News from Bioethics.com

The Labs Growing Human Embryos for Longer Than Ever Before

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(Nature) – For two tense weeks in mid-2013, developmental biologist Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz was chasing a world record. She and her colleagues at the University of Cambridge, UK, were attempting to grow human embryos in the lab for longer than had ever been done before. They wanted to glean insights into how a tiny blob of cells transforms itself into a complex, multipart structure. Previous efforts had stalled after about a week, but Zernicka-Goetz knew there was much more to learn about human development beyond that point. The researchers started with embryos that had been donated by women who no longer needed them for in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures.

At Least 8 Million IVF Babies Born in 40 Years Since Historic First

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(CNN) – The world’s first in-vitro fertilization baby was born in 1978 in the UK. Since then, 8 million babies have been born worldwide as a result of IVF and other advanced fertility treatments, an international committee estimates.  In-vitro fertilization involves removing eggs from a woman’s ovaries and mixing them with sperm outside the body, typically in a Petri dish; “in vitro” is Latin for “in glass.” Fertilized by this process, the eggs become embryos that can be placed in a woman’s uterus, where they can develop into a fetus and eventually a baby.

Deaths from Bacterial Disease in Puerto Rico Spiked After Maria

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(CNN) – Puerto Rico’s own records list so many cases of the bacterial disease leptospirosis that officials should have declared an “epidemic” or an “outbreak” after Hurricane Maria instead of denying that one occurred, according to seven medical experts who reviewed previously unreleased data for CNN and the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI). A Puerto Rico mortality database — which CNN and CPI sued the island’s Demographic Registry to obtain — lists 26 deaths in the six months after Hurricane Maria that were labeled by clinicians as “caused” by leptospirosis, a bacterial illness known to spread through water and soil, especially in the aftermath of storms.

Documents Raise New Concerns About Lithium Study on Children

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(ProPublica) – Newly obtained records raise additional concerns about the research and oversight of Dr. Mani Pavuluri, a star pediatric psychiatrist at the University of Illinois at Chicago whose clinical trial studying the effects of the powerful drug lithium on children was shuttered for misconduct.

What an Amazon Pharmacy Could Solve, and What It Won’t

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(Bloomberg) – If Amazon’s move to disrupt health care is going to make Americans any healthier, the improvement is most likely to take place in the business of getting prescription drugs to patients more reliably. For one thing, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Failure to take prescription drugs kills about 125,000 Americans a year, according to a recent review in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and this form of noncompliance costs the health care system $100 billion to $289 billion a year.

Europe’s Biggest Research Fund Cracks Down on ‘Ethics Dumping’

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(Nature) – Ethics dumping — doing research deemed unethical in a scientist’s home country in a foreign setting with laxer ethical rules — will be rooted out in research funded by the European Union, officials announced last week. Applications to the EU’s €80-billion (US$93-billion) Horizon 2020 research fund will face fresh levels of scrutiny to make sure that research practices deemed unethical in Europe are not exported to other parts of the world. Wolfgang Burtscher, the European Commission’s deputy director-general for research, made the announcement at the European Parliament in Brussels on 29 June.

Human Stem Cells Give Monkey Hearts a Boost After Heart Attacks, Study Says

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(CNN) – Following heart attacks, a handful of monkeys regained some of the pumping ability their hearts had lost after being given human embryonic stem cells, according to a study published Monday in Nature Biotechnology. Scientists have tried for years to develop a stem cell treatment for heart disease caused by lack of blood flow, which contributed to more than 9.4 million deaths worldwide in 2016, according to the World Health Organization.

Palliative Sedation, an End-of-Life Practice That Is Legal Everywhere

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(Pew Charitable Trusts) – While aid-in-dying, or “death with dignity,” is now legal in seven states and Washington, D.C., medically assisted suicide retains tough opposition. Palliative sedation, though, has been administered since the hospice care movement began in the 1960s and is legal everywhere. Doctors in Catholic hospitals practice palliative sedation even though the Catholic Church opposes aid-in-dying. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the church believes that “patients should be kept as free of pain as possible so that they may die comfortably and with dignity.” Since there are no laws barring palliative sedation, the dilemma facing doctors who use it is moral rather than legal, said Timothy Quill, who teaches psychiatry, bioethics and palliative care medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

Can Zapping People’s Brains Reduce Violence? Controversial Study Sees Potential

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(STAT News) – The study participants read short accounts of violent behavior: In one, a man smashed a beer bottle over someone’s head; in another, an assailant raped an acquaintance. They were then asked: Would you do that? The day before, half of them had had the frontmost region of their brains, responsible for such high-level functions as impulse control and moral judgments, electrically stimulated; the other half had not.

How DNA and Genetic Genealogy Are Becoming the ‘Major Game-Changer’ to Heat Up Decades-Old Cold Cases

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(ABC News) – Through genetic genealogy, detectives can cast a wide net, searching distant relatives of an unknown suspect, by analyzing the DNA submitted voluntarily to a genetic genealogy database, CeCe Moore, chief genetic genealogist with Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA tech lab that has worked with law enforcement, told ABC News. This allows police to create a much larger family tree than using law enforcement databases like CODIS, in which an exact match is needed, or in some states, a parent/child or a full sibling match, Moore said.

Film About Abortion Doctor Kermit Gosnell Gets US Cinema Release

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(The Guardian) – A controversial film based on the real-life case of abortion clinic doctor and convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell will now be released in US cinemas, after the conclusion of legal action against it by the judge involved in Gosnell’s 2013 trial. Variety magazine reports that the makers of Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer, are free to release their film after they settled with Judge Jeffrey P Minehart, who objected to his portrayal in the film.

‘Artificial Ovary’ Could Help Women Conceive After Chemotherapy

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(The Guardian) – Doctors have made an “artificial ovary” from human tissue and eggs in a bid to help women have children after cancer treatment and other therapies that can damage female fertility. The team in Copenhagen showed that a lab-made ovary could keep human eggs alive for weeks at a time, raising hopes that the approach could one day help women have families after harsh treatments such as chemo- and radiotherapy.

Surrogacy Suspects Charged in Capital with Trafficking

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(The Phnom Penh Post) – A Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor on Thursday charged a Chinese national and four Cambodian women with human trafficking and being intermediaries for surrogacy, while a government official said the women allegedly acting as surrogates could face charges as well. On June 24, anti-human trafficking police in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district arrested five people allegedly running an illegal surrogacy agency and discovered 33 women in various stages of pregnancy living on the premises.

Australia Moves a Step Closer to ‘Three-Person IVF’

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(Nature) – A group of Australian politicians has released a road map for the country to move towards legalizing mitochondrial donation. The group’s recommendations, published on 27 June, include that the government consult the public and scientific experts about permitting clinical use of the reproductive technology, which could help women avoid passing genetic defects to their children through mutations in their mitochondria, the structures in cells that generate energy.

Are We Spending Too Much on the Dying? New Research Challenges This Widely Held View

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(STAT News) – A new study, published in the journal Science, pushes back on this notion. The researchers, a team of three economists and one physician, used machine learning to predict mortality and re-examine spending. In their new estimate, patients with the highest one-year mortality risk account for less than 5 percent of spending, much less than the original one-quarter claim. But the conclusion that most surprised author and Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Amy Finkelstein: Death is highly unpredictable.

Mother: Girl at Center of Debate Over Brain Death Dies

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(ABC News) – A girl at the center of the medical and religious debate over brain death has died after surgery in New Jersey, her mother said Thursday. Nailah Winkfield said doctors declared her daughter Jahi McMath dead on June 22 from excessive bleeding and liver failure after an operation to treat an intestinal issue.

Two Dads, an Egg Donor and a Surrogate: How a Freezer Failure Changed Everything

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(CNN) – Having Henry required careful and complicated planning over the course of several years. To become fathers, they needed a support group, legal help, extensive research, reams of documents, reproductive science and about $150,000. But none of that mattered without the help of two women: an egg donor and a surrogate. One embryo brought them Henry. Five remaining healthy embryos they kept frozen in storage at the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco.

Why Spain Has More Organ Donors Than Any Other Country in the World

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(Quartz) – Figures published for 2017 reveal that 2,183 people in Spain became organ donors last year after they died. That’s 46.9 per million people in the population (pmp)—a standard way of measuring the rate of donation in a country. Spain’s closest contender is Croatia, with 38.6 pmp (2016). It has maintained its position as the clear leader for the past 26 years. In a press release, Spain’s National Transplant Organization confidently describes the country as “imbatible”—unbeatable. When attempting to explain Spain’s success, it’s the ‘opt-out’ (or presumed consent) system for deceased organ donation that is perhaps cited more often than anything else.

Syrian Airstrikes Close Three Hospitals, 46 People Dead: Reports

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(The Epoch Times) – Air strikes were reported across rebel-held areas in southern Syria on Wednesday, forcing three hospitals to shut down. On Thursday, 46 people died, including children, in Daraa province, Syrian War Daily reported. The group said that the air strike was part of a barrage of missiles that were fired in the area. Regime forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are trying to make a push to gain territory and a strategic border crossing with Jordan. The southern part was supposed to be protected under a ceasefire, or “de-escalation zone,” by Russia, Jordan, and the United States.

In Nigeria, a Battle Against Academic Plagiarism Heats Up

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(Science) – There’s no conclusive evidence that plagiarism is more common in poorer nations like Nigeria than in wealthier countries. But a 2017 survey of attitudes toward research misconduct in low- and middle-income countries found that respondents perceived plagiarism as “common,” a team led by researchers at Stellenbosch University in South Africa reported last year in The BMJ. Similar views emerged from a 2010 survey of 133 Nigerian scientists conducted by physician Patrick Okonta of Delta State University Teaching Hospital in Otefe, Nigeria. The survey, published in 2014 in BMC Medical Ethics, found that 88% believed plagiarism and other forms of misconduct were common at their institutions.

Women Are Spending Up to $20,000 to Freeze Their Eggs. Is It Worth It?

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(Time) – Those are hefty price tags for what basically amounts to a gamble. The odds an egg freezing patient will have a successful pregnancy varies, but research from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) shows that each frozen egg only has about a 4.5% to 12% chance of becoming a baby. The odds a woman will actually use that egg are just as slim. The majority of egg freezing patients never return for the implantation: Studies published in 2017 in the academic journals Fertility and Sterility and Human Reproduction put that number at less than 10%.

Justice Department Announces Crackdown on Fraudulent Opioid Prescriptions

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(STAT News) – Federal agencies on Thursday announced charges in what Attorney General Jeff Sessions called “the largest health care fraud takedown in American history,” an investigation into over $2 billion in alleged fraud by doctors, pharmacists, and nurses. Many of the allegations centered on illegitimate opioid prescriptions. The Justice Department charged 162 defendants, including 76 doctors, for their roles dispensing opioids and narcotics, the result of investigations spanning 30 state Medicaid programs and numerous enforcement agencies.

Canadian Cord-Blood Procedure Passes Key Milestone in Cancer Trial

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(The Globe and Mail) – Researchers behind a made-in-Canada technology for multiplying the number of stem cells that can be derived from donated cord blood say they are ready to move on to the next phase in their effort to prove the technology can save lives. Last week, the 25th and final patient to be admitted into a clinical trial of the technology was given a transfusion of stem cells derived from cord blood. The stem cells are used to regenerate the body’s capacity to make healthy blood cells in patients with severe forms of blood cancer including acute leukemia.

After Ketamine Concerns Hennepin Healthcare Will Suspend More Research Studies

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(Minnesota Star Tribune) – A day after suspending its study of the use of ketamine on agitated people by paramedics, Hennepin Healthcare said it would halt similar clinical trials that seek consent from patients only after treatment. Dr. William Heegaard, chief medical officer for the hospital system, appeared before the Hennepin County Board Tuesday to respond to ethical concerns over a ketamine study in which patients are enrolled without their consent.

Doctors Try Genetically Modified Poliovirus as Experimental Brain Cancer Treatment

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(NPR) – A genetically modified poliovirus may help some patients fight a deadly form of brain cancer, researchers report. The experimental treatment seems to have extended survival in a small group of patients with glioblastoma who faced a grim prognosis because standard treatments had failed, Duke University researchers say. “I’ve been doing this for 50 years and I’ve never seen results like this,” says Dr. Darell Bigner, the director emeritus of the The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at the Duke Cancer Institute, who is helping develop the treatment.

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