Monday, May 17, 2010

"IntelligentChoice:" My Most Make-a-Difference Idea for a Start-Up

I'm thinking of creating a biotech startup. I call it IntelligentChoice. Its goal would be to develop a gene therapy that would offer prospective parents the option of ensuring that their child will have the above-average physiological prerequisites for intelligence: high ability to learn, abstract, and remember. These physiological prerequisites might include, for example, high prefrontal neuronal density, fast intersynaptic transmission, etc. ( (Of course, intelligence is also a function of an enriched environment.)

Ethics would be fully as important as the science. To that end, for example, we'd work with the government (e.g., NIH, FDA) to help ensure that the IntelligentChoice procedure would be viewed as ethical as well as likely to be covered under MediCal and other health programs for the poor. That would reduce the likelihood of the IntelligentChoice procedure exacerbating the gap between society's haves and have-nots. We'd also make all efforts to reduce the probability of the use of IntelligentChoice coercively. It's essential is that its use be an uncoerced decision made by the prospective parents.

I am aware that despite all due precautions, there's potential for abuse--e.g., an individual physician pressuring a prospective parent to use IntelligentChoice. Such is true of all treatments, for example, abortion. But IntelligentChoice's potential benefits are so great: In today's society, being of low cognitive ability nearly preordains a child to school failure and life failure, for example, inability to earn a living wage. It restricts their career and personal options and dramatically increases their likelihood of turning to crime and/or drug abuse. For example, our prisons are filled overwhelmingly by people with IQs under 90.

On the positive side, no doubt many parents would elect to have their baby start out life with the benefit of a brain predisposing the child to high intelligence. The result would be a world of people with far greater potential to cure cancer, solve societal problems, etc.

Of course, as with all technological advances--from nuclear energy to the Internet--there is potential for IntelligentChoice to be used improperly, even if inadvertently. But rather than adopt the so-called "Precautionary Principle" and stifle innovation, it's wiser to pursue innovations such as IntelligentChoice but to, upfront, consider--with government, private sector scientist and ethicist help--the risks and to impose the restrictions that maximize the risk/reward ratio of pursuing such innovations.

At this point, IntelligentChoice is merely an idea. After getting your feedback and that of others, if it still seems viable, my next step would be to have an email exchange and conference call(s) with some of the world's leading scientists in this area to assess its technical feasibility and likely costs. If its profit potential seems low but its technical feasibility seems high, we would consider writing a grant proposal to various funding sources.

Even better, I'd love it if someone else with greater expertise and more time available would jump on the idea of IntelligentChoice, perhaps using me only as a consultant to the project. Anyone interested?


Maureen said...


Bertram Lee said...

Right now there is no service to ensure that carriers of genetic diseases do not pass on the genes to their children. Gene therapy to treat diseases is still experimental.
From what I understand of undergraduate biology the major methods of genetic engineering do not ensure that the new gene will be inserted or that it will not be inserted in the genome in a place where it would disrupt the functioning of the cell. This is acceptable to when trying to create new strains corn. You don’t keep the plants that don’t grow. It probably is a reasonable drawback if treating cells that aren’t working properly anyway. For a developing embryo or rapidly growing new born that is a very big deal.
The Wikipedia article looks like it gives a good overview.

Marty Nemko said...

As I wrote, I'm advocating that the research be done to make this possible. I'm not claiming it's possible now.


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