News from Bioethics.com

Surgeon General Warns Youth Vaping Is Now an ‘Epidemic’

2 months 3 days

(NPR) – Vaping by U.S. teenagers has reached epidemic levels, threatening to hook a new generation of young people on nicotine. That’s according to an unusual advisory issued Tuesday by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams about the the dangers of electronic cigarette use among U.S. teenagers. “I am officially declaring e-cigarette use among youth an epidemic in the United States,” Adams said at a news conference. “Now is the time to take action. We need to protect our young people from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.”

Loneliness Peaks at Three Key Ages, Study Finds–But Wisdom May Help

2 months 3 days

(CNN) – Rising rates of loneliness may not be news, but the three periods when it peaks may come as a surprise: More people reported feeling moderate to severe loneliness during their late 20s, their mid-50s and their late 80s than in other life periods, according to research published Tuesday in the journal International Psychogeriatrics. The general sense of isolation was also more prevalent than the researchers expected.

Opioids Offer Little Chronic Pain Benefit and Wane Over Time, Study Says

2 months 4 days

(CNN) – For adults with chronic pain, opioids offer narrow improvements over a placebo for pain and physical functioning, on average, according to a new analysis published Tuesday. And the majority of patients will experience no meaningful benefit. Those benefits also tend to decrease over time and come with the risk of side effects such as vomiting and constipation, according to the review of nearly 100 randomized trials published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Down the line, risks may include physical dependence and overdose.

The Year of the Vape: Teen E-Cigarette Use Spikes

2 months 4 days

(Kaiser Health News) – New data suggest that vaping isn’t a passing fad: Teenagers across the country are doing it in record numbers. More than one-third — or 37.3 percent — of 12th-graders reported vaping at least once in the past 12 months, according to a survey released Monday by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That’s an increase of nearly 10 percentage points over 2017, when 27.8 percent of high school seniors reported vaping. The students surveyed said they had vaped nicotine, marijuana or simply flavoring. Researchers say it’s unclear whether teens know what’s in their vape, and that some may be misguided about vaping only “flavoring.”

The CRISPR Shocker: How Genome-Editing Scientist He Jiankui Rose from Obscurity to Stun the World

2 months 5 days

(STAT News) – In the three weeks since the remarkable announcement about Nana and Lulu, STAT has pieced together the story of the years leading up to that fateful Monday. With details reported for the first time, it describes the many times He met with and spoke before some of the world’s leading genome-editing experts, the low opinion they had of his research, and the hints he dropped about his grandiose aspirations. It is based on interviews in Hong Kong and with experts on four continents, with scientists and others who have crossed paths with He, as well as on documents and published accounts. He did not reply to requests for an interview.

Scientists Say Gene-Edited Babies Claim Is ‘Wake-Up Call’ for World

2 months 1 week

(NPR) – Three of the most influential scientific organizations in the world are calling for an urgent international effort to prevent scientists from creating any more gene-edited babies without proper approval and supervision.  Global standards are needed quickly to ensure gene-editing of human embryos moves ahead safely and ethically, according to the presidents of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Doctors Struggle to Help Older Gun Owners

2 months 1 week

(Reuters) – Doctors who work with seniors are grappling with ways to prevent gun-related suicides and accidents, often among gun-owning older patients with dementia or depression, according to a recent review article. People older than 65 have the highest rates of gun ownership, depression and suicide in the U.S., and while they’re less likely to be victims of violent crimes, they are more likely to become victims of their own guns, the authors write in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

‘Historic Moment’ as Abortion Bill Passes Irish Parliament

2 months 1 week

(CNN) – Ireland’s Prime Minister has hailed a “historic moment” for women in the country, after a bill to legalize abortion passed through the final stages of parliament. The bill is now set to be signed into law by President Michael D. Higgins, following a marathon debate in parliament’s upper house Thursday, and will come into force in January.

China’s History with AIDS Explains a Puzzling Aspect of the ‘CRISPR Babies’ Story

2 months 1 week

(STAT News) – That ignorance among sufferers, in parts of the country where people were most likely to have it, reflected China’s unique and complex history with AIDS, one that involved a litany of scandals and government cover-ups that have left a lasting imprint of stigma and fear about HIV and AIDS — and discrimination. That history helps explain a puzzling aspect of the news last month that a Chinese scientist claimed to have altered the genes of twin girls: Why had He Jiankui, a researcher with Southern University of Science and Technology, chosen to edit a gene in embryos that might protect the babies from AIDS?

These Children Can Neither Move Nor Speak. Clowns and Engineers Are Trying to Listen to Their Inner Worlds

2 months 1 week

(STAT News) – Now, as if in response to her frustrations, these clowns had appeared — a super-stimulus if there ever was one. And when they performed for kids who’d been wired up with sensors, Blain-Moraes saw exactly the kinds of reactions that had been eluding her. “We were getting enormous changes in children who were — well, people thought they were in a vegetative state, which means they are unconscious and unable to perceive the world,” she said. “But they were having very distinct signatures in their body as a result of the presence of these clowns.” These kids, some of whom seemed asleep, were responding to the goings-on around them.

NIH Report Scrutinizes Role of China in Theft of U.S. Scientific Research

2 months 1 week

(STAT News) – Institutions across the U.S. may have fallen victim to a tiny fraction of foreign researchers who worked to feed American intellectual property to their home countries, an advisory committee to the National Institutes of Health found in a report issued Thursday. The report zeroed in on China’s “Talents Recruitment Program,” which the Pentagon has previously identified as an effort “to facilitate the legal and illicit transfer of US technology, intellectual property and know-how” to China.  A key qualification for becoming part of the Chinese program, also known as “Thousand Talents,” is access to intellectual property, said M. Roy Wilson, the co-chair of the advisory committee to the NIH director and the president of Wayne State University.

Fentanyl Now the No. 1 Opioid Killer

2 months 1 week

(Medical Xpress) – As the U.S. opioid epidemic grinds on, fentanyl is fast becoming the main culprit in drug overdose deaths, health officials report.  Cocaine and heroin remain the street drugs of choice, but more overdose deaths involve fentanyl, either mixed with those narcotics or taken alone. Between 2013 and 2016, overdose deaths involving fentanyl increased about 113 percent per year, researchers found.

The Military Pushed It for the Battlefield. The FDA Went Along. Is the Newest Opioid Any Better?

2 months 1 week

(STAT News) – In the midst of a national opioid crisis, how badly do we need another formidable painkiller? This vexing question has been widely debated since the Food and Drug Administration set off a furor last month when it approved Dsuvia, a tablet version of a decades-old intravenous painkiller that is up to 10 times more potent than the highly addictive fentanyl. Critics argued that alternatives exists and that such a powerful opioid could easily be abused by being diverted, despite a prohibition on retail pharmacy sales. But the endorsement was championed by the military, which maintains that such a medicine is needed in combat zones.

As Doctors Taper or End Opioid Prescriptions, Many Patients Driven to Despair, Suicide

2 months 1 week

(Fox News) – Lawrence, who was 58, became one of an undetermined number among the nation’s 20 million chronic pain sufferers who chose suicide after being cut back or denied prescriptions for opioids. The suicides have motivated many of those who continue to suffer from pain – and family members and advocates of those who took their lives – to call for a re-evaluation of the rush to reduce opioid dosages for those who most need them.

The CRISPR Baby Scandal Gets Worse by the Day

2 months 1 week

(The Atlantic) – Such a strong reaction is understandable, given the many puzzling and worrying details about the experiment. Even without any speculation about designer babies and Gattaca-like futures that may or may not come to pass, the details about what has already transpired are galling enough. If you wanted to create the worst possible scenario for introducing the first gene-edited babies into the world, it is difficult to imagine how you could improve on this 15-part farce.

‘We’re Fighting for Our Lives’: Patients Protest Sky-High Insulin Prices

2 months 1 week

(NPR) – The cost of insulin nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013 and has doubled again since then. The list price is over $300 for a single vial of medicine, and most people with Type 1 diabetes need multiple vials every month to live. That cost is typically lower with insurance or with discount programs. Still, for some people the price is unmanageable. There’s been some action by lawmakers on the issue. In October Minnesota’s attorney general sued insulin manufacturers alleging price gouging, and a bipartisan caucus in the U.S. Congress issued a report in November urging action to bring insulin prices down.

To Treat Babies for Drug Withdrawal, Help Their Mothers, Too

2 months 1 week

(Undark) – Magarian, who has a gray horseshoe moustache and an easy smile, has cared for more than 300 babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Over the past decade and a half, he and his colleagues have developed a system that, at its heart, aims to support babies and their mothers, who frequently struggle with addiction, trauma, and the stigma of birthing a baby with NAS. This approach is part of a growing movement that recognizes the importance of mother-infant bonding for these vulnerable children. “Treat mom like she’s antibiotics for pneumonia,” explains physician Matt Grossman, who practices at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital.

The Recurring Dread of a Paralyzing Illness

2 months 1 week

(The Atlantic) – AFM isn’t new, but it rose to prominence (and gained its name) in 2014 when it afflicted 120 people in the United States—a record number. Doctors wondered whether that was a freak occurrence, but the condition came back in 2016, affecting 149 additional patients. And this year, it returned again, with 158 confirmed cases and more under investigation. The disease now seems to run on a biennial schedule, and although the third wave peaked in mid-fall, scientists, clinicians, and parents are anxiously looking ahead to a likely fourth surge in 2020.

Prenatal Gene Therapy Offers the Earliest Possible Cure

2 months 1 week

(Nature Outlook) – Other researchers in the small field of prenatal gene therapy see the research as a leap forward, and say it provides the strongest evidence yet that the approach could be feasible in humans. “The combination of those two aspects of the study made it very, very exciting,” says Bill Peranteau, a fetal surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. The technical challenges, safety concerns and ethical issues of prenatal gene therapy are substantial. But this approach is more than just hotshot medicine.

The Military Pushed It for the Battlefield. The FDA Went Along. Is the Newest Opioid Any Better?

2 months 1 week

(STAT News) – In the midst of a national opioid crisis, how badly do we need another formidable painkiller? This vexing question has been widely debated since the Food and Drug Administration set off a furor last month when it approved Dsuvia, a tablet version of a decades-old intravenous painkiller that is up to 10 times more potent than the highly addictive fentanyl. Critics argued that alternatives exists and that such a powerful opioid could easily be abused by being diverted, despite a prohibition on retail pharmacy sales. But the endorsement was championed by the military, which maintains that such a medicine is needed in combat zones.

Prominent Doctors Aren’t Disclosing Their Industry Ties in Medical Journal Studies. And Journals Are Doing Little to Enforce Their Rules

2 months 1 week

(Pro Publica) – One is dean of Yale’s medical school. Another is the director of a cancer center in Texas. A third is the next president of the most prominent society of cancer doctors. These leading medical figures are among dozens of doctors who have failed in recent years to report their financial relationships with pharmaceutical and health care companies when their studies are published in medical journals, according to a review by ProPublica and The New York Times and data from other recent research.

The Automatic-Design Tools That Are Changing Synthetic Biology

2 months 1 week

(Nature) – Your smartphone and laptop are made of electronic circuits. Genetic circuits, modelled on the electronic ones, are human-designed combinations of genetic components that interact to produce one or more proteins or RNA molecules, for example, in response to a given stimulus, such as a toxin. Under the right conditions, the circuit might be triggered to make “protein A, which then interacts with protein B to give outcome C”, says David Riglar, a synthetic biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. But until a decade or so ago, these two kinds of circuits were made in very different ways.

The CRISPR Baby Scandal Gets Worse by the Day

2 months 1 week

(The Atlantic) – Before last week, few people had heard the name He Jiankui. But on November 25, the young Chinese researcher became the center of a global firestorm when it emerged that he had allegedly made the first CRISPR-edited babies, twin girls named Lulu and Nana. Antonio Regalado broke the story for MIT Technology Review, and He himself described the experiment at an international gene-editing summit in Hong Kong. After his talk, He revealed that another early pregnancy is under way.

Outrage Intensifies Over Claims of Gene-Edited Babies

2 months 1 week

(NPR) – As researchers have scrutinized the scant details made public by the scientist, He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China, it has become clear that He actually missed precisely editing his genetic target. He tried to make a change in a gene that would protect the girls from HIV. But, at best, he may have protected only one twin from HIV, inadvertently making her genes ostensibly superior to her sister. It’s also possible the genetic changes he made may not have protected either twin at all.

A New Way to Curb Harmful Medical Errors: Talk More to Patients and Families

2 months 2 weeks

(STAT News) – A new study suggests a simple idea could go a long way toward curbing dangerous medical errors: looping in patients and families about what’s happening with their care. It’s the latest evidence on the benefits of a long-running program to improve and streamline communications in hospitals. Called I-PASS, it was born at Boston Children’s Hospital and has since spread to dozens of hospitals around the country. Previous studies have shown that the intervention can reduce medical errors when one provider hands off a patient’s care to another provider at the end of a shift. Now, a study published Thursday in the BMJ finds that after that idea was extended to communication with patients and their families, harmful medical errors fell by 38 percent.

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