News from Bioethics.com

Ebola Detectives Race to Identify Hidden Sources of Infection as Outbreak Spreads

2 months 2 weeks

(Nature) – As the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) shifts into the war-weary city of Butembo, public-health workers are trying to stamp out new infections from an inadvertent source: unregulated health centres. Decades of political instability in the northeastern DRC, the site of the epidemic, have fostered the growth of informal clinics that offer traditional and modern medicine.

Critics Say New Transplant Rules Will Benefit Big City Medical Centers

2 months 2 weeks

(The Washington Post) – The organization that controls the distribution of livers for transplant revised its controversial allocation policy for the second time in a year, further limiting transplant centers’ access to organs collected in their areas. The new plan eliminates geographical boundaries drawn years ago that had largely given transplant centers first shot at livers collected from brain-dead donors in hospitals nearby. It moves the liver transplant system farther toward a “sickest-first” model that would send organs to recipients more than 500 miles away if they demonstrate the greatest need.

Cambodia Releases Surrogate Mothers Who Agree to Keep Children

2 months 2 weeks

(BBC) – Thirty-two surrogate mothers charged with human trafficking in Cambodia for carrying babies for Chinese clients have been released after agreeing to keep the children, officials say.  The women were arrested in June in a raid as part of a crackdown on the country’s commercial surrogacy trade. Surrogacy was banned in Cambodia in 2016, a year after neighbouring Thailand imposed limits on the service.

What Defines a Stem Cell? Scientists Rethink the Answer

2 months 2 weeks

(Quanta Magazine) – For the past three years, researchers at the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands have been painstakingly cataloging and mapping all the proliferating cells found in mouse hearts, looking for cardiac stem cells. The elusive cells should theoretically be able to repair damaged heart muscle, so the stakes in finding them have been high. Indeed, that search, involving many labs over decades, has been marked by heated debate and, recently, a call for the retraction of more than 30 papers for falsified data. This week, however, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is scheduled to announce the results of the Hubrecht team’s work: no evidence of cardiac stem cells at all.

‘CRISPR Babies’ Lab Asked U.S. Scientist for Help to Disable Cholesterol Gene in Human Embryos

2 months 2 weeks

(STAT News) – The birth announcement made Musunuru dig out his old emails — which he shared with STAT — and do some sleuthing. The University of Pennsylvania researcher quickly found that the student, Feifei Cheng, worked with He and presented a paper written with him at a meeting on genome editing this past April in China sponsored by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. That paper reported editing PCSK9 in human, monkey, and mouse embryos. Re-reading the emails, Musunuru said he thinks it’s possible that embryos with the edited cholesterol gene were used in the second pregnancy.

Children Born Through IVF Are More Likely to Suffer from Asthma ‘Because of the Fertility Drugs Their Mothers Used’

2 months 2 weeks

(Daily Mail) – Thousands of children born each year by IVF could be at risk of asthma, a study suggests. Researchers found IVF increases the risk of childhood asthma by 22 per cent. Scientists from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, who tracked more than 500,000 children, believe the drugs given to mothers during the IVF process might cause asthma in their children.

From a Deceased Woman’s Transplanted Uterus, a Live Birth

2 months 2 weeks

(The New York Times) – A woman who received a uterus transplanted from a deceased donor has given birth to a healthy child, researchers in Brazil said on Tuesday. It is the first such birth to be reported. Uterine transplants from living donors have succeeded; at least 11 babies have been born this way since 2013. But a viable procedure to transplant uteri from deceased women could drastically increase the availability of the organs

No Cash, No Heart. Transplant Centers Need to Know You Can Pay.

2 months 2 weeks

(New York Times) – Virtually all of the nation’s more than 250 transplant centers, which refer patients to a single national registry, require patients to verify how they will cover bills that can total $400,000 for a kidney transplant or $1.3 million for a heart, plus monthly costs that average $2,500 for anti-rejection drugs that must be taken for life, Dr. Caplan said. Coverage for the latter is more scattershot than for the operation itself, even though transplanted organs will not last without the medicine.

Gene Therapy Treatment Reverses Sickle Cell Anemia, Early Trial Results Show

2 months 2 weeks

(UPI) – A new gene therapy [for s]ickle cell anemia, or SCA, has shown promise in early clinical trials after reversing the condition’s symptoms in two adults, researchers report. The researchers, whose findings were presented Monday at the American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting, transferred healthy fetal hemoglobin genes into the patients blood stem cells and tracked the effects.

In China, Gene-Edited Babies Are the Latest in a String of Ethical Dilemmas

2 months 2 weeks

(New York Times) – Many scientists in China say the drive to succeed is so strong that they adopt a “do first, debate later” approach. Wang Yue, a professor at the institute of medical humanities of Peking University, said many scientists lacked awareness of medical ethics and of laws and regulations relevant to their fields. “It is true that many scientists are very bold and think of science as their independent kingdom,” Dr. Wang said. “So they are not willing to listen to the outside world, including ethics committees and administrative agencies that want to supervise and review them.”

Despite CRISPR Baby Controversy, Harvard University Will Begin Gene-Editing Sperm

2 months 2 weeks

(MIT Technology Review) – In the wild uproar around an experiment in China that claimed to have created twin girls whose genes were altered to protect them from HIV, there’s something worth knowing—research to improve the next generation of humans is happening in the US, too. In fact, it’s about to happen at Harvard University. At the school’s Stem Cell Institute, IVF doctor and scientist Werner Neuhausser says he plans to begin using CRISPR, the gene-editing tool, to change the DNA code inside sperm cells. The objective: to show whether it is possible to create IVF babies with a greatly reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

‘They Will Be Studied for the Rest of Their Lives.’ How China’s Gene-Edited Twins Could Be Forever Changed by Controversial CRISPR Work

2 months 2 weeks

(TIME) – “The implications go beyond just these twins,” says Dr. Kiran Musunuru, professor of cardiovascular medicine and genetics at University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. “If we talk about the sanctity of human life, and the inherent dignity of human life, not much has been gained here. These babies were treated as subjects in a grand medical experiment, and we have to believe that they will be studied for the rest of their lives; it’s sad actually.”

Ebola Outbreak in DR Congo Now Second Worst in History

2 months 3 weeks

(BBC) – The UN’s global health body says the Ebola outbreak in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo is now the second-biggest ever recorded. A total of 426 cases of the virus have now been reported in and around the town of Beni, taking the outbreak past that recorded in Uganda in 2000. Beni is in the middle of a conflict zone and operations have been affected by rebel attacks.

FDA Signs Off on Editas CRISPR Study on Patients with a Rare Genetic Disorder

2 months 3 weeks

(STAT News) – Days after a Chinese researcher incensed the world of science with claims of editing the genomes of twin girls, an American company is plotting a CRISPR trial of its own. But in place of the secrecy and stagecraft that marked the Chinese experiment, Editas Medicine went the old-fashioned way: waiting for approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The company, headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., got the FDA’s blessing to test a CRISPR-based therapy on patients with a rare genetic disorder that leads to blindness. Editas, which is partnered with Botox maker Allergan, said it plans to enroll between 10 and 20 patients in a study to test the treatment’s safety and efficacy.

California Court Reverses Ruling Against Assisted Suicide

2 months 3 weeks

(ABC News) – A California appeals court overturned a lower court order that had imperiled the state’s assisted suicide law, but a longer legal fight may loom because the ruling skirted the larger issue of whether the legislation was unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeals in the city of Riverside on Tuesday did not rule on the merits of the case because it found doctors opposed to the law had no right to sue to block the law. The court said the doctors failed to show they were harmed because they could choose not to help terminally ill patients die.

FDA Approves New Drug Reflecting Cutting-Edge, ‘Tissue-Agnostic’ Effort to Beat Cancer

2 months 3 weeks

(USA Today) – A cutting-edge cancer treatment focusing on genetic biomarkers rather than any specific type of cancer won accelerated approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The approval this week for Vitrakvi, the brand name for larotrectinib, marks an emerging method for developing cancer drugs that are “tissue-agnostic” – drugs that are not specific to one organ such as the colon or breast.

Why US Life Expectancy Is Falling, in Three Charts

2 months 3 weeks

(Quartz) – There were roughly 69,000 more deaths in 2017 than there were in 2016. Heart disease has been the number-one overall killer for many years and still topped the list in 2017. But it doesn’t explain the falling overall life expectancy; in fact, death rates from heart disease are on the decline. Instead, the CDC suggests life expectancy rates stagnated in the early 2010s and have since started to fall because of the sharp increase over that timeframe of two types of highly preventable causes of death: drug overdoses and suicides.

New HIV Diagnoses Have Hit a Record High in Eastern Europe

2 months 3 weeks

(Quartz) – The United Nations has ambitious plans to end the global AIDS epidemic. Eastern Europe could be one of the plan’s biggest problems. A new report (pdf) by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that the rate of new HIV diagnoses in that region (which includes Eastern Europe and Central Asia) recorded more than 130,000 new diagnoses in 2017, the highest on record. Across the WHO’s European region overall—including Western Europe, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia—160,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2017.

Measles Cases Rise in Europe, Latin America: WHO Report

2 months 3 weeks

(Reuters) – Measles is on the rise around the world and especially in Europe and Latin America, in part because parents shun vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.  Some 173,000 measles cases were officially reported worldwide in 2017, a jump of more than 30 percent from the previous year, the WHO said in a report. The true number of cases is estimated at 6.7 million last year, it said.

CRISPR Scientist Says Another Woman Is Pregnant with an Edited Embryo

2 months 3 weeks

(New Scientist) – He Jiankui, the Chinese scientist who claims to have created the world’s first genetically-edited babies, says another may be on the way. Speaking at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing at the University of Hong Kong today, He said that “there is another potential pregnancy”, but that it is still at an early stage.

Belgium Launches First Criminal Investigation of Euthanasia Case

2 months 3 weeks

(The Guardian) – Belgian officials are investigating whether doctors improperly euthanised a woman with autism, the first criminal investigation in a euthanasia case since the practice was legalised in 2002. Three doctors from East Flanders are being investigated on suspicion of having “poisoned” Tine Nys in 2010. The 38-year-old had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, two months before she died in an apparently legal killing by a doctor.

Scientists Create “Mini Placenta” Organoids in a Lab Dish

2 months 3 weeks

(Reuters) – Scientists in Britain have succeeded in creating mini human placenta organoids which they say will transform scientific understanding of reproductive disorders such as pre-eclampsia and miscarriage. The organoids – miniature functional cellular models of the human placenta’s earliest stages – will also allow researchers to explore what makes a pregnancy healthy, and how certain diseases can pass from a mother to a developing baby.

A Reckless and Needless Use of Gene Editing on Human Embryos

2 months 3 weeks

(The Atlantic) – In contrast, He’s team disabled a normal gene in an attempt to reduce the risk of a disease that neither child had—and one that can be controlled. There are already ways of preventing fathers from passing HIV to their children. There are antiviral drugs that prevent infections. There’s safe-sex education. “This is not a plague for which we have no tools,” says Cannon. As Marilynn Marchione of the AP reports, early tests suggest that He’s editing was incomplete, and at least one of the twins is a mosaic, where some cells have silenced copies of CCR5 and others do not.

He Took a Crash Course in Bioethics. Then He Created CRISPR Babies

2 months 3 weeks

(STAT News) – For someone who has caused a worldwide uproar over what many fellow scientists consider an ethical outrage, He Jiankui of China spent a remarkable amount of time discussing his work — which he claims led to the births of the first babies whose genomes had been edited when they were IVF embryos — with bioethicists, policy experts, and social scientists. Two of them are father and son: Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford University, a member of the U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics in the early 2000s, and J. Benjamin Hurlbut of Arizona State University, a biomedical historian.

FDA Says It Will Overhaul Criticized Medical Device System

2 months 3 weeks

(Associated Press) – U.S. health officials said Monday they plan to overhaul the nation’s decades-old system for approving most medical devices, which has long been criticized by experts for failing to catch problems with risky implants and related products. The Food and Drug Administration announced plans aimed at making sure new medical devices reflect up-to-date safety and effectiveness features.

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