News from Bioethics.com

Liver Transplant from HIV+ Living Donor to Negative Recipient: Key Ethical Issues

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(The Conversation) – About a year ago we made a tough call of our own: we could save a child’s life by giving the child a liver transplant – but risked infecting the child with HIV in the process. The donor was the child’s mother, who is HIV positive and the child was HIV negative. The procedure came with a risk of transmitting HIV to the child. South Africa’s law does not forbid the transplantation of an organ from a living HIV positive donor to an HIV negative recipient, provided that a robust informed consent process is in place. But this isn’t universally accepted as best clinical practice because of the risk of HIV transmission to the recipient.

How Advanced Prosthetics Turned This Man into an ‘Emerging Cyborg’

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(PC Magazine) – In Dr. Lenzi’s lab, McMorris is participating in bio-medical clinical trials of technology intended to revolutionize life for people who require artificial limbs. Usually, McMorris wears a passive prosthetic below his right knee, but in the lab, he swaps his for an advanced prosthetic with built-in AI and state-of-the-art engineering. “Our research here focuses at the intersection of robotics, design, control, and biomechanics,” said Dr. Lenzi.

Ethics of Genetic Testing for Aesthetics

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(Genome Web) – Some prospective parents are looking beyond genetic testing to determine whether their children might inherit disease-causing mutations to explore their chances of inheriting aesthetic traits like eye color, leading to ethical questions, the Wall Street Journal reports. It writes that companies like Genomic Prediction now offer tests that gauge an embryo’s risk of developing complex health conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, and that researchers at that company have been researching whether they can predict height, too.

In a Study of Human Remains, Lessons in Science (and Cultural Sensitivity)

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(Undark Magazine) – The subject matter was obscure, but the findings were provocative: A genomic analysis of a mysterious skeleton found in Chile’s Atacama Desert revealed that the remains weren’t those of an extraterrestrial, as was wildly speculated, but a human fetus with an unusual bone disorder. The study, published in the journal Genome Research in March by Garry Nolan of the Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology at Stanford University and his colleagues, was intended to put to rest speculation that the mummified remains might prove the existence of alien life — but the controversy over the remains did not end there.

A Controversial Virus Study Reveals a Critical Flaw in How Science Is Done

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(The Atlantic) – This controversy is the latest chapter in an ongoing debate around “dual-use research of concern”—research that could clearly be applied for both good and ill. More than that, it reflects a vulnerability at the heart of modern science, where small groups of researchers and reviewers can make virtually unilateral decisions about experiments that have potentially global consequences, and that everyone else only learns about after the fact. Cue an endlessly looping GIF of Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm saying, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

New Way to Write DNA Could Turbocharge Synthetic Biology and Data Storage

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(Science Magazine) – Scientists can read the DNA sequence faster than ever before. But their ability to write DNA hasn’t kept pace. Those wanting made-to-order DNA for purposes such as synthetic biology make do with short strands, synthesized in a slow and expensive chemical process. That appears ready to change. Today, researchers from a French biotechnology startup announced at a synthetic biology meeting in San Francisco, California, that by using close relatives of the DNA-writing enzymes in living things, they can build DNA strands as long as 150 “letters,” or nucleotide bases. That’s up from a record of 50 nucleotides just a few months ago, and nearly on par with the standard chemical approach.

African-Americans Are Disproportionately Enrolled in Studies That Don’t Require Informed Consent

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(STAT News) – African-Americans are enrolled in clinical trials that do not require patients to give individual consent at a disproportionately high level, according to a study published Monday. Scientists are allowed to conduct these experiments without obtaining consent from each individual participant because they are testing emergency medical procedures, and often the patients physically can’t respond. For example, scientists might be comparing two different methods of CPR, or examining the effect of different drug cocktails to treat a heart attack.

Japan Set to Allow Gene Editing in Human Embryos

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(Nature) – Japan has issued draft guidelines that allow the use of gene-editing tools in human embryos. The proposal was released by an expert panel representing the country’s health and science ministries on 28 September. Although the country regulates the use of human embryos for research, there have been no specific guidelines on using tools such as CRISPR–Cas9 to make precise modifications in their DNA until now.

‘I Will Not Give Them the Baby’: The Plight of Cambodia’s Detained Surrogates

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(The Guardian) – The new mother, Malis*, and her son are prisoners in a hospital on the outskirts of Phnom Penh with 31 other women, all surrogates hired by a company to deliver babies to Chinese clients. “I will not give them the baby. I will raise him myself,” Malis says. “When I saw him, I loved him already.” Police rounded up the 33 women in late June during a raid on an illegal surrogacy ring. A Chinese national and four Cambodian women were arrested and charged under Cambodia’s anti-trafficking law.

FDA Proposes Stiff Fines for Failing to Report Clinical Trials

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(Nature) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing heavy fines for pharmaceutical companies that fail to report clinical-trial results online. In a 20 September draft guidance statement, the FDA said that failure to register trials or submit results to the government database ClinicalTrials[dot]gov could result in fines of up to US$10,000 per day.

Yemen Cholera Outbreak Accelerates to 10,000+ Cases per Week: WHO

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(Reuters) – Yemen’s cholera outbreak – the worst in the world – is accelerating again, with roughly 10,000 suspected cases now reported per week, the latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO) showed on Tuesday.  That is double the average rate for the first eight months of the year, when 154,527 suspected cases of cholera – which can kill a child within hours if untreated – were recorded across the country, with 196 deaths.

Antidepressant Withdrawal ‘Hits Millions’

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(BBC) – Millions of people get bad side-effects trying to cut down on or come off antidepressants, a large review says.  The All Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence review suggests half of patients have withdrawal symptoms and for half of these the symptoms will be severe. Patients should be properly warned, it says. The guidance says symptoms are usually mild and clear up in a week.

ER Staffers Under Assault. Blame the Opioid Crisis.

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(Medical Xpress) – Emergency departments are becoming increasingly violent places as doctors bear the brunt of fallout from the opioid epidemic, a new survey shows. Nearly half of American emergency physicians said they have been physically assaulted at work, and three in five report those assaults happened during the past year, according to a new poll commissioned by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).  Nearly seven in 10 of survey respondents said ER violence has increased over the past five years, with one-quarter reporting it has increased greatly.

Drugmakers Play the Patent Game to Lock in Princes, Block Competitors

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(Kaiser Health News) – Yet, the patenting of a small change in how an existing drug is made or taken by patients is part of a tried-and-true pharmaceutical industry strategy of enveloping products with a series of protective patents. Drug companies typically have less than 10 years of exclusive rights once a drug hits the marketplace. They can extend their monopolies by layering in secondary patents, using tactics critics call “evergreening” or “product-hopping.”

In Rare Case, Patient Developed Resistance to CAR-T after Cancer Cell Began Hiding in ‘Plain Sight’

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(STAT News) – To make CAR-T therapies, the pioneering cancer treatments, scientists introduce a gene into the body’s immune cells that turns them into cancer-homing attackers. But in one case described by scientists Monday, the gene was inadvertently delivered to a cancer cell instead, camouflaging it from the therapy and allowing the cancer to develop resistance to treatment. The patient ultimately died.

Does Autism Raise the Risk of PTSD?

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(Scientific American) – Kerns and a few other researchers are trying to get a better understanding of the interplay between autism and PTSD, which they hope will inform and shape treatment for young people like Gabriel. The more they dig in, the more these researchers are finding that many autistic people might have some form of PTSD.

WHO Plays Down Risk to Indian Children from Tainted Polio Vaccine

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(Reuters) – The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday that there was minimal risk of children contracting the polio virus in India from a tainted batch of vaccines.  The public health scare, which potentially affected thousands of children, put a renewed spotlight on lax pharmaceutical quality control procedures in India.

The Aftermath of Indonesia’s Devastating Tsunami, Which Has Killed More Than 800 People

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(Quartz) – A 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Friday (Sept. 28) on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi triggered a tsunami which as of today (Oct. 1) has killed more than 800 people and left a trail of destruction across the island. The death toll is likely to keep rising. While the city of Palu has suffered some of the worst damage and most fatalities, remote portions of the island have been cut off from communications, and infrastructure, the BBC reports.

India’s Top Court Limits Sweep of Biometric ID Program

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(New York Times) – In a landmark ruling on Wednesday, India’s Supreme Court placed strict limits on the government’s national biometric identity system while also finding that the sweeping program did not fundamentally violate the privacy rights of the country’s 1.3 billion residents. A five-justice panel of the court decided by 4-1 to approve the use of the program, called Aadhaar, for matters involving the public purse, such as the distribution of food rations and other government benefits and the collection of income taxes.

Zika Love Stories

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(BBC) – Both boys are growing up with congenital Zika syndrome (CZS), a set of physical impairments caused when their mothers were infected with the Zika virus while they were pregnant. In Brazil, more than 3,000 children were born with CZS, following the outbreak in 2015 and 2016.  The most well-known symptom is microcephaly – abnormally small heads. Three years ago the world’s news outlets were filled with pictures of screaming newborns, their heads so small that their scalps folded into a mass of wrinkles.

‘Give Her a Chance’: North Texas Family Fights to Keep 9-Year-Old on Life Support

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(WFAA) – Doctors at the hospital were eventually able to get back a heartbeat, and the girl has been stable and on a ventilator ever since. “She has a mass behind her heart that is twice the size of her heart,” said Tiffany. “They speculate that is what caused her to stop breathing.” The girl’s parents desperately want her to remain on life support, at least until they see some additional physical signs she’s deteriorating.

Experimental TB Vaccine Shows Promise in Clinical Trials

2 weeks 3 days

(STAT News) – As world leaders pledged support for the fight against tuberculosis at the United Nations this week, some good news in the effort to develop weapons to combat the bacterium nearly slipped under the radar. An experimental TB vaccine showed solid protection in a clinical trial reported Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The vaccine is being developed by GSK and Aeras, a nonprofit organization working on affordable tuberculosis vaccines.

Why Your Doctor Wants to Talk about Guns

2 weeks 3 days

(CNN) – our doctor already talks to you about sex, drugs and alcohol, but should they talk to you about guns, too? A newly-formed coalition of healthcare providers thinks so — and patient intervention is just one part of their plan to reduce what they call an “epidemic” of gun violence. The organization, Scrubs Addressing the Firearm Epidemic, known as SAFE, is demanding an increase in federal funding for gun violence research, and is calling on lawmakers to implement “evidence-based policy” on guns.

World’s First Human Case of Rat Disease Discovered

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(CNN) – For the first time, a case of rat hepatitis E has been discovered in a human in Hong Kong. A 56-year-old man has been diagnosed with the disease, researchers from the University of Hong Kong said. It was not previously known the disease could be passed from rats to humans.

In the Race to Use Genetic Tests to Predict Whether Antidepressants Will Work, Science Might Be Getting Left Behind

2 weeks 3 days

(STAT News) – With the new test (part of a $249 product), Color joins several dozen companies probing patients’ DNA in search of insights to help inform decisions about which psychiatry medications patients should take. They’re touting applications for depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But some top psychiatrists say the evidence doesn’t support the commercial rush.

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