News from Bioethics.com

Congo Ebola Outbreak Claims Nearly 100 Children’s Lives

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(Medical Xpress) – The ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed the lives of nearly 100 children, and the number of cases are on the rise, according to the charity Save the Children.

Global Venezuela Goes Back 20 Years in Child Mortality

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(Sci Dev Net) – The progress made by Venezuela in reducing child mortality rates has been lost over the past decade, leaving the country facing rates at a level not seen since the late 1990s. Child mortality had been steadily declining since the 1940s. According to official data reported in an article published in The Lancet, in 2009 there was an average of 16 deaths of children under one year of age for every 1000 live births. But since then, “the rate began to increase with a rapid growth from 2011,” write the authors. Venezuela’s economy and health system have collapsed in recent years, and the country is currently in the midst of a political crisis.

No Increase in Cancer Among Children Conceived by IVF

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(Medscape) – The first generation of children conceived through assisted reproductive technology (ART) — including in vitro fertilization (IVF) — show no increased risk of cancer compared with the general population or those conceived using other fertility methods, in the largest study of its kind in which offspring were followed from birth for a mean of 21 years.

Campus Vending Machines Offer Emergency Contraception Without the Stigma

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(The Verge) – Thirteen years after a heated battle resulted in over-the-counter approval for emergency contraception, the product is finally shedding some of its stigma, and college campuses are leading the charge toward normalization.  In the fall of 2018, Yale’s Reproductive Justice Action League proposed a new plan to improve the health and wellness of its student population: emergency contraception vending machines.

Controversial Experiments That Could Make Bird Flu More Risky Poised to Resume

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(Science) – Controversial lab studies that modify bird flu viruses in ways that could make them more risky to humans will soon resume after being on hold for more than 4 years. ScienceInsider has learned that last year, a U.S. government review panel quietly approved experiments proposed by two labs that were previously considered so dangerous that federal officials had imposed an unusual top-down moratorium on such research.

The Crisis in America’s Maternity Wards

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(The Washington Post) – The Johnsons’ story depicts a blunt truth about women’s health in the United States — about 700 women die a year as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. At a time when lawmakers in some states are trying to tighten access to reproductive care for women, the rate of maternal deaths in the United States is rising. The United States has the highest rate of pregnancy-related deaths among developed nations, a report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) shows.

Tests Suggest Scientists Have Achieved First ‘in Body’ Gene Editing in Bid to Treat Rare Disease

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(The Japan Times) – Scientists think they have achieved the first gene editing inside the body, altering DNA in adults to try to treat a disease, although it is too soon to know if this will help. Preliminary results suggest that two men with a rare disorder now have a corrective gene at very low levels, which may not be enough to make the therapy a success. Still, it’s a scientific milestone toward one day doctoring DNA to treat many diseases caused by faulty genes.

Organ Trafficking in Egypt: ‘They Locked Me in and Took My Kidney’

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(The Guardian) – Dawitt’s story is more common than statistics suggest. According to a 2018 report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has collected data on 700 incidents of organ trafficking, primarily from north Africa and the Middle East. Yet these figures are conservative, at best. The true scale of the industry is difficult to assess, as the majority of cases go unreported, with victims reluctant to come forward for fear of deportation, arrest or shame. The trade appears to be flourishing in Egypt, bolstered by an EU-funded clampdown on refugees by security forces.

OB-GYNs Remain Conflicted About Abortion, Survey Shows, But Pills May Be Changing Attitudes

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(Los Angeles Times) – With the national abortion debate entering a new stage, a survey of U.S. obstetricians and gynecologists has found that while nearly 3 out of 4 had a patient who wanted to end a pregnancy in the past year, fewer than 1 in 4 were willing and able to perform one themselves. Among the doctors who answered questions about the procedure, 1 in 3 cited personal, religious or moral reasons for not providing abortion services.

Stanford Will Investigate Its Role in the Chinese CRISPR Baby Debacle

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(MIT Technology Review) – Officials at Stanford University have opened an investigation into what several high-profile faculty members knew about a Chinese effort to create gene-edited babies led by a onetime researcher at the California school, He Jiankui. The investigation, according to people familiar with it, aims to understand what liabilities or risks Stanford may have in connection with the controversial medical experiment, which led last year to the birth of two girls whose genomes had been altered with a molecular tool called CRISPR to render them immune to HIV.

‘Three Identical Strangers’: It’s Not Too Late to Address the Ethical Violations

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(STAT News) – Surprise turns to shock and then outrage. That’s the theme of “Three Identical Strangers,” a documentary film released last summer and now being screened by CNN. The film also has a less well-known precursor, “The Twinning Reaction.” Both chronicle twins and triplets born in the 1960s who were separated as infants and adopted by different families who had no idea of the other siblings’ existence. The separation and secrecy were unethical aspects of an experiment that sought to examine the contributions of genetics and environment to child development. The children (who are now adults), their families, and the public deserve answers to many unanswered questions.

The Long Wait for Legalized Surrogacy May Soon End in New York

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(NBC News) – Commercial gestational surrogacy — the practice of paying a woman to carry a child that is not biologically related to her — is legal, or not expressly prohibited, in every state except New York, Louisiana and Michigan. Advocates say it’s a way of helping infertile and gay couples start families. But commercial surrogacy has a slew of detractors, many of whom say it amounts to women selling their bodies.

IVF Ups Risk of Severe Pregnancy Complications

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(Medscape) – Women who undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) are more likely to experience severe complications of pregnancy, including severe postpartum hemorrhage, admission to the intensive care unit, and sepsis, compared with women who conceived without assisted reproduction techniques. Published in the February 4 issue of CMAJ, the research examined the association between infertility treatment and severe maternal morbidity in pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Chinese Bioethicists Respond to the Case of He Jiankui

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(Hastings Center) – A preliminary investigation by Guangdong Province in China of He Jiankui, the scientist who created the world’s first gene-edited babies, found that “He had intentionally dodged supervision, raised funds and organized researchers on his own to carry out the human embryo gene-editing intended for reproduction, which is explicitly banned by relevant regulations.” As bioethics scholars in China, we would like to comment on the findings, as well as on three commentaries by Jing-Bao Nie and coauthors that appeared in Bioethics Forum, “He Jiankui’s Genetic Misadventure” (part 1, part 2, and part 3).

Test Suggests Scientist Achieved 1st ‘in Body’ Gene Editing

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(ABC News) – Scientists think they have achieved the first gene editing inside the body, altering DNA in adults to try to treat a disease, although it’s too soon to know if this will help. Preliminary results suggest that two men with a rare disorder now have a corrective gene at very low levels, which may not be enough to make the therapy a success. Still, it’s a scientific milestone toward one day doctoring DNA to treat many diseases caused by faulty genes.

Measles Cases in Europe Tripled Last Year, WHO Says

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(BBC) – Measles cases in Europe tripled between 2017 and 2018 to 82,596 – the highest number recorded this decade, data from the World Health Organization shows. While vaccination rates are improving, the WHO says coverage is not high enough to prevent circulation of the virus in many countries. Ukraine reported the highest number of measles cases last year – more than 10 times that of the next highest, Serbia.

Fertility Treatments Don’t Raise Cancer Risks for Offspring

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(U.S. News & World Report) – All expectant parents worry, and for those undergoing fertility treatments, there are additional concerns about the health of their child. But a new study finds one less thing they need to stress over — their children don’t appear to be at greater risk of cancer than other children.

Ebola’s Lost Blood: Row over Samples Flown Out of Africa as ‘Big Pharma’ Set to Cash In

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(The Telegraph) – A row is simmering over the ownership of thousands of Ebola blood samples taken from patients during the 2014-16 epidemic in West Africa and now held in secretive laboratories around the world. The samples have enormous value to researchers involved in creating new vaccines and medicines but also to defence facilities such as Porton Down in the UK where research on bio-chemical agents and their antidotes is conducted. Now several African scientists and Ebola survivors accuse the laboratories of biological asset stripping.

New Voices at Patients’ Bedsides: Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Apple

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(STAT News) – At first it was a novelty: Hospitals began using voice assistants to allow patients to order lunch, check medication regimens, and get on-demand medical advice at home. But these devices, manufactured by Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and others, are now making deeper inroads into patient care. Hospitals are exploring new uses in intensive care units and surgical recovery rooms, and contemplating a future in which Alexa, or another voice avatar, becomes a virtual member of the medical team — monitoring doctor-patient interactions, suggesting treatment approaches, or even alerting caregivers to voice changes that could be an early warning of a health emergency.

Gene Therapy Against Chlamydia to Prevent Infection Show Promise

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(UPI) – The most common sexually transmitted disease in the world may have finally met its match, as researchers say they developed a treatment to prevent chlamydia. Researchers report in a study published this week in the journal Scientific Reports that one dose of their nanotechnology-delivered therapy prevented chlamydia infections 65 percent of the time.

Yemen Conjoined Twins: Doctors Appeal for Help Evacuating Boys

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(BBC) – Yemeni doctors have appealed to the UN to arrange the evacuation of newborn conjoined twin boys who are in urgent need of treatment abroad. Abdul Khaleq and Abdul Rahim, who are two weeks old, will not survive if they stay in Yemen, where the health system has been ravaged by years of civil war. The twins are currently at a hospital in the capital Sanaa, which is in the hands of rebel Houthi movement. Its airport is blockaded by a Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s government.

By Decoding Flickering Brain Signals, Scientists Envision a New Way to Detect Consciousness

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(STAT News) – The search has profound implications for people caught in a state of in between. After a stroke, say, or a traumatic brain injury, it might be hard to tell if they’re awake or asleep. Their eyes are open. They might make unintelligible sounds. But the standard method for detecting consciousness in the clinic falls short, because these patients may well be aware of their surroundings even if they can’t talk or move in response to a doctor’s commands. Some 40 percent of them end up being misdiagnosed.

Call for Retraction of 400 Scientific Papers Amid Fears Organs Came from Chinese Prisoners

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(The Guardian) – A world-first study has called for the mass retraction of more than 400 scientific papers on organ transplantation, amid fears the organs were obtained unethically from Chinese prisoners. The Australian-led study exposes a mass failure of English language medical journals to comply with international ethical standards in place to ensure organ donors provide consent for transplantation. The study was published on Wednesday in the medical journal BMJ Open. Its author, the professor of clinical ethics Wendy Rogers, said journals, researchers and clinicians who used the research were complicit in “barbaric” methods of organ procurement.

FamilyTreeDNA Admits to Sharing Genetic Data with F.B.I.

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(New York Times) – The president of FamilyTreeDNA, one of the country’s largest at-home genetic testing companies, has apologized to its users for failing to disclose that it was sharing DNA data with federal investigators working to solve violent crimes. In the booming business of consumer DNA testing and genealogy, FamilyTreeDNA had marketed itself as a leader of consumer privacy and a fierce protector of user data, refusing, unlike some of its competitors, to sell information to third parties. But unbeknown to its users, the Houston-based firm quietly and voluntarily agreed in 2018 to open its database of more than two million records to the F.B.I. and examine DNA samples in its laboratory to identify suspects and victims of unsolved rapes and murders.

Ketamine Could Be the Key to Reversing America’s Rising Suicide Rate

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(Bloomberg) – But there is, finally, a serious quest for a suicide cure. Ketamine is at the center, and crucially the pharmaceutical industry now sees a path. The first ketamine-based drug, from Johnson & Johnson, could be approved for treatment-resistant depression by March and suicidal thinking within two years. Allergan Plc is not far behind in developing its own fast-acting antidepressant that could help suicidal patients. How this happened is one of the most hopeful tales of scientific research in recent memory.

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