News from Bioethics.com

Meth-Addicted Mothers and Child Abuse

1 month 3 weeks

(The Atlantic) – Newman’s short documentary, Motherhood and Meth, focuses on the drug’s frequently overlooked and arguably most vulnerable victims: children. Although no scientific research has been conducted that directly correlates meth addiction to child abuse or neglect, many experts on the subject report a connection that Newman describes as “staggering.”

Teen Xanax Abuse Is Surging

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(Pew Trusts) – Teen drug use during the summer often goes unnoticed. It’s when school starts and students nod off in class, exchange pills in the hallways and fail tests that the truth becomes apparent.  This school year, addiction specialists say they’re expecting an onslaught of teens addicted to Xanax and other sedatives in a class of anti-anxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines, or “benzos.” Many teens view Xanax as a safer and more plentiful alternative to prescription opioids and heroin — with similar euphoric effects.

A Late-Life Surprise: Taking Care of Frail, Aging Parents

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(Kaiser Health News) – A new analysis from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College is the first to document how often this happens. It found that 10 percent of adults ages 60 to 69 whose parents are alive serve as caregivers, as do 12 percent of adults age 70 and older. The analysis is based on data from 80,000 interviews (some people were interviewed multiple times) conducted from 1995 to 2010 for the Health and Retirement Study. About 17 percent of adult children care for their parents at some point in their lives, and the likelihood of doing so rises with age, it reports.

How Scientists Are Learning to Predict Your Future with Your Genes

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(Vox) – To a small degree, their analysis showed that some places on the genome are associated with educational attainment. In all, it found 1,271 spots in the genome that were significantly correlated with a greater number of years in school. What’s more, the researchers also showed that they could use these 1,271 spots in the genome to compute a score that predicts — mildly, and on average across a group — their likelihood of completing college. That’s all from a cheek swab.  How is this possible? The research technique used here is called a genome-wide association study, or GWAS for short.

How AI Can Be a Force for Good

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(Science) – Artificial intelligence (AI) is not just a new technology that requires regulation. It is a powerful force that is reshaping daily practices, personal and professional interactions, and environments. For the well-being of humanity it is crucial that this power is used as a force of good. Ethics plays a key role in this process by ensuring that regulations of AI harness its potential while mitigating its risks. AI may be defined in many ways. Get its definition wrong, and any assessment of the ethical challenges of AI becomes science fiction at best or an irresponsible distraction at worst, as in the case of the singularity debate.

FDA Stirs Contraception Debate with OK for ‘Natural’ Birth Control App

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(NPR) – The Food and Drug Administration took a big-tent approach earlier this month when it approved two new forms of birth control that seek to prevent pregnancy in very different ways. Women’s health advocates applauded the availability of a new vaginal ring that could be used for up to a year. But some questioned the OK’ing of a mobile phone app that helps women avoid pregnancy by tracking their body temperature and menstrual cycle, a type of contraception called “fertility awareness.”

Congo’s New Ebola Outbreak Is Hitting Health Care Workers Hard

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(Science) – Health care workers have been especially hard hit by the current outbreak of Ebola in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). To date, nine of the 51 confirmed cases of Ebola have been in people caring for the ill, says Peter Salama, an epidemiologist based in Geneva, Switzerland, who heads the response to the outbreak for the World Health Organization (WHO).

UN Warns of a Possible New Cholera Epidemic in Yemen

1 month 3 weeks

(ABC News) – The United Nations is warning of a possible “third wave” of the cholera epidemic in Yemen, which is already “the largest outbreak on record.” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday there have been more than 1.1 million suspected cases of cholera since April 2017, and the number is increasing. He said over 2,300 deaths have been reported.

Stem Cells Grow More Quickly, Efficiently in New Method

1 month 3 weeks

(UPI) – Researchers have developed a new way to generate functional brain cells that cuts the time from months to two weeks. The astrocytes, which come from embryonic stem cells, play a significant role in neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia and ALS. The findings by Lund University in Sweden were published Monday in the journal Nature Methods.

States Rush to Rein in Prescription Costs, and Drug Companies Fight Back

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(New York Times) – States around the country are clamping down on pharmaceutical companies, forcing them to disclose and justify price increases, but the drug manufacturers are fighting back, challenging the state laws as a violation of their constitutional rights. Even more states are, for the first time, trying to regulate middlemen who play a crucial role by managing drug benefits for employers and insurers, while taking payments from drug companies in return for giving preferential treatment to their drugs.

Govt. Panel to Not Regulate Some Genome Editing

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(NHK World) – A government panel has decided not to regulate some genome editing procedures. The latest technology involves changing an organism’s genomes by targeting a specific location in the DNA sequence and causing a mutation. The method of inserting new genes into an intended site is spreading quickly as it allows efficient selective breeding of plants and animals. The panel decided that the regulation governing genetic recombination would apply to organisms that have had new genes inserted into a targeted location.

Use of ‘Killer Robots’ in Wars Would Breach Law, Say Campaigners

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(The Guardian) – Twenty-six countries explicitly support a prohibition on fully autonomous weapons, with Austria, Belgium and China recently joining thousands of scientists and artificial intelligence experts and more than 20 Nobel peace prize laureates in declaring their support. In a new report published jointly by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, the organisations have stated that fully autonomous weapons would violate the Martens Clause – a well established provision of international humanitarian law.

Researcher at the Center of an Epic Fraud Remains an Enigma to Those Who Exposed Him

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(Science) – Sato’s fraud was one of the biggest in scientific history. The impact of his fabricated reports—many of them on how to reduce the risk of bone fractures—rippled far and wide. Meta-analyses that included his trials came to the wrong conclusion; professional societies based medical guidelines on his papers. To follow up on studies they did not know were faked, researchers carried out new trials that enrolled thousands of real patients. Exposing Sato’s lies and correcting the literature had been a bruising struggle for Avenell and her colleagues. Yet they could not understand why Sato faked so many studies, or how he got away with it for so long.

A New CRISPR Technique Let Researchers Repair a Genetic Mutation in Viable Human Embryos

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(Futurism) – The researchers behind the current study decided to test base editing on the mutation that causes Marfan Syndrome, because all it should take to correct it is changing the G in the FBN1 gene to a healthy A. And it mostly seemed go as planned. According to the study, the researchers were able to correct the mutation that causes Marfan Syndrome in 18 viable human embryos — embryos created by joining a sperm and an egg that doctors could conceivably implant into a person to induce pregnancy.

Facebook Is Dipping Its Toe into Medical AI Research

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(Quartz) – Researchers at Facebook’s AI Research lab (FAIR) are working to make MRI machines operate faster by reducing the amount of data they have to gather to compose an image, the company announced yesterday (Aug. 20) in a blog post. The project, which is a collaboration with New York University School of Medicine, will use 3 million MRI images collected by NYU that have been stripped of patient names and identifying information, according to Facebook. This data will also be made open to the public, so other researchers can tackle the same problems.

Do Vaccines Cause Autism and Other Health Problems?

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(Vox) – The scientific evidence is very clear: There’s no link between vaccines and autism, and vaccines are generally safe, although they can cause some rare, typically minor side effects. In a broad analysis of vaccines and their adverse effects, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2011 concluded vaccines are not linked with autism or other serious medical problems, including type 1 diabetes. The study looked at vaccines for various diseases, including MMR (mumps, measles, and rubella), HPV, and hepatitis A, and found no serious side effects to be prevalent. But the report did identify some other, less-serious side effects, such as fever and allergic reactions.

A Majority of Americans Support Using Biotechnology to Grow Human Organs in Animals for Transplants

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(Pew Research) – Almost six-in-ten Americans (57%) consider it an appropriate use of technology to genetically engineer animals to grow organs or tissues that could be used for humans needing a transplant, while 41% say this would be going too far, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center. The findings are part of a larger pattern that reveals Americans are more likely to support the bioengineering of animals if it benefits human health.

The Man Who Sold America on Vitamin D–And Profited in the Process

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(Kaiser Health News) – Holick’s role in drafting national vitamin D guidelines, and the embrace of his message by mainstream doctors and wellness gurus alike, have helped push supplement sales to $936 million in 2017. That’s a ninefold increase over the previous decade. Lab tests for vitamin D deficiency have spiked, too: Doctors ordered more than 10 million for Medicare patients in 2016, up 547 percent since 2007, at a cost of $365 million. About 1 in 4 adults 60 and older now take vitamin D supplements. But few of the Americans swept up in the vitamin D craze are likely aware that the industry has sent a lot of money Holick’s way.

America’s Invisible Pot Addicts

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(The Atlantic) – In terms of long-standing risks, the lack of federal involvement in legalization has meant that marijuana products are not being safety-tested like pharmaceuticals; measured and dosed like food products; subjected to agricultural-safety and pesticide standards like crops; and held to labeling standards like alcohol. (Different states have different rules and testing regimes, complicating things further.) Health experts also cited an uncomfortable truth about allowing a vice product to be widely available, loosely regulated, and fully commercialized: Heavy users will make up a huge share of sales, with businesses wanting them to buy more and spend more and use more, despite any health consequences.

Pregnant Women with Severe Nausea and Vomiting Are More Likely to Use Marijuana, Study Suggests

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(STAT News) – Research suggests a growing number of pregnant women are using marijuana, and according to a small new study, those experiencing severe nausea and vomiting may be more likely to use the drug. The health effects of using marijuana while pregnant aren’t clear, but national guidelines recommend that women stop using marijuana while pregnant. The new study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that pregnant women with severe nausea and vomiting used marijuana at more than twice the rate of women without those symptoms.

Officials Remove Special Rules for Gene Therapy Experiments

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(Associated Press) – U.S. health officials are eliminating special regulations for gene therapy experiments, saying that what was once exotic science is quickly becoming an established form of medical care with no extraordinary risks. A special National Institutes of Health oversight panel will no longer review all gene therapy applications and will instead take on a broader advisory role, according to changes proposed Wednesday. The Food and Drug Administration will vet gene therapy experiments and products as it does with other treatments and drugs.

Purdue Pharma’s Sales Pitch Downplayed Risks of Opioid Addiction

1 month 4 weeks

(Kaiser Health News) – Two decades ago, Purdue Pharma produced thousands of brochures and videos that urged patients with chronic pain to ask their physicians for opioids such as OxyContin, arguing that concerns over addiction and other dangers from the drugs were overblown, company records reveal. Kaiser Health News earlier this year posted a cache of Purdue marketing documents that show how the pharmaceutical company sought to boost sales of the prescription painkiller, starting in the mid-1990s.

He Survived an Overdose. Now What?

1 month 4 weeks

(New York Times) – The simple fact that Andrew was living at home is somewhat miraculous. Heroin and fentanyl caused him to stop breathing, but he learned to breathe on his own again. His kidneys failed and then recovered. But Andrew’s brain, starved of oxygen too long, was left severely damaged. More than four years have passed since the overdose. For Andrew’s parents, the fear that their son will die has now been replaced by a new set of realities and unanswerable questions: Is this a good life? Is he happy? What will happen to him when they grow old?

Measles Outbreak Hits 21 States, Including Michigan

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(Detroit Free Press) – Federal health officials are investigating a outbreak of measles this year that has spread to 21 states, including Michigan. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said Wednesday that from Jan. 1 to July 14, 107 people had contracted the disease. Besides Michigan, measles has been reported in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland,  Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and the District of Columbia. The majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated.

NYU’s Free Medical School Tuition Could Funnel More Doctors to Primary Care

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(The Atlantic) – Medical school costs a lot of money that a lot of people don’t have. That often means students do a bit of cost-benefit analysis: Is it worth it to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt now for the possibility of making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year later? New York University’s School of Medicine is trying remove that calculation as a factor in students’ career-decision making. The school announced yesterday that it will provide all new, future, and current students a full tuition scholarship—financial need and merit aside, meaning wealthy students and low-income students alike will receive it.

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