(BBC) – Experts are renewing calls to allow experiments on embryos beyond 14 days of development, saying it would drive medical breakthroughs. Research on human embryos can only happen under a licence in the UK and it is currently illegal to keep them alive in laboratories for more than two weeks after fertilisation. Until recently, this cut-off was almost irrelevant in terms of viability since science had not found a way to physically support life in the lab beyond about a week. But researchers have found a way to chemically mimic the womb which would allow an early stage embryo to continue to develop for longer – at least 13 days after fertilisation, but potentially much more.
(STAT News) – At a time when drug company lobbyists are widely vilified as icons of avarice, patient advocacy groups still wear the white hats. But those organizations, which promote cures for every type of cancer and hundreds more diseases, have come under criticism lately for favoring their drug company funders in contests on Capitol Hill. In one case, a diabetes group accepted money from food companies and played down the health risks from their high-sugar products; in another case, a mental health association, reliant on drug company dollars, opted to keep quiet about the soaring prices of its antidepressants. And many of the patient advocacy groups pushing for passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, which consumer groups argue rolls back patient protection, are funded in large part by pharmaceutical firms.
(CNN) – The abortion rate in the US has fallen to its lowest level since Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure, a new report finds. The report, by the Guttmacher Institute, found the rate has declined to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of, what is considered, childbearing age (that’s 15 to 44). That’s the lowest rate recorded since the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1973. Another notable finding: the annual number of abortions in the US has dropped to under 1 million for the first time since the mid-1970s. It reached its peak of more than 1.6 million abortions in 1990.
(Kaiser Health News) – Cerezyme is an “orphan drug” which means it was created to treat a rare disease, one that affects fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. The orphan drug program overseen by the Food and Drug Administration is loaded with government incentives and has helped hundreds of thousands of patients like Luke feel better or even stay alive. But the 34-year-old program has opened the door to almost unlimited price tags and created incentives among drugmakers to cash in, and to cash in repeatedly, a Kaiser Health News investigation shows.
(Pro Publica) – The long arm of the pharmaceutical industry continues to pervade practically every area of medicine, reaching those who write guidelines that shape doctors’ practices, patient advocacy organizations, letter writers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and even oncologists on Twitter, according to a series of papers on money and influence published today in JAMA Internal Medicine.
(New York Times) – The W.H.O. ended the emergency status in November, but the consequences of the outbreak will be with us for years to come. So maybe now is a good time to ask: How’d we do? Not so great, according to more than a dozen public health experts who were asked to reflect on the response. The battle was a series of missed opportunities, they said, that damaged still-uncounted numbers of babies across a whole hemisphere.
(New York Times) – The breakthrough sidestepped the embryo controversy, offering researchers an unlimited supply of stem cells. Dr. Yamanaka shared the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for reprogramming mature cells into what are now called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. Still, the march toward new treatments has been halting. Dr. Yamanaka directs Kyoto University’s Center for iPS Cell Research and Application. He also leads a small research lab at the Gladstone Institutes, affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco, where his group studies the molecular mechanisms that underlie pluripotency and the factors that induce reprogramming. I interviewed him recently in San Francisco. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
(Aeon) – In 1979 China introduced one of the largest social engineering efforts in human history – the ‘one-child policy’ – to combat population growth. In addition to leaving the country with problematic demographic imbalances, this family planning policy has created an underclass of 13 million unregistered people, all born ‘illegally’. Parents with more than one child have been fired from their jobs and burdened with exorbitant fines or fees to register their unsanctioned children. Even more troubling, people without official registration are not classed as Chinese citizens, and so can’t access even the most basic forms of social welfare, including healthcare, education and protection under the law, nor do they have the right to work or marry.
(Japan Times) – A Japanese research team says it has successfully produced from human cells miniature bowels that can make the muscular movements needed to transport food through the digestive tract — just like natural intestines. The bowels, no larger than 1 or 2 cm, were created from human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells, the team said Thursday.
(Reuters) – A camp on the Greek island of Lesbos housing more than 2,500 migrants denies people the most basic human dignity in bitterly cold winter weather, a doctor working at the camp said. Diane Sampson, an American paediatrician, said she had treated desperate patients at the Moria camp suffering from frostbite, shivering with cold and drenched by snow and rain that had washed through the flimsy tents they are staying in.
(Newsweek) – Testing the immune system is one of a growing number of additional services offered to couples who can’t conceive through IVF treatment alone. Some clinics say they do it because certain antibodies can interfere with embryo implantation, but these claims are not backed by evidence. According to a study that appeared in the BMJ at the end of November, the same is true for many other extra services—of nearly 30 fertility clinic add-ons reviewed, only one increased a woman’s chances of having a baby. That was an endometrial scratch, in which a small nick is made in the uterus’s lining to increase the likelihood of an embryo implanting on it. And that had good results only if a woman had been through two previous rounds of IVF.
(BBC) – A highly effective vaccine that guards against the deadly Ebola virus could be available by 2018, says the World Health Organization. Trials conducted in Guinea, one of the West African countries most affected by an outbreak of Ebola that ended this year, show it offers 100% protection. The vaccine is now being fast-tracked for regulatory approval.
(Vox) – New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that rates of the five leading causes of death — heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke — are higher among rural Americans. In other words, mortality rates in rural areas for these preventable deaths, which were going down, are now plateauing and even increasing.
(The Guardian) – A new lab procedure that could allow fertility clinics to make sperm and eggs from people’s skin may lead to “embryo farming” on a massive scale and drive parents to have only “ideal” future children, researchers warn. Legal and medical specialists in the US say that while the procedure – known as in vitro gametogenesis (IVG) – has only been demonstrated in mice so far, the field is progressing so fast that the dramatic impact it could have on society must be planned for now.
(The Guardian) – The European parliament has urged the drafting of a set of regulations to govern the use and creation of robots and artificial intelligence, including a form of “electronic personhood” to ensure rights and responsibilities for the most capable AI. In a 17-2 vote, with two abstentions, the parliament’s legal affairs committee passed the report, which outlines one possible framework for regulation.
(Reuters) – Children born through assisted reproductive technologies have similar cognitive, motor and language development at age two as those born through natural conception, according to a new Canadian study. Researchers saw no differences in skills such as movement, memory, exploration, vocabulary, word combination, and sensory and motor development.
(The Economist) – Although aiding a suicide remains illegal, updated guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which decides when it is in the public interest to proceed with charges, has narrowed the circumstances in which a prosecution will go ahead. Its guidelines, issued in 2010 and updated in 2014, state that a prosecution is less likely to be in the public interest if, for example, “the victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision” and the suspect’s actions “were of only minor encouragement or assistance”.
(STAT News) – It can almost certainly ease chronic pain and might help some people sleep, but it’s also likely to raise the risk of getting schizophrenia and might trigger heart attacks. Those are among the conclusions about marijuana reached by a federal advisory panel in a report released Thursday. The experts also called for a national effort to learn more about marijuana and its chemical cousins, including similarly acting compounds called cannabinoids.
(UPI) – The first case of locally acquired Zika virus in a pregnant woman in the United States did not result in devastating birth defects, doctors report. In a case study from the University of Miami, doctors provide new insight into the mosquito-borne virus, showing fetal exposure doesn’t necessarily mean infection. The report also alerts doctors to suspect Zika in patients who may have traveled to south Florida, not just to areas outside the country where the virus is more prevalent.
(STAT News) – In the Obama administration’s final days, the National Cancer Institute is establishing an ambitious new program designed to allow scientists to more quickly access new drugs and compounds for novel research. One of the last achievements of Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer moonshot initiative before he leaves office, the program was unveiled Wednesday and will begin as an agreement between the institute and six drug companies. The hope is that the arrangement, in which NCI will act as an intermediary between outside researchers and drug makers, will make it easier for scientists to pursue new combination therapies for cancer, which are widely seen as one of the most promising avenues for better cancer treatment.
(Undark Magazine) – In practice, this means that unless they are exposed to a robust curriculum of professional ethics at the college or university level, many engineers — licensed or not — will have only a perfunctory education in the importance of doing the right thing. “Engineers and computer scientists are in a position to have a disproportionate impact on society,” says Richard Burgess, an instructor at the National Institute for Engineering Ethics at Texas Tech University. “We could be doing a better job, and so could every other university as well.”
(Quartz) – Just as it seemed the Zika virus was under control around the world, Angolan health officials confirmed on Jan. 9 the country’s first two cases of the disease. Africa’s largest oil producer is already struggling to overcome a cholera outbreak that has infected 106 people and killed six. Last year, an outbreak of yellow fever, also a mosquito-borne virus, left at least 400 people dead, with the government only declaring an end to the epidemic in December. These outbreaks have exposed and exacerbated the weak state of the country’s poor public healthcare system, despite years of prosperity thanks to an oil boom.
(The Atlantic) – Just as the human gut has a microbiome, so too does a hospital, the team posited. They’re among a growing group of researchers who believe that understanding hospitals’ microscopic ecological community could be key to preventing people from getting sicker in hospitals when they should be recovering. Our gut microbiome has been linked to effects ranging from Parkinson’s disease to the body’s immune response; some scientists believe a hospital’s microbiome could play a role in health, too.
(Medical Xpress) – The majority-Christian Caucasus country of some three million has the third highest rate of abortions of female foetuses in the world, a figure that rose sharply after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has reported that there were 114 boys born to 100 girls in 2012. The natural norm would be 102-106 male births to 100 female ones. Sex-discriminatory abortions become more prevalent with second and subsequent children, and account for around 1,400 unborn girls each year.
(STAT News) – The dietary supplements had ominous names, like Black Widow and Yellow Scorpion. They contained an illegal and potentially dangerous molecule, similar in structure to amphetamines. But when a Harvard researcher dared to point that out, in a scientific, peer-reviewed study and in media interviews, the supplement maker sued him for libel and slander. STAT has conducted the first detailed look at the legal showdown that followed by interviewing key players and reviewing hundreds of pages of trial transcripts and other court documents.