News from Bioethics.com

Should a Human-Pig Chimera Be Treated as a Person?

16 hours 22 min

(Quartz) – How should we respond to chimeras when we are uncertain of their moral status? At present, chimeras created in laboratories are destroyed as embryos. But in order to harvest organs, full gestation would be needed. When that happens, do the human-animal chimeras have a moral right to continued existence? If there is any doubt about the cognitive abilities of this new life form, we should check the chimera for its functionality. We should not assume it has the cognitive function of a normal pig. We should rear it humanely with social contact, and assess its function and abilities as it develops.

Researchers Just Uncovered a Simple Way to Help Combat the Opioid Epidemic

16 hours 29 min

(Vox) – There’s another type of prescription drugs, besides opioid painkillers, that’s involved in thousands of drug overdose deaths in the US every year. The drugs are benzodiazepines, which are widely known by their brand names Xanax and Valium and commonly prescribed to help treat anxiety. These drugs were involved in nearly 9,000 overdose deaths in 2015, according to federal data. But there’s a catch: Such overdoses seem to be very closely tied to the opioid epidemic, with the majority of benzodiazepine overdose deaths involving both benzodiazepines and opioids.

Doctor Turns Up Possible Treatment for Deadly Sepsis

16 hours 42 min

(NPR) – It’s hard not to get excited about news of a potentially effective treatment for sepsis, a condition that leads to multiple organ failure and kills more people in the hospital than any other disease. But there have been so many false promises about this condition over the years, it’s also wise to treat announcements — like one published online by the journal, Chest — with caution. The study, from Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va., reported some remarkable success in treating patients who were at high risk of sudden death.

Debate Reignites Over the Contributions of ‘Bad Luck’ Mutations to Cancer

16 hours 46 min

(Science) – How much of cancer is due to random “bad luck”? More than 2 years ago, a pair of researchers brought that question to prominence when they tried to sort out environmental versus inherited causes of cancer. They examined the extent to which stem cell divisions in healthy cells—and the random mutations, or “bad luck” that accumulate—drive cancer in different tissues. Their effort, which implied that cancer was harder to prevent than hoped and that early detection was underappreciated, sparked controversy and confusion. Now, the researchers are back with a sequel: a new paper that aims to parse “bad luck” risks by cancer type, and that brings in cancer data from other countries.

Tests Show 3D Bioprinted Human Cartilage Cells Can Be Safely Implanted

16 hours 54 min

(UPI) – Scientists in Sweden successfully implanted 3D bioprinted human cartilage cells in an animal model. Researchers hope the breakthrough paves the way for the technology’s use in human patients. “This is the first time anyone has printed human-derived cartilage cells, implanted them in an animal model and induced them to grow,” Paul Gatenholm, professor of biopolymer technology at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, said in a news release.

With Patients Demanding Experimental Drugs, ‘Right to Try’ Is Becoming the Law of the Land

1 day 12 hours

(STAT News) – Some physicians, ethicists, and regulatory officials say the laws could harm more patients than they help — but many are reluctant to publicly oppose the laws for fear of being seen as opposing any one patient’s quest to save his or her life. Lawmakers, critics say, can stand on high moral ground as champions of the dying, while opponents struggle to demonstrate potential harms to faceless patients.

Economic Shocks Are More Likely to Be Lethal in America

1 day 12 hours

(The Economist) – Ms Case and Mr Deaton have now updated their work on these so-called “deaths of despair”. The results, presented this week at the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, are no happier. White middle-age mortality continued to rise in 2014 and 2015, contributing to a fall in life expectancy among the population as a whole. The trend transcends geography. It is found in almost every state, and in both cities and rural areas. The problem seems to be getting worse over time. Deaths from drugs, suicide and alcohol have risen in every five-year cohort of whites born since the 1940s. And in each group, ageing seems to have worse effects.

Doctors Consider Ethics of Costly Heart Surgery for People Addicted to Opioids

2 days 12 hours

(NPR) – Milford is part of a group of opioid addicts whom doctors describe as the sickest of the sick: intravenous drug users, mostly people who use heroin, who get endocarditis. Some aspects of their treatment present an ethical dilemma for doctors. Cardiologists, surgeons and infectious disease doctors can fix the infection, but not the underlying problem of addiction. And when patients who are still addicted to opioids leave the hospital, many keep injecting drugs, often causing repeat infections that are more costly and more challenging to cure.

Sale of Cambodian Breast Milk to Mothers in US Criticized by UN

2 days 12 hours

(The Guardian) – The UN children’s fund has strongly criticised the sale by a commercial company of breast milk donated by Cambodian mothers to women in the US, warning it could lead to the babies of poor and vulnerable women becoming malnourished. Unicef condemned the trade by Utah-based company Ambrosia Labs as the Cambodian government intervened. Cambodia’s customs department said the finance minister, Aun Porn Moniroth, had signed a letter blocking further exports, according to the Associated Press in Phnom Penh. Talks will be held to decide whether the business should be allowed to resume.

On Cognitive Doping in Chess (and Life)

2 days 13 hours

(The Atlantic) -For professional chess players, though, medicinal “neuro-enhancement” (as it’s sometimes dubiously known) could bring in somewhere between 6 and 15 percent more wins. That’s according to the first large study of “highly skilled tournament chess players” comparing their performance in states of medication and sobriety—a study that the World Chess Championship’s publication World Chess has called “landmark” and “groundbreaking.”

A New Form of Stem Cell Engineering Raises Ethical Questions

2 days 13 hours

(New York Times) – As biological research races forward, ethical quandaries are piling up. In a report published Tuesday in the journal eLife, researchers at Harvard Medical School said it was time to ponder a startling new prospect: synthetic embryos. In recent years, scientists have moved beyond in vitro fertilization. They are starting to assemble stem cells that can organize themselves into embryolike structures.

Determined Parents Are Moving the Needle on Gene Therapy

3 days 12 hours

(MIT Technology Review) – Frase is very likely the reason why the same treatment is now about to be tested in humans. In recent years, gene therapies have become safer and better at hitting their intended targets in the body, leading to a handful of remarkable cures in clinical trials. Advocates for rare-disease patients—especially determined parents like Frase—are increasingly seeking to start gene-therapy programs. They are establishing patient advocacy organizations, raising money for research, and even founding their own biotechnology startups to find treatments where few or none currently exist.

Erasing the ‘Ownership’ Tattoos on Sex-Trafficking Victims

3 days 12 hours

(The Atlantic) – The plastic surgeon offers free tattoo removals for sex-trafficking survivors. Picoway, the company that makes his tattoo-removal lasers, arranges their transportation. Leon was undergoing a second round of treatment to obliterate a mark made on her by one of her pimps. The tattoo reads “Smitty,” the street name of a former trafficker, and a sign to other pimps that she was his property. Nearly all of the women Leon worked with had them. Like her, many survivors are seeking out an array of charitable tattoo cover-up and removal services.

For Syrian Children, Hearing Loss Is an Invisible Wound–But One Charity Is Trying to Help

3 days 13 hours

(STAT News) – Six-year-old Aya al-Souqi, a Syrian refugee, held the camera phone up to her gaze and listened to hear her mother. “I hear you!” she exclaimed. It was only the second time she’d spoken to her mother in Beeskow, Germany since getting fitted with a hearing aid by a Chicago-based charity to treat an invisible wound of the Syrian war. Aya, timid and diminutive, was a little over a year old in 2012 when a rocket struck her family’s house in the Eastern Ghouta countryside, outside the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Downs Syndrome Teenager Addresses the UN in Geneva

3 days 13 hours

(BBC) – Mum Denise told Newsbeat about how proud she was to see her daughter get up in a room full of important UN policy makers, but it’s scary some people still choose to abort because they are having a Down’s baby. She said: “I feel rather mixed emotions right now; on the one hand I’m incredibly proud of Kathleen’s achievement. “But on the other hand I feel like I have to show off her every achievement just to show and remind society that her life is worth living.”

Doctors Harvesting Organs from Canadian Patients Who Underwent Medically Assisted Death

3 days 13 hours

(National Post) – Doctors have already harvested organs from dozens of Canadians who underwent medically assisted death, a practice supporters say expands the pool of desperately needed organs, but ethicists worry could make it harder for euthanasia patients to voice a last-minute change of heart. In Ontario, 26 people who died by lethal injection have donated tissue or organs since the federal law decriminalizing medical assistance in dying, or MAID, came into effect last June, according to information obtained by the Post. A total of 338 have died by medical assistance in the province.

Harvard Scientists Call for Better Rules to Guide Research on ‘Embryoids’

3 days 14 hours

(NPR) – How far should scientists be allowed to go in creating things that resemble primitive human brains, hearts, and even human embryos? That’s the question being asked by a group of Harvard scientists who are doing exactly that in their labs. They’re using stem cells, genetics and other new biological engineering techniques to create tissues, primitive organs and other living structures that mimic parts of the human body. Their concern is that they and others doing this type of “synthetic biology” research might be treading into disturbing territory.

Costa Rica Welcomes First IVF Baby after 16-Year-Ban

4 days 13 hours

(The Tico Times) – A baby girl named María José is the first baby born as the result of an In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) procedure after a 16-year ban on the technique in Costa Rica. Channel 7 Telenoticias reported that the baby was born just before 1 p.m. on Wednesday at Hospital Cima, west of San José. Her parents are a couple from the province of Heredia who had the procedure done last June.

San People of Africa Draft Code of Ethics for Researchers

4 days 14 hours

(Science) – The San people of Southern Africa are among the closest living relatives of our hunting and gathering ancestors. Scientists have flocked to study their age-old rituals and ancient genetic fingerprints. Now, after more than a century of being scrutinized by science, the San are demanding something back. Earlier this month the group unveiled a code of ethics for researchers wishing to study their culture, genes, or heritage.

Artificial Intelligence Is Learning to Predict and Prevent Suicide

1 week 16 hours

(Wired) – For years, Facebook has been investing in artificial intelligence fields like machine learning and deep neural nets to build its core business—selling you things better than anyone else in the world. But earlier this month, the company began turning some of those AI tools to a more noble goal: stopping people from taking their own lives. Admittedly, this isn’t entirely altruistic. Having people broadcast their suicides from Facebook Live isn’t good for the brand.

Early Adoption Not an Option for Research Rule Changes

1 week 17 hours

(Bloomberg) – Changes to human research subject protection regulations known as the Common Rule shouldn’t be followed before they officially take effect next January, an HHS attorney said. “You cannot start applying it right now. The current rule applies until the revised rule becomes effective,” Laura M. Odwazny told a room full of health lawyers March 9 in Baltimore. Odwazny is the attorney who advises the Health and Human Services Office for Human Research Protections, which administers the Common Rule ( 45 C.F.R. 46).

The Key to Curing Disease Could Lie in Iceland’s Genes

1 week 17 hours

(CNN) – The freezer sits behind a heavy door in the basement of an unassuming building on the campus of the University of Iceland. It feels much colder than it looks; inside, the temperature is minus-15 degrees Fahrenheit, but the air is so dry, you can’t see your breath. Stored in that freezer are vials and vials of blood, as far as the eye can see, 500,000 samples from 150,000 people. Almost half of Iceland’s population is represented in that freezer, and their blood could help scientists crack codes for a range of issues, from treating disease to understanding human intelligence. The key lies in their DNA.

3 Women Blinded by Unproven Stem Cell Treatments

1 week 17 hours

(NPR) – Scientists have long hoped that stem cells might have the power to treat diseases. But it’s always been clear that they could be dangerous too, especially if they’re not used carefully. Now a pair of papers published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine is underscoring both the promise and the peril of using stem cells for therapy. In one report, researchers document the cases of three elderly women who were blinded after getting stem cells derived from fat tissue at a for-profit clinic in Florida. The treatment was marketed as a treatment for macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness among the elderly. Each woman got cells injected into both eyes.

Lab-Grown Mini-Organs Help Model Disease, Test New Drugs

1 week 1 day

(Science) – To the naked eye, the little globs of cells are undifferentiated masses, smaller than sesame seeds. Put them under a microscope, though, and these lab-grown miniature organs show striking complexity: the tiny tubules of a kidney, the delicate folds of cerebral cortex, or a mucousy layer of intestinal lining. Now—after nearly a decade of figuring out how to make cells grow, organize, and specialize into 3D structures similar to human tissues, scientists have created a veritable zoo of “organoids,” including livers, pancreases, stomachs, hearts, kidneys, and even mammary and salivary glands.

Should Hospitals–and Doctors–Apologize for Medical Mistakes?

1 week 1 day

(The Washington Post) – But spurred by concerns about the “deny and defend” model — including its cost, lack of transparency and the perpetuation of errors — programs to circumvent litigation by offering prompt disclosure, apology and compensation for mistakes as an alternative to malpractice suits are becoming more popular. Johns Hopkins researchers recently estimated that medical mistakes kill 251,000 Americans annually, which would make them the ­third-leading cause of death. Traditionally, the only way for patients to find out what went wrong has been to sue.

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