News from Bioethics.com

Yemen’s Worsening Humanitarian Crisis

2 weeks 6 hours

(The Economist) – AFTER two years of war, a quarter of Yemen’s 28m people are on the brink of starvation. Attention is now turning to Hodeida (pictured), the country’s biggest port, through which the majority of food passes, especially to the rebel-held north where the bulk of the population lives. A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by Western nations, which sides with the president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is finalising plans to invade and take the port.

In Turkey’s Cutthroat Hair-Transplant Tourism Industry, the Biggest Losers Are the Patients and Syrian Refugees

2 weeks 1 day

(Quartz) – The clinics get away with it, says Oguzoglu, because inspectors from the Health Ministry are more than willing to take bribes in exchange for a warning that an official inspection is coming. “Someone pays the big money,” he says, and when the inspection happens, the clinic makes itself look like its operating fully above board. The Health Ministry did not respond to Quartz’s request for comment. Cheap hair transplant surgery is one of the only things still bringing visitors to Turkey. In the wake of several terror attacks and a failed military coup, tourism in Turkey declined sharply in 2016. It hasn’t rebounded—except in one sector: hair transplant tourism.

Facial-Recognition Software Finds a New Use: Diagnosing Genetic Disorders

2 weeks 1 day

(STAT News) – The algorithms in general work on the same principles: measuring the size of facial features and their placement to detect patterns. They’re both trained on databases of photographs doctors take of their patients. The NIH works with partners around the world to collect their photos; FDNA accepts photos uploaded to Face2Gene. But they differ in a key way: Whereas the algorithm the NIH uses can predict if someone has a given genetic disorder, the Face2Gene algorithm spits out not diagnoses, but probabilities. The app describes photos as being a certain percent similar to photos of people with one of the 2,000 disorders for which Face2Gene has image data, based on the overall “look” of the face as well as the presence of certain features.

Top Scientists Revamp Standards to Foster Integrity in Research

2 weeks 1 day

(NPR) – It’s been 25 years since the National Academy of Sciences set its standards for appropriate scientific conduct, and the world of science has changed dramatically in that time. So now the academies of science, engineering and medicine have updated their standards. The report published Tuesday, “Fostering Integrity in Research,” shines a spotlight on how the research enterprise as a whole creates incentives that can be detrimental to good research.

No, Companies Shouldn’t Pay Women to Freeze Their Eggs

2 weeks 2 days

(Wired) – A family-friendly workplace allows sufficient time off for childbirth and baby-bonding, flexibility regarding business travel, and other support. To be successful, it must include fathers. Unfortunately, all of the attention given to egg freezing may be diverting employers from making critical structural changes that would keep talented and highly educated women in the pipeline.

In the Tennessee Delta, a Poor Community Loses Its Hospital–And Sense of Security

2 weeks 2 days

(Washington Post) – The demise of Haywood Park Community Hospital three years ago this summer added Brownsville to an epidemic of dying hospitals across rural America. Nearly 80 have closed since 2010, including nine in Tennessee, more than in any state but Texas. Many more are considered fragile — downstream victims of federal health policies, shifts in medical practice and the limited tolerance of distant corporate owners for empty beds and financial losses. In every rural community, the ripple effects of a lost hospital are profound, reverberating beyond the inability of would-be patients to get immediate care. Many of the best jobs in town vanish.

Mighty Morphed Brain Cells Cure Parkinson’s in Mice, But Human Trials Are Still Far Off

2 weeks 2 days

(STAT News) – Mice that walk straight and fluidly don’t usually make scientists exult, but these did: The lab rodents all had a mouse version of Parkinson’s disease and only weeks before had barely been able to lurch and shuffle around their cages. Using a trick from stem-cell science, researchers managed to restore the kind of brain cells whose death causes Parkinson’s. And the mice walked almost normally. The same technique turned human brain cells, growing in a lab dish, into the dopamine-producing neurons that are AWOL in Parkinson’s, scientists at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute reported on Monday in Nature Biotechnology.

Charlie Gard Case: Doctors Can Withdraw Baby’s Life Support

2 weeks 2 days

(BBC) – Doctors can withdraw life support from a sick baby with a rare genetic condition against his parents’ wishes, a High Court judge has ruled. Specialists at Great Ormond Street Hospital said eight-month-old Charlie Gard has irreversible brain damage and should be moved to palliative care. His parents Connie Yates and Chris Gard, from London, had wanted to take him to the US for a treatment trial. They said they were “devastated” by the decision but intended to appeal.

In a World First, Singapore’s Highest Court Rules That Parents Deserve Kids with Their Genes

2 weeks 3 days

(The Conversation) – Blood is thicker than water, or so the saying goes, reflecting the value we put on biological relationships. But is it something the law should recognise? Singapore’s Supreme Court recently ruled on a case that asks this very question, and it gave a fascinating answer: parents have a strong interest in “genetic affinity” with their children, one that can merit compensation if subverted. Genetic affinity is an entirely new legal standard. It has no clear precedent in any jurisdiction. But the court made a compelling argument that it has a sound basis in the way we value family and heredity.

Study: Oregon Patients Using Physician-Assisted Suicide Steadily Increase

2 weeks 3 days

(The Oregonian) – The number of patients using the nation’s first physician-aided suicide program, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, has continued to grow since voters first approved the law nearly two decades ago. A new study shows a 12 percent yearly increase in lethal prescriptions from 1998 to 2013, with an unexplained jump of nearly 30 percent in 2015. The research doesn’t include 2016 numbers, which haven’t been released yet.

Physician-Assisted Suicide an Issue for Nominee Gorsuch

2 weeks 3 days

(CNN) – Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch has frustrated legislators on both sides of the aisle with his refusal to talk specifics on several major issues he could rule on if he’s confirmed. But one matter on which his past writings offer a detailed picture of his views is medical aid in dying, sometimes referred to as physician-assisted suicide. In 2006, Gorsuch wrote “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” a 311-page book in which he “builds a nuanced, novel, and powerful moral and legal argument against legalization,” the book proclaims on its back cover. Gorsuch also addressed questions on the polarizing issue during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings.

Study Finds Large Data Breaches at U.S. Hospital

2 weeks 6 days

(UPI) – Researchers at Michigan State University have found the personal data of patients may be at risk of data breaches in U.S. hospitals. The study found nearly 1,800 incidences of large data breaches in patient information over a seven-year period from October 2009 to December 2016. Researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on data breaches at hospitals and healthcare providers.

Addicts Who Can’t Get Opioids Are Overdosing on a Diarrhea Drug

2 weeks 6 days

(The Atlantic) – Opioid painkillers have an inconvenient, lesser-known side effect: terrible constipation. Perhaps then it’s no surprise that people addicted to opioids have considered the inverse. If a drug that gets you high causes constipation, could a drug that causes constipation get you high? Yes, and that drug is another opioid called loperamide, better known by its brand name Imodium as an over-the-counter treatment for diarrhea. At extremely high doses—dozens or even hundreds of pills a day—it can produce a high or ease withdrawal symptoms. And in the middle of a national opioid epidemic, overdoses of loperamide are rising, too.

How to Understand the Resurgence of Eugenics

2 weeks 6 days

(JSTOR) – At the same time, we are seeing an advance in methods of manipulating human DNA that, though they present many benefits, could also be used to advance eugenic goals. This combination of a dubious political agenda and the tools to implement it could take us in uncharted directions. We can find guidance in two classic works about the dangers of modifying people and labeling them as “superior” or “inferior”—the novel Brave New World (1932) and the film Gattaca (1997). Their publication anniversaries in 2017 are sharp reminders of the costs of embracing any kind of twenty-first-century eugenics.

Machine Learning Predicts the Look of Stem Cells

2 weeks 6 days

(Nature) – No two stem cells are identical, even if they are genetic clones. This stunning diversity is revealed today in an enormous publicly available online catalogue of 3D stem cell images. The visuals were produced using deep learning analyses and cell lines altered with the gene-editing tool CRISPR. And soon the portal will allow researchers to predict variations in cell layouts that may foreshadow cancer and other diseases. The Allen Cell Explorer, produced by the Allen Institute for Cell Science in Seattle, Washington, includes a growing library of more than 6,000 pictures of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) — key components of which glow thanks to fluorescent markers that highlight specific genes.

Stem-Cell Therapy Is Poised to Disrupt the Tommy John Epidemic in Baseball

3 weeks 5 hours

(Quartz) – For about half a decade, it’s been something of an open secret in baseball that players—pitchers especially—regularly undergo stem-cell therapy to stave off surgeries and lost playing time. It’s a cutting-edge medical procedure, done by everyone from high-school standouts to major-league all-stars. It’s rarely discussed by players, or by their coaches, parents, doctors, or employers.

Stem Cells Offer Hope for Autism

3 weeks 5 hours

(CNN) – Gracie was one of 25 children who took part in the first-of-its-kind study at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The goal: to see whether a transfusion of their own umbilical cord blood containing rare stem cells could help treat their autism. The results were impressive: More than two-thirds of the children showed reported improvements. A larger second trial is underway, one its researchers hope will lead to long-term treatment for children with autism.

States Find Other Execution Methods after Difficulties with Lethal Injection

3 weeks 5 hours

(NPR) – Death penalty laws are on the books in 31 states, but only five carried out executions last year. Now Arkansas is rushing to execute death row inmates at an unprecedented pace this month, before the state’s supply of lethal drugs expires. Nationwide the number of executions are down, as states struggle to obtain execution drugs that pass constitutional muster. Pharmacies are refusing to provide the deadly combinations of paralytics and fast-acting sedatives needed to put prisoners to death.

The Moral Failure of Crowdfunding Health Care

3 weeks 1 day

(Medium) – The study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, finds that crowdfunding sites give an advantage to those already skilled in self-marketing and generating attention on social media. The digital platforms can present problems for older people?—?those most likely to have costly chronic conditions?—?as well as non-English speakers. Very few campaigns go viral beyond one’s personal network, which penalizes those who don’t have wealthy connections. It’s easier to fundraise for a single need, rather than a tangle of medical costs, housing payments, utility bills, and car repairs?—?exactly the kinds of needs that pile up for those living in poverty. In short, the rise of medical crowdfunding reflects?—?and potentially worsens?—?the inequities already at play in the United States.

Study Reverses Thinking on Genetic Links to Stress, Depression

3 weeks 2 days

(Science Daily) – For years, scientists have been trying to determine what effect a gene linked to the brain chemical serotonin may have on depression in people exposed to stress. But now, analyzing information from more than 40,000 people who have been studied over more than a decade, researchers have found no evidence that the gene alters the impact stress has on depression.

Zika Appears to Cause Birth Defects in One in 10 Pregnancies

3 weeks 2 days

(Scientific American) – About one in 10 pregnant women with confirmed Zika infections had a fetus or baby with birth defects, offering the clearest picture yet of the risk of Zika infection during pregnancy, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday. The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the first to analyze a group of U.S. women with clear, confirmed test results of Zika infection during pregnancy.

Genetic Details of Controversial ‘Three-Parent Baby’ Revealed

3 weeks 2 days

(Nature) – When a US fertility clinic revealed last year that it had created a baby boy using a controversial technique that mixes DNA from three people, scientists were quick to raise the alarm. Some objected on ethical grounds, and others questioned the scientific claims made by the clinic’s leader, physician John Zhang. Now, after months of intense debate and speculation, Zhang’s team has provided more details about the child’s conception, in a paper published on 3 April in Reproductive Biomedicine Online. But major questions remain about the long-term health of the boy, and whether the experiment will ultimately advance reproductive medicine.

Technology to Screen Embryos Before Implantation Falls Short

3 weeks 3 days

(Eurekalert) – The healthy development of an embryo created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) depends on whether most, if not all, of the cells have the proper number of chromosomes. With pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS) technology, doctors can, in principle, spot-check chromosome count before choosing which embryo to implant in the mother. In a new article, however, scholars at Brown University and the University of Washington report that PGS has serious limitations that can only be overcome with more human embryo research, even as they acknowledge the controversy surrounding that research.

Europe Says University of California Deserves Broad Patent for CRISPR

3 weeks 6 days

(Science) – The European Patent Office (EPO) announced on 23 March its “intention to grant a patent” to the University of California (UC) for its broad-based claims about the genome-editing tool popularly known as CRISPR. UC, on behalf of several parties, has been in a pitched battle with the Broad Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts, over CRISPR patents, and the new decision marks a sharp departure from the position of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Why the Newly Proposed Sepsis Treatment Needs More Study

3 weeks 6 days

(NPR) – Dr. Paul Marik, a well-regarded intensive care physician at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va., is the doctor with the extraordinary claim. As we reported last week, he says he has treated about 150 patients with sepsis and that only one died of that often fatal condition (though some died of other causes). The question is how to find out whether he is right — and, ideally, how to do that quickly. Marik’s treatment involves a mix of intravenous corticosteroids, vitamin C and vitamin B, along with careful management of fluids. And his experience, so far, falls far short of the “extraordinary evidence” that a claim like his requires.

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