News from Bioethics.com

In Yemen, World’s Worst Cholera Outbreak Traced to Eastern Africa

1 month 2 weeks

(Reuters) – Scientists have found that a strain of cholera causing an epidemic in Yemen – the worst in recorded history – came from eastern Africa and was probably borne into Yemen by migrants.  Using genomic sequencing techniques, researchers at Britain’s Wellcome Sanger Institute and France’s Institut Pasteur also said they should now be better able to estimate the risk of future cholera outbreaks in regions like Yemen, giving health authorities more time to intervene.

In Screening for Suicide Risk, Facebook Takes on Tricky Public Health Role

1 month 2 weeks

(The New York Times) – Police stations from Massachusetts to Mumbai have received similar alerts from Facebook over the last 18 months as part of what is most likely the world’s largest suicide threat screening and alert program. The social network ramped up the effort after several people live-streamed their suicides on Facebook Live in early 2017. It now utilizes both algorithms and user reports to flag possible suicide threats. Facebook’s rise as a global arbiter of mental distress puts the social network in a tricky position at a time when it is under investigation for privacy lapses by regulators in the United States, Canada and the European Union — as well as facing heightened scrutiny for failing to respond quickly to election interference and ethnic hatred campaigns on its site.

Two-Thirds of Americans Support Gene Editing in Human Embryos to Prevent Disease or Disability

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(Quartz) – With the developments in gene editing, and recent Chinese experiments on babies, the question of whether it’s ethical to genetically modify humans has left the realm of sci-fi and philosophical speculation to enter the very near future. Is it acceptable, or even desirable, to gene-edit babies out of disease, for instance? Does that amount to eugenics? It seems the debate is less heated than one might expect, in America at least: According to a survey by AP-NORC (a research initiative by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago) on attitudes toward gene-editing technology, a solid majority said they were in favor of it when it comes to preventing disease.

From Sex Selection to Surrogates, American IVF Clinics Provide Services Outlawed Elsewhere

1 month 3 weeks

(The Washington Post) – While many countries have moved in recent years to impose boundaries on assisted reproduction, the U.S. fertility industry remains largely unregulated and routinely offers services outlawed elsewhere. As a result, the United Stats has emerged as a popular destination for IVF patients from around the world seeking controversial services–not just sex selection, but commercial surrogacy, anonymous sperm donation and screening for physical characteristics such as eye color. This freewheeling approach has been good for business; the U.S. fertility industry is estimated to be worth as much as $5.8 billion this year.

Report: Scientists in China Are Losing Track of Gene-Editing CRISPR Patients

1 month 3 weeks

(Gizmodo) – Gene therapies are very much at their preliminary stages of development, so it would make sense to keep tabs on patients whose DNA has been modified via the innovative CRISPR technique. For some scientists in China, however, this is apparently not a priority. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that an undisclosed number of Chinese cancer patients who have undergone experimental gene therapies aren’t being properly tracked as would be expected.

Most Americans Support Gene-Editing Embryos to Prevent Diseases, Poll Shows

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(STAT News) – Most Americans say it would be OK to use gene-editing technology to create babies protected against a variety of diseases — but a new poll shows they’d draw the line at changing DNA so children are born smarter, faster or taller. A month after startling claims of the births of the world’s first gene-edited babies in China, the poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds people are torn between the medical promise of a technology powerful enough to alter human heredity and concerns over whether it will be used ethically.

Are Fertility Drugs Safe? The Industry Says Yes; Critics Worry They’re Overprescribed.

1 month 3 weeks

(The Washington Post) – “I felt like my insides were going to bust out of my stomach,” Andreotta recalled. This was ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome — OHSS for short — a potentially fatal complication the U.S. fertility industry describes as extremely rare. But the incidence of OHSS and the broader long-term safety of hormone-boosting fertility drugs remain open to debate, even as the clinics have blossomed into a multibillion-dollar industry serving hundreds of thousands of women a year. Industry critics worry that unregulated providers are overprescribing the drugs, glossing over potential hazards and failing to properly report problems when they arise.

Chinese Education Ministry Calls on Universities and Hospitals for ‘Low-Key’ Review of Gene-Editing Projects

1 month 3 weeks

(South China Morning Post) – The Ministry of Science and Technology launched an investigation and ordered He not to undertake any further research. Authorities in Shenzhen are considering drafting guidelines for the ethical review of biomedical research involving humans. According to the document obtained by the Post, the education ministry asked all the Chinese universities and institutes of higher learning to check their gene-editing research projects from 2013 until today. The focus of this inspection will be work at affiliated hospitals and projects that involve international cooperation.

What Defines a Stem Cell?

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(Nautilus) – That conclusion, which confirms a long-standing suspicion among some in the field, cuts to the heart of a deeper question—about what it means to be a stem cell. As more sophisticated technology has revealed just how plastic and heterogeneous cell populations can be, some researchers have transitioned from viewing “stemness” as the defining trait of a cell category to viewing it as a function many types of cells can perform or contribute to.

Top Chinese Doctors Admit to Harvesting Organs from Falun Gong Practitioners

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(The Epoch Times) – A new round of chilling phone calls reveals that live organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners continues in China at a variety of leading transplant centers in different regions of the country. The conversations, with doctors from 12 transplant hospitals in China, also show that this “business” has become “normal” at these facilities: None of the doctors—all leading figures in organ transplantation in China—showed surprise, dismay, or anger when asked “whether the organs are harvested from Falun Gong practitioners.”

NIH Hospital’s Pipes Harbored Uncommon Bacteria That Infected Patients

1 month 3 weeks

(STAT News) – Patients were infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria living in the plumbing of the National Institute of Health’s hospital in Bethesda, Md., contributing to at least three deaths in 2016. A study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, from 2006 to 2016, at least 12 patients at the NIH Clinical Center, which provides experimental therapies and hosts research trials, were infected with Sphingomonas koreensis, an uncommon bacteria. The paper, written by NIH researchers, suggests that the infections came from contaminated water pipes, where the bacteria may have been living since as early as 2004, soon after construction of a new clinical center building.

2018 Was the Year That Tech Put Limits on AI

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(Wired) – For the past several years, giant tech companies have rapidly ramped up investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning. They’ve competed intensely to hire more AI researchers and used that talent to rush out smarter virtual assistants and more powerful facial recognition. In 2018, some of those companies moved to put some guardrails around AI technology. The most prominent example is Google, which announced constraints on its use of AI after two projects triggered public pushback and an employee revolt.

Uncertain, Costly, but Filled with Hope: Gene Therapy About to Go Mainstream in Canada

1 month 3 weeks

(The Globe and Mail) – Although it may have seemed like a sci-fi-tinged long shot at the time, the experimental treatment that Jordan received 18 months ago – along with other bespoke drugs like it – is about to go mainstream in Canada. Known as gene therapy, the approach is a promising leap forward in the fight against cancer and other intractable ailments. It offers the tantalizing possibility of effectively curing some lethal diseases with a single shot of a drug custom-engineered for one patient. But gene therapies also come with uncertain long-term outcomes and gargantuan prices that Canadian officials are now wrestling with behind closed doors.

Yemen’s Dirty War

1 month 3 weeks

(Associated Press) – Four years into Yemen’s civil war, and the results are disastrous: Yemen is starving. As the world’s worst humanitarian crisis unfolds, a team of AP journalists explores the military and political forces that have kept an entire nation hostage to violence.

Federal Trade Commission Acts for First Time Against Stem Cell Clinics

1 month 3 weeks

(Pew Charitable Trusts) – The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced a settlement with a physician in California to resolve charges that the two clinics he controlled engaged in deceptive advertising to promote  unproven stem cell-based therapies. This case represents the first enforcement action by the FTC—which protects consumers from false and misleading advertisements—to stop the promotion of stem cell treatments that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Anonymous Patient Data May Not Be as Private as Previously Thought

2 months 1 day

(Reuters) – For years, researchers have been studying medical conditions using huge swaths of patient data with identifying information removed to protect people’s privacy. But a new study suggests hackers may be able to match “de-identified” health information to patient identities. In a test case described in JAMA Network Open, researchers used artificial intelligence to link health data with a medical record number.

Massachusetts Stroke Patient Receives ‘Outrageous’ $474,725 Medical Flight Bill

2 months 1 day

(Kaiser Health News) – In a study last year, Consumer Reports detailed some of the reasons excessively high air ambulance bills have become more common. Use of air ambulances is rising as more rural hospitals close, baby boomers age and the use of telemedicine increases. “The industry has really grown by leaps and bounds over the last 15 years and prices have doubled or tripled,” Bell said. “Most of the operators of air ambulances now are for-profit, Wall Street-type corporations reporting very large profits to investors.”

The Man Who Smelled Like Rancid Creamed Corn to Usher in a New Scientific Era

2 months 1 day

(The Atlantic) –  A gene-editing procedure related to HIV rocked the fields of science and medicine last month, when the Chinese researcher He Jiankui made the explosive claim that he had manipulated the genomes of twin babies who do not carry the virus in an attempt to make them resistant to it, a covert and reckless move that was widely condemned by the scientific establishment. But adult HIV patients have voluntarily participated in scientifically condoned experiments that have paved the way for further gene-editing work on, for instance, cancer and blindness.

Why the U.S. Remains the World’s Most Expensive Market for ‘Biologic’ Drugs

2 months 2 days

(Kaiser Health News) – Europeans have found the secret to making some of the world’s costliest medicines much more affordable, as much as 80 percent cheaper than in the U.S. Governments in Europe have compelled drugmakers to bend on prices and have thrown open the market for so-called biosimilars, which are cheaper copies of biologic drugs made from living organisms. The brand-name products — ranging from Humira for rheumatoid arthritis to Avastin for cancer — are high-priced drugs that account for 40 percent of U.S. pharmaceutical sales.

The Human Toll of the Medical Industry’s Uncharitable Giving

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(Undark) – Charity is generally described as the act of giving money, goods, or time to the unfortunate. Two players are involved: the giver, who gives without expected payment in return, and the receiver, who is in need. Increasingly, philanthropy in the medical industry is failing on both counts. Givers don’t just hope for a return on investment, they demand it; if a philanthropic venture isn’t projected to generate a profit, it is abandoned. And the recipients of corporate largesse are often doctors and hospitals, not patients. Indeed, recent history tells us that when a corporation does take on a philanthropic project, not only does their largesse rarely improve our collective public health; it often leaves us worse off.

Yemen Crisis Isn’t Over: War-Torn Nation Remains on the Precipice of a Large-Scale Famine

2 months 2 days

(Salon) – The idea of Yemen as a “terrible tragedy” was expanded upon for the members of the Security Council by Mark Lowcock, who runs humanitarian affairs for the United Nations. A new study shows the “terrible tragedy” in its full scale: Sixty-seven percent of Yemen’s population needs “urgent action to save lives and livelihoods.” That means that 20 million Yemenis are vulnerable to death. A quarter of a million of these Yemenis are “on the brink of starvation.” The study points out that “armed conflict remains the main driver of food insecurity in Yemen.” That’s an obvious point, but it needs to be made. The war on Yemen has to end to prevent the near-death of the Yemeni people.

Heroin Addiction Explained: How Opioids Hijack the Brain

2 months 2 days

(New York Times) – Getting hooked is nobody’s plan. Some turn to heroin because prescription painkillers are tough to get. Fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin, has snaked its way into other drugs like cocaine, Xanax and MDMA, widening the epidemic. To understand what goes through the minds and bodies of opioid users, The New York Times spent months interviewing users, family members and addiction experts. Using their insights, we created a visual representation of how the strong lure of these powerful drugs can hijack the brain.

Congo: Ebola Outbreak ‘Certainly’ to Last 3-4 Months More

2 months 2 days

(ABC News) – The second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history is “certainly” expected to continue for another three or four months, Congo’s health minister said Thursday. In an interview with The Associated Press, Health Minister Oly Ilunga also sought to calm concerns days ahead of a presidential election in which millions of people will use touch-screen voting machines. The deadly Ebola virus is spread via infected bodily fluids, so some worry they may pick it up from the screens.

His Body Has Been Viewed by Millions, But We Don’t Even Know His Name

2 months 2 days

(Sydney Morning Herald) – Split through the middle, he is one of the poster boys of the Real Bodies exhibition. Almost perfectly preserved via plastination, millions of visitors to the blockbuster anatomy show have been able to stare into his skull cavity and marvel at his sinewy body, stripped of its skin and cut in half. But who was this man? And would he have consented to his remains being displayed in this way? Surprisingly, we do not know the answers to these questions.

Taking Surprise Medical Bills to Court

2 months 3 days

(Kaiser Health News) – Consumers are increasingly vulnerable to such so-called balance bills, which represent the difference between what insurers pay and hospitals’ list prices. List prices can be several times higher than what they accept from Medicare or in-network insurers. Congress is considering bipartisan legislation to limit balance billing. But some legal scholars say that patients should already be protected against some of the highest, surprise charges under long-standing conventions of contract law.

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