News from Bioethics.com

Sales Executive for Opioid Maker Was Addicted to the Drug He Promoted

2 months 2 weeks

(STAT News) – As a district sales manager for Insys Therapeutics, Jeffrey Pearlman led a team that aggressively pushed doctors to widely prescribe the company’s highly addictive opioid painkiller Subsys. He even threatened to stop paying a nurse speaking fees if she didn’t help boost sales of the drug, emails show. All the while, Pearlman held a secret: He himself was addicted to opioids like the very ones he was promoting. Pearlman’s daily regimen of painkillers included the highest doses of his company’s own product.

Stem Cell Trial Data Mostly Go Unpublished

2 months 2 weeks

(The Scientist) – The results of about 45 percent of completed stem cell clinical trials end up published in academic journals, according to a study published in Stem Cell Reports (April 13). This trend is consistent with prior studies that found trial publication is not inevitable and only occurs for about 30 to 60 percent of all clinical trials from around the world registered within the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-maintained clinicaltrials.gov registry and results database. “The study shows a gap between studies that have taken place and actual publication of the data, so a substantial number of trials testing cell-based interventions are not entering the public domain,” Leigh Turner, a bioethicist at the University of Minnesota who was not involved in the work, told The Scientist.

Anti-Vaccine Activists Spark a State’s Worst Measles Outbreak in Decades

2 months 2 weeks

(The Washington Post) – Salah no longer believes that the MMR vaccine triggers autism, a discredited theory that spread rapidly through the local Somali community, fanned by meetings organized by anti-vaccine groups. The advocates repeatedly invited Andrew Wakefield, the founder of the modern anti-vaccine movement, to talk to worried parents. Immunization rates plummeted and, last month, the first cases of measles appeared. Soon, there was a full-blown outbreak, one of the starkest consequences of an intensifying anti-vaccine movement in the United States and around the world that has gained traction in part by targeting specific communities.

Behind the Latest IVF Furore Lies Untold Human Suffering

2 months 2 weeks

(The Guardian) – The latest furore to hit the fertility industry exposes what a murky, complicated business it is. A number of the UK’s private clinics have been accused of misleading desperate, cash-strapped fertility patients into donating their own eggs for other people’s treatment. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the findings were “serious and worrying” and the UK’s regulator of fertility treatment, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has launched an investigation.

Researchers Correct Statistical Flaw in High-Profile Paper

2 months 2 weeks

(Spectrum) – It’s every scientist’s worst nightmare: A simple mistake in a high-profile study results in a large statistical error that then becomes embarrassingly public. That happened to Evan Eichler and his team with a paper they published in Nature Genetics in February, tying 38 new genes to autism or developmental delay. On 12 March, a group of 14 independent geneticists pointed out an error in a critique they posted on the preprint server bioRxiv. The geneticists also sent their concerns to the editors at Nature Genetics. Eichler is working with the journal to correct the findings — and says he and his team are devastated.

The Shock Tactics Set to Shake Up Immunology

2 months 3 weeks

(Nature) – The technique, called vagus-nerve stimulation, has been used since the 1990s to treat epilepsy, and since the early 2000s to treat depression. But Katrin, a 70-year-old fitness instructor in Amsterdam, who asked that her name be changed for this story, uses it to control rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that results in the destruction of cartilage around joints and other tissues. A clinical trial in which she enrolled five years ago is the first of its kind in humans, and it represents the culmination of two decades of research looking into the connection between the nervous and immune systems.

Antibiotic Resistance Has a Language Problem

2 months 3 weeks

(Nature) – Clinicians have long known that microbes such as bacteria, viruses and fungi are becoming alarmingly resistant to the medicines used to treat them. But a global response to this complex health threat — commonly termed ‘antimicrobial resistance’ — requires engagement from a much broader array of players, from governments, regulators and the public, to experts in health, food, the environment, economics, trade and industry. People from these disparate domains are talking past each other. Many of the terms routinely used to describe the problem are misunderstood, interpreted differently or loaded with unhelpful connotations.

German Research Organization to Identify Nazi Victims That Ended Up as Brain Slides

2 months 3 weeks

(Deutsche Welle) – They are kept deep in the archive of the Max Planck Society in Munich – human brain specimens, elaborately prepared and neatly labeled. Some of the brain specimens belong to Nazi victims. They were murdered because they were mentally ill or disabled and considered “unworthy of life,” according to Hitler. About 300,000 people including children were killed in the Nazi’s so-called “euthanasia program, T4.” But the victims’ brains were preserved.

Party Drug’s Power to Fight Depression Puzzles Scientists

2 months 3 weeks

(Nature) – The anaesthetic ketamine — a hallucinogenic club drug also known as Special K — has tantalized researchers who are seeking new ways to treat depression. The drug can lift a person’s mood in hours, even when depression is severe. But several ‘ketamine-like’ medications have failed to alleviate depression in clinical trials over the past decade. Now, some researchers think they know why. Emerging evidence suggests that scientists have misunderstood how ketamine fights depression. So they might have attempted to mimic the wrong biological mechanism when designing drugs to improve mood while avoiding the disorienting ketamine high.

With Drug Reps Kept at Bay, Doctors Prescribe More Judiciously

2 months 3 weeks

(Pro Publica) – When teaching hospitals put pharmaceutical sales representatives on a shorter leash, their doctors tended to order fewer promoted brand-name drugs and used more generic versions instead, a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows. The results were significant compared to doctors who did not work at hospitals that limited sales reps from freely walking their halls or providing meals or gifts, according to research by Ian Larkin, an assistant professor of strategy at the University of California, Los Angeles Anderson School of Management, and colleagues.

New Policy to Ban Pregnancies with Genetically Modified Embryos

2 months 3 weeks

(The Japan News) – The government plans to drastically revise its basic policy on conducting research on human embryos, in an effort to implement state-led regulations on such research, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. Aiming to meet the challenges posed by new technologies such as genome editing (see below) — a technology that efficiently alters genes — the government is considering limiting human embryo modification through genome editing to basic research, and prohibiting both the implantation of embryos with altered genes in a uterus and the live births of such embryos.

China Is Racing Ahead of the US in the Quest to Cure Cancer with CRISPR

2 months 3 weeks

(Gizmodo) – On Friday, a team of Chinese scientists used the cutting-edge gene-editing technique CRISPR-Cas9 on humans for the second time in history, injecting a cancer patient with modified human genes in hopes of vanquishing the disease. In the US, the first planned trials to use CRISPR in people still have not gotten under way. But in China, things appear to be moving relatively quickly.

Success in the 3-D Bioprinting of Cartilage

2 months 3 weeks

(Science Daily) – A team of researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy has managed to generate cartilage tissue by printing stem cells using a 3D-bioprinter. The fact that the stem cells survived being printed in this manner is a success in itself. In addition, the research team was able to influence the cells to multiply and differentiate to form chondrocytes (cartilage cells) in the printed structure.

Cancer-Causing DNA Is Found in Some Stem Cells Being Used in Patients

2 months 3 weeks

(STAT News) – Some human stem cells growing in labs that researchers have used in experiments to treat serious diseases contain serious cancer-causing mutations, scientists reported on Wednesday. The discovery raised alarms that patients could be treated for one disease, such as macular degeneration, only to develop another, cancer. Harvard scientists obtained samples of most of the human embryonic stem cell lines registered with the National Institutes of Health for use in both basic research and in developing therapies for patients with diseases including diabetes, Parkinson’s, and macular degeneration. They found that five of the 140 lines had cells with a cancer-causing mutation.

Organ Trafficking ‘Booming’ in Lebanon as Desperate Syrians Sell Kidneys, Eyes: BBC

2 months 3 weeks

(Reuters) – Trade in illegal organs is a booming business in Lebanon as desperate Syrian refugees resort to selling body parts to support themselves and their families, according to an investigation by the BBC.  A trafficker who brokers deals from a coffee shop in Beirut, identified as Abu Jaafar, said while he knew his “booming” business was illegal, he saw it as helping people in need. He spoke to the BBC journalist Alex Forsyth from his base in a dilapidated building covered by a plastic tarpaulin in a southern Beirut suburb.

A Better Way to Care for the Dying

2 months 3 weeks

(The Economist) – Many deaths are preceded by a surge of treatment, often pointless. A survey of doctors in Japan found that 90% expected that patients with tubes inserted into their windpipes would never recover. Yet a fifth of patients who die in the country’s hospitals have been intubated. An eighth of Americans with terminal cancer receive chemotherapy in their final fortnight, despite it offering no benefit at such a late stage. Nearly a third of elderly Americans undergo surgery during their final year; 8% do so in their last week.

Cheap Blood Drug Could Prevent Thousands of Maternal Deaths in Developing World

2 months 4 weeks

(Reuters) – A cheap and widely available drug could save the lives of one in three of the 100,000 new mothers who bleed to death after childbirth every year, mostly in poorer countries, according to the first study of its use in postpartum haemorrhage. In a trial of 20,000 women, researchers found that the drug, called tranexamic acid or TXA, cut the number of deaths due to post-partum bleeding by 31 percent if given within three hours. The treatment costs about $2.50 in most countries, they said.

The Problems of Family Planning in Nigeria

2 months 4 weeks

(The Economist) – Even outside those areas, contraception is controversial. Boko Haram’s ideology didn’t spring from nowhere. Many Nigerian Muslims believe that pills and condoms are part of a Western plot to stop Muslims from multiplying. And in poor, rural areas, centuries of experience have taught people that having lots of children makes economic sense. They can be put to work in the fields, they will provide for their parents in old age and, given high rates of infant mortality, if you don’t have several you may end up with none.

The Survivors: How An Experimental Treatment Saved Patients and Changed Medicine

2 months 4 weeks

(STAT News) – This is a story of survivors — of patients who were expected to die more than two decades ago but didn’t. It was the summer of 1998, and Dr. Brian J. Druker was a few months into Phase 1, first-in-human trials of a promising compound that would later be known as Gleevec. Druker, a researcher at Oregon Health and Science University, knew from lab studies that the drug could disable a gene that controls certain leukemia cells, while leaving healthy cells intact. But he didn’t have answers to a lot of other questions, including what dose would be beneficial.

Prenatal Screening for Downs Syndrome Seen as ‘Routine Procedure’

2 months 4 weeks

(Medical Xpress) – Optional prenatal screening for Down’s syndrome has become a ‘normal’ part of pregnancy, with consequences for women and their partners, according to new research by Cardiff University. In a study of healthcare professionals involved in Down’s syndrome screening in the UK, Dr Gareth Thomas of the University’s School of Social Sciences shows how screening for the condition has become an expected pit-stop on the pregnancy journey. Through the language used by both professionals and expectant parents during consultations, to the exclusive framing of ultrasound scans as a means to ‘meet the baby’, and subtle but clear messages that produce a negative portrayal of disability, the opt-in procedure has become routine.

Children Conceived After Fertility Treatments Are at Increased Risk for Pediatric Cancers

2 months 4 weeks

(Medical Xpress) – Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers have found that babies born from mothers who underwent fertility treatments are at increased risk of developing many types of pediatric cancers and tumors (neoplasms). According to the American Cancer Society, the most common pediatric neoplasms are leukemia, brain and spinal cord tumors, neuroblastomas, Wilms tumors, and lymphoma, including both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin. The study, published in the March issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, was a population-based cohort analysis of babies born between 1991 and 2013 at Soroka University Medical Center in Beer-Sheva, Israel, with follow-up to age 18.

Babies Floating in Fluid-Filled Bags

2 months 4 weeks

(The Atlantic) – But within a decade or so, babies born between 23 and 25 weeks might not be thrust into the harsh outside world at all. Instead, they may be immediately plunged into a special bag filled with lab-made amniotic fluid, designed to help them gestate for another month inside an artificial womb. That is, if a new technology that has been successfully tested on lambs is found to work on humans.

How Faith Communities View Different Fertility Treatments

3 months 19 hours

(USA Today) – Increasing fertility options for couples who can’t naturally conceive trigger questions about ethics. About a third of American adults say in vitro fertilization is morally acceptable, according to a Pew Research study.  The conditions around IVF, mainly if donor sperm or eggs are used, can ignite debates, especially in faith circles. Many faith leaders cite beliefs about the purpose of sex, when life begins and the union of marriage, saying fertility options go against or blur the lines of morality.

Diamond Dishes Could Boost IVF Success Rates

3 months 19 hours

(Science) – For women looking to become pregnant through in vitro fertilization (IVF), a diamond petri dish could be a girl’s best friend. That’s one conclusion from a new study, which finds that human sperm cells live longer and move more efficiently on diamond surfaces compared with traditional polystyrene petri dishes. The researchers also discovered that shining a red light on the sperm cells improved their performance. Combining these techniques might significantly increase the chances of IVF success.

Boston University Researchers Will Study Hernandez’s Brain

3 months 3 days

(Associated Press) – Boston University researchers will study Aaron Hernandez’s brain to determine if the former NFL star suffered from the same degenerative brain disease as Hall of Famer Junior Seau and former Bears defensive back Dave Duerson, who also took their own lives. Hernandez hanged himself in prison early Wednesday, days after winning an acquittal in a 2012 double homicide case. He was already serving a life term in a 2013 killing.

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