School to co-host virtual global conference on ethics

Dr. Subrata Saha is the conference’s founder and chair.
Dr. Subrata Saha is the conference’s founder and chair.

An international conference on ethics, co-hosted by the UW School of Dentistry, will discuss issues in medicine and related fields, including clinical trials and animal experiments, on Nov. 13-14.

The 10th International Conference on Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine, features 16 speakers from various UW Health Sciences departments, including the conference’s founder and chair, Dr. Subrata Saha. He holds faculty appointments in the Department of Restorative Dentistry and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the School of Dentistry.

Other key subjects for discussion will include ethical issues regarding conflicts of interest and regulatory issues for biomedical research, and research integrity and responsible conduct of research.

In addition to Dr. Saha, seven other School of Dentistry faculty speakers will be featured: Dr. Sue Herring, Dr. Daniel Chan, Dr. Thomas Dodson, Dr. Sara Gordon, Dr. Donald Chi, and Dr. Rod Wentworth. Dr. Lauren Hagel, a Department of Orthodontics resident, will also speak.

This year’s conference is hosted by the School of Dentistry’s Department of Restorative Dentistry and co-sponsored by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, UW-Bothell, Seattle University, and several other societies, institutions, and companies. While the conference is typically live and biennial, the Covid-19 pandemic forced its postponement to this fall along with a switch to a virtual format.

“Our goal is to bring together biomedical engineers, scientists, clinicians, dentists, philosophers, lawyers, students, and representatives from industry to discuss how to pave the way for safe and ethical advancement of implants, devices, drugs, and other technologies to improve the quality of life for our patients,” said Dr. Saha in his welcome message.

“The papers to be presented represent a broad spectrum of topics reflecting the exciting but sometimes controversial nature of many of our innovations,” said Dr. Saha.

He established the conference 23 years ago when he was a professor at Clemson University, where he held the conference’s first installment. “No one was talking about ethics in the field of biomedical engineering in the ‘90s, so I felt the need to bring up the topic,” said Dr. Saha.

While the Conference in Ethics started with a focus on biomedical engineering, Dr. Saha quickly realized that the need for ethical frameworks was growing in other fields. “Turns out in all of our meetings that there were doctors, dentists, scientists, so I decided, ‘Why not change it to include all of these fields?’ ” he said.

“I have witnessed [Dr. Saha’s] perseverance in pushing this symposium through to this stage, both in terms of obtaining funding and inviting speakers,” said Dr. Daniel Chan, chair of the Department of Restorative Dentistry. “He worked across departments and collaborated with dental societies to make it happen.”

Now the conference is a central piece in advancing ethical frameworks across an array of science, engineering, and medical fields.

This year’s keynote lectures include “Evolving Issues Related to Conflict of Interest in Biomedical Research” by Dr. Howard Bauchner, previous editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association, and “Onco-ethics: Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and Patient” by Kenneth W. Goodman of the University of Miami.

Speakers are encouraged to submit their papers for publication in Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine: An International Journal, for which Dr. Saha is editor-in-chief, after the conference.

While attendees may have preferred a live format, they acknowledge the benefits of a virtual presentation. “Although we can travel nationally now, much traveling is curtailed for many,” said Dr. Chan. “One example is our keynote speaker, the director from NIDCR (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a branch of the National Institutes of Health), was discouraged from traveling for non-essential trips. Virtual is the only way [for him] to go.”

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Saha, the conference has become a staple for a variety of fields, and School of Dentistry faculty members are excited to be co-hosting this year’s installment.

“In the past decade or so, [the school] has been refocusing on important intangible values such as ethics, diversity, etc.,” said Dr. Chan. “We are proud to host this symposium as a department and school, [which] will put UW in the forefront of dental education.”