(The Atlantic) – Ana will be awake for the operation, and she’s feeling scared. As the surgeon readies his scalpel, her blood pressure is 183/93, even higher than usual. Patients undergoing procedures like this often have to be sedated to cope with the pain and anxiety of being under the knife, but not today. Instead, José Luis Mosso Vazquez, who is supervising the operation, fits a sleek, black headset over Anna’s eyes and adjusts the Velcro straps. The surgeon makes his first cut and the blood spills in a crimson stream down Ana’s leg. She’s surrounded by medical equipment—stools, trolleys, swabs, syringes, with super bright surgical lamps suspended above the bed and her vital signs displayed on monitors just behind. But Ana is oblivious.
(Wired) – By one estimate, a quarter of all doctors in the US were not born in this country. Across the healthcare industry, from medical students to doctors to pharmacists to orderlies, lives were changed in an instant last Friday. Some, like Tourkamani, because they were separated from family. Others because they were prevented from even doing their work. According to the American of American Medical Colleges, 260 doctors from the banned nations—Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Yemen—applied for residencies like Tourkamani’s this year. The AAMA believes these doctors may not be able to practice in the US because of the timing of the order.
(The Guardian) – Islamic scholars permit an abortion within 120 days of pregnancy in Pakistan. But despite this framework for permitting abortions, health professionals are reluctant to carry out the procedure. Many women resort to ingesting drugs, using sharp objects, or physically abusing their body resulting in long-term health complications. In 2012, an estimated 623,000 Pakistani women were treated for complications resulting from induced abortions.
(The Atlantic) – What these kinds of DNA test start to resemble are magazine quizzes or horoscopes. At times, the science connecting DNA sequence and test result is just as shaky. And in the case of superheroes, well, it’s an explicit leap into fantasy. “Fun” was the word I kept hearing to describe these tests. We once looked to the stars to amuse, enlighten, and guide us; now we can look to DNA.
(STAT News) – Pig embryos that had been injected with human stem cells when they were only a few days old began to grow organs containing human cells, scientists reported on Thursday, an advance that promises — or threatens — to bring closer the routine production of creatures that are part human and part something else. These human-pig “chimeras” were not allowed to develop past the fetal stage, but the experiment suggests such creations could eventually be used to grow fully human organs for transplant, easing the fatal shortage of organs: 120,000 people in the United States are waiting for lifesaving transplants, but every day two dozen die before they get them.
(Quartz) – The possibility of digitally interacting with someone from beyond the grave is no longer the stuff of science fiction. The technology to create convincing digital surrogates of the dead is here, and it’s rapidly evolving, with researchers predicting its mainstream viability within a decade. But what about the ethics of bereavement—and the privacy of the deceased? Speaking with a loved one evokes a powerful emotional response. The ability to do so in the wake of their death will inevitably affect the human process of grieving in ways we’re only beginning to explore.
(Science) – The controversial idea of growing human organs in host animals has gotten a reality check. Despite recent successes at growing mouse organs in rats, using the same trick to grow human organs in larger animals such as pigs is a long way off, new research shows. The resulting human-animal chimeras don’t grow well, and few human cells survive. The hurdles are not unexpected, says Joe Zhou at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute who was not involved in the work. But despite the “very severe technical challenges,” he says, “I’m optimistic. I think this particular path is promising.”
(Scientific American) – But brain mapping and DNA sequencing are different beasts. A single neuroimaging data set can measure in the terabytes — two to three orders of magnitude larger than a complete mammalian genome. Whereas geneticists know when they’ve finished decoding a stretch of DNA, brain mappers lack clear stopping points and wrestle with much richer sets of imaging and electrophysiological data — all the while wrangling over the best ways to collect, share and interpret them. As scientists develop tools to share and analyze ever-expanding neuroscience data sets, however, they are coming to a shared realization: cracking the brain requires a concerted effort.
(UPI) – It might sound like science fiction, but researchers have successfully used human stem cells to create embryos that are part-human, part-pig. Scientists said the long-range goal is to better understand and treat an array of human diseases. The researchers hope to ultimately cultivate human tissue that can be given to patients awaiting transplants. But that’s a long way off, said Jun Wu, who worked on the research.
(Reuters) – Two babies rescued from previously incurable leukemia after receiving infusions of gene-edited immune cells are doing well at home more than a year after initial treatment, scientists said on Wednesday. Layla Richards became the first person in the world to get the “off-the-shelf” cell therapy developed by French biotech firm Cellectis at Britain’s Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2015. A second girl was treated soon afterwards. Now the team involved in both cases have published details of their work in a peer-reviewed journal, reporting that the two girls remained disease-free 18 and 12 months after treatment respectively.
(BBC) – “We will remove your kidney, and you will receive 300,000 rupees [£2,300].” Sadi Ahmed was held hostage for three months by an organ trafficking gang. In October last year, he was one of 24 people rescued by police in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. They had been imprisoned in a building in an affluent suburb, awaiting the forced removal of their kidneys. Three people are due in court later this month.
(The Economist) – WHEN China’s government scrapped its one-child policy in 2015, allowing all couples to have a second child, officials pooh-poohed Western demographers’ fears that the relaxation was too little, too late. Rather, the government claimed, the new approach would start to reverse the country’s dramatic ageing. On January 22nd the National Health and Family Planning Commission revealed data that seemed to justify optimism: it said 18.5m babies had been born in Chinese hospitals in 2016. This was the highest number since 2000—an 11.5% increase over 2015. Of the new babies, 45% were second children, up from around 30% before 2013, suggesting the policy change had made a difference.
(BBC) – The number of people mistakenly killed last week in an air attack on a camp for those who have fled conflict in north-east Nigeria has been revised to 115, an official has told the BBC. Camp residents and aid workers were among those killed when the air force bombed Rann, in Borno state, thinking it was a base of Boko Haram militants. It was the biggest known botched attack in eight years of fighting the group.
(The Guardian) – From the moment life gained a foothold on Earth its story has been written in a DNA code of four letters. With G, T, C and A – the molecules that pair up in the DNA helix – the lines between humans and all life on Earth are spelled out. Now, the first living organisms to thrive with an expanded genetic code have been made by researchers in work that paves the way for the creation and exploitation of entirely new life forms. Scientists in the US modified common E coli microbes to carry a beefed-up payload of genetic material which, they say, will ultimately allow them to program how the organisms operate and behave.
(CBC News) – New research suggests medically assisted dying could result in substantial savings across Canada’s health-care system. Doctor-assisted death could reduce annual health-care spending across the country by between $34.7 million and $136.8 million, according to a report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday. The savings exceedingly outweigh the estimated $1.5 to $14.8 million in direct costs associated with implementing medically assisted dying.
(Calgary Sun) – The rate of those choosing physician-assisted death in Alberta continues to increase and more are opting out of dying at home, say Alberta Health Services officials. Since Feb. 6 when the procedure was made possible, 76 people in the province have taken that route to end their lives, which in Alberta is through the intravenous delivery of drugs. In the week from Jan. 9 to 16, five more people died with the assistance of a physician, a process that became fully legal last June.
(CNN) – In 2015, the United Kingdom approved pronuclear transfer, but only for women suffering mitochondrial disease. The technique replaces defective mitochondria in a mother’s egg with healthy donor mitochrondria as a way of preventing mitochondrial disease from being passed on to a child. The reason this experimental method is a cause for concern — and was vigorously debated in the UK before approval — is the genetic modifications produced in a girl baby could be passed onto her children, according to Lori P. Knowles, adjunct assistant professor at the University of Alberta School of Public Health.
(Reuters) – Inside a bungalow in a plush residential area of Gurugram, on the outskirts of New Delhi, a group of women in different stages of pregnancy share the hope their babies will be delivered safely – or risk losing the chance of big money, forever. Successful pregnancies have never been more important at this surrogacy center where every bed is taken following a jump in demand as India inches towards banning commercial surrogacy. These women could be among the last in the country to rent their wombs for money if the Indian parliament passes a bill to outlaw commercial surrogacy – a 15-year-old industry estimated to be worth as much as $2.3 billion annually – in its next session starting in February.
(Science) – An estimated 59,000 people die from rabies worldwide each year, almost all infected by dogs. Malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis take much higher tolls. But the horrible suffering caused by rabies—some patients have convulsions and become aggressive, just like rabid dogs—and the fact that many victims are children led the World Health Organization (WHO) and other groups in 2015 to announce a goal to eliminate rabies deaths worldwide by 2030. In theory, nobody should die from rabies. It’s one of the few viral diseases where administering a vaccine after exposure can still save your life.
(Science) – Growing functional human tissues and organs would provide much needed material for regeneration and repair. New technologies are taking us in that direction. In addition to their use in regenerative medicine, stem cells that grow and morph into organ-like structures known as organoids can be used in drug development and toxicology testing. The potential developments and possibilities are numerous and affect not only biomedicine but also areas of ongoing ethical debate, such as animal experimentation, research on human embryos and fetuses, ethics review, and patient consent.
(Quartz) – The world has another three-parent baby, according to The Times. A Ukrainian doctor has treated an “infertile” woman with a controversial in-vitro fertilization technique, resulting in the birth of a healthy baby girl with DNA from three adults. The announcement comes less than a year after an American doctor helped a couple use a slightly different version of the technique to give birth to a three-parent baby boy.
(STAT News) – Scientists spoke, the feds listened: With only two days left in office, the Obama administration on Wednesday issued new rules intended to protect people who participate in scientific research, stepping back from proposals that would have imposed significant new regulatory requirements on scientists. In particular, the administration abandoned a proposal that would have required researchers to obtain written consent before using cells, blood, tumor samples, DNA, or other “biospecimens” obtained during medical procedures, even when the samples were stripped of the person’s name and other identifying information, or obtained from earlier studies the person had participated in.
(STAT News) – Five years ago, a pair of cancer researchers published an article in Nature lamenting what they called the “remarkably low” rate of success in turning early-stage oncology trials into marketable drugs. The looming issue, according to the authors, was this: Cancer studies are shockingly hard to reproduce. How hard? Results in just six of 53 “landmark” trials could be confirmed by further analysis. That paper went on to inspire an ambitious initiative to verify the findings of dozens of high-impact cancer studies. The long-awaited early returns are in, and the results aren’t particularly encouraging.
(STAT News) – Two years after the United States saw a record 27,000 deaths involving prescription opioid medications and heroin, doctors and regulators are sharply restricting access to drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin. But as the pendulum swings in the other direction, many patients who genuinely need drugs to manage their pain say they are being left behind. Doctors can’t agree on how to help them.
(New Scientist) – This is the first baby to be born using a particular “3-parent-baby” technique to treat infertility. The girl was born on 5 January in a fertility clinic in Kiev, Ukraine. “With the help of this method, a 34-year-old woman who had suffered from infertility for more than 15 years gave birth to a healthy baby that’s genetically her own,” said a statement from the Nadiya clinic. The clinic’s director, Valery Zukin, and his team used a mitochondrial transfer technique that creates embryos that carry the chromosomes of two parents, but the mitochondrial DNA of a donor.