(Fox News) – The illegal trade of human organs in the Middle East has surged recently as Syrian refugees seek money to afford smugglers’ fees for a Mediterranean Sea crossing to Europe. One young Syrian man, who gave his name as Mayar, fled his war-torn Syrian village for Cairo, hoping to be able to earn a living and support his family in that city. But that was unsuccessful. “By God, I don’t know how much money I can make from my kidney, but I have no other solution,” A refugee given the pseudonym “Mayar” said to Vocativ in a recent interview. “Life in Egypt is expensive.”
(The Epoch Times) – Investigative journalist and author Ethan Gutmann has been nominated for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for his work exposing the mass harvesting of organs in China’s state-run hospitals from practitioners of the traditional spiritual practice Falun Gong. Gutmann, along with human rights lawyer David Matas and former Canadian member of Parliament David Kilgour, released last summer the report “Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter: an Update,” which expanded on research published in Matas and Kilgour’s 2006 report “Bloody Harvest” and Gutmann’s 2014 book “The Slaughter.”
(Sixth Tone) – Thirty years after China’s first hospice center opened its doors in Beijing, the country’s top health authority has finally released a set of standards for palliative care — or that which is intended to reduce pain from a disease rather than cure it. The new rules, issued by the National Health and Family Planning Commission in late January, specify that such facilities should be equipped with at least 50 beds, and that there should be at least one doctor, four nurses, and 12 caregivers for every 10 beds.
(New Scientist) – A TEENAGE boy with an inherited disease that affects millions worldwide seems to have been cured using gene therapy. The treatment appears to have stopped the painful symptoms of sickle cell disease, demonstrating the potential for gene therapy to treat common genetic diseases. The idea of gene therapy – using strands of DNA to compensate for a person’s malfunctioning genes – is almost three decades old. However, the approach has so far mostly been used to treat very rare diseases (see “Long road to success“). In contrast, sickle cell disease affects 100,000 people in the US alone. If the treatment proves successful in larger trials, it could bring gene therapy into widespread use.
(BBC) – Liberian nurse Salome Karwah was one of those named as Time magazine’s person of the year in 2014 for her frontline work against Ebola. She died in Monrovia last week after giving birth to a son. Her husband told the BBC that nurses were unwilling to touch her for fear of contracting Ebola – even though she recently tested negative for Ebola. The hospital has not commented, and officials say they are investigating the death.
(BBC) – Aid workers say fighting in Yemen has made it virtually impossible to ship humanitarian supplies to a key harbour when the country is at risk of famine. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has had to halt deliveries to the Red Sea port of Hudaydah. It said this was partly because it had not received security guarantees. The port has also been targeted by warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition which is backing Yemen’s government in its war with the rebel Houthi movement.
(The Atlantic) – This idea of objectivity in assessing pain plays a major role in the debate over “railway spine,” a constellation of symptoms suffered by people in train collisions. (It’s sometimes likened to 19th-century whiplash.) Railroad companies were not keen to compensate victims for these vague symptoms. The emergence of objectivity influenced the stigma around patients who suffered from pain without visible injury—and this stigma ends up overlapping with stigma that already exist along race, gender, and class lines. The same issues reverberate today, in how doctors discount women’s pain or prescribe opioids to African Americans less frequently.
(Science Daily) – The skin cells of four adults with schizophrenia have provided an unprecedented “window” into how the disease began while they were still in the womb, according to a recent paper in Schizophrenia Research. The paper was published online in January by researchers at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo in collaboration with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. It provides what the authors call the first proof of concept for their hypothesis that a common genomic pathway lies at the root of schizophrenia.
(The Atlantic) – “I realized that thinking about nerve blocks was too narrow. Pain is just the visible part of the iceberg of suffering. What is ignored is the part below the surface—feelings of hopelessness and despair, worries about money, about children. That is what palliative care is about. That man gave up his life to help me understand it.” We all wish for a pain-free, dignified death. Too few of us achieve it. Worldwide, the last year of life is marked by widespread unnecessary suffering. At least 40 million people need palliative care each year, but only around half that number receive it, according to the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance. India comes near the bottom of the global league in access to end-of-life care—ranked 67 out of 80 countries in 2015—but Kerala is an exception.
(STAT News) – A federally appointed ethics panel has rejected an application from a team of scientists to deliberately infect people with the Zika virus, a decision that threatens to further slow the search for an effective vaccine. The panel’s report, published without fanfare last week on the website of the National Institutes of Health, said it would not currently be ethical to conduct the study because of the risk to potential volunteers and their sexual partners and because there are other possible study approaches.
(National Post) – Some doctors who have helped the gravely ill end their lives are no longer willing to participate in assisted death because of emotional distress or fear of prosecution if their decisions are second-guessed, according to their colleagues. In Ontario, one of the few provinces to track the information, 24 doctors have permanently been removed from a voluntary referral list of physicians willing to help people die. Another 30 have put their names on temporary hold.
(Yahoo! News) – At least nine hearts and two livers could not reach needy patients in time last year in different parts of the country, even as lakhs of people wait at top hospitals for life-saving transplants amid acute shortage of donors. Experts point to the lack of a robust system to transport organs to super-speciality hospitals in quick time. The National Organ & Tissue Transplant Organisation (NOTTO), the country’s apex organ donation agency, is now framing a proposal to airlift cadaver organs and will send a report to the Union health ministry.
(Reuters) – The woman, who was trafficked from West Bengal to Pune – a journey stretching across the breadth of India – delivered a son this month who she then gave up for adoption. Counselors who work with trafficking and rape victims say that an unwanted pregnancy followed by adoption was a traumatic double punch for women who have already endured a sex crime. “A 16-year-old told me she was offered no help when she wanted to terminate the pregnancy, but now she was being asked to give up the child for adoption,” said Leena Jadhav, a counselor.
(News-Medical) – Sanford Research scientists recently published a review article in an issue of Stem Cells Translational Medicine focused on the study of and utility of adult-derived stem cells. Earlier this month, Sanford began enrolling participants in the Safety and Efficacy of Adult Adipose-Derived Stem Cell Injections into Partial Thickness Rotator Cuff Tears clinical trial. The trial uses stromal vascular fraction, a mixture of cells and nutrients isolated from a patient’s own body that contain adipose-derived stem cells, as a potential therapy for partial-thickness rotator cuff tears. Sanford scientists and clinicians are exploring the application of this type of stem cells for other conditions.
(The Atlantic) – Medicine, in World War I, made major advances in several directions. The war is better known as the first mass killing of the 20th century—with an estimated 10 million military deaths alone—but for the injured, doctors learned enough to vastly improve a soldier’s chances of survival. They went from amputation as the only solution, to being able to transport soldiers to hospital, to disinfect their wounds and to operate on them to repair the damage wrought by artillery. Ambulances, antiseptic, and anesthesia, three elements of medicine taken entirely for granted today, emerged from the depths of suffering in the First World War.
(Scientific American) – The number of deadly heroin overdoses in the United States more than quadrupled from 2010 to 2015, a federal agency said on Friday, as the price of the drug dropped and its potency increased. There were 12,989 overdose deaths involving heroin in 2015, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, compared with 3,036 such fatalities five years earlier. In 2010, heroin was involved in 8 percent of U.S. drug overdose deaths, a study by the Atlanta-based center said. By 2015, that proportion had jumped to 25 percent.
(STAT News) – Jeantine Lunshof insists she is not the “ethics police.” It says so on the door to her closet-sized office at Harvard. She doesn’t find reasons to reflexively shut down experiments. She doesn’t snoop around for deviations from ethical guidelines. But when scientists discuss their research in the twice-weekly lab meetings she attends, “I will say, hmm, that raises some good questions,” Lunshof said. There is no shortage of “good questions” for Lunshof, who for the last three years has been embedded in the synthetic biology lab of George Church, the visionary whose projects include trying to resurrect the wooly mammoth and to “write” a human genome from scratch.
(The Washington Post) – How many people could self-driving cars kill before we would no longer tolerate them? This once-hypothetical question is now taking on greater urgency, particularly among policymakers in Washington. The promise of autonomous vehicles is that they will make our roads safer and more efficient, but no technology is without its shortcomings and unintended consequences — in this instance, potentially fatal consequences.
(The Washington Post) – They are called superspreaders, the minority of people who are responsible for infecting many others during epidemics of infectious diseases. Perhaps the most famous superspreader was Typhoid Mary, presumed to have infected 51 people, three of whom died, between 1900 and 1907. Now scientists studying how Ebola spread during the 2014-2015 epidemic in West Africa say superspreaders played a bigger role than was previously known, according to findings published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
(Pro Publica) – Over the last three years, pharmaceutical companies have mounted a public relations blitz to tout new cures for the hepatitis C virus and persuade insurers, including government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, to cover the costs. That isn’t an easy sell, because the price of the treatments ranges from $40,000 to $94,000 — or, because the treatments take three months, as much as $1,000 per day. To persuade payers and the public, the industry has deployed a potent new ally, a company whose marquee figures are leading economists and health care experts at the nation’s top universities.
(Australian Broadcasting Co.) – Around 10 Australian couples have been left in legal limbo in Cambodia — unable to bring surrogate babies home months after their birth — as they wait for the Government in Phnom Penh to draft new laws on surrogacy. The Cambodian Government has begun drafting legislation that will likely ban commercial surrogacy but may allow some form of altruistic surrogacy under strict regulations.
(CNN) – The unthinkable is happening at facilities throughout the country: Vulnerable seniors are being raped and sexually abused by the very people paid to care for them. It’s impossible to know just how many victims are out there. But through an exclusive analysis of state and federal data and interviews with experts, regulators and the families of victims, CNN has found that this little-discussed issue is more widespread than anyone would imagine. Even more disturbing: In many cases, nursing homes and the government officials who oversee them are doing little — or nothing — to stop it.
(Associated Press) – After their rape and torture by Islamic State extremists for months or years, Yazidi women face ongoing suffering from psychological trauma even if they do manage to escape. Until now, a lack of psychiatrists and other mental health specialists in northern Iraq meant that many Yazidi women – a minority singled out for especially harsh treatment by IS – got little or no help. That’s about to change with the establishment of a new psychological training center at the University of Dohuk in Iraq, the first in the entire region.
(Nature) – Nine years later, such research has given birth to an ‘ome of its own, the epitranscriptome. He and others have shown that a methyl group attached to adenine, one of the four bases in RNA, has crucial roles in cell differentiation, and may contribute to cancer, obesity and more. In 2015, He’s lab and two other teams uncovered the same chemical mark on adenine bases in DNA (methyl marks had previously been found only on cytosine), suggesting that the epigenome may be even richer than previously imagined. Research has taken off.
(Nature) – A laboratory in Wuhan is on the cusp of being cleared to work with the world’s most dangerous pathogens. The move is part of a plan to build between five and seven biosafety level-4 (BSL-4) labs across the Chinese mainland by 2025, and has generated much excitement, as well as some concerns. Some scientists outside China worry about pathogens escaping, and the addition of a biological dimension to geopolitical tensions between China and other nations. But Chinese microbiologists are celebrating their entrance to the elite cadre empowered to wrestle with the world’s greatest biological threats.