(News-Medical) – Autonomous driving, automatic speech recognition, and the game Go: Deep Learning is generating more and more public awareness. Scientists at the Helmholtz Zentrum München and their partners at ETH Zurich and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have now used it to determine the development of hematopoietic stem cells in advance. In ‘Nature Methods’ they describe how their software predicts the future cell type based on microscopy images.
(The Atlantic) – Overall, residents typically work more than twice as many hours annually as their peers in other white-collar professions, such as attorneys in corporate law firms—a grueling schedule that potentially puts both caregivers and patients at risk. In Europe, by contrast, residents are subject to a maximum workweek of 48 hours, without apparent harm to patient care or the educational component of residencies.
(BBC) – UN agencies say 100,000 people are facing starvation in South Sudan and a further 1 million there are classified as being on the brink of famine. This is the most acute of the present food emergencies. It is also the most widespread nationally. Overall, says the UN, 4.9 million people – or 40% of South Sudan’s population – are “in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance”. “Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive,” says the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization representative in South Sudan, Serge Tissot. The basic cause of the famine is conflict.
(ABC News) – The increasing number of opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts show the state is one of the hardest hit in the nation by the growth of the highly-potent opioid fentanyl. The number of deaths related to opioids in Massachusetts has risen exponentially in recent years, reaching an estimated 1,979 deaths in 2016 — a sharp rise from 918 deaths in 2013, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “The opioid epidemic continues to threaten individuals and families all across Massachusetts and the country,” the state’s governor, Charlie Baker, said in a statement last week.
(Scientific American) – The promise of brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) for restoring function to people with disabilities has driven researchers for decades, yet few devices are ready for widespread practical use. Several obstacles exist, depending on the application. For typing, however, one important barrier has been reaching speeds sufficient to justify adopting the technology, which usually involves surgery. A study published Tuesday in eLifereports the results of a system that enabled three participants—Degray and two people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neurodegenerative disease that causes progressive paralysis)—to type at the fastest speeds yet achieved using a BCIspeeds bring the technology within reach of being practically useful.
(BBC) – A multiple sclerosis treatment being tested in patients can stop the disease for at least five years, say doctors. The risky therapy involves wiping out the person’s immune system with strong cancer drugs and then rebooting it with a stem cell transplant. Doctors say only some patients will be suitable to try it, particularly because it is so high risk. Out of 281 people who had the treatment, nearly half benefited, but eight died shortly afterwards.
(The Conversation) – Most of the research behind new medical advances is carried out using either animal tissues or cancer cells. Both tools have their problems: results from animals and humans do not always match up and cancer cells grown for years in laboratories often do not mimic the tissues they originally came from very well. Bridging the gap between whole animals and simple cells can be a challenge during the development of new treatments, but this is beginning to change since scientists have learned how to grow organoids.
(The Atlantic) – The billionaire technologists’ obsession with living forever can approach a sort of parody. Oracle’s Ellison once said, “Death makes me very angry”—suggesting this pillar of nature is just another consumer pain-point to be relieved with an app. But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that it can be. Let’s say human lives will soon get radically longer—or even become unending. The billionaires will get their way, and death will become optional. If we really are on the doorstep of radical longevity, it’s worth considering how it will change human society. With no deadline, will we still be motivated to finish things?
(The Guardian) – Norma McCorvey, who was just 22 years old when she became better known as Jane Roe in the landmark 1973 supreme court case Roe v Wade, has died aged 69 in her home state of Texas. Her death was confirmed by the journalist Joshua Prager, who was working on a book about McCorvey and was with her and her family when she died. He told the Associated Press that she died of heart failure at an assisted living center in Katy, Texas.
(Scientific American) – The report suggests limitations on genetic engineering to the heritable “germline” code of embryos, or even earlier upstream in the process, sperm and ovum, which convey information passed on to subsequent generations. However, the report appears to exclude the public from participation and concludes that “clinical trials using heritable germline genome editing should be permitted.” They should not—not without public discussion and a more conscious evaluation of how this impacts social standing, stigma and identity, ethics that scientists often tend to cite pro forma and then swiftly scuttle.
(Medical Xpress) – The researchers established a method of investigating how Zika alters the production, survival and maturation of brain stem cells using cells donated from three human fetal brains. They focused on the impact of the Asian lineage Zika virus that was involved in the first outbreak in North America in late 2015. “We discovered that the Asian lineage Zika virus halted the proliferation of brain stem cells and hindered their ability to develop into brain nerve cells,” said Ping Wu, senior author on the study and UTMB professor in the Department of Neuroscience & Cell Biology.
(The Economist) – Such methods separate sexual intercourse from reproduction. Most of them bring the possibility of choosing which embryo will live, and which will die. At first they can seem bewildering—disgusting, even. But one thing experience has shown is that, in this area, disgust is not a good guide to policy. AID was treated by at least one American court as a species of adultery and its progeny deemed illegitimate in the eyes of the law. IVF led to anguish among some theologians about whether “test-tube” babies would have souls.
(STAT News) – Stanford University, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and other prestigious medical research institutions have flagrantly violated a federal law requiring public reporting of study results, depriving patients and doctors of complete data to gauge the safety and benefits of treatments, a STAT investigation has found. The violations have left gaping holes in a federal database used by millions of patients, their relatives, and medical professionals, often to compare the effectiveness and side effects of treatments for deadly diseases such as advanced breast cancer.
(Scientific American) – But organs aren’t the only thing that you can donate once you’re dead. What about donating your medical data? Data might not seem important in the way that organs are. People need organs just to stay alive, or to avoid being on dialysis for several hours a day. But medical data are also very valuable—even if they are not going to save someone’s life immediately. Why? Because medical research cannot take place without medical data, and the sad fact is that most people’s medical data are inaccessible for research once they are dead.
(Vox) – There’s a huge amount of discussion these days about the opioid epidemic in America: how the overdose rate got so shockingly high and what should be done to stop it. A common belief is that opioid addiction often begins with a single prescription from a doctor: Patients seek relief from some minor problem like a toothache or back pain, leave with a prescription, and wind up hooked. But there’s not much actual evidence tying doctors’ prescription patterns with individual patients’ long-term use of opioids or complications caused by the drugs later on. In a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers tried to tease that link out. And they found doctors’ prescribing habits — whether they give out opioids at a higher rate versus a lower rate — matter a lot.
(STAT News) – So deadly it’s considered a terrorist threat, carfentanil has been legal in China — until now. Beijing is banning carfentanil and three similar drugs as of March 1, China’s Ministry of Public Security said Thursday, closing a major regulatory loophole in the fight to end America’s opioid epidemic. “It shows China’s attitude as a responsible big country,” Yu Haibin, the director of the Office of the National Narcotics Control Committee, told the Associated Press. “It will be a strong deterrent.” He added that China is actively considering other substances for sanction, including U-47700, an opioid marketed as an alternative to banned fentanyls. China said the March 1 ban will also apply to carfentanil’s less-potent cousins furanyl fentanyl, acryl fentanyl, and valeryl fentanyl.
(Nature) – Until now, much of the work has relied on amniotic or placental samples obtained during routine invasive tests such as amniocentesis. But scientists are eyeing the next step: studies that are non-invasive for the fetus and are done on a teaspoonful of blood drawn from a pregnant woman’s arm. In this way, researchers could monitor fetuses as they develop and, down the line, develop non-invasive tests for a broad range of conditions, in both fetus and mother. Physicians are already moving towards treating fetuses in the womb on the basis of such diagnoses. “It’s an exciting time,” says Mark Kilby, a fetal-medicine specialist at the University of Birmingham, UK.
(Science Daily) – University of Tübingen researchers in collaboration with the biotech company Sanaria Inc. have demonstrated in a clinical trial that a new vaccine for malaria called Sanaria® PfSPZ-CVac has been up to 100 percent effective when assessed at 10 weeks after last dose of vaccine. For the trial, Pro-fessor Peter Kremsner and Dr. Benjamin Mordmüller of the Institute of Tropical Medicine and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) used malaria parasites provided by Sanaria. The vac-cine incorporated fully viable — not weakened or otherwise inactivated — malaria pathogens together with the medication to combat them. Their research results have been published in the latest edition of Nature.
(Quartz) – In most cases, autism can’t be diagnosed until children are two years old, but sometimes signs of the condition appear earlier. Usually, babies that have otherwise progressed normally will start showing subtle changes in behavior: difficulty focusing or speaking with others, or trouble pointing at objects. The trouble is, it’s hard to definitively say whether these patterns are reason for concern. Because doctors can’t confirm a diagnosis before a child is 24 months old, parents may be left feeling anxious without answers. However, new research (paywall) led by a team of scientists at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill suggests there may be a biomarker that would enable doctors to give parents a clear answer about their child’s condition (or lack thereof) and intervene with therapies early on if necessary.
(STAT News) – A new study suggests at least half of men who have been infected with Zika will emit traces of the virus in their semen, but in most cases that viral shedding stops after about three months. The research, conducted in Puerto Rico, found that 56 percent of men who had been infected had traces of virus in their semen but about half of them stopped emitting those viral traces by about a month after they first became ill. And by three months after the onset of symptoms, only 5 percent still had virus in their semen.
(The Washington Post) – The report did not recommend an absolute prohibition of gene editing on the human “germline” if such interventions can be proved safe. This would involve genetic changes to eggs, sperm or embryos that would persist in an adult and could be inherited by future generations. For some ethicists, that represents a slippery slope. At the conclusion of a gene-editing summit in Washington at the National Academy of Sciences in December 2015, scientists said that although some basic research could proceed, it would be irresponsible to use genetically modified germline cells for the purpose of establishing a pregnancy.
(Bloomberg) – United Healthcare can’t escape a lawsuit alleging that it illegally refused to cover in vitro fertilization for a same-sex male couple who wanted to have a child by using a surrogate ( Uddoh v. United Healthcare , 2017 BL 41941, E.D.N.Y., No. 1:16-cv-01002, 2/10/17 ).Judge Brian M. Cogan of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed the discrimination lawsuit Feb. 10, which was filed by New York attorney Humphrey O. Uddoh and his partner, Plamen Koev. But the judge granted the couple leave to amend their lawsuit, which alleged that United discriminated against them when it reversed its preapproval of coverage after learning they were a same-sex couple.
(Scientific American) – Scientists should be permitted to modify human embryos destined for implantation in the womb to eliminate devastating genetic diseases such as sickle-cell anaemia or cystic fibrosis — once gene-editing techniques advance sufficiently for use in people and proper restrictions are in place. That’s the conclusion of a February 14 report from the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. The 261-page document follows a 2015 National Academies summit that brought together scientists, ethicists, legal experts and patient groups from around the world. Meeting organizers wanted to survey concerns about human germline editing: genetic modifications to embryos, sperm or egg cells that can be passed on to offspring.
(STAT News) – For more than a year, 22 of the world’s leading geneticists, bioethicists, physicians, and legal scholars have been wrestling with thorny questions posed by the revolutionary advances in scientists’ ability to edit the human genome. On Tuesday the experts, convened by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, released their report. One of the most noteworthy conclusions: The supposed agreement that it’s unethical to tinker with the genomes of human eggs, sperm, and early embryos — so-called “germline” editing? Not so much.
(Aljazeera) – What was until recently a little-known prescription-only medication for treating chronic pain has in the past two years been at the centre of a rapidly expanding addiction crisis in Sierra Leone – a country with virtually no avenues for drug rehabilitation and which remains haunted by an 11-year civil war during which there were high rates of drug abuse among combatants. Propelled by a black market network of importers and sold cheaply under the table by private pharmacies, the problem has become so bad that in August 2016, Sierra Leone’s overwhelmed pharmaceutical regulators declared tramadol abuse a public health emergency.