News from Bioethics.com

Federal Agents Found Fetuses in Body Broker’s Warehouse

3 weeks 5 days

(Reuters) – [Warning: Graphic Images] Federal agents discovered four preserved fetuses in the Detroit warehouse of a man who sold human body parts, confidential photographs reviewed by Reuters show. The fetuses were found during a December 2013 raid of businessman Arthur Rathburn’s warehouse. The fetuses, which appear to have been in their second trimester, were submerged in a liquid that included human brain tissue. Rathburn, a former body broker, is accused of defrauding customers by sending them diseased body parts. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is set for January.

When the Cure Is the Cause: The Case of the Green Hairy Tongue

3 weeks 5 days

(Undark Magazine) – Then, in late 1970, three years after the drug theory was dismissed, a pharmacologist made a forehead-slapping discovery. The two presumably different antibiotics, it turned out, were simply different brand names for clioquinol, a drug used to treat amoebic dysentery. The green hairy tongue and green urine, it turned out, had been caused by the breakdown of clioquinol in the patients’ systems. One month after the discovery, Japan banned clioquinol, and the SMON epidemic — one of the largest drug disasters in history — came to an abrupt end.

A Mother’s Anguish as Baby Gammy Celebrates Fourth Birthday

3 weeks 5 days

(Sydney Morning Herald) – Gammy, who has Down Syndrome, was near-death when his sister was taken more than 5000 kilometres away to a remote Western Australian town only weeks after their births in a public hospital in Bangkok on December 23, 2013. He has never seen his twin. Chanbua, who is known as Goy, last year wrote a letter to the twins’ biological Australian father David Farnell, a 59 year-old convicted sex offender, and his 51 year-old wife Wendy, pleading for them to allow her and Gammy to be reunited with Pipah, the name the Farnells gave the girl.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich Signs Down Syndrome Abortion Ban

3 weeks 5 days

(NBC News) – Ohio is prohibiting doctors from performing abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome, joining other states with similarly strict legislation. Republican Gov. John Kasich signed the legislation into law on Friday. Lawmakers had sent the bill to him earlier this month, in one of their last acts of the year.

Arthritis Drugs Show How U.S. Drug Prices Defy Economics

1 month 2 days

(Kaiser Health News) – Since the first RA drug came to market a decade ago, nearly a dozen have been added. If basic economics prevailed, RA treatments and patients would have benefited from competition. But, because of industry price-setting practices, legal challenges and marketing tactics, they haven’t. The first RA drug cost $10,000 a year. It now lists for more than $40,000 — even as alternatives have entered the U.S. market.

Severe Complications for Women During Childbirth Are Skyrocketing–And Could Often Be Prevented

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(ProPublica) – Judged by one of the most life-altering impacts — a hysterectomy — the U.S. is an outlier in the industrialized world. U.S. women are about five times more likely than their British and Swedish counterparts to undergo a hysterectomy, according to Elena Kuklina, a CDC health scientist. They’re also three times more likely to need a breathing tube during and immediately after childbirth than women in the United Kingdom. The U.K. has improved maternity care by requiring every doctor to follow the same treatment protocols, and by examining every death to see what mistakes may have occurred.

An AI Expert Explains How Robot-Human Offspring Would Work

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(Quartz) – In August 2017, researchers at Ohio State College of Engineering announced an exciting new technology. “Tissue nanotransfection” (TNT for short) which enables injured or aging tissue to be repaired or restored, including blood vessels, nerve cells and entire organs. TNT technology has two major components: First is a nanotechnology-based chip designed to deliver cargo to adult cells in a live body. Second is the design of specific biological cargo for cell conversion. TNT doesn’t require any laboratory-based procedures and is also non-invasive.

Unregulated Herpes Experiments Expose ‘Black Hole’ of Accountability

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(Washington Post) – Recent revelations that a U.S. researcher injected Americans with his experimental herpes vaccine without routine safety oversight raised an uproar among scientists and ethicists. Not only did Southern Illinois University researcher William Halford vaccinate Americans offshore, he injected other participants in U.S. hotel rooms without Food and Drug Administration oversight or even a medical license. Since then, several participants have complained of side effects. But don’t expect the disclosures after Halford’s death in June to trigger significant institutional changes or government response, research experts say.

A Shocking Decline in American Life Expectancy

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(The Atlantic) – For the first time since the early 1960s, life expectancy in the United States has declined for the second year in a row, according to a CDC report released Thursday. American men can now expect to live 76.1 years, a decrease of two-tenths of a year from 2015. American women’s life expectancy remained at 81.1 years. The change was driven largely by a rising death rate among younger Americans. The death rate of people between the ages of 25 and 34 increased by 10 percent between 2015 and 2016, while the death rate continued to decrease for people over the age of 65.

Suspected Cholera Cases in Yemen Hit One Million: ICRC

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(Reuters) – Yemen’s cholera epidemic has reached one million suspected cases, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday, with war leaving more than 80 percent of the population short of food, fuel, clean water and access to healthcare. Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, is embroiled in a proxy war between the Houthi armed movement, allied with Iran, and a U.S.-backed military coalition headed by Saudi Arabia.

A Contraceptive Gel for Men Is About to Go on Trial

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(MIT Technology Review) – The clinical trial, which begins in April and will run for about four years, will be the largest effort in the U.S. to test a hormonal form of birth control for men. Currently, men’s only options for birth control are condoms or a vasectomy. In the last major study of a hormonal male contraceptive, which took place in Europe from 2008 to 2012, participants received injections of hormones every two months. The shots suppressed sperm production and prevented the men’s female partners from getting pregnant, but they also gave men severe mood swings and other serious side effects.

The Battle to Contain Africa’s Hidden Killers

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(CNN) – Rainy seasons in Nigeria bring out venomous snakes, which emerge from their shelters to hunt and breed.  This is always a hazardous time, particularly for agricultural workers tending their fields, and this autumn proved especially cruel. Around 250 people were reportedly killed over a three-week period in the central states of Gombe and Plateau, in a crisis that overwhelmed local doctors and prompted a national outcry. The case was extreme, but not unique. Nigeria is among the countries worst affected by what some public health experts are calling an epidemic.

Facebook Billionaire Pours Funds into High-Risk Research

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(Nature) – Open Phil, based in San Francisco, California, acknowledges the high odds of failure of the basic research it funds and, for a private funder, publishes brutally honest assessments of its projects. These range from developing lab-made meat alternatives to a controversial genetic-engineering technology called gene drive. For its latest funding round, it asked scientists whose grant applications had been rejected by an NIH competition for risky research to dust off their proposals. Some 120 researchers resubmitted their requests, and the project awarded $10.8 million to four teams.

When Nursing Homes Push Out Poor and Disabled Patients

1 month 4 days

(Kaiser Health News) – Complaints about allegedly improper evictions and discharges from nursing homes are on the rise in California, Illinois and other states, according to government data. These concerns are echoed in lawsuits and by ombudsmen and consumer advocates. In California alone, such complaints have jumped 70 percent in five years, reaching 1,504 last year, said Joseph Rodrigues, the state-employed Long-Term Care Ombudsman, who for 15 years has overseen local ombudsman programs, which are responsible for resolving consumer complaints.

The Struggle to Do No Harm in Clinical Trials

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(Nature) – Most people who enter a clinical trial for a cancer immunotherapy have advanced disease. They hope that the treatment, which aims to activate their T cells against cancer, will boost their life expectancy from months to years. In rare cases, however, the pendulum swings the other way and the treatment results in a fatal reaction. Deaths in recent trials for three cancer immunotherapy drugs have put participants, researchers and drug companies on edge, largely because the causes of the deaths are not well understood.

Making Cancer Immunotherapy a Surer Bet

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(Nature) – Embarking on checkpoint-inhibitor immunotherapy for cancer is a bit like taking a single pull on the lever of a slot machine. For a relatively small risk — such drugs are generally safer than other types used to treat cancer — recipients can win a massive reward: years of disease-free survival. “My longest responder is from 2001, and she continues to do well long term,” says Antoni Ribas, an oncologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. However, only a small proportion of people who are eligible for treatment with the drugs reap that reward — less than 40% for melanoma, for example, the type of cancer for which treatment has been most successful.

The Embryos Is Just a Year Younger Than the Mother Who Birthed Her

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(CNN) – The longest known frozen human embryo to result in a successful birth was born last month in Tennessee. Emma Wren Gibson, delivered November 25 by Dr. Jeffrey Keenan, medical director of the National Embryo Donation Center, is the result of an embryo originally frozen on October 14, 1992.

U.S. Lifts Moratorium on Funding Controversial, High-Risk Virus Research

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(STAT News) – Called gain-of-function experiments, the studies aim to understand genetic changes that can make viruses such as bird flu, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) more transmissible from person to person. But if they escaped from the lab, perhaps through human error, the modified viruses could in theory spread quickly or be extremely virulent, increasing the toll of an outbreak. The moratorium was imposed a few months after two mishaps at government labs, one handling anthrax and one handling avian flu, which together suggested that biosafety and biosecurity at even the most respected labs fell well short of what is needed to protect the public.

Gene Therapy for Rare Form of Blindness Wins US Approval

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(ABC News) – U.S. health officials on Tuesday approved the nation’s first gene therapy for an inherited disease, a treatment that improves the sight of patients with a rare form of blindness. It marks another major advance for the emerging field of genetic medicine. The approval for Spark Therapeutics offers a life-changing intervention for a small group of patients with a vision-destroying genetic mutation and hope for many more people with other inherited diseases. The drugmaker said it will not disclose the price until next month, delaying debate about the affordability of a treatment that analysts predict will be priced around $1 million.

The FDA Is Cracking Down on the Shady, $3 Billion Homeopathic Drug Industry

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(Quartz) – The US government has fired a warning shot across the bow of junk science, promising to chase down the makers of sham medicine. The announcement was made on Monday (Dec. 18) by Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gotlieb. In a statement, Gotlieb described the homeopathic medicine market as being filled with a slew of ineffective placebos, and also as potentially dangerous.

Tiny Stem Cell Companies Close in on Major Heart Disease Goals

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(Reuters) – The early hope that stem cell therapy would make the paralyzed walk, the blind see and cure diabetes have given way to a long list of failures, highlighted by early stem cell champion Geron Corp abandoning the field in 2011. But two small companies, Athersys Inc and Mesoblast Ltd, are beginning final stage trials in hundreds of patients that they – along with loyal investors – say could change the course of devastating stroke and heart failure. Both have overcome major hurdles to manufacturing stem cell treatments on a large scale that are off-the-shelf products derived from healthy donor bone marrow and do not face immune system rejection issues.

Doctors Who Ignore Consent Are Traumatizing Women During Childbirth

1 month 6 days

(Quartz) – From the 1980s, however, clinical research began to indicate that episiotomy should not be considered routine medical practice. It can be a life-saving intervention under certain circumstances but for most births, “snipping” does more harm than good. The procedure is associated with higher levels of pain, edema, bleeding and incontinence – and actually increases the risk of severe tearing. Today, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend against routine use of episiotomy. NICE’s guidelines on intrapartum care state it should only be done if there is a “clinical need,” such as to relieve fetal or maternal distress.

Hemophilia Trial Finds Promising Cure

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(CNN) – A gene-therapy trial by London researchers has seen remarkable success in finding a long-term cure for hemophilia A. The trial, by researchers at Barts Health NHS (National Health Service) Trust and Queen Mary University of London, used gene therapy to inject one dose of a missing gene in patients with the condition, and the gene continued functioning in the body for more than a year. This is the first successful gene therapy to treat the condition.

India’s Laws on Organ Transplants Do Little to Protect Rights of Organ Donors

1 month 1 week

(Scroll.in) – Thakur’s case is an example of how India’s organ transplant laws do little to protect organ donors, who are often from poor socioeconomic backgrounds and sometimes coerced into making the donation. At a recent meeting of doctors, legal experts, activists and a government representative, on possible changes to the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, most people agreed that donors often agree to transplant procedures due to coercion or a dire need of money, and need to be protected as victims and not seen as perpetrators of the crime.

6,700 Rohingya Killed in First Months of Myanmar Crackdown, MSF Reports

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(CNN) – At least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in attacks during the first month of a military crackdown in Myanmar in late August, Médecins Sans Frontières estimates. The aid group interviewed several thousand Rohingya refugees in four camps in Bangladesh in late October and early November, asking how many members of their families had died and how, both before and after the violence began. The survey showed that a minimum of 6,700 Rohingya — including 730 children — were killed by shooting and other violence between August 25 and September 24, and that at least 2,700 others died from disease and malnutrition, according to MSF.

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