News from Bioethics.com

Grow Your Own: The Race to Create Body Parts in the Lab

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(The Guardian) – The ultimate goal remains to make synthetic organs from scratch using a synthetic scaffold, as Macchiarini tried and failed to do with tracheas. Pig scaffolds do not pose a risk, but manufacturing them does not readily scale up to treating hundreds or thousands of patients. However, De Coppi says that matching the quality of a natural scaffold is probably still 20 years away. “Despite [attempts at] synthetic organs, we are still far away from mimicking what mother nature has done,” he says.

Fears for Women’s Health as Parents Reject HPV Vaccine

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(The Guardian) – Health officials have become increasingly alarmed at campaigns aimed at blocking the take-up of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, which protects women against cervical cancer. Three leading nations have now seen major reductions in the take-up of the vaccine and a growing number of doctors fear its use could be blocked elsewhere, despite its capacity to provide protection against a condition that kills hundreds of thousands of women a year.

To Combat the Spread of Zika, a Nonprofit Is Using Drones and Sterile Mosquitoes

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(Public Radio International) – Mosquitoes are, by far, the deadliest animals on Earth. More than 725,000 people die from mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria each year, and millions are affected by mosquito-borne illnesses, according to the World Health Organization. Now new technology is being used to try to reduce mosquito-borne illnesses. In particular, introducing sterile male mosquitoes to a population can increase competition for female mosquitoes, eventually reducing the population by as much as 90 percent, according to researchers. But introducing the mosquitoes to areas affected by mosquito-borne diseases can be a challenge.

Purdue University Mounted a Child Nutrition Study. It Went Very, Very Wrong.

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(Undark) – The girl was one of 78 participants in a study called Camp DASH — short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension — which was being led by Purdue’s Department of Nutrition Science. Researchers, assessing the effects of a low sodium diet on 11- to 15-year-old boys and girls with elevated blood pressure, were set to host the children in campus housing for seven weeks over the summer. After the shower video was reported to police in mid-July, the Tippecanoe County Prosecutor began looking into several additional allegations of crimes among the adolescent study participants. At the same time, University President Mitch Daniels shut the study down two weeks early and launched a months-long investigation led by the university’s vice president for ethics and compliance, Alysa Christmas Rollock.

Another State Medical Society Stops Fighting Assisted Death

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(Medscape) – The Vermont Medical Society (VMS) recently became the eighth state medical association — the ninth if one counts the group for Washington, DC — to depart from the profession’s long-standing opposition to physician-assisted dying. The VMS was playing catch-up with state lawmakers. In 2013, the Vermont legislature passed a “death with dignity” bill that allows a physician to prescribe a lethal dose of narcotic to a terminally ill patient who requests it. VMS opposed the bill at that time because it held that there should be no law either banning or permitting physician-assisted death, also called medical aid in dying, assisted dying, and physician-assisted suicide, a term deemed misleading and pejorative by proponents of the practice.

AI-Controlled Brain Implants for Mood Disorders Tested in People

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(Nature) – Brain implants that deliver electrical pulses tuned to a person’s feelings and behaviour are being tested in people for the first time. Two teams funded by the US military’s research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), have begun preliminary trials of ‘closed-loop’ brain implants that use algorithms to detect patterns associated with mood disorders. These devices can shock the brain back to a healthy state without input from a physician. The work, presented last week at the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting in Washington DC, could eventually provide a way to treat severe mental illnesses that resist current therapies. It also raises thorny ethical concerns, not least because the technique could give researchers a degree of access to a person’s inner feelings in real time.

Philippines Suspends Dengue Shots after Drug Firm’s Warning

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(New York Times) – The Philippines suspended its school-based dengue immunization program on Friday after the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi warned that its flagship vaccine, Dengvaxia, had been found to pose health risks in people not previously infected. The suspension came after health experts expressed worries about Sanofi’s announcement this week. The company said further clinical studies had revealed that, in those who had previously had dengue, the vaccine could prevent repeat infection. But for those who had not had dengue, and were vaccinated and later became infected, “more cases of severe disease could occur,” Sanofi said in the advisory.

Brain Organoids Get Cancer, Too, Opening a New Frontier in Personalized Medicine

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(STAT News) – In the barely three years since biologists discovered how to create these “brain organoids,” the lentil-sized structures have taken neuroscience by storm. Starting with a recipe developed by scientists in Austria, researchers from Japan and China to Europe and North America are seeding lab dishes with human stem cells, adding special molecules — many labs, like chili chefs, have their own secret blends — that make the stem cells morph into a variety of brain cells. They then put the dishes into special chambers called bioreactors that keep them warm and in gentle motion reminiscent of a womb, encouraging the cells to form blobs with working neurons and many other features of a full-size human brain.

New Vaccine, Long-Acting Drug Trial Buoy Hopes in HIV Fight

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(Reuters) – Researchers announced the launch of two big studies in Africa on Thursday to test a new HIV vaccine and a long-acting injectable drug, fuelling hopes for better ways to protect against the virus that causes AIDS.  The start of the three-year vaccine trial involving 2,600 women in southern Africa means that for the first time in more than a decade there are now two big HIV vaccine clinical trials taking place at the same time.

Scientists Train Bacteria to Build Unnatural Proteins

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(NPR) – Scientists say they have created a partly man-made bacterium that can produce proteins not found in nature. This new life form, the latest development in a field called “synthetic biology,” could eventually be used to produce novel drugs. The Scripps Research Institute’s Floyd Romesberg and colleagues have been pushing toward this goal for well over a decade. Three years ago, they announced that they had added two more letters to the genetic alphabet of a bacterium: To DNA’s familiar A, T, C, and G, they added X and Y.

Australian State Allows Voluntary Euthanasia in 2019

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(ABC News) – An Australian state parliament on Wednesday legalized voluntary euthanasia 20 years after the country repealed the world’s first mercy-killing law for the terminally ill. The final vote in the Victorian parliament means that doctor-assisted suicide will be allowed in Australia’s second-most populous state from mid-2019. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who became a euthanasia advocate after his father died of cancer last year, said the reform showed compassion.

Gene Therapy Shows Promise for a Growing List of Diseases

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(NPR) – So far, gene therapy has only been tested on a relatively small number of patients who have been followed for relatively short periods of time. Many more patients will have to be studied for longer periods before anyone really knows how well the therapies work, how long the benefits last, and whether the therapies are safe. But doctors and families of those helped so far are elated at the progress.

The Most Promising Cancer Treatments in a Century Have Arrived But Not for Everyone

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(Wired) – Though he didn’t have the molecular tools to understand why it worked, Coley’s forced infections put the body’s immune system into overdrive, allowing it to take out cancer cells along the way. While the FDA doesn’t have a formal definition for more modern immunotherapies, in the last few years it has approved at least eight drugs that fit the bill, unleashing a flood of money to finance new clinical trials. (Patients had better come with floods of money too—prices can now routinely top six figures.) But while the drugs are dramatically improving the odds of survival for some patients, much of the basic science is still poorly understood. And a growing number of researchers worry that the sprint to the clinic offers cancer patients more hype than hope.

University Was Tipped Off to Possible Unauthorized Trials of Herpes Vaccine

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(Kaiser Health News) – The university that employed a controversial herpes vaccine researcher has told the federal government it learned last summer of the possibility of his illegal experimentation on human subjects. But Southern Illinois University did not publicly disclose the tip or its findings about researcher William Halford’s misconduct for months, according to a memo obtained by Kaiser Health News. Last week, Kaiser Health News reported that Halford conducted an experiment in which he vaccinated patients in U.S. hotel rooms in 2013 without any safety oversight and in violation of U.S. laws, according to patients and emails they provided to KHN to support their allegations.

How a Missouri Doctor Exposed the Atrocities at Willowbrook in New York

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(Fox News) – In 1972, America was finally getting out of Vietnam. Richard Nixon became the first American president to visit China, and a news story stunned the nation. Inside the idyllic looking Willowbrook School on New York’s Staten Island, conditions were shocking. Willowbrook was a state-run human warehouse. More than 5,000 mentally ill and physically disabled children and adults lived in dirt and filth. Often left naked due to lack of caretakers, the helpless children and adults were locked inside building after building, sleeping on cots and given no education.

A New Algorithm Identifies Candidates for Palliative Care by Predicting When Patients Will Die

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(MIT Technology Review) – End-of-life care can be stressful for patients and their loved ones, but a new algorithm could help provide better care to people during their final months. A paper published in arXiv by researchers from Stanford describes a deep neural network that can look at a patient’s records and estimate the chance of mortality in the next three to 12 months. The team found that this serves as a good way to identify patients who could benefit from palliative care. Importantly, the algorithm also creates reports to explain its predictions to doctors.

About 11 Percent of Drugs in Poor Countries Are Fake, U.N. Says

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(STAT News) – About 11 percent of medicines in developing countries are counterfeit and likely responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of children from diseases like malaria and pneumonia every year, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. It’s the first attempt by the U.N. health agency to assess the problem. Experts reviewed 100 studies involving more than 48,000 medicines. Drugs for treating malaria and bacterial infections accounted for nearly 65 percent of fake medicines.

Scientist Concedes His Controversial MS Therapy, Once a Source of Great Hope, Is ‘Largely Ineffective’

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(STAT News) – What many hope will be the final chapter in an unfortunate saga in multiple sclerosis research appears to have been written by the scientist who started the affair in the first place. Italian physician Paolo Zamboni has publicly acknowledged that a therapy he developed and dubbed “the liberation treatment” does not cure or mitigate the symptoms of MS. A randomized controlled trial — the gold standard of medical research — he and other Italian researchers conducted concluded the procedure is a “largely ineffective technique” that should not be recommended for MS patients.

Facebook to Expand Artificial Intelligence to Help Prevent Suicide

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(Reuters) – Facebook Inc will expand its pattern recognition software to other countries after successful tests in the U.S. to detect users with suicidal intent, the world’s largest social media network said on Monday. Facebook began testing the software in the United States in March, when the company started scanning the text of Facebook posts and comments for phrases that could be signals of an impending suicide.

A Hospital Charged $1,877 to Pierce a 5-Year-Old’s Ears. This Is Why Health Care Costs So Much.

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(Pro Publica) – Surgical ear piercings are rare, according to the Health Care Cost Institute, a nonprofit that maintains a database of commercial health insurance claims. The institute could only find a few dozen possible cases a year in its vast cache of billing data. But O’Neill’s case is a vivid example of health care waste known as overuse. Into this category fall things like unnecessary tests, higher-than-needed levels of care or surgeries that have proven ineffective.

Gene Therapy Hits a Peculiar Roadblock: A Virus Shortage

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(New York Times) – Eager to speed development of revolutionary treatments, the Food and Drug Administration recently announced that it would expedite approval of experimental gene therapies. But the regulatory process may not be the biggest obstacle here. Biotech companies have exciting plans to introduce treatments that may be transformative, sometimes curing genetic diseases with a single treatment. And the firms are itching to test their products. But they are struggling to obtain a critical component of the therapy: the disabled viruses used to slip good genes into cells that lack them.

Australia Built a Hell for Refugees on Manus. The Shame Will Outlive Us All

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(The Guardian) – In the camps the refugees were made to answer to numbers given to them as their new identity. Denied their names they were not even allowed their stories. Every attempt that could be made was made by the Australian government, from the petty to the disturbing, to deny journalists access to the Pacific lager. When it came to imprisoned refugees free speech became a crime: for some years any doctor, nurse or social worker in the camps who publicly reported on the many instances, now well-documented, of rape, murder, suicide and sexual abuse of refugees was liable to two years’ imprisonment.

US Abortion Rates Plummet to a Historic Low

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(New York Post) – Abortion rates in the United States have fallen to a historic low, according to the latest data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC report, which was released on Wednesday, found that the abortion rate nationwide dropped two percent between 2013 and 2014 amid the use of more effective contraception, the shuttering of many abortion clinics and an overall decline in pregnancy rates.

Rohingya Crisis: Push for Contraception, Even Sterilisation, as Bengladesh Struggles with Refugee Influx

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(Australian Broadcasting Co) – Last week the Red Cross revealed the Balukhali camp’s water table was dropping so rapidly, some areas could go dry before new deep bores can be dug. Bangladesh and Myanmar have entered negotiations for the refugees’ repatriation, but few expect a speedy solution to their statelessness. Public health official Dr Pintu Bhattacharya thinks the Bangladesh Government’s family planning program should be extended to refugees. Under the scheme, local men and women are paid small stipend for undergoing voluntary sterilisation.

U.S. Judge Strikes Down Texas Measure to Limit Second-Trimester Abortions

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(Reuters) – A U.S. district judge on Wednesday struck down parts of a Texas law that would ban the most common type of second-trimester abortions in the state, after plaintiffs argued the procedure was safe, legal and necessary for women’s health.  U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin issued a permanent injunction against the provisions that were in legislation known as Senate Bill 8 (SB 8) and set to take effect this year, saying they “are facially unconstitutional.”

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