News from Bioethics.com

At a Growing Number of Schools, Sick Kids Can Take a Virtual Trip to the Doctor

2 months 4 days

(STAT News) – School nurses offer far more than just Band-Aids these days. As the prevalence of childhood conditions like asthma and diabetes have risen, nurses treat a wide range of problems. Still, only an estimated 40 percent of U.S. schools have a full-time nurse, according to the National Association of School Nurses. But now telemedicine — virtual doctor visits over video — is increasingly helping nurses do their jobs. Telemedicine programs are making inroads in schools, where a student referred to the nurse can be plopped in front of a screen and connected with a physician. Special computer-connected otoscopes and stethoscopes allow doctors to check ears, noses, throats, and heartbeats from afar.

Stem Cell Therapy for Heart Failure Gets a Gold-Standard Trial

2 months 4 days

(Scientific American) – A cadre of scientists and companies is now trying to prevent or reverse cardiac damage by infusing a cocktail of stem cells into weakened hearts. One company, Melbourne, Australia–based Mesoblast, is already in late-stage clinical trials, treating hundreds of chronic heart failure patients with stem cell precursors drawn from healthy donors’ hip bones. A randomized trial that includes a placebo group is scheduled to complete enrollment next year.

U.S. Expert Visits London Hospital to Examine Baby Charlie Gard

2 months 5 days

(Reuters) – A U.S doctor offering experimental treatment to a critically ill British baby visited the London hospital where he is being treated on Monday as part of a last-ditch attempt to persuade a judge to keep the boy’s life support switched on.  The parents of Charlie Gard, who has a rare genetic condition causing progressive muscle weakness and brain damage, have been fighting a legal battle to send him to the United States for the neurologist’s experimental therapy.

‘We Are All Mutants Now’: the Trouble with Genetic Testing

2 months 5 days

(The Guardian) – When scientists test for mutations in large numbers of genes with a single test, known as a gene panel, they are virtually guaranteed to find at least one [variant of unknown significance], says Colleen Caleshu, a genetic counsellor at Stanford University’s Center for Inherited Cardiovascular Disease. “The more genes you look at, the more variation you’ll find,” she adds. “We all have tons of variations in our genes, most of which are extremely rare and, by the very nature of rarity, uninterpretable.” In short, there isn’t enough data to know what you are seeing.

Prenatal Testing Spots Genetic Anomalies Linked to Miscarriage

2 months 5 days

(New Scientist) – A blood test can scan a fetus’s entire genome for chromosomal abnormalities at 10 weeks of pregnancy. An extension of the non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) for Down’s syndrome, the test could identify pregnancies that should be monitored more closely as they are at a higher risk of miscarriage or complications. Chromosomal abnormalities occur in around 1 in 1000 births. The most common are Down’s syndrome, Edwards’ syndrome and Patau syndrome, which are caused by carrying an extra copy of a chromosome – chromosome 21 in the case of Down’s. These can all be detected by the form of NIPT currently offered by private clinics in the UK, US and Australia. This test is also set to be offered by the UK National Health Service from next year.

Charlie Gard Case Threatens All Parents

2 months 6 days

(USA Today) – By virtue of the deep bonds between parents and their children, Charlie’s parents are the ones most directly responsible for him, most invested in his well-being and most profoundly affected by his fate. The primary authority of parents to make decisions on their children’s behalf is widely recognized as a matter of principle and explicitly articulated in law. The United State Supreme Court has recognized the rights of parents in cases like Meyer v. Nebraska, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, and Wisconsin v. Yoder. Likewise, the European Convention of Human Rights (Article 8) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 12) recognize the right to be free from arbitrary interference in private and family life. By contrast, one of the hallmarks of totalitarian regimes is the elimination of genuine parental decision-making authority and family privacy.

Panel Calls on FDA to Review Safety of Opoiod Painkillers

2 months 6 days

(ABC News) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should review the safety and effectiveness of all opioids, and consider the real-world impacts the powerful painkillers have, not only on patients, but also on families, crime and the demand for heroin. That’s the conclusion of a sweeping report Thursday from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. It urges the FDA to bolster a public health approach that already has resulted in one painkiller being pulled from the market. Last week, the maker of opioid painkiller Opana ER withdrew its drug at the FDA’s request following a 2015 outbreak of HIV and hepatitis C in southern Indiana linked to sharing needles to inject the pills.

Fewer U.S. Hospitals Can Care for Children

2 months 1 week

(Reuters) – In Massachusetts, a child who winds up in an emergency room – whether for a routine or a serious problem – is likely to be transferred to a second hospital for care, a “potentially concerning” trend that’s being reported by physicians throughout the United States, researchers say. At the root, they maintain, is the disappearance of pediatric community hospital care.

Some Doctors Were Handing Out Opioids Like Candy. The Justice Department Just Shut Them Down.

2 months 1 week

(Vox) – The US Department of Justice just took what it calls its biggest action against opioid-related fraud ever. The department announced Thursday that it’s charged 120 people with opioid-related crimes. That includes doctors who were allegedly running pill mills in which they unscrupulously prescribed opioids to patients. It also includes fraudulent treatment centers, which attract customers with promises of treatment for their addiction and then offer shoddy, ineffective services — if any at all.

China’s Sperm Count Problem Has Created a Billion-Dollar Market

2 months 1 week

(Bloomberg) – A paradox has emerged in China: As the country finally relaxes its one-child policy, factors like lower sperm counts, later pregnancies and other health barriers are making it harder for many to get pregnant. As a result, businesses from China to Australia, and even California are lining up to help — and profit from — the growing market of hopeful prospective parents.

The Truth about China’s Cash-for-Publication Policy

2 months 1 week

(MIT Technology Review) – These guys have surveyed the financial incentives offered by the top 100 universities in China and mined that data for interesting trends. They say that cash-per-publication incentives are common and that scientists who publish in the top Western journals can earn in excess of $100,000 per paper. What’s more, there are already worrying signs that these financial rewards are skewing the process of science in China.

Stem Cells in Sports Medicine: Ready for Prime Time?

2 months 1 week

(Medscape) – That’s the environment now in which orthopedic sports medicine specialists must operate. Right now, everyone loves the phrase “stem cells.” It means hope for people who haven’t found any relief for an ailment, whether it is arthritis, spinal cord injury, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Crohn’s disease. Unfortunately, unscrupulous physicians are taking advantage of the hype and cashing in on these patients’ desperation.

A Stem Cell Transplant Helped Beat Back a Young Doctor’s Cancer. Now, It’s Assaulting His Body.

2 months 1 week

(Science) – Wartman’s condition is severe but not unusual. GVHD affects up to half of the more than 30,000 people worldwide each year who receive an immune system transplanted from a donor, as either bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells. The number of transplants—and cases of GVHD—are increasing, yet treatments have not kept pace. Steven Pavletic, who heads the Graft-versus-Host and Autoimmunity Section at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, says the standard treatments—corticosteroids such as prednisone—”carpet bomb” the immune system, causing a host of side effects and weakening the immune response to potentially deadly infections.

F.D.A. Panel Recommends Approval for Gene-Altering Leukemia Treatment

2 months 1 week

(New York Times) – A Food and Drug Administration panel opened a new era in medicine on Wednesday, unanimously recommending that the agency approve the first-ever treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight leukemia, transforming them into what scientists call “a living drug” that powerfully bolsters the immune system to shut down the disease. If the F.D.A. accepts the recommendation, which is likely, the treatment will be the first gene therapy ever to reach the market.

U.N. Slams Warring Parties in Yemen for Fueling Cholera Outbreak

2 months 1 week

(Reuters) – Top United Nations officials on Wednesday slammed the warring parties in Yemen and their international allies for fueling an unprecedented deadly cholera outbreak, driving millions closer to famine and hindering humanitarian aid access. Since the end of April, the World Health Organization said there have been more than 320,000 suspected cases of cholera – a disease that causes uncontrollable diarrhea – and 1,742 deaths across more than 90 percent of the Arabian Peninsula country.

Lights, Camera, CRISPR: Biologists Use Gene Editing to Store Movies in DNA

2 months 1 week

(Nature) – Internet users have a variety of format options in which to store their movies, and biologists have now joined the party. Researchers have used the microbial immune system CRISPR–Cas to encode a movie into the genome of the bacterium Escherichia coli. The technical achievement, reported on 12 July in Nature, is a step towards creating cellular recording systems that are capable of encoding a series of events, says Seth Shipman, a synthetic biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. While studying brain development, Shipman became frustrated by the lack of a technique to capture how cells in the brain take on distinct identities. This inspired him to explore the possibility of making cellular recorders.

Rare Cancer Reignites Debate Over Breast Implants’ Safety

2 months 1 week

(Philadelphia Inquirer) – The lymphoma has been tied both to saline and gel implants, both for enlargement and for reconstruction after breast cancer. Nearly all patients, including Arreola, had textured rather than smooth implants. The roughness may trigger chronic inflammation. However rare the mysterious cancer, its significance is huge. For the first time since implants were introduced in the 1960s, medical authorities, including the World Health Organization, agree that the prosthetics give rise to a disease in susceptible women.

Blood from Young Animals Can Revitalize Old Ones

2 months 1 week

(The Economist) – “The technique itself is kind of gross and crude,” admits Michael Conboy, a biologist and parabiosis researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. Perhaps for that reason, research had more or less died out by the late 1970s. These days, though, it is back in the news—for a string of recent discoveries have suggested that previous generations of researchers were on to something. The blood of young animals, it seems, may indeed be able to ameliorate at least some of the effects of ageing. And the technique is promising enough to have spawned human clinical trials.

Cambodian Women Who Were Married without Consent Are Sharing Their Horror Stories in Court

2 months 1 week

(Quartz) – For years, the tribunal had overlooked the crime of forced marriages amid mass killings and other forms of human rights violations. It was only in August 2016 that the tribunal first heard cases of forced marriages. The proceedings were completed by mid-October and a provisional judgment may be delivered in late 2017. Forced marriages were used as a dominant tool by the Khmer Rouge regime to increase the next generation of workers for labor power. They were partly designed to double the population size to 20 million within a decade.

Do Egg Donors Face Long-Term Risks?

2 months 1 week

(New York Times) – Ms. Wing’s cancer may have been totally unrelated to her egg donations. But given that Ms. Wing had been a health-conscious young woman with no family history of colon cancer or genes associated with this disease, Dr. Schneider wondered if the extensive hormone treatments her daughter had undergone might have stimulated growth of the cancer and if other egg donors might also be at risk. Alas, she soon discovered, it was impossible to know because no one was keeping track of the medical or psychological fate of egg donors. Once donors walk out the door, they are essentially lost to medical history.

A Brief Look at the Medical Issues in the Charlie Gard Case

2 months 1 week

(The Washington Post) – Charlie Gard is a terminally ill British child whose parents are fighting for the right to take him to the United States for an experimental treatment. His case has gained international attention, including from Pope Francis and U.S. President Donald Trump. The 11-month-old is being treated at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, which maintained the experimental treatment was “unjustified” and might cause Charlie more suffering without doing anything to help him. The hospital planned to take the boy off life support, but petitioned for a new court hearing based on evidence from researchers at the Vatican’s children’s hospital and another facility outside of Britain. Below is some background on the medical and legal issues behind Charlie’s case.

Human Neural Stem Cell Therapy for Chronic Ischemia Stroke

2 months 1 week

(Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News) – Chronic disability after stroke represents a major unmet neurologic need. ReNeuron’s development of a human neural stem cell (hNSC) therapy for chronic disability after stroke is progressing through early clinical studies. A Phase I trial has recently been published, showing no safety concerns and some promising signs of efficacy. A single-arm Phase II multicenter trial in patients with stable upper-limb paresis has recently completed recruitment

How Canadian Researchers Reconstituted an Extinct Poxvirus for $100,000 Using Mail-Order DNA

2 months 1 week

(Science) – Eradicating smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases in history, took humanity decades and cost billions of dollars. Bringing the scourge back would probably take a small scientific team with little specialized knowledge half a year and cost about $100,000. That’s one conclusion from an unusual and as-yet unpublished experiment performed last year by Canadian researchers. A group led by virologist David Evans of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, says it has synthesized the horsepox virus, a relative of smallpox, from genetic pieces ordered in the mail. Horsepox is not known to harm humans—and like smallpox, researchers believe it no longer exists in nature; nor is it seen as a major agricultural threat.

People Are Hacking Antidepressant Doses to Avoid Withdrawal

2 months 2 weeks

(New Scientist) – A patient-led movement is helping people taking psychiatric medicines to hack their dosing regimens so they can wean themselves off the drugs without any side effects. Now a Dutch website that sells kits to help people do this is about to launch an English-language site, triggering safety concerns among UK regulators and doctors. Some people find it impossible to stop taking certain antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines such as valium because, unless the dose is reduced very gradually, they get severe mental and physical side-effects.

Desperate for Addiction Treatment, Patients Are Pawns in Lucrative Insurance Fraud Scheme

2 months 2 weeks

(STAT News) – Drug users, desperate to break addictions to heroin or pain pills, are pawns in a sprawling national network of insurance fraud, an investigation by STAT and the Boston Globe has found. They are being sent to treatment centers hundreds of miles from home for expensive, but often shoddy, care that is paid for by premium health insurance benefits procured with fake addresses. Patient brokers are paid a fee to place insured people in treatment centers, which pocket thousands of dollars in claims for each patient. They often target certain Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, because of their generous benefits and few restrictions on seeking care from out-of-network treatment programs.

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