News from Bioethics.com

Dutch OK Law: Everyone Is an Organ Donor Unless They Opt Out

1 week 8 hours

(ABC News) – Dutch senators have approved a new law that makes everybody a potential organ donor unless they decide to opt out of the system. The new system narrowly passed a vote in the upper house of the Dutch parliament Tuesday. The lower house last year passed the legislation with a one-vote majority.

Medical Schools Don’t Offer Doctor-Recommended Parental Leave

1 week 8 hours

(Reuters) – Physicians at some of the nation’s most elite medical schools don’t receive three months of paid parental leave that doctors recommend for the health of mothers and babies, a U.S. study has found. “Despite the strong evidence base supporting the beneficial effects of at least 12 weeks of paid childbearing leave for the physical and mental health of mother and child, we are surprised that the average paid leave across schools was only about 8 weeks,” said senior study author Dr. Christina Mangurian of the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.

At Veterans’ Homes, Aid-in-Dying Isn’t an Option

1 week 9 hours

(The Atlantic) – A CalVet official says the agency adopted the rule to avoid violating a federal statute that prohibits using U.S. government resources for physician-assisted death. Otherwise, the agency would jeopardize nearly $68 million in federal funds that helps run the facilities, said June Iljana, CalVet’s deputy secretary of communications. California is not alone. Three other states where aid-in-dying is legal—Oregon, Colorado, and Vermont—prohibit use of lethal medications in state-run veterans’ homes.

Genetic Testing Is about to Redraw a Lot of Family Trees

1 week 1 day

(Boston Globe) – In 2017, a team of Belgian bioethicists and geneticists examined the privacy policies of 43 direct-to-consumer genetics testing companies to determine the possibility of using the easy kits for paternity tests. What they found was a lot of murkiness, according to the study, which was published in the European Journal of Human Genetics. Companies were vague about whether minors could participate in testing. Also, a majority of the terms-of-service agreements neglected to highlight the “vulnerability of minors and family members in receiving unexpected information.” Of course, it’s not just minors who are vulnerable.

Scientists Have Mapped Out How Our Genes Might Lead to Mental Illness

1 week 1 day

(Gizmodo) – It’s often said mental illness runs in the family. But while that’s true, scientists have had very little luck actually understanding how our genes influence our risk of developing major depression or schizophrenia. New research published Friday in Science seems to provide something big needed for that greater insight: A roadmap of how genes are expressed differently in the brains of people with one of five major psychiatric disorders.

These Lab-Grown Human Eggs Could Combat Infertility–if They Prove Healthy

1 week 1 day

(Science) – In an advance that could lead to new fertility treatments, researchers have coaxed immature human egg cells to fully develop in the lab for the first time. Still unclear is whether the resulting eggs, which reached maturity in just 22 days, compared with 5 months in the body, are normal and whether they can combine with sperm to make a healthy embryo.

Drug Industry Wages Opioid Fight Using an Anti-Addiction Ally

1 week 4 days

(New York Times) – Ms. Nickel told the lawmakers that she took no position on the tax and was simply offering her group’s resources to help fight the state’s drug epidemic. But her presence along with five representatives from the industry’s trade group raised eyebrows among the Minnesota lawmakers, who believed that drug companies needed to be held accountable for the prescription opioid crisis — not embraced as an ally.

Primitive Human Egg Matured in the Lab for the First Time

1 week 4 days

(New Scientist) – Human eggs have been matured from their most primitive state to full development in the lab for the first time. The resulting eggs are ready to be fertilised, and, if healthy, could in theory be used to advance IVF treatments as well as helping women who had cancer when they were young.

The Future of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Could Be in Mini, Movable Labs

1 week 4 days

(STAT News) – From its gleaming, year-old factory in this southeast Brazilian city, Oxitec, a British biotech firm, has built a thriving business releasing tens of millions of genetically engineered mosquitoes to protect populations from illnesses like dengue, chikungunya, and Zika. But the company sees its future here not just in big factories but in a new business model centered on miniature labs, where mosquito eggs can be raised and released into neighborhoods. These mosquitoes carry a gene that causes their offspring to die before reaching maturity, with the goal of reducing vector-borne diseases.

Indian Man Arrested after Allegedly Selling Wife’s Kidney, Which She Didn’t Even Know Was Gone

1 week 4 days

(Washington Post) – On Friday, the 28-year-old woman filed a complaint with West Bengal police, authorities told The Post. On Monday, police arrested the woman’s husband, Biswajit Sarkar, a cloth merchant from the Murshidabad district, and her brother-in-law, Shyamal Sarkar, said Uday Shankar Ghosh, the inspector in charge. Sarkar alleges her husband sold off her kidney to make up for her family’s failure to meet dowry demands. Police say the husband confessed to selling the kidney to a businessman in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, according to the Hindustan Times.

Lucas Was Just Named 2018 Gerber Baby. He Has Down Syndrome.

1 week 5 days

(Washington Post) – The 2018 Gerber baby was just named, and he is Lucas Warren, the first child with Down syndrome to receive the honor of, essentially, America’s cutest baby. The 18-month-old from Dalton, Ga., was selected as “2018 Gerber Spokesbaby” from more than 140,000 photos submitted by parents.

Autism Shares Brain Signature with Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder

1 week 5 days

(Scientific American) – Gene expression patterns in the brains of people with autism are similar to those of people who have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, according to a large study of postmortem brain tissue. The findings appear today in Science. All three conditions show an activation of genes in star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes, and suppression of genes that function at synapses, the junctions between neurons. The autism brains also show a unique increase in the expression of genes specific to immune cells called microglia.

Optogenetics 2.0: Brain Control Goes Wireless Via Light, Sound, or a Drug

1 week 5 days

(STAT News) – Now Optogenetics 2.0 is adding to neuroscientists’ bag of brain-control tricks. In the Caltech study, neurotechnologist Mikhail Shapiro and his colleagues substituted designer drugs for the light in the original optogenetics. With such “chemogenetics,” giving a lab animal a simple lab-made molecule, and only that molecule, triggers the genetically engineered target neurons to fire. The scientists added an acoustic twist: Focused ultrasound opens up the blood-brain barrier and sends the genetic tweak to only certain neurons, in this case the hippocampus. They call it acoustically targeted chemogenetics.

2nd Man Has Gene Editing; Therapy Has No Safety Flags So Far

1 week 5 days

(Washington Post) – A second patient has been treated in a historic gene editing study in California, and no major side effects or safety issues have emerged from the first man’s treatment nearly three months ago, doctors revealed Tuesday. Gene editing is a more precise way to do gene therapy, and aims to permanently change someone’s DNA to try to cure a disease.

Insulin Quality Questions Have Diabetes Experts Scrambling

1 week 6 days

(STAT News) – Preliminary research suggesting that some diabetes patients may be injecting medicine that has partially disintegrated is causing concern even as serious questions are raised about the research itself. The study author, a pharmacist, bought vials of insulin at a number of pharmacies and found that on average the vials had less than half of what was listed on the label and none met a minimum standard.

A New DNA Test Will Look for 190 Diseases in Your Newborn’s Genetic Code

1 week 6 days

(MIT Technology Review) – Using a swab of saliva from a newborn’s cheek, a new DNA test will probe the baby’s genes to search for 193 genetic diseases, like anemia, epilepsy, and metabolic disorders. The $649 test is meant for healthy babies, as a supplement to existing screening tests.

How Fake Surgery Exposes Useless Treatments

2 weeks 9 hours

(Scientific American) – And yet sham surgery studies are rarely done, especially in the U.S., where ethics boards resist subjecting patients to incisions, anesthesia and other risks without delivering an actual treatment. Redberg, who has written about the value of these studies, takes the opposite view: “I think it’s unethical not to do them.” Otherwise you may be exposing millions of people to the risks and the financial costs of surgery for a placebo effect that will not likely last.

Health Officials Push for Vaccine against Neglected Tropical Virus

2 weeks 9 hours

(Nature) – When the chikungunya virus hit the French Caribbean territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe in a 2013–15 epidemic, around half of the population fell ill. Few people died from the disease, which causes high fever and severe joint pain. But years after the infection, many of those affected still struggle to dress themselves, to grip objects and to close their fists, says Fabrice Simon, a chikungunya researcher at Laveran military teaching hospital in Marseille, France.

The Surprising Geography of Opioid Use around the World

2 weeks 9 hours

(Quartz) – The pattern of opioids use varies widely around the world. In the United States, one daily dose of opioids was prescribed for every 20 people from 2013-15. In similarly wealthy Japan, one daily dose was prescribed for every 800 people over the same period. As part of international drug-control conventions, countries report the use of narcotics—like opioids, cocaine, and cannabis—for legal medicinal and scientific use to the United Nations each year.

A Brain Implant Improved Memory, Scientists Report

2 weeks 9 hours

(New York Times) – Scientists have developed a brain implant that noticeably boosted memory in its first serious test run, perhaps offering a promising new strategy to treat dementia, traumatic brain injuries and other conditions that damage memory. The device works like a pacemaker, sending electrical pulses to aid the brain when it is struggling to store new information, but remaining quiet when it senses that the brain is functioning well.

Cracks in the Code: Why Mapping Your DNA May Be Less Reliable Than You Think

2 weeks 9 hours

(The Globe and Mail) – Launched publicly in Canada in 2012, the PGP aims to build an open, online database of Canadian genomes for use by researchers anywhere and more than 1,100 Canadians have signed up so far. But by unravelling the entire codes of just the inaugural participants, what the project leaders have found is both promising and perplexing: medically relevant information in each volunteer, but also a vast trove of mysterious quirks and dramatic glitches that none of them expected to see in a cohort of healthy people.

Why More Teen Girls Are Getting Genital Plastic Surgery

2 weeks 9 hours

(TIME) – Between 2014 and 2015, there was an 80% increase in the number of girls 18 and younger receiving genital plastic surgery, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. The numbers shot up so quickly that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued new guidelines this month for doctors who perform labial and breast surgery. Among the recommendations: physicians are now encouraged to screen girls for body dysmorphic disorder, an obsession with an imagined or slight defect in appearance.

A Search for Insomnia Gene Involving 1.3 Million People Is the Largest Genetic Study Ever

2 weeks 1 day

(MIT Technology Review) – In a genetic study of unprecedented size, scientists have searched for inherited causes of insomnia in the DNA 1,310,010 people. They found 956 different genes linked to the sleep disorder, drawing closer to an explanation of what causes it and, perhaps, to new ways to treat it. The study appears to be the first gene search to involve DNA collected from more than one million people.

Almost 1 Million Dengue Vaccinations and Three Children’s Deaths Later, Doctors Admit They May Have Got It Wrong

2 weeks 1 day

(Newsweek) – The Philippines said on Friday that the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia may be connected to three deaths in the country, according to a government-ordered inquiry, and that the drug is not ready for mass immunization. Sanofi revealed in November that Dengvaxia – the world’s first dengue vaccine – might increase the risk of severe disease in people who had never been exposed to the virus. The news prompted an uproar in the Philippines, where more than 800,000 school-age children had been vaccinated in 2016.

Olympics Could Require Athletes’ Genetic Code to Test for Doping

2 weeks 1 day

(Wired) – For years, the World Anti-Doping Agency has considered requiring all Olympic athletes to submit copies of their genetic code. It would work as a check on so-called “gene doping,” the idea of changing the body’s biological machinery to make it stronger, run faster, or recover more quickly. A clean slate would reveal any nefarious performance-boosting tweaks—like, theoretically, altering the expression of fast-twitch muscle genes to engineer a perfect sprinter.

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