News from Bioethics.com

In Medical Emergencies, Can Doctors Keep Patients’ Families in the Dark about Treatment Procedures?

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(Scroll.in) – Dr Fouziya Shersad struggled to control her grief while describing her ordeal at the Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in New Delhi last week where her father, veteran politician E Ahamed had been taken after suffering a massive heart attack. Ahamed had collapsed on the floor of Parliament on January 31 at 11.30 am when President Pranab Mukherjee was addressing its joint session and was immediately taken to the hospital and was put on life support system at the trauma care Intensive Care Unit. Dr Shersad, and her husband Babu Shersad are both doctors. They alleged that the way the family of the patient was treated goes against medical ethics.

He Vowed to Cure Cancer. But This Billionaire’s Moonshot Is Falling Far Short of the Hype

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(STAT News) – But a STAT investigation of Soon-Shiong’s cancer moonshot has found very little scientific progress. At its core, the initiative appears to be an elaborate marketing tool for Soon-Shiong — a way to promote his pricey new cancer diagnostic tool at a time when he badly needs a business success, as his publicly-traded companies are losing tens of millions per quarter. STAT also found several instances of inflated claims, with the moonshot team taking credit for progress that doesn’t appear to be real. Soon-Shiong’s use of the moonshot to advance his business interests may be good for his investors. But it also increasingly looks destined to disappoint patients — the latest in a long trail of failed quests to win the war on cancer.

Biotech Will Let Us Give Our Brains a Makeover–But We Risk Becoming Less Human in the Process

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(Quartz) – Anyone who speaks in this manner has crossed an invisible but critically important line. They are treating human beings as if they are commodities that can be assessed, measured and exchanged. In this view, humanity becomes a kind of “platform”—akin to a piece of software or an operating system, whose performance can be boosted, built upon and manipulated at will. Personality traits become “features”; hard-earned skills and talents become “assets”; deep-seated personal struggles and failings become “liabilities.” Confronting this tendency toward the commodification of persons, and counteracting it with effective cultural strategies for “re-humanization,” will pose one of the most important moral challenges of our time.

Medical Journal to Retract Paper after Concerns Organs Came from Executed Prisoners

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(The Guardian) – A prestigious medical journal will retract a scientific paper from Chinese surgeons about liver transplantation after serious concerns were raised that the organs used in the study had come from executed prisoners of conscience. The study was published last year in Liver International. It examined the outcomes of 564 liver transplantations performed consecutively at Zhejiang University’s First Affiliated hospital between April 2010 and October 2014.

The Doctor’s Dilemma: Is It Ever Good to Do Harm?

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(The Guardian) – Medical knowledge changes swiftly, and technological changes make new and expensive investigations and treatments possible that were only theoretical a few years ago. Life has been extended in length, but not in quality, and the debates about end?of?life decisions show us how much the notion of a “good life” is bound up with the absence of disease, illness and suffering.

Vatican Defends China Invite to Organ Trafficking Summit

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(BBC) – The Vatican has defended its decision to invite China to a conference on organ trafficking despite its record of using executed inmates as organ donors. The head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS) admitted he did not know whether the practice was continuing but said he hoped to encourage change. Human rights groups say China is still using executed prisoners as a source of organ transplants. Beijing says forced organ harvesting ended in 2015.

Study Suggests That iPSCs Do Not Develop More Mutations than Subcloned Cells

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(News-Medical) – Despite its immense promise, adoption of iPSCs in biomedical research and medicine has been slowed by concerns that these cells are prone to increased numbers of genetic mutations. A new study by scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health, suggests that iPSCs do not develop more mutations than cells that are duplicated by subcloning. Subcloning is a technique where single cells are cultured individually and then grown into a cell line. The technique is similar to the iPSC except the subcloned cells are not treated with the reprogramming factors which were thought to cause mutations.

Critically Ill Children Can Still Undergo Liver Transplantation and Survive

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(Eurekalert) – Advancements in critical care make it possible for even the sickest children to successfully undergo liver transplantation. According to a new study published online as an “article in press” in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons (JACS), children who are sick enough to require mechanical ventilation or dialysis before transplantation achieve the same survival benefit as children who are stable prior to the surgical procedure. The study will appear in a print edition of the Journal this spring.

Women in Cervical Cancer Trials Have Died for the Sake of Research Methodology

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(Scroll.in) – The problem was that these trials contained a “no screening” control arm where about 141,000 women were deliberately not offered any test for cervical cancer in order to compare the differences in outcomes between screened and unscreened women – that is, how many in each group would fall ill and die from cervical cancer. A total of 548 women enrolled in the trial eventually died of cervical cancer, of which 254 were from the group that had not been screened. These 254 women were not given the option of having their cancers detected early and treated.

US Child-Health Study Rises from Ashes of High-Profile Failure

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(Nature) – The ECHO project emerged from the ashes of the controversial National Children’s Study (NCS), a programme run by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) that aimed to track 100,000 children from before birth to age 21. The NIH cancelled that study in 2014, after spending more than a decade and US$1.2 billion trying to get it off the ground. ECHO organizers say that their project will be different. By using cohorts that are already under way, they hope to side-step some of the problems that plagued the NCS, which had trouble recruiting participants, defining its hypotheses and sticking to its budget.

Vatican Defends Inviting Chinese Ex-Minister to Organ Trafficking Talks

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(The Guardian) – Vatican officials have defended their decision to invite a Chinese former deputy health minister to a conference on organ trafficking despite concerns that China still relies on the organs of executed prisoners in its transplant programme. Medical ethics experts and human rights activists have decried the move by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to invite Huang Jiefu to a two-day conference starting on Tuesday that aims to expose organ trafficking and seeks to find “moral and appropriate solutions” to the issue.

Trump Picks a Bioethicist for the Supreme Court

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(The Atlantic) – Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, is deeply interested in matters of life and death. His most lasting legacy from his time on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is likely Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius, a case about religious objections to the rules on birth-control coverage in the Affordable Care Act, which later became a landmark Supreme Court decision. But he hasn’t confined his writing to briefs and rulings. In 2006—the year he joined the Tenth Circuit—he published a book called The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, outlining the moral, legal, and logistical challenges that emerge at the end of life. The most remarkable thing about the book is its measuredness.

China Looks at Making Surrogate Motherhood Legal

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(South China Morning Post) – State media has published a rare, lengthy analysis on the possibility of legalising non-commercial surrogate motherhood to support the two-child policy. In the article, People’s Daily said many people believed relaxing regulations around surrogacy could help give more families a second child. It quoted experts who said surrogate motherhood should be considered an option in cases such as high-risk pregnancy and infertility.

Stem Cells Beat the Clock for Brain Cancer

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(New Atlas) – Glioblastoma is an aggressive form of brain cancer that kills most patients within two years of diagnosis. In tests on mice last year, a team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that adult skin cells could be transformed into stem cells and used to hunt down the tumors. Building on that, they’ve now found that the process works with human cells, and can be administered quickly enough to beat the ticking time-bombs.

Prion Test for Rare, Fatal Brain Disease Helps Families Cope

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(NPR) – It was a diagnosis that no one could ever want. But the fact that Schwister was able to get a firm diagnosis while still alive is a relatively new development that represents a step forward in understanding a group of devastating neurological disorders. And, some biochemists say, it could lead to better ways of diagnosing brain diseases that are much more common, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

CDC Seeks Controversial New Quarantine Powers to Stop Outbreaks

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(NPR) – Federal health officials may be about to get greatly enhanced powers to quarantine people, as part of an ongoing effort to stop outbreaks of dangerous contagious diseases. The new powers are outlined in a set of regulations the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published late last month to update the agency’s quarantine authority for the first time since the 1940s. The outlined changes are being welcomed by many health lawyers, bioethicists and public health specialists as providing important tools for protecting the public. But the CDC’s increased authority is also raising fears that the rules could be misused in ways that violate civil liberties.

Drug Makers Accused of Fixing Prices on Insulin

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(New York Times) – A lawsuit filed Monday accused three makers of insulin of conspiring to drive up the prices of their lifesaving drugs, harming patients who were being asked to pay for a growing share of their drug bills. The price of insulin has skyrocketed in recent years, with the three manufacturers — Sanofi, Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly — raising the list prices of their products in near lock step, prompting outcry from patient groups and doctors who have pointed out that the rising prices appear to have little to do with increased production costs.

Massive Price Hike for Life-Saving Opioid Overdose Antidote

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(Scientific American) – First came Martin Shkreli, the brash young pharmaceutical entrepreneur who raised the price for an AIDS treatment by 5,000 percent. Then, Heather Bresch, the CEO of Mylan, who oversaw the price hike for its signature Epi-Pen to more than $600 for a twin-pack, though its active ingredient costs pennies by comparison. Now a small Virginia company called Kaleo is joining their ranks. It makes an injector device that is suddenly in demand because of the nation’s epidemic use of opioids, a class of drugs that includes heavy painkillers and heroin.

You Won’t Believe What Baby-Making Science Could Soon Deliver

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(NBC News) – Now, the world is on the brink of another revolution thanks to an emerging technology called in vitro gametogenesis, or IVG, which would allow doctors to develop eggs and sperm from a surprising source: skin cells. These reproductive cells could then be used to create fertilized embryos to be implanted into a woman’s uterus (or, someday, an artificial womb). The potential impact of IVG on reproduction — and society at large — is staggering. Infertility may become a thing of the past. Same-sex couples could have children that are biologically related to both parents. And the world may eventually see children born with a single genetic parent or more than two genetic parents.

Clinic Claims It Has Used Stem Cells to Treat Down Syndrome

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(New Scientist) – A CLINIC claims it has used stem cells to treat Down’s syndrome in up to 14 people. “As far as we know, it’s the first time that stem cells have been used to treat Down’s syndrome,” says Jyoti Titus, manager at Nutech Mediworld clinic in New Delhi, India. The announcement has set alarm bells ringing. It’s not clear to independent stem cell or Down’s experts how stem cells – which can form many types of tissue – might treat Down’s, a genetic disorder caused by having an extra chromosome. “The use of these cells does not make biological sense and may place the babies at considerable risk of side effects,”says John Rasko of the International Society for Cellular Therapy.

‘We Simply Don’t Know’: Egg Donors Face Uncertain Long-Term Risks

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(STAT News) – When Catherine Fonseca volunteered as an egg donor, the intake form asked for her SAT scores. It did not ask if she understood the long-term health implications of stimulating her ovaries to produce a bumper crop of eggs to be extracted and turned over to an infertile couple. That wasn’t an oversight by the clinic. No one knows the long-term risks to egg donors — if, in fact, there are any. Anecdotally, some women — Fonseca among them — said they experienced an array of health problems after donations, including ovarian cysts and endometriosis, a painful inflammatory disease that can cause infertility.

Consider Drug Efficacy Before First-in-Human Trials

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(Nature) – On 17 January 2016, a healthy man was declared brain-dead after receiving an experimental drug in a first-in-human trial in France. Four of five other subjects receiving the same dose have serious, ongoing neurological complications. Investigations into the trial described many troubling safety practices, such as steep increases in dose levels delivered to sequential subjects without sufficient delays to check for safety. The year since has brought intense scrutiny about how the debacle could have been anticipated and prevented. However, another issue is still largely overlooked: the duty to evaluate whether an experimental treatment is promising enough to warrant testing on people.

Zika Ebbing in Latin America But Vigilance Needed: WHO

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(Reuters) – Brazil and Latin America are recording lower numbers of Zika infections than last year, but all countries must remain vigilant against the virus which can cause birth defects, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday. The viral disease carried by mosquitoes has spread to more than 60 countries and territories since an outbreak was identified in Brazil in 2015, raising alarm over its ability to cause microcephaly as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Scientists Have Achieved a 60-year-old Dream to Engineer Life with an Alien Genetic Code

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(Quartz) – All of life, as we know it, is created from the same four letters: A, T, G, and C. These letters form the basis of DNA, and the way they are laid out in our genetic code is what makes you unique from the trillions of other life forms on Earth. But what if we were to add just two more letters to the mix? Imagine adding two new letters to a language that only has four letters: The possibilities are immense. That’s exactly what biologist Floyd Romesberg at the Scripps Research Institute and his colleagues hoped to test. And in a feat of bioengineering, his team has created new and thriving semisynthetic organisms with DNA consisting of letters A, T, G, and C plus new ones: X and Y.

First Stem Cell Study Could Lead to Development of Therapy to Reduce Inflammation Caused by CF

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(News-Medical) – A 39-year-old man with cystic fibrosis (CF) made history by becoming the first person to receive human adult stem cells in a new research study that researchers hope will someday lead to the development of a therapy to reduce the inflammation and infection caused by CF. The pioneering subject in the study is Bob Held from Alliance, Ohio, who on Jan. 26 received an infusion of cells called allogeneic human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSC), adult stem cells collected from the bone marrow of healthy volunteers. Mr. Held was diagnosed with CF when he was 16 months old.

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