrow extract would create a baboonlike immune system in the patient. And because baboons are immune to AIDS, Deeks surmised that the patient’s new immune system could survive and do the job that the old, AIDS-wracked system no longer could perform—fight off disease-causing invaders. The AIDS virus would still be present, lurking in the remnants of the patient’s own immune system, but its main threat to the patient would have been deflected. For Deeks, a San Francisco physician who treats many AIDS patients, it was a gamble that had to be taken. Deeks spoke at a conference on xenograft transplantation, the medical term for the transplant of organs or tissue from one species into another—particularly, from animals into humans. The audience, most of whom were xenotransplant researchers, generally approved of Deeks’s proposal, but there were dissenters. The most vocal was Jonathan Allan, a virologist at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio.

Keywords:   attitudes toward technology, bovine growth hormone, culture, dairy industry, engineering culture, from normal activities, genetic engineering, human immunodeficiency virus, intervenor, light-water reactors, maximum credible accident

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