News from Bioethics.com

The World’s Most Common Contraception Has a Dark Past

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(BBC) – If you look at the world as a whole, female sterilisation is the most popular form of contraception. While the pill tends to be more common in Western Europe, Canada or Australia, for example, sterilisation is often the main choice for women elsewhere, including much of Asia and Latin America. According to a 2015 UN survey, the most recent available, an average of 19% of married or in-union women relied on female sterilisation globally – the next most popular method, the IUD, is less than 14%, while the pill is just 9%. And sterilisation is more popular in India than it is anywhere else. In India, the figure for female sterilisation is 39%, almost twice as much as the worldwide number.

Nearly 30% of All Opioid Prescriptions Lack Medical Explanation

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(CNN) – How large a role do doctors play in the opioid crisis? Nearly 30% of all opioids prescribed in US clinics or doctors’ offices lack a documented reason — such as severe back pain — to justify a script for these addictive drugs, new research finds. In total, opioids were prescribed in almost 809 million outpatient visits over a 10-year period, with 66.4% of these prescriptions intended to treat non-cancer pain and 5.1% for cancer-related pain, according to a study published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

CRISPR’s Epic Patent Fight Changed the Course of Biology

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(Wired) – After three bitter years and tens of millions of dollars in legal fees, the epic battle over who owns one of the most common methods for editing the DNA in any living thing is finally drawing to a close. On Monday, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a decisive ruling on the rights to Crispr-Cas9 gene editing—awarding crucial intellectual property spoils to scientists at the Broad Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

‘Microdosing’ Is Touted by ‘Shroomers and Reddit Users. Science Is Starting to Test Their Claims–And Finding Some Truth

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(STAT News) – Microdosing involves taking roughly one-tenth the “trip” dose of a psychedelic drug, an amount too little to trigger hallucinations but enough, its proponents say, to sharpen the mind. Psilocybin microdosers (including hundreds on Reddit) report that the mushrooms can increase creativity, calm anxiety, decrease the need for caffeine, and reduce depression. There is enough evidence that trip doses might have the latter effect that, on Wednesday, London-based Compass Pathways received Food and Drug Administration approval for a Phase 2B clinical trial of psilocybin (in larger-than-microdoses) for treatment-resistant depression. But research into microdosing is minimal.

Doctors Can’t ‘Stand in the Way’ of Euthanasia Patients

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(Sydney Morning Herald) – Doctors will be expected to put aside their personal views and not stand in the way of patients wanting to end their lives when euthanasia is legalised in Victoria next year. While medical professionals can conscientiously object to participating in euthanasia, Victorian Healthcare Association chief executive Tom Symondson said terminally-ill people should not be impeded in their quest for a hastened death by hospitals or doctors that refuse to offer the service.

Does a Generic EpiPen Mean Lower Prices? Don’t Hold Your Breath

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(STAT News) – Unexplained and dramatic price hikes have become routine for older branded drugs when there is limited competition, as was the case for EpiPen. The entry of Teva’s generic version sparked suggestions that the increased competition will drive down prices. Yet that may not be the case. At least two generic manufacturers are needed before significant cost savings occur, with incremental price decreases following the entry of each subsequent generic. A recent analysis found that even more competition is required — up to three generic manufacturers — before there is a substantial drop in price.

The High Cost of Hope: When the Parallel Interests of Pharma and Families Collide

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(Kaiser Health News) – Manufacturers selling precious, lifesaving medicines and patients share an uneasy alliance. They need each other but have clashing priorities, especially when it comes to drugs treating rare diseases such as cystinosis. Cystinosis families say they are deeply grateful for Procysbi. The medicine would not be on the market without Raptor — which performed clinical trials — and Horizon Pharma, which acquired the rights two years ago, they acknowledge. But they also feel they’ve been used. What began as a desperate search for life-extending medicine, cystinosis parents say, has become a story of corporations profiteering off their children.

Richard Sackler, Member of Family Behind OxyContin, Was Granted Patent for Addiction Treatment

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(STAT News) – Amember of the family that owns Purdue Pharma — which is being sued by more than 1,000 jurisdictions for its alleged role in seeding the opioid crisis with its pain medication OxyContin — has been awarded a patent for a treatment for opioid use disorder. Dr. Richard Sackler is listed as one of six inventors on the patent, which was issued in January and was first reported Friday by the Financial Times. Critics told the FT that they were disturbed that the patent could enable Sackler to benefit financially from the addiction crisis that his family’s company is accused of fueling.

Sick Airplane Passengers Greeted by ‘Hidden Network of Protection’

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(CNN) – There’s a complex international network in place at all times, combating the spread of infectious diseases. This includes the global reporting of diseases, how and where they spread and the integration of data. It involves international, federal, state and local partners that, among other things, engage in surveillance of the travel experience, whether that be by land, air or sea, explained Dr. Marty Cetron, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine.

If AI Is Going to Be the World’s Doctor, It Needs Better Textbooks

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(Quartz) – Actually, you don’t have to imagine. This scenario is real. Winterlight Labs, a Toronto-based startup, is building auditory tests for neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis. But after publishing their initial research (pdf) in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2016, the team hit a snag: The technology only worked for English speakers of a particular Canadian dialect.

When Giving Birth Leads to Psychosis, Then to Infanticide

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(The Atlantic) – Bolanos’s sentence for killing her child was standard in the U.S. But in some other countries, there are laws recognizing that a woman who has recently given birth has undergone biological changes that may make her more vulnerable to mental illness. Approximately two dozen countries have such “infanticide laws”, including Brazil, Colombia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Turkey. These laws are designed to allow for more lenient penalties in cases where a court determines the postpartum mother suffers from mental illness. Exactly what those penalties are varies by country.

With Big-Name Backing, a Startup Launches to Match Cancer Patients with Clinical Trials

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(STAT News) – The idea is to address one of the most frustrating problems in health care. Only about one-seventh of adult cancer patients who are eligible to enroll in clinical trials actually sign up. And at the world’s top cancer centers, many studies get shut down because they can’t enroll enough patients; some trials can’t enroll anyone at all. But it remains to be seen whether Driver will be able to achieve its bold ambitions. Clinicians are already inundated with technology, and they’ll have to embrace yet another piece of software if Driver is to succeed.

U.S. Judge Blocks Texas Fetal Tissue Burial Laws

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(Reuters) – A federal judge blocked Texas laws requiring the burial or cremation of aborted fetal tissue, saying in a decision on Wednesday the measures placed substantial and unconstitutional obstacles in the path of a woman’s right to choose an abortion. U.S. District Judge David Ezra in Austin, Texas, issued a permanent injunction preventing the measures from going into effect.

For the First Time, Researchers Will Release Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes in Africa

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(STAT News) – The government of Burkina Faso granted scientists permission to release genetically engineered mosquitoes anytime this year or next, researchers announced Wednesday. It’s a key step in the broader efforts to use bioengineering to eliminate malaria in the region. The release, which scientists are hoping to execute this month, will be the first time that any genetically engineered animal is released into the wild in Africa. While these particular mosquitoes won’t have any mutations related to malaria transmission, researchers are hoping their release, and the work that led up to it, will help improve the perception of the research and trust in the science among regulators and locals alike. It will also inform future releases.

Avoidable Sepsis Infections Send Thousands of Seniors to Gruesome Deaths

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(Kaiser Health News) – Year after year, nursing homes around the country have failed to prevent bedsores and other infections that can lead to sepsis, an investigation by Kaiser Health News and the Chicago Tribune has found. No one tracks sepsis cases closely enough to know how many times these infections turn fatal. However, a federal report has found that care related to sepsis was the most common reason given for transfers of nursing home residents to hospitals and noted that such cases ended in death “much more often” than hospitalizations for other conditions.

Early Results Boost Hopes for Historic Gene Editing Attempt

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(ABC News) – Early, partial results from a historic gene editing study give encouraging signs that the treatment may be safe and having at least some of its hoped-for effect, but it’s too soon to know whether it ultimately will succeed. The results announced Wednesday are from the first human test of gene editing in the body, an attempt to permanently change someone’s DNA to cure a disease — in this case, a genetic disorder called Hunter syndrome that often kills people in their teens.

Insulin’s High Cost Leads to Lethal Rationing

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(NPR) – The price of insulin in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2012. That has put the life-saving hormone out of reach for some people with diabetes, like Smith-Holt’s son Alec Raeshawn Smith. It has left others scrambling for solutions to afford the one thing they need to live. I’m one of those scrambling.

Creating Rituals to Honor the Dead at Long-Term-Care Facilities

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(Kaiser Health News) – Death and its companion, grief, have a profound presence in long-term-care facilities. Residents may wake up one morning to find someone they saw every day in the dining room gone. Nursing aides may arrive at work to find an empty bed, occupied the day before by someone they’d helped for months. But the tides of emotion that ripple through these institutions are rarely openly acknowledged.

Microwave Weapons Are Prime Suspect in Ills of U.S. Embassy Workers

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(New York Times) – During the Cold War, Washington feared that Moscow was seeking to turn microwave radiation into covert weapons of mind control. More recently, the American military itself sought to develop microwave arms that could invisibly beam painfully loud booms and even spoken words into people’s heads. The aims were to disable attackers and wage psychological warfare. Now, doctors and scientists say such unconventional weapons may have caused the baffling symptoms and ailments that, starting in late 2016, hit more than three dozen American diplomats and family members in Cuba and China. The Cuban incidents resulted in a diplomatic rupture between Havana and Washington.

Oral Polio Drops Linked to Paralysis in India

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(SciDevNet) – While India’s oral polio vaccine (OPV) drives have eliminated polio from the country, they have also resulted in over 490,000 cases of paralysis during 2000?2017, according to a new study based on national surveillance statistics. India, a country of 1.3 billion people, was declared polio-free by the WHO in May 2014, in what was considered a landmark in the global drive to eradicate polio. Currently, the wild polio virus, which attacks the nervous system leading to childhood paralytic disease, is confined to Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Lab-Grown Brain Bits Open Windows to the Mind–And a Maze of Ethical Dilemmas

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(The Washington Post) – “Minibrain” is a controversial nickname, loathed by some scientists who fear it conjures alarmist images of fully functioning brains trapped in vats, while the reality today is balls of cells that can’t think or feel. But the term vividly evokes the aspirational goal of this fast-moving area of research: to mimic the complexity of the human brain and illuminate the biology of the human mind, one of science’s darkest black boxes. As the technology, which scientists refer to in journal articles as “cerebral organoids,” improves, the more the “minibrain” title fits.

First CRISPR Clinical Trial Backed by U.S. Companies Launches

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(STAT News) – The first clinical trial of CRISPR-Cas9 sponsored by U.S. companies has launched, testing the genome-editing technique in patients with the blood disorder beta thalassemia, according to an announcement posted Friday on the U.S. clinical trials website. The Phase 1/2 clinical trial, co-sponsored by Vertex Pharmaceuticals and using an experimental treatment from CRISPR Therapeutics, will be conducted at a single hospital in Regensburg, Germany, and aims to recruit up to 12 adults with the inherited disease.

First iPS Cell Trial for Heart Disease Raises Excitement, Concern

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(The Scientist) – Early next year, a small clinical trial will begin in Japan, marking the first time reprogrammed stem cells will be deployed to help regenerate injured hearts. A team led by Osaka University cardiac surgeon Yoshiki Sawa will implant sheets—each consisting of 100 million stem-cell derived cardiomyocytes—onto the hearts of three patients with advanced heart failure.

Chinese Team Uses Base Editing to Repair Genetic Diseases in Human Embryos

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(PhysOrg) – A team of researchers in China has used a form of the CRISPR gene editing technique to repair a genetic defect in a viable human embryo. In their paper published in the journal Molecular Therapy, the group describes their work and how well it worked. Only three years ago, CRISPR was first used on a human embryo. In that work, a Chinese team attempted to use the technique to repair a genetic fault. Though the work made headlines around the world, it had a low success rate—just four out of 54 embryos that survived the technique carried the repaired genes. Since that time, a new variation of CRISPR has been developed—it is called base editing, and works in a more efficient way.

‘Don’t Commit the Mistake I Made’: The Men Fighting India’s Female Foeticide

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(The Guardian) – In 2015, the government launched a national campaign to address the sex ratio with a renewed focus on enforcing laws that forbid sex-selective abortion and diagnostic techniques used for female foeticide, in addition to promoting girls’ education. But experts say such campaigns have failed to engage men, who not only play a critical role in shaping attitudes towards girls but who are often the perpetrators – forcing women to undergo sex-selective abortion or take SSDs. Abhijit Das, co-chair of the MenEngage Alliance, a global network of organisations working on gender justice, and director of the Centre for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ) in New Delhi, says India’s sex ratio won’t improve unless men are part of the fight.

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