Commission on Science and Technology for Development

 
 

Topic Summary

In November of 2018, Chinese scientist He Jiankui announced the success of his endeavor to use CRISPR technology to edit the genes of two twins in order to confer HIV resistance. The advent of CRISPR technology, which takes advantage of a natural bacterial capability to “snip” viral DNA for future recognition of viruses, has made it increasingly easier for scientists to make precise changes to DNA sequences. As a result, this technology has raised debate within the international community as to the ethics of using such a mechanism. From an international perspective, should countries be allowed to conduct research in advancing technologies to make edits to the genome of humans and other organisms? If so, for what purposes should scientists be allowed to edit genomes? What might constitute “irresponsible” uses of the technology, such as for “designer babies,” and how might the international community prevent inappropriate applications of CRISPR technology? Should countries be held accountable for the actions of “rogue” scientists within their policy frameworks? If so, what specific steps should be taken by the international community to hold countries accountable?

In the field of neuroscience, research has led to some astonishing new capabilities which pose significant ethical issues for the international community. Using STEM cell technology, neuroscientists are now able to construct “brain organoids” produced from human skin cells. Scientists have proven that somatic cells can be “reprogrammed” to the pluripotent stage and ultimately differentiated into neurons, allowing for the development of 3-D structures of neural tissue. Neuroscience research has also made profound leaps into potential applications of brain signals to machine interfaces. At the 2014 World Cup opening ceremony in Brazil, a paraplegic man took the first kick thanks to a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton which allowed him to finally walk again. Two years before, a brain-machine interfacing system allowed a paralyzed woman to pick up a drink using just her mind and a robotic arm. With the advent of these new technologies, though, the international community must address a variety of ethical questions. Even though technologies like brain organoids and brain-machine interfaces could lead to potentials solutions for neurodegenerative diseases and paraplegia, should countries be allowed to conduct research in these areas without limitations? What might be the implications of building a network of neurons from an individual’s own cells or retrieving and storing brain signals on computer databases? If research is to be continued at its current pace, how might further applications be used for “good”? How might countries use this technology for controversial purposes, such as in warfare? With the progression of research in other technical fields, such as in artificial intelligence, how might ethical issues arise from the application of deep-learning technologies to expanses of intimate human brain data? How might collection of quantitative brain data be protected by countries in the age of cyber-warfare? What could be the implications to individual privacy and ownership if governments or large corporations gain access to large databases of human brain signals which ultimately reveal thoughts or behaviors?

Director’s Letter

Dear Delegates,

Welcome to the Commission on Science and Technology for Development! My name is Shawn Shivdat, and I am thrilled to be serving as your director for HMUN 2020.

DSC02611.ARW.jpg

I am a sophomore at Harvard College concentrating in Neurobiology with a secondary field in Computer Science. I’m from Macon, Georgia, and I’ve been doing Model UN since my freshman year of high school. I felt most impacted by Model UN in high school because it provided the opportunity to engage in current international debate with students across the globe, practice public speaking and negotiation skills, and build friendships with students from a wide range of backgrounds. Outside of Model UN, some of my favorite activities were playing saxophone in marching band, competing in chess tournaments, and conducting scientific research.

Currently, I sing as a tenor in the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, volunteer during nightshifts for Y2Y (a youth homeless shelter), and conduct quantitative neuroscience research at Massachusetts General Hospital. I also serve as an advisor to Chess Empowerment Association, a nonprofit run by high school students which teaches chess and runs tournaments in my hometown. In HMUN 2019, I served as an Assistant Director in the specialized agencies for the Formation of the Organization of African Unity.

I am very thankful for the diverse experiences I gained and the wonderful people I met through Model UN, and I hope to make our committee experience in HMUN 2020 as meaningful as it can be. Many of the issues we will discuss derive directly from dilemmas arising from cutting-edge scientific research topics facing communities here at Harvard and across the globe. The topics encourage you to think about current bio-technological innovations, potential for advancement in these fields, global implications of that advancement, and the role of the international community to protect individuals against potential misuses. I hope that I can share at least some of my passion for these topics with you in conference, and I look forward to hearing your opinions and country positions on the topics.

I am extremely excited to get to know you all, and please feel free to reach out with any questions.

All the best,

Shawn Shivdat

Director, Commission on Science and Technology for Development

Harvard Model United Nations 2020

cstd@harvardmun.org