News from Bioethics.com

For the First Time, U.K. Allows Clinic to Proceed with “3-Parent” Baby Procedure

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(Scientific American) – Britain’s fertility regulator on Thursday granted doctors the first UK license to create babies using a three-parent IVF technique designed to prevent inherited genetic diseases. The license, granted to a team of doctors in Newcastle, northern England, means the first child created in Britain using the mitochondrial pronuclear transfer technique could be born before the end of this year.

U.N. Drugs Body Places Fentanyl Ingredients on Control List

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(Reuters) – A U.N. body on Thursday added two chemicals used to make the drug fentanyl, which killed music star Prince, to an international list of controlled substances, which the United States said would help fight a wave of deaths by overdose. Fentanyl is a man-made opioid 100 times more powerful than morphine. Roughly 20,000 U.S. overdose deaths in 2015 involved heroin or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Waiting to Reprogram Your Cells? Don’t Hold Your Breath

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(Scientific American) – They can also give rise, however, to potentially dangerous mutations, possibly including ones that lead to cancerous tumors. Thus, iPS cells are a double-edged sword—their great promise is tempered by risk. Another problem is the high cost of treating a patient with his or her own newly reprogrammed cells. But now Japanese researchers are trying a different approach.

CRISPR May Speed Pig-to-Human Transplants

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(MIT Technology Review) – “This pig might save your bacon.” So say the company T-shirts printed up by biotechnology startup eGenesis, which today raised $38 million to fund a new effort to edit the DNA of pigs so they can serve as the source of transplant organs. The plan, says the company, is to use the gene-editing method known as CRISPR to introduce extensive DNA modifications into pigs as a way of humanizing their organs so they won’t get rejected if transferred into a person. (The back of the T-shirt reads: “PS, I like my bacon extra CRISPR’ed.”)

As Drug Costs Soar, People Delay or Skip Cancer Treatments

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(NPR) – With new cancer drugs commonly priced at $100,000 a year or more, Krahne’s story is becoming increasingly common. Hundreds of thousands of cancer patients are delaying care, cutting their pills in half or skipping drug treatment entirely, a Kaiser Health News examination shows. One-quarter of all cancer patients chose not to fill a prescription due to cost, according to a 2013 study in The Oncologist. And about 20 percent filled only part of a prescription or took less than the prescribed amount.

A Robot Ear Surgeon Drills into the Future of Medicine

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(Wired) – Technically it ain’t brain surgery, but let’s just say you wouldn’t want to do a cochlear implant while sleepy or distracted. So it’s a good thing this surgery robot can’t be either of those things. It drills into the bone behind the ear, watching with two shining eyes. The bit passes just half a millimeter from the facial nerve, and another half a millimeter from the taste nerve, before entering the spiraling cochlea of the inner ear. Here a human deposits an electrode.

Mosaic Problem Stands in the Way of Gene Editing Embryos

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(New Scientist) – The team managed to correct mutations in three out of six embryos, suggesting CRISPR repair is more efficient in viable embryos. “It does look more promising than previous papers,” says Fredrik Lanner of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. However, the study highlights a further roadblock to using gene editing to create healthy babies. Two of the edited embryos were mosaics – mixtures of edited and unedited cells. The team injected the CRISPR machinery when the embryos were just single cells, but it seems that, in these two embryos, it didn’t make repairs until after they had replicated their DNA. So when they divided, some cells inherited unrepaired DNA.

Should a Child’s Health Concerns Trump Sperm Donor Privacy?

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(New Scientist) – Now, in a world first, Victoria has retroactively removed the privacy of donors like Clark. Since 1 March, all donor-conceived people have had the legal right to find out their donor’s name and date of birth, even if the donor was promised anonymity. Some barriers remain – including a requirement to formally seek permission before making contact, under threat of a A$7500 fine – but Clark, now a general practitioner in Wonthaggi in southern Victoria, says it is still a “broken promise”. He believes many who donated would not have done so if they had known they could be tracked down later.

A New Bill Would Allow Employers to See Your Genetic Information–Unless You Pay a Fine

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(Vox) – A new bill is quietly making its way through Congress that could bring the US a little closer to a Gattaca-like future in which employers could discriminate against their employees based on their genes and risk of disease. To understand how we might get to Gattaca, let’s back up. Under Obamacare, employers are allowed to offer employees deep discounts on health insurance premiums if they participate in workplace wellness programs. The programs often involve medical questionnaires and health assessments — which has meant employers can get access to some of their employees personal health data.

Placenta More Vulnerable to Zika in Early Pregnancy

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(SciDevNet) – The placenta — an organ responsible for carrying oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the foetus — is much more vulnerable to Zika infection in the first trimester of pregnancy, and this explains why the congenital damage caused by the virus is more serious in the early stages of a child’s prenatal development, according to a study. The researchers, who published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (February 13), used reprogrammed embryonic stem cells to reproduce cells of the human placenta in the first trimester of gestation.

700 Dead as Malaria ‘Epidemic’ Hits Burundi

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(Medical Xpress) – About 700 people have died from malaria in Burundi so far this year, the health minister said, with the authorities having registered 1.8 million infections in a rising epidemic. “Burundi faces a malaria epidemic,” Josiane Nijimbere said Monday, commenting on a World Health Organization (WHO) report. From January 1 to March 10 this year, 1.8 million infections were registered in Burundi, according to the WHO.

Ebola Vaccines Provide Immune Responses after One Year

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(Medical Xpress) – Immune responses to Ebola vaccines at one year after vaccination are examined in a new study appearing in the March 14 issue of JAMA. The Ebola virus vaccine strategies evaluated by the World Health Organization in response to the 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa included a heterologous primary and booster vaccination schedule of the adenovirus type 26 vector vaccine encoding Ebola virus glycoprotein (Ad26.ZEBOV) and the modified vaccinia virus Ankara vector vaccine, encoding glycoproteins from Ebola, Sudan, Marburg, and Tai Forest viruses nucleoprotein (MVA-BN-Filo).

Kenya’s Public Doctors to End 100-Day Strike That Saw Deaths

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(ABC News) – Thousands of doctors at Kenya’s public hospitals have agreed to end a 100-day strike that saw people dying from lack of care, an official with the doctors’ union said Tuesday. The strike was blamed for dozens of deaths, as the majority of Kenyans cannot afford private health care. The government and union officials signed a deal to address pay and other issues in dispute, said Dr. Ouma Oluga, the secretary-general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union.

Fertility Treatment Failure May Harm Women’s Heart Health

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(Medical News Today) – Fertility therapy failure may raise the risk of poor heart health for women, according to the results of a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Researchers found that women who did not become pregnant after undergoing gonadotropin-based fertility therapy – treatment often used in preparation for in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other assisted reproductive technologies – were at greater risk of heart failure and stroke than those whose fertility therapy was successful.

What Hospitals Waste

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(ProPublica) – Just outside Portland, Maine, there’s a 15,000-square-foot warehouse that’s packed with reasons the U.S. health care system costs so much: Shelves climb floor to ceiling, stacked with tubs overflowing with unopened packages of syringes, diabetes supplies and shiny surgical instruments that run hundreds of dollars apiece. There are boxes of IV fluids and bags of ostomy supplies and kits with everything you’d need to perform an obstetrics surgery. This, however, isn’t a story of about the crippling price of medical supplies. This is about the high cost of medical supplies that hospitals throw away.

First Results of CRISPR Gene Editing of Normal Embryos Released

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(New Scientist) – A team in China has corrected genetic mutations in at least some of the cells in three normal human embryos using the CRISPR genome editing technique. The latest study is the first to describe the results of using CRISPR in viable human embryos, New Scientist can reveal. While this study – which attempted to repair the DNA of six embryos in total – was very small, the results suggest CRISPR works much better in normal embryos than it did in previous tests on abnormal embryos that could not develop into children.

The World’s Oldest Population of Humans Is Pushing Back against Unethical Researchers

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(Quartz) – For centuries the San, also controversially called the Bushmen, have been studied, measured, photographed and exploited. The traditional knowledge and culture of the world’s oldest population of humans has fascinated scientists, with little benefit to San themselves. They’ve finally had enough. The South African San Council launched a code of ethics to prevent intrusive and exploitative research in their communities. Launched in Cape Town earlier this month, the code was established in collaboration with the Trust Project, a global organization trying to empower vulnerable communities to protect themselves from double standards in the research fraternity.

Car Wars

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(The Atlantic) – The stakes are impossibly high. Self-driving cars are arguably the great technological promise of the 21st century. They are in that rare class of technology that might actually change the world. And not just in the way everyone in Silicon Valley talks about changing the world—but really, fundamentally change it. So much so that their dramatic life-saving potential is almost secondary to the other economic, cultural, and aesthetic transformations they would cause.

Full Genomic Sequencing for Newborns Raises Questions

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(Scientific American) – Many serious diseases that can be screened for at birth are not included in standard newborn genetic tests. Full genome sequencing of newborns for existing and potential disorders is now technologically possible and might soon be economically feasible. Scientists are exploring whether the resulting flood of genetic information will help parents and physicians care for newborns—or add unnecessary anxiety, complexity and cost.

Rookie Docs Can Work Longer, 24-Hour Shifts Under New Rules

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(ABC News) – Rookie doctors can work up to 24 hours straight under new work limits taking effect this summer — a move supporters say will enhance training and foes maintain will do just the opposite. A Chicago-based group that establishes work standards for U.S. medical school graduates has voted to eliminate a 16-hour cap for first-year residents. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education announced the move Friday as part of revisions that include reinstating the longer limit for rookies — the same maximum allowed for advanced residents.

Doctors Find Patient Brain Activity Continued for 10 Minutes after Death

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(Medical Xpress) – A team of doctors affiliated with the University of Western Ontario in Canada has documented a case in which a terminal patient removed from life support continued to experience brain wave activity for approximately 10 minutes after they had been pronounced clinically dead. In their paper published in The Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, the team describes the circumstances of the unusual event and acknowledge that they have no explanation for what they observed.

Scientists Create ‘Designer Yeast’ in Major Step Toward Synthetic Life

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(The Washington Post) – In a significant advance toward creating the first “designer” complex cell, scientists say they are one-third of the way to synthesizing the complete genome of baker’s yeast. In seven studies published Thursday in the journal Science, the researchers describe how they built six of the 16 chromosomes required for the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, altering the genetic material to edit out some genes and write in new characteristics.

Doctors Tie Zika Virus to Heart Problems in Some Adults

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(ABC News) – For the first time, doctors have tied infection with the Zika virus to possible new heart problems in adults. The evidence so far is only in eight people in Venezuela, and is not enough to prove a link. It’s also too soon to know how often this might be happening. The biggest trouble the mosquito-borne virus has been causing is for pregnant women and their fetuses.

Open-Data Contest Unearths Scientific Gems–And Controversy

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(Nature) – When a prestigious medical journal challenged scientists to analyse data from a pivotal blood-pressure study in search of new findings, hundreds of researchers around the world rushed to sign up. The contest, sponsored by the New England Journal of Medicine, offered scientists a rare opportunity to access detailed trial data that otherwise might have remained proprietary for another year — if not indefinitely. But the competition, whose winners were announced on 7 March, also illustrates the tension between speeding access to data and protecting the interests of those who laboured to collect them.

Surgery or Drugs? Doctors’ Pay May Influence Choice

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(New York Times) – Sometimes doctors choose to do surgery not because it is absolutely preferable to other treatments but because they get reimbursed for it, a new study suggests. Researchers looked at patients with a narrowed artery in the neck, a condition called carotid artery stenosis that can be treated with surgery or managed with medicine and lifestyle changes. The choice is often a judgment call.

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