News from Bioethics.com

Skepticism Surfaces over CRISPR Human Embryo Editing Claims

2 weeks 6 days

(Science) – But such a feat has not been observed in previous CRISPR experiments, and some scientists are now questioning whether the repairs really happened that way. In a paper published online this week on the preprint server bioRxiv, a group of six geneticists, developmental biologists, and stem cell researchers offers alternative explanations for the results. And uncertainty about exactly how the embryos’ DNA changed after editing leaves many questions about the technique’s safety, they argue. (The authors declined to discuss the paper while it’s being reviewed for publication.)

My Son Has Autism. Discrimination Almost Cost Him His Life.

2 weeks 6 days

(The Washington Post) – Needing a lifesaving transplant is truly awful for any child and family. For children with a disability, the challenges are even more immense. Lief has autism and is a non-speaking person who types to communicate. He struggles with sensory disturbance, profound motor planning difficulties and perseverance behaviors.  Because of our son’s disability, the doctors at our local children’s hospital told us that no facility would perform the transplant, and we should prepare for him to die. A second hospital also refused to consider him.

Hacking Risk Leads to Recall of 500,000 Pacemakers Due to Patient Death Fears

3 weeks 19 hours

(The Guardian) – Almost half a million pacemakers have been recalled by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to fears that their lax cybersecurity could be hacked to run the batteries down or even alter the patient’s heartbeat. The recall won’t see the pacemakers removed, which would be an invasive and dangerous medical procedure for the 465,000 people who have them implanted: instead, the manufacturer has issued a firmware update which will be applied by medical staff to patch the security holes.

Cholera Hits Camp for Displaced in Northeast Nigeria

3 weeks 20 hours

(Reuters) – Cholera has broken out in northeast Nigeria at a camp for people displaced by the eight year conflict with Boko Haram, aid group Médecins Sans Frontières said on Thursday, bringing disease to communities already underfed and living in squalor. The outbreak in the city of Maiduguri, the epicenter of the fight against the Islamist insurgents, confirms aid groups’ fears that Nigeria’s rainy season could spread disease in camps for the internally displaced that are often already unsanitary.

In Mega-Shelter for Harvey Evacuees, Telemedicine Plans to Help Doctors Keep Up

3 weeks 20 hours

(STAT News) – Getting thousands of Houston-area families to shelters has been a massive humanitarian effort. But the aid doesn’t end there: Many of the displaced have chronic medical conditions like asthma or injuries from recent days that need medical attention. Providers of telemedicine are hoping technology can help step into the breach. At Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, which has begun to take residents displaced by flooding in Houston, emergency-room doctors at Children’s Health, a pediatric hospital based in Dallas, are seeing young patients remotely.

FDA Approves First Gene Therapy for Leukemia

3 weeks 20 hours

(NPR) – The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday announced what the agency calls a “historic action” — the first approval of a cell-based gene therapy in the United States. The FDA approved Kymriah, which scientists refer to as a “living drug” because it involves using genetically modified immune cells from patients to attack their cancer. The drug was approved to treat children and young adults up to age 25 suffering from a form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia who do not respond to standard treatment or have suffered relapses.

Hurricane Katrina Left Survivors Vulnerable to Sexual Assault. Here’s How to Protect Harvey Evacuees.

3 weeks 1 day

(Vox) – The chaos during and after Hurricane Katrina left many people vulnerable to sexual assault, as William E. Thornton and Lydia Voigt note in a 2007 paper in which Neville’s story appears. As Hurricane Harvey continues to cause flooding along the Texas and Louisiana coast, some of the same risks apply as people are forced from their homes into shelters or into other temporary living arrangements that may not be safe. The good news: Aid workers have the lessons of Katrina to fall back on as they try to help the thousands of people displaced by this storm.

Pioneering Cancer Drug, Just Approved, to Cost $475,000–and Analysts Say It’s a Bargain

3 weeks 1 day

(STAT News) – The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved a futuristic new approach to treating cancer, clearing a Novartis therapy that has produced unprecedented results in patients with a rare and deadly cancer. The price tag: $475,000 for a course of treatment. That sounds staggering to many patients — but it’s far less than analysts expected. The therapy, called a CAR-T, is made by harvesting patients’ white blood cells and rewiring them to home in on tumors. Novartis’s product is the first CAR-T therapy to come before the FDA, leading a pack of novel treatments that promise to change the standard of care for certain aggressive blood cancers.

Stay Safe and Get a Tetanus Shot, Texas Health Officials Urge

3 weeks 1 day

(NPR) – As health departments in Texas try to assist people with immediate medical needs following Hurricane Harvey, they’re also looking to ensure that those affected can get the prescription drugs they need and stay as safe as possible. “Our best advice is always to avoid floodwater as much as you can,” says Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “Of course, people have had to be in the water — they haven’t had a choice.”

With a Simple DNA Test, Family Histories Are Rewritten

3 weeks 1 day

(New York Times) – The question of ethnicity is enmeshed with another difficult challenge for DNA testers: geography. Genetics researchers generally know which DNA sequences originated on which continents. But pinpointing a particular country of origin, as many testing services claim to do, is far trickier. Scientists simply do not have good data on the genetic characteristics of particular countries in, say, East Africa or East Asia. Even in more developed regions, distinguishing between Polish and, for instance, Russian heritage is inexact at best.

FDA Cracks Down on Stem-Cell Clinics Selling Unapproved Treatments

3 weeks 1 day

(NPR) – The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on “unscrupulous” clinics selling unproven and potentially dangerous treatments involving stem cells. Hundreds of clinics around the country have started selling stem cell therapies that supposedly use stem cells but have not been approved as safe and effective by the FDA, according to the agency.

Storm Flooding Engulfs MD Anderson Cancer Center, Canceling Treatments for Days

3 weeks 2 days

(STAT News) – Tropical Storm Harvey has flooded the roads in and around MD Anderson’s primary Houston hospital, leaving one of the world’s foremost cancer centers unable to see patients for appointments or previously scheduled treatments until Thursday at the earliest. The cancer hospital issued a statement Tuesday saying the main building and several MD Anderson satellites around Houston will remain closed to appointments through Wednesday, as emergency crews work to restore operations and wait for the flood waters to recede.

Organs on Chips

3 weeks 2 days

(The Scientist) – From beating hearts to breathing lungs, organs-on-chips are some of hottest new tools for human biology research. Although these devices may bear closer resemblance to computer components than human body parts, scientists have now created working models for a whole range of organs, including the liver, the lung, and even the female reproductive system. Researchers hope to use these devices to model disease and facilitate drug development. “I think for most people, the goal is to replace animal testing and to carry out personalized medicine in a more effective way,” Donald Ingber, the founding director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, tells The Scientist.

Abuse in Nursing Homes Unreported Despite Law, Government Probe Finds

3 weeks 3 days

(STAT News) – More than 1 in 4 cases of possible sexual and physical abuse against nursing home patients apparently went unreported to police, says a government audit that faults Medicare for failing to enforce a federal law requiring immediate notification. The Health and Human Services inspector general’s office issued an “early alert” Monday on preliminary findings from a large sampling of cases in 33 states. The results were sufficiently alarming that investigators say corrective action is needed now.

Chinese Scientists Say They’re Close to Trials Transplanting Pig Organs into Humans

3 weeks 3 days

(South China Morning Post) – The first such transplant surgery could be just two years away, according to one researcher from a national xenotransplantation project. Recent experiments conducted in China and elsewhere on animals including monkeys have shown they could live for an extended period of time – sometimes years – after receiving transplants of pig organs. China is meanwhile home to the world’s biggest pig-cloning farms that could supply animals bred specifically for transplants of livers, hearts and other organs to humans.

‘It’s a Slow Death’: The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis

3 weeks 3 days

(New York Times) – After two and a half years of war, little is functioning in Yemen. Repeated bombings have crippled bridges, hospitals and factories. Many doctors and civil servants have gone unpaid for more than a year. Malnutrition and poor sanitation have made the Middle Eastern country vulnerable to diseases that most of the world has confined to the history books. In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million, one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years.

Why Teens Need to Understand Care Plans for Dying Parents

3 weeks 3 days

(Reuters) – When children lose a parent during adolescence, their mental health as young adults may depend on how comfortable they were with the treatment and support provided at the end of their parents’ lives, a recent study suggests. To understand the lasting psychological impact of the death of a parent during adolescence, researchers surveyed young adults who had lost a parent to cancer six to nine years earlier, when they were 13 to 16 years old.

Five Myths about Gene Editing

3 weeks 3 days

(Washington Post) – Gene editing made great strides this month when scientists reported success using a technique called CRISPR — Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats — to correct a serious, disease-causing mutation in human embryos. Researchers fixed a mutation that leads to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a relatively common inherited disease of the heart muscle that affects about 1 in 500 people. The public response was wildly enthusiastic. But any new technology can spur confusion and hyperbole, and this one is no exception. Here are five myths about what CRISPR can and can’t do.

Why People May Have Pig Organs inside Them One Day

3 weeks 3 days

(TIME) – The findings have obvious implications for the many people waiting for a transplant. But one of the lead study authors, George Church, a geneticist at Harvard and founder of eGenesis, says the promise of pig organs that are compatible with humans may be even bigger. If pig organs could be engineered to be even healthier and more durable than the average human organ—which Church believes is possible—they could have a profound effect on human health and longevity, he says.

Zipline Expands Drone Delivery of Medical Supplies

3 weeks 6 days

(MIT Technology Review) – Less than a year after launching the world’s first national drone delivery service in Rwanda, Silicon Valley–based Zipline is expanding. Billed as the largest drone delivery service in the world, the new venture is in Tanzania, Rwanda’s neighbor to the east, and involves more than a thousand health facilities covering 10 million people in some of that country’s most remote and hard-to-reach areas. Announced Thursday by the government of Tanzania, the partnership will entail the delivery of a range of medical products by drone from four distribution sites in three distinct areas of the country.

Medical Staff Involved in Organ Trafficking Arrested in Egypt

3 weeks 6 days

(Al Arabiya) – Egyptian authorities announced on Tuesday evening the capture of a gang of medical staff for trafficking human organs in the area of Abu Nomros in Giza, southern Egypt. The authorities arrested 16 people involved in the case, reported Al Arabiya. An official security source confirmed to Al Arabiya that the suspects formed a gang of eight people who go after those those wishing to sell their organs. The gang includes a doctor from a hospital in Abu Al-Nomros and technicians in laboratory analysis who purchase the kidney for 25,000 LE ($1,400) and sell it to wealthy people for $25,000.

Hunting a Killer: Sex, Drugs and the Return of Syphilis

4 weeks 17 hours

(New York Times) – For months, health officials in this socially conservative state capital have been staggered by a fast-spreading outbreak of a disease that, for nearly two decades, was considered all but extinguished. Syphilis, the deadly sexually transmitted infection that can lead to blindness, paralysis and dementia, is returning here and around the country, another consequence of the heroin and methamphetamine epidemics, as users trade sex for drugs.

Insurer’s Mailing to Customers Made HIV Status Visible through Envelope Window

4 weeks 17 hours

(STAT News) – Thousands of people with HIV received mailed letters from Aetna last month that may have disclosed their HIV status on the envelope. The letters, which Aetna said were sent to approximately 12,000 people, were meant to relay a change in pharmacy benefits. Text visible through a small window on the envelopes listed the patients’ names and suggested a change in how they would fill the prescription for their treatment for the virus.

Rural-Urban Gap in Some Vaccination Rates Leaves Health Officials Puzzled

4 weeks 17 hours

(STAT News) – Both rural and urban kids in large numbers were vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis —a combined vaccine known as Tdap. In fact, 88 percent of teens received that vaccination, with nearly equal uptake rates among urban and rural adolescents. But the vaccination rate against human papillomavirus, or HPV, was 16 percentage points lower in rural areas than urban areas. These sexually transmitted viruses can cause a number of cancers. And though one might be tempted to assume that rural parents were less inclined to vaccinate their children against a sexually transmitted virus, it was not the only kind of vaccine for which there was a stark rural-urban divide.

Germany’s Self-Driving Car Ethicists: All Lives Matter

4 weeks 18 hours

(Quartz) – The German federal government will adopt new guidelines for self-driving cars inside the country, which will prioritize the value and equality of human life over damage to property or animals. These guidelines, presented on Aug. 23 by an ethics committee on automated driving, stress that self-driving cars must do the least amount of harm if put into a situation where hitting a human is unavoidable, and cannot discriminate based on age, gender, race, disability, or any other observable factors. In other words, all self-driving cars must be programmed to understand that human life is equal.

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