News from Bioethics.com

Infusions of Young Blood Tested in Patients with Dementia

2 months 3 weeks

(Nature) – The first controlled, but controversial and small, clinical trial of giving young blood to people with dementia has reported that the procedure appears safe. It has also hinted that it may even produce modest improvements in the daily lives of people who have Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers who conducted the trial and others caution that the results are based on just 18 people and therefore are only a first step in exploring this type of treatment. “This is a really very small trial and the results should not be over-interpreted,” says Tony Wyss-Coray, a neurologist at Stanford University in California who led the study. The trial was conducted by his start-up company Alkahest, which is based in San Carlos, California.

Eugenics 2.0: We’re at the Dawn of Choosing Embryos by Health, Height, and More

2 months 3 weeks

(MIT Technology Review) – IVF clinics already test the DNA of embryos to spot rare diseases, like cystic fibrosis, caused by defects in a single gene. But these “preimplantation” tests are poised for a dramatic leap forward as it becomes possible to peer more deeply at an embryo’s genome and create broad statistical forecasts about the person it would become. The advance is occurring, say scientists, thanks to a growing flood of genetic data collected from large population studies.

Bitter CRISPR Patent War Intensifies

2 months 3 weeks

(Nature) – The long-running battle over US patents for CRISPR–Cas9 gene editing continues. On 25 October, the Broad Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts, filed a fresh set of arguments with the US government to defend a key patent. That action helps to set the stage for a second round of oral arguments in the unusually vitriolic case, which observers expect to take place in early 2018. A decision is anticipated to follow shortly thereafter. In the filing, lawyers for the Broad and its collaborators argued that its opponent, a team that includes the University of California, Berkeley, has failed to provide new evidence that would undermine the legitimacy of the Broad’s patent. The lawyers also used the University of California’s own press releases as a sign that the case should be thrown out.

U.S. Oversight of Risky Pathogen Research Has Flaws, Report Finds

2 months 3 weeks

(Science) – The program that keeps watch over the management of dangerous pathogens at research laboratories still isn’t up to snuff, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The Federal Select Agent Program, run jointly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), regulates how government, academic, and industry labs store, use, and transfer 66 potentially harmful organisms and toxins, including anthrax and plague. It has faced new scrutiny from Congress and GAO in recent years after a string of safety incidents involving select agents at laboratories run by the federal government.

Better Palliative Care Essential as Canada Considers Medically Assisted Death for Youth, Pediatricians Say

2 months 3 weeks

(CBC) – The Canadian Paediatric Society is urging improved palliative care for children and youth as a key part of preparing for the possibility of legalizing medical assistance in dying for certain patients under age 18. “Medical assistance in dying is something that has been legislated [for adults] and stated [as] needing to be accessible … but there isn’t the same ‘oomph’ for saying that all Canadians need good access to palliative care,” said Dr. Dawn Davies, chair of the society’s bioethics committee and a pediatric palliative care physician in Edmonton, in an interview with CBC News.

No Surgery for Smokers or the Obese: Policy in UK Stirs Debate

2 months 3 weeks

(CNN) – Two issues are the cause of a plethora of diseases and health conditions affecting people worldwide: smoking and obesity. And one local health committee in the UK has announced a controversial policy “to support patients whose health is at risk from smoking or being very overweight.” For an indefinite amount of time, it plans to ban access to routine, or non-urgent, surgery under the National Health Service until patients “improve their health,” the policy states, claiming that “exceptional clinical circumstances (will) be taken into account on a case-by-case basis.”

MSF Says Closing Most Cholera Centers in Yemen as Epidemic Wanes

2 months 3 weeks

(Reuters) – The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is closing most of its 37 cholera treatment centers in Yemen, saying the epidemic appears to have peaked. Some 884,368 suspected cholera cases have been recorded in the war-torn country in the past six months, including 2,184 deaths, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO). The case fatality rate is now 0.25 percent.

U.S. States to Expand Generic Drug Price-Fixing Suit–Sources

2 months 3 weeks

(Reuters) – Forty-six U.S. state attorneys general will seek to expand a lawsuit alleging price fixing of generic drugs to 18 companies and 15 medicines on Tuesday, including Novartis AG’s generic unit Sandoz and India-based Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, people familiar with the matter said.  The original complaint, being litigated in federal court in Pennsylvania, describes an industry-wide conspiracy in which companies divide up the market as a way to push up prices.

Pretending to Give a Robot Citizenship Helps No One

2 months 3 weeks

(The Verge) – If this sounds like a PR stunt to you, well, you’re right: the Saudi kingdom was using this eye-grabbing headline to promote a tech summit, part of its nationwide policy to transform an oil-based economy into something more forward-thinking. But it’s not just headline fluff. Some experts say this sort of approach to robot rights is actively damaging, both to public understanding of technology and to civil society itself.

What Is Palliative Care? A Patient’s Journey through the System

2 months 3 weeks

(The Conversation) – Palliative care teams are commonly involved with illnesses such as heart, lung or kidney disease, cancer or advanced dementia. Involving palliative care allows for better control of symptoms and an improved sense of quality of life. It also helps the family of the person who is ill. With better symptom control and support, this frequently translates to less time spent in hospital. A number of studies have even shown early involvement of palliative care can lead to improved survival.

Saudi Arabia, Which Denies Women Equal Rights, Makes a Robot a Citizen

2 months 3 weeks

(Washington Post) – The kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially granted citizenship to the humanoid robot last week during a program at the Future Investment Initiative, a summit that links deep-pocketed Saudis with inventors hoping to shape the future. Sophia’s recognition made international headlines — and sparked an outcry against a country with a shoddy human rights record that has been accused of making women second-class citizens.

CRISPR Gene Editor Can Now Alter RNA as Well as DNA

2 months 3 weeks

(Chemistry World) – The therapeutic potential of the Crispr/Cas genome editing tool continues to grow, as US scientists have developed a version of the system that targets RNA and chemically alters its nucleotides. As RNA is ultimately translated to make proteins, being able to edit it could be advantageous for research and gene therapy applications, says Feng Zhang who led the team behind the research at the Broad Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.

Woman with Severe Learning Disability to Get Contraceptive Patch against Mother’s Wishes

2 months 4 weeks

(The Guardian) – A woman with a severe learning disability who gave birth after a suspected rape should be fitted with a contraceptive patch against the wishes of her mother, the high court has ruled. The 21-year-old woman, known in court as V, has an unspecified but severe learning disability. Her mother, referred to in court as W, argued against contraception, saying increased protective measures would be enough.  But a senior judge has ruled that the mother’s own health issues meant she was unable to give her daughter the necessary protection to prevent another assault.

In the Intersex Community, We’re Desperate for Quality Care. Doctors Aren’t Listening.

2 months 4 weeks

(STAT News) – I was a perfectly healthy teen, and that unnecessary surgery actually removed my hormone-producing testes. As a result, I’ve needed hormone replacement therapy ever since. But even though I live in a major city renowned for its hospitals, I still haven’t been able to find a qualified endocrinologist to manage my treatment — let alone a physician who understands what it means to be intersex. That’s because medical care for intersex people is overwhelmingly focused on surgical intervention when we’re children and too young to consent. The needs of intersex adults are an afterthought.

‘Incredible’ Editing of Life’s Building Blocks

2 months 4 weeks

(BBC) – Scientists have demonstrated an “incredibly powerful” ability to manipulate the building blocks of life in two separate studies. One altered the order of atoms in DNA to rewrite the human genetic code and the instructions for life. The other edited RNA, which is a chemical cousin of DNA and unlocks the information in the genetic code. The studies – which could eventually treat diseases – have been described as clever, important and exciting.

A Reuters Journalist Bought Human Body Parts, Then Learned a Donor’s Heart-Wrenching Story

2 months 4 weeks

(Reuters) – The month after Cody died, Restore Life sold part of the young man’s body: his cervical spine. The transaction required just a few email exchanges and $300, plus shipping. Whether Restore Life vetted the buyer is unclear. But if workers there had verified their customer’s identity, they would have learned he was a reporter from Reuters. The news agency was seeking to determine how easy it might be to buy human body parts and whether those parts would be useful for medical research. In addition to the spine, Reuters later purchased two human heads from Restore Life, each priced at $300.

‘What Could Help Me Die?’ Doctors Clash over Euthanasia

2 months 4 weeks

(STAT News) – Thienpont’s approach to managing euthanasia requests has raised concerns even among doctors who support the procedure for psychological suffering. According to copies of letters obtained by The Associated Press, those worries have led to a clash between Thienpont and Dr. Wim Distelmans, chairman of Belgium’s euthanasia review commission, that has not been publicly disclosed. The documents do not include accusations that patients were killed who shouldn’t have been, but they suggest doctors may have failed to meet certain legal requirements in some cases. And they highlight how difficult it can be to judge whose pain should end in death.

Why Opioids Are Such an American Problem

2 months 4 weeks

(BBC) – When it comes to taking opioids, the United States has the dubious honour of leading the world. For every one million Americans, almost 50,000 doses of opioids are taken every day. That’s four times the rate in the UK. There are often good reasons for taking opioids. Cancer patients use them for pain relief, as do patients recovering from surgery (codeine and morphine are opioids, for example). But take too many and you have a problem. And America certainly has a problem.In two years, the town of Kermit in West Virginia received almost nine million opioid pills, according to a congressional committee. Just 400 people live in Kermit.

Declaring Opioids a Health Emergency Could Make Treatment More Widely Available

2 months 4 weeks

(FiveThirtyEight) – As the country reels from record-high rates of opioid abuse and overdoses, medication-assisted treatment — which combines medication and behavioral therapy — has shown particular promise in combating the epidemic. But it also faces major challenges to widespread use, including the costs and limits on doctors who can provide it. President Trump on Thursday declared a nationwide public health emergency to battle the opioid crisis.

‘No One Is Coming:’ Investigation Reveals Hospices Abandon Patients at Death’s Door

2 months 4 weeks

(TIME) – The investigation analyzed 20,000 government inspection records, revealing that missed visits and neglect are common for patients dying at home. Families or caregivers have filed over 3,200 complaints with state officials in the past five years. Those complaints led government inspectors to find problems in 759 hospices, with more than half cited for missing visits or other services they had promised to provide at the end of life.

New Gene-Editing ‘Pencil’ Erases Disease-Causing Errors

3 months 7 min

(Scientific American) – There are more than 50,000 known human genetic maladies that have, in most cases, few good treatments and no cure. Now researchers at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT have developed a new tool that would theoretically make it possible to correct the genetic errors behind about 15,000 of these illnesses—including sickle-cell disease, cystic fibrosis and several forms of congenital deafness and blindness. Standard gene-editing tools, such as the well-known CRISPR–Cas9 system, function like scissors; they can cut an offending gene from a strand of DNA. This could be useful against diseases such as Huntington’s, which is caused by duplications of genetic material. The new tool, called ABE (adenine base editors), is more like an editing pencil, according to lead researcher David Liu.

Out of the Syrian Crisis, a Data Revolution Takes Shape

3 months 9 min

(Nature) – Whenever war, hurricanes or other disasters ravage part of the globe, one of the biggest problems for aid organizations is a lack of reliable data. People die because front-line responders don’t have the information they need to act efficiently. Doctors and epidemiologists plod along with paper surveys and rigid databases in crisis situations, watching with envy as tech companies expertly mine big data for comparatively mundane purposes. Three years ago, one frustrated first-responder decided to do something about it. The result is an innovative piece of software called the Dharma Platform, which almost anyone can use to rapidly collect information and share, analyse and visualize it so that they can act quickly.

The ‘Uber for Birth Control’ Expands in Conservative States, Opening a New Front in War over Contraception

3 months 18 min

(STAT News) – It’s a telemedicine app that seems rather innocuous — enter your info, have it reviewed by a physician, and get a prescription. The California-based company behind it has raised millions to support its mission of expanding access to the pill, ring, or morning-after pill with minimal hurdles. But that last option is now starting to attract pushback from anti-abortion activists, who consider the morning-after pill equivalent to abortion — and who say lax telemedicine laws are enabling access to this drug with insufficient oversight.

Anti-Aging Stem Cell Treatment Proves Successful in Early Human Trials

3 months 30 min

(New Atlas) – Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a particular type of adult stem cell generating a great deal of interest in the world of science. MSCs are currently being trailed as treatment for no less than a dozen different types of pathological conditions from cancer to heart disease. This new MSC treatment is targeted at reducing the effects of frailty on senior citizens. This is the first anti-aging stem cell treatment directed specifically at the problem of age-associated frailty to move close to a final FDA approval stage.

When Hope Runs Out, Cancer Patients Are Making Their Own DIY Immunotherapy Treatments

3 months 1 hour

(Gizmodo) – Do-it-yourself treatments exist in a tricky ethical arena that tests the limits of how much agency we are willing to give patients in making decisions about their life and treatment. Increasingly, it is the view of mainstream medicine that when a person’s life is on the line, they should have the right to engage in high-risk treatments. Last month, the US Senate unanimously approved a bill that would allow terminally ill patients access to drugs that have gone through preliminary testing on humans, but not yet gained FDA approval. Similar right-to-try laws have already been passed in 37 states, some of which allow even patients with serious but not terminal illnesses to try experimental drugs.

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