News from Bioethics.com

Doctors Select First Women to Have ‘Three-Person Babies’

2 months 2 weeks

(The Guardian) – Doctors in Newcastle have been granted permission to create Britain’s first “three-person babies” for two women who are at risk of passing on devastating and incurable genetic diseases to their children.  The green light from the fertility regulator means that doctors at the Newcastle Fertility Centre will now attempt to make healthy embryos for the women by merging fertilised eggs created through standard IVF with DNA from female donors.

The Famine Ended 70 Years Ago, but Dutch Genes Still Bear Scars

2 months 2 weeks

(New York Times) – The Dutch Hunger Winter has proved unique in unexpected ways. Because it started and ended so abruptly, it has served as an unplanned experiment in human health. Pregnant women, it turns out, were uniquely vulnerable, and the children they gave birth to have been influenced by famine throughout their lives. When they became adults, they ended up a few pounds heavier than average. In middle age, they had higher levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. They also experienced higher rates of such conditions as obesity, diabetes and schizophrenia.

Drug Firm Shipped 20.8M Pain Pills to WV Town with 2,900 People

2 months 3 weeks

(Charleston Gazette-Mail) – Over the past decade, out-of-state drug companies shipped 20.8 million prescription painkillers to two pharmacies four blocks apart in a Southern West Virginia town with 2,900 people, according to a congressional committee investigating the opioid crisis. The House Energy and Commerce Committee cited the massive shipments of hydrocodone and oxycodone — two powerful painkillers — to the town of Williamson, in Mingo County, amid the panel’s inquiry into the role of drug distributors in the opioid epidemic.

The Doctor Responsible for Gene Therapy’s Greatest Setback Is Sounding a New Alarm

2 months 3 weeks

(MIT Technology Review) – An influential scientist involved in gene therapy’s biggest setback, the death of a study volunteer 19 years ago, has issued a surprise warning over the dangers of the gene-replacement technique. James Wilson of the University of Pennsylvania reported this week that monkeys and pigs given super-high doses of gene therapy died or suffered disturbing behavioral changes.

New Animal Study Raises Concerns about High-Dose Gene Therapy

2 months 3 weeks

(Science) – A gene therapy trial that recently led to dramatic benefits for babies born with a fatal neuromuscular condition has raised hopes for using a similar approach to treat other diseases. But a new animal study suggests that the high doses of gene-carrying viruses used in such treatments may not always be as safe as the human clinical trial indicated. In the new research, the disclosure of which briefly sent the stock prices of several gene therapies plummeting yesterday, researchers injected a handful of young monkeys and pigs with many copies of adeno-associated virus 9 (AAV9), a normally harmless virus that infects neurons and is increasingly being used to ferry therapeutic genes into cells to treat neuromuscular diseases. Within days, some of the animals developed severe liver and neuron damage.

Racing to Replace Opioids, Biopharma Is Betting on Pain Drugs with a Checkered Past

2 months 3 weeks

(STAT News) – It was supposed to be a $10 billion idea, one that would help wean the world off its opioid dependence and give the drug industry a bounty of lucrative new products. But the bottom fell out for a new class of pain medicines, called NGF inhibitors, when patients in clinical trials starting inexplicably blowing out their joints. The Food and Drug Administration put a halt to further studies in 2010, and a bunch of once-transformational drugs suddenly looked like costly scientific mistakes.

Gene Therapy May Not Be a Viable Option for Many Patients

2 months 3 weeks

(Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News) – Gene therapies offer the promise of a one-time cure for genetic diseases, but they have to make it past the immune system first. For gene therapies that are infused directly into the body, that is, in vivo gene therapies, a large fraction of people have immune systems that are primed with pre-existing neutralizing antibodies to gene therapies in clinical development. The exact proportion of people depends on the design and material makeup of the gene therapy, but if present, these antibodies neutralize the therapy and any transduced cells, rendering the treatment ineffective.

The Effects of Huntington’s Disease Can Be Seen as Early as Conception, Finds New Study

2 months 3 weeks

(News Medical) – Huntington’s disease is an incurable neurodegenerative condition that affects around 1 in 10000 Americans. It affects muscle coordination and cognitive function. Symptoms of the disease typically appear around middle age, when many of the neurons in the brain have been lost. Clinical features include severe dementia and muscle coordination problems. Dr Ali Brivanlou and his team used embryonic stem cells to model this complex genetic disease, which they then used to observe changes in embryos with Huntington’s disease as early as conception.

What Does It Mean to Die?

2 months 3 weeks

(New Yorker) – Two days later, Jahi was declared brain-dead. With the help of a ventilator, she was breathing, but her pupils did not react to light, she did not have a gag reflex, and her eyes remained still when ice water was dripped in each ear. She was briefly disconnected from the ventilator, as a test, but her lungs filled with carbon dioxide. On an EEG test, no brain-wave activity could be seen. Like all states, California follows a version of the 1981 Uniform Determination of Death Act, which says that someone who has sustained the “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem, is dead.”

Patients Seeking “Death with Dignity” Face Drug Price-Gouging

2 months 3 weeks

(CBS News) – Since the law was implemented a year ago, doctors estimate they’ve written more than 500 lethal prescriptions. But they say many patients can’t pay for the medicine, due to price-gouging. “It’s available, but it’s now extremely costly. It can cost a person $3,000 to 4,000 for a prescription, for the 100 capsules,” said UC San Diego Dr. Lynette Cederquist.

My Pacemaker Is Tracking Me from Inside My Body

2 months 3 weeks

(The Atlantic) – There is a crucial difference between my device and more ubiquitous digital technologies: I never made the choice to implant the pacemaker in my body. I’m grateful to the hardworking doctors who minimized my pain and helped me get better. At the same time, the device they installed raises questions that now haunt me. It’s not clear who might have access to data about my pulse, my health, and possibly my whereabouts—data generated by a device inside me.

What Good Is CRISPR if It Can’t Get Where It Needs to Go?

2 months 3 weeks

(Wired) – The first US trials of Crispr safety are set to begin any day now, with Europe expected to follow later this year. Chinese scientists, meanwhile, have been testing Crispr humans since 2015, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, with mixed success. These first clinical forays involve removing cells from patients’ bodies, zapping them with electricity to let Crispr sneak in, then infusing them back into their bodies, to either better fight off cancer or to produce a missing blood protein. But that won’t work for most rare genetic diseases—things like cystic fibrosis, Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, and Huntington’s. In the 34 trillion-cell sea that is your body, an IV bag full of Crispr’d cells simply won’t make a dent.

Cecile Richards Stepping Down as Planned Parenthood Leader

2 months 3 weeks

(ABC News) – Cecile Richards, who led Planned Parenthood through 12 tumultuous years, says she is stepping down as president. Under Richards’ leadership, the organization gained in membership and donor support but found itself in constant conflict with social conservatives for its role as the leading abortion provider in the United States.

Will State Voters Continue to Pour Money into Stem Cell Research?

2 months 3 weeks

(NPR) – Today, 14 years and billions of dollars later, that California agency is running out of money, and backers of stem cell research plan to ask voters in the state to pony up for round two. The projected ask this time: $5 billion, in a measure the backers hope to place on the California ballot in 2020. For voters this time, there will be one major question, says Zev Yaroslavsky, a former member of the Board of Supervisors for Los Angeles County, and now a specialist in state politics and government at UCLA: “The public will want to know,” he says, “what they’ve gotten for their money.”

Italy Reports 4,991 Measles Cases Amid Politicized Debate

2 months 4 weeks

(ABC News) – Italy’s health ministry says 4,991 cases of measles were reported last year, a nearly six-fold increase over 2016 that has been blamed in part on a highly politicized debate over vaccines. Italy’s measles epidemic, which killed four people last year, has already caught the attention of the World Health Organization and other global health authorities.

More Birth Defects in U.S. Areas with Zika: U.S. Health Officials

2 months 4 weeks

(Reuters) – The mosquito-born Zika virus may be responsible for an increase in birth defects in U.S. states and territories even in women who had no lab evidence of Zika exposure during pregnancy, U.S. health officials said on Thursday. Areas in which the mosquito-borne virus has been circulating, including Puerto Rico, southern Florida and part of south Texas, saw a 21 percent rise in birth defects strongly linked with Zika in the last half of 2016 compared with the first half of that year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its weekly report on death and disease.

Philadelphia Takes Bold Step Toward Opening Drug Injection Sites

2 months 4 weeks

(CNN) – Philadelphia is welcoming private organizations to set up medically supervised drug injection sites amid an unprecedented rise in overdose deaths in recent years, city officials announced Tuesday. The walk-in facilities would also offer access to sterile needles, the opioid overdose-reversing drug naloxone, wound care and referral to social services. There are currently no legally sanctioned supervised injection sites in the United States.

In a Scientific First, Cloned Monkeys Are Born. Will They Accelerate Biomedical Research?

2 months 4 weeks

(STAT News) – There have been mice and cows and pigs and camels, bunnies and bantengs and ferrets and dogs, but ever since Dolly the sheep became the first cloned mammal in 1996, the list has had a conspicuous hole: primates. Now that hole has been filled. Scientists in China reported on Wednesday in Cell that they had cloned two healthy long-tailed macaque monkeys from the cells of another macaque, using the Dolly technique. The two clones, born 51 and 49 days ago, were created from a fetus’s cells; so far, the scientists have not been able to make the tricky procedure work when they used cells from adult macaques.

Scientists Slammed for Synthesizing a Smallpox-Like Virus in the Lab

2 months 4 weeks

(Gizmodo) – The dreaded smallpox virus was eradicated more than 40 years ago, but the threat of its return still looms. In an effort to develop a safer vaccine substitute, Canadian researchers have resurrected a close relative—the extinct horsepox virus—from scratch. Critics say the exercise was pointless, and because the results were published in an open access journal, they fear the smallpox virus can now be manufactured by virtually anybody—terrorists included.

Research Paper at Japan Stem Cell Institute Falsified Nearly All Images in 2017 Paper

2 months 4 weeks

(Retraction Watch) – An investigation by Kyoto University in Japan has found a researcher guilty of falsifying all but one of the figures in a 2017 stem cell paper. Yesterday, Kyoto University announced that the paper’s first author, Kohei Yamamizu, had fabricated and falsified data in the Stem Cell Reports paper. According to the investigation report, none of the other authors were involved in the data manipulation.

How Well Can You Predict the Outcome of Clinical Trials? Not as Well as You Might Think

3 months 10 hours

(STAT News) – If researchers were better at forecasting the results of clinical trials — and, say, could avoid having to run trials that will inevitably fail — more resources could be devoted to trials that might succeed. But, it turns out, researchers might not be great at determining the likelihood of a trial’s success. In unpublished research, McGill bioethicist Jonathan Kimmelman and colleagues asked cancer experts to forecast the probability of more than a dozen clinical trials hitting their primary endpoint. They found that the predictions overall were not very accurate, and, if anything, were too pessimistic.

Chinese Scientists Used CRISPR Gene Editing on 86 Human Patients

3 months 10 hours

(Quartz) – China is taking the lead in the global race to perfect gene therapies. Scientists have genetically engineered the cells of at least 86 cancer and HIV patients in the country using Crispr-Cas9 technology since 2015, the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall). Although no formal scientific papers have been written about these experiments, doctors told journalists at the WSJ that some patients have improved. There have also been at least 15 deaths, although only about half of them were reportedly related to the gene therapy itself.

When a Tattoo Means Life or Death. Literally

3 months 1 day

(NPR) – The tattoo, and the hospital’s decision about what it required of them, has set off a conversation among doctors and medical ethicists around the country about how to express one’s end-of-life wishes effectively, and how policymakers can make it easier. In the U.S., the standard way to tell doctors you want to be allowed to die is to sign an official form saying you don’t want to be resuscitated. That means, among other things, you don’t want doctors to do CPR or use a ventilator to keep you alive if you stop breathing.

Church of England Warns Future of Down’s ‘Under Question’

3 months 1 day

(BBC) – The Church of England has warned the future existence of people with Down’s Syndrome is “under question”. It has called for expectant mothers to be given “comprehensive, unbiased information” ahead of the NHS roll-out of Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) in England and Wales this year. The blood test for high-risk women can offer an estimate of Down’s risk. But the Church is concerned it could lead to more abortions on women carrying children with Down’s Syndrome.

The AI That Can Tell When You Die

3 months 1 day

(Daily Mail) – Stanford researchers have developed an AI that can predict when a patient will die with up to 90 percent accuracy. While the idea might sound unnerving, the team behind the work says it could vastly improve end-of-life care for patients and their families. By more accurately pinpointing when a terminal or seriously ill patient may pass, caregivers can prioritize their wishes and ensure important conversations are held before it’s too late.

Pages

Creative Commons License