(STAT News) – Some human stem cells growing in labs that researchers have used in experiments to treat serious diseases contain serious cancer-causing mutations, scientists reported on Wednesday. The discovery raised alarms that patients could be treated for one disease, such as macular degeneration, only to develop another, cancer. Harvard scientists obtained samples of most of the human embryonic stem cell lines registered with the National Institutes of Health for use in both basic research and in developing therapies for patients with diseases including diabetes, Parkinson’s, and macular degeneration. They found that five of the 140 lines had cells with a cancer-causing mutation.
(Reuters) – Trade in illegal organs is a booming business in Lebanon as desperate Syrian refugees resort to selling body parts to support themselves and their families, according to an investigation by the BBC. A trafficker who brokers deals from a coffee shop in Beirut, identified as Abu Jaafar, said while he knew his “booming” business was illegal, he saw it as helping people in need. He spoke to the BBC journalist Alex Forsyth from his base in a dilapidated building covered by a plastic tarpaulin in a southern Beirut suburb.
(The Economist) – Many deaths are preceded by a surge of treatment, often pointless. A survey of doctors in Japan found that 90% expected that patients with tubes inserted into their windpipes would never recover. Yet a fifth of patients who die in the country’s hospitals have been intubated. An eighth of Americans with terminal cancer receive chemotherapy in their final fortnight, despite it offering no benefit at such a late stage. Nearly a third of elderly Americans undergo surgery during their final year; 8% do so in their last week.
(Reuters) – A cheap and widely available drug could save the lives of one in three of the 100,000 new mothers who bleed to death after childbirth every year, mostly in poorer countries, according to the first study of its use in postpartum haemorrhage. In a trial of 20,000 women, researchers found that the drug, called tranexamic acid or TXA, cut the number of deaths due to post-partum bleeding by 31 percent if given within three hours. The treatment costs about $2.50 in most countries, they said.
(The Economist) – Even outside those areas, contraception is controversial. Boko Haram’s ideology didn’t spring from nowhere. Many Nigerian Muslims believe that pills and condoms are part of a Western plot to stop Muslims from multiplying. And in poor, rural areas, centuries of experience have taught people that having lots of children makes economic sense. They can be put to work in the fields, they will provide for their parents in old age and, given high rates of infant mortality, if you don’t have several you may end up with none.
(STAT News) – This is a story of survivors — of patients who were expected to die more than two decades ago but didn’t. It was the summer of 1998, and Dr. Brian J. Druker was a few months into Phase 1, first-in-human trials of a promising compound that would later be known as Gleevec. Druker, a researcher at Oregon Health and Science University, knew from lab studies that the drug could disable a gene that controls certain leukemia cells, while leaving healthy cells intact. But he didn’t have answers to a lot of other questions, including what dose would be beneficial.
(Medical Xpress) – Optional prenatal screening for Down’s syndrome has become a ‘normal’ part of pregnancy, with consequences for women and their partners, according to new research by Cardiff University. In a study of healthcare professionals involved in Down’s syndrome screening in the UK, Dr Gareth Thomas of the University’s School of Social Sciences shows how screening for the condition has become an expected pit-stop on the pregnancy journey. Through the language used by both professionals and expectant parents during consultations, to the exclusive framing of ultrasound scans as a means to ‘meet the baby’, and subtle but clear messages that produce a negative portrayal of disability, the opt-in procedure has become routine.
(Medical Xpress) – Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers have found that babies born from mothers who underwent fertility treatments are at increased risk of developing many types of pediatric cancers and tumors (neoplasms). According to the American Cancer Society, the most common pediatric neoplasms are leukemia, brain and spinal cord tumors, neuroblastomas, Wilms tumors, and lymphoma, including both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin. The study, published in the March issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, was a population-based cohort analysis of babies born between 1991 and 2013 at Soroka University Medical Center in Beer-Sheva, Israel, with follow-up to age 18.
(The Atlantic) – But within a decade or so, babies born between 23 and 25 weeks might not be thrust into the harsh outside world at all. Instead, they may be immediately plunged into a special bag filled with lab-made amniotic fluid, designed to help them gestate for another month inside an artificial womb. That is, if a new technology that has been successfully tested on lambs is found to work on humans.
(USA Today) – Increasing fertility options for couples who can’t naturally conceive trigger questions about ethics. About a third of American adults say in vitro fertilization is morally acceptable, according to a Pew Research study. The conditions around IVF, mainly if donor sperm or eggs are used, can ignite debates, especially in faith circles. Many faith leaders cite beliefs about the purpose of sex, when life begins and the union of marriage, saying fertility options go against or blur the lines of morality.
(Science) – For women looking to become pregnant through in vitro fertilization (IVF), a diamond petri dish could be a girl’s best friend. That’s one conclusion from a new study, which finds that human sperm cells live longer and move more efficiently on diamond surfaces compared with traditional polystyrene petri dishes. The researchers also discovered that shining a red light on the sperm cells improved their performance. Combining these techniques might significantly increase the chances of IVF success.
(Associated Press) – Boston University researchers will study Aaron Hernandez’s brain to determine if the former NFL star suffered from the same degenerative brain disease as Hall of Famer Junior Seau and former Bears defensive back Dave Duerson, who also took their own lives. Hernandez hanged himself in prison early Wednesday, days after winning an acquittal in a 2012 double homicide case. He was already serving a life term in a 2013 killing.
(Sydney Morning Herald) – Australia’s peak medical council has knocked back a push to allow parents to choose the gender of their baby in new national guidelines. But the National Health and Medical Research Council left the door open for future changes, suggesting sex selection may be ethical. On Thursday, the NHMRC banned clinics from offering gender selection for non-medical purposes in its long-anticipated guidelines for assisted reproductive technologies (ART). The council’s working committee – the Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) – had recommended the council consider condoning sex selection in certain circumstances.
(Wired) – To find his unicorn, Sinha would have to dig deeper, into the proteins that would eventually define the cells. That would require him to sequence the RNA of thousands of seemingly identical stem cells from a collection Weissman had built. And like most geneticists working today, the machine he turned to was from Illumina: the San Diego-based company whose products sequence 90 percent of all genetic data. But instead of a true stem cell, Sinha stumbled onto something very different. Inconsistent results led him to identify an issue with the underlying operations of Illumina’s newer sequencers—an issue that could have contaminated the results of similar high-sensitivity data produced on the machines in the last two years.
(The Epoch Times) – The city of Vienna became the first European capital to echo a European Parliament resolution which censures the Chinese regime for its organ harvesting crimes recently. The Vienna Provincial Parliament “condemns the systematic, state-sanctioned organ harvesting from prisoners in the People’s Republic of China,” read the resolution, which was unanimously passed on April 7. The Chinese regime had carried out organ harvesting “without consent and affects large numbers of Falun Gong adherents and members of politically persecuted, religious, and ethnic minorities,” the resolution continued.
(Science Daily) – Salk scientists and collaborators have shed light on a long-standing question about what leads to variation in stem cells by comparing induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from identical twins. Even iPSCs made from the cells of twins, they found, have important differences, suggesting that not all variation between iPSC lines is rooted in genetics, since the twins have identical genes.
(Nature) – A protein found in young human blood plasma can improve brain function in old mice. The finding, published on 19 April in Nature, is the first time a human protein has been shown to have this effect. It’s also the latest evidence that infusions of ‘young blood’ can reverse symptoms of ageing, including memory loss, decrease in muscle function and metabolism, and loss of bone structure. For decades, researchers have studied the effects of young blood on ageing in mice through a technique called parabiosis, in which an old mouse is sewn together with a younger one so that they share a circulatory system.
(STAT News) – The number of babies born in Puerto Rico with microcephaly and other birth defects caused by the Zika virus appears to be unexpectedly low — so low that experts are beginning to question whether the actual count is being significantly underreported by authorities on the island. As Zika surged across the Americas last year, US health authorities warned that Puerto Rico was facing a perfect storm — and braced for a large number of pregnancies affected by the virus. But, to date, Puerto Rico has reported only 16 cases of congenital defects associated with Zika, even though more than 3,300 pregnant women are known to have contracted the virus and several times that number are believed to have been infected.
(Pro Publica) – The public could soon get a look at confidential reports about errors, mishaps and mix-ups in the nation’s hospitals that put patients’ health and safety at risk, under a groundbreaking proposal from federal health officials. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wants to require that private health care accreditors publicly detail problems they find during inspections of hospitals and other medical facilities, as well as the steps being taken to fix them. Nearly nine in 10 hospitals are directly overseen by those accreditors, not the government.
(New York Times) – Welcome to the fertility casino, which frequently presents the rarest of scenarios: A commercial entity offers a potentially money-losing proposition to customers in exchange for a generous supply of in vitro fertilization procedures. People pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege, and when they come out with a newborn in their arms they’re often thrilled to be on the losing end financially. So who wins? The house. Doctors (and third-party companies that help manage these programs and may take on any financial risk) keep careful track of their data. So they set prices at profitable points given the odds.
(STAT News) – It is a common story in rural America. Financial pressures, insurance problems, and doctor shortages forced more than 200 hospitals to close their birthing units between 2004 and 2014, according to the University of Minnesota’s Rural Health Research Center. That’s left millions women of reproductive age facing longer drives to deliver babies — who sometimes arrive en route. The long drives, understandably, increase anxiety. They also make mothers and babies less safe; studies show these distances bring with them increased rates of complications and infant deaths, as well as longer stays in neonatal intensive care units.
(STAT News) – The virus that de Moraes caught is part of a broader outbreak that has taken authorities here by surprise. Although Brazil experiences what is known as a “sylvatic” cycle of yellow fever — in which the virus is spread between mosquitoes and monkeys in the jungle — the current outbreak has fanned far beyond the Amazon jungle and out to the coast. It has confounded specialists, doctors, and health officials, and raised fears of an epidemic in Brazil’s urban areas that could be devastating if not quickly contained. It is the worst outbreak of yellow fever in this country in recent memory.
(Nature) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has started testing whether livers-on-a-chip — miniature models of human organs engineered to mimic biological functions — can reliably model human reactions to food and food-borne illnesses. The experiments will help the agency to determine whether companies can substitute chip data for animal data when applying for the approval of a new compound, such as a food additive, that could prove toxic. It is the first time that a regulatory agency anywhere in the world has pursued organs-on-chips as an alternative to animal testing.
(The Washington Post) – On Thursday, Feng Zhang, one of the pioneers of CRISPR, and 18 colleagues published a paper in the journal Science showing how they had turned this system into an inexpensive, reliable diagnostic tool for detecting nucleic acids — molecules present in an organism’s genetic code — from disease-causing pathogens. The new tool could be widely applied to detect not only viral and bacterial diseases but also potentially for finding cancer-causing mutations.
(Dutch News) – The number of official cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands rose 10% last year to 6091 and euthanasia now accounts for 4% of total deaths, the regional monitoring boards said on Wednesday. In 10 cases, the rules for euthanasia were not followed correctly, most of which involved a failure to properly consult a second doctor, the RTE annual report said. In one case, a doctor was reprimanded for ‘crossing the line’ with a patient suffering from severe dementia.