News from Bioethics.com

Stay Safe and Get a Tetanus Shot, Texas Health Officials Urge

2 months 2 weeks

(NPR) – As health departments in Texas try to assist people with immediate medical needs following Hurricane Harvey, they’re also looking to ensure that those affected can get the prescription drugs they need and stay as safe as possible. “Our best advice is always to avoid floodwater as much as you can,” says Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “Of course, people have had to be in the water — they haven’t had a choice.”

With a Simple DNA Test, Family Histories Are Rewritten

2 months 2 weeks

(New York Times) – The question of ethnicity is enmeshed with another difficult challenge for DNA testers: geography. Genetics researchers generally know which DNA sequences originated on which continents. But pinpointing a particular country of origin, as many testing services claim to do, is far trickier. Scientists simply do not have good data on the genetic characteristics of particular countries in, say, East Africa or East Asia. Even in more developed regions, distinguishing between Polish and, for instance, Russian heritage is inexact at best.

FDA Cracks Down on Stem-Cell Clinics Selling Unapproved Treatments

2 months 2 weeks

(NPR) – The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on “unscrupulous” clinics selling unproven and potentially dangerous treatments involving stem cells. Hundreds of clinics around the country have started selling stem cell therapies that supposedly use stem cells but have not been approved as safe and effective by the FDA, according to the agency.

Storm Flooding Engulfs MD Anderson Cancer Center, Canceling Treatments for Days

2 months 3 weeks

(STAT News) – Tropical Storm Harvey has flooded the roads in and around MD Anderson’s primary Houston hospital, leaving one of the world’s foremost cancer centers unable to see patients for appointments or previously scheduled treatments until Thursday at the earliest. The cancer hospital issued a statement Tuesday saying the main building and several MD Anderson satellites around Houston will remain closed to appointments through Wednesday, as emergency crews work to restore operations and wait for the flood waters to recede.

Organs on Chips

2 months 3 weeks

(The Scientist) – From beating hearts to breathing lungs, organs-on-chips are some of hottest new tools for human biology research. Although these devices may bear closer resemblance to computer components than human body parts, scientists have now created working models for a whole range of organs, including the liver, the lung, and even the female reproductive system. Researchers hope to use these devices to model disease and facilitate drug development. “I think for most people, the goal is to replace animal testing and to carry out personalized medicine in a more effective way,” Donald Ingber, the founding director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, tells The Scientist.

Abuse in Nursing Homes Unreported Despite Law, Government Probe Finds

2 months 3 weeks

(STAT News) – More than 1 in 4 cases of possible sexual and physical abuse against nursing home patients apparently went unreported to police, says a government audit that faults Medicare for failing to enforce a federal law requiring immediate notification. The Health and Human Services inspector general’s office issued an “early alert” Monday on preliminary findings from a large sampling of cases in 33 states. The results were sufficiently alarming that investigators say corrective action is needed now.

Chinese Scientists Say They’re Close to Trials Transplanting Pig Organs into Humans

2 months 3 weeks

(South China Morning Post) – The first such transplant surgery could be just two years away, according to one researcher from a national xenotransplantation project. Recent experiments conducted in China and elsewhere on animals including monkeys have shown they could live for an extended period of time – sometimes years – after receiving transplants of pig organs. China is meanwhile home to the world’s biggest pig-cloning farms that could supply animals bred specifically for transplants of livers, hearts and other organs to humans.

‘It’s a Slow Death’: The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis

2 months 3 weeks

(New York Times) – After two and a half years of war, little is functioning in Yemen. Repeated bombings have crippled bridges, hospitals and factories. Many doctors and civil servants have gone unpaid for more than a year. Malnutrition and poor sanitation have made the Middle Eastern country vulnerable to diseases that most of the world has confined to the history books. In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million, one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years.

Why Teens Need to Understand Care Plans for Dying Parents

2 months 3 weeks

(Reuters) – When children lose a parent during adolescence, their mental health as young adults may depend on how comfortable they were with the treatment and support provided at the end of their parents’ lives, a recent study suggests. To understand the lasting psychological impact of the death of a parent during adolescence, researchers surveyed young adults who had lost a parent to cancer six to nine years earlier, when they were 13 to 16 years old.

Five Myths about Gene Editing

2 months 3 weeks

(Washington Post) – Gene editing made great strides this month when scientists reported success using a technique called CRISPR — Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats — to correct a serious, disease-causing mutation in human embryos. Researchers fixed a mutation that leads to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a relatively common inherited disease of the heart muscle that affects about 1 in 500 people. The public response was wildly enthusiastic. But any new technology can spur confusion and hyperbole, and this one is no exception. Here are five myths about what CRISPR can and can’t do.

Why People May Have Pig Organs inside Them One Day

2 months 3 weeks

(TIME) – The findings have obvious implications for the many people waiting for a transplant. But one of the lead study authors, George Church, a geneticist at Harvard and founder of eGenesis, says the promise of pig organs that are compatible with humans may be even bigger. If pig organs could be engineered to be even healthier and more durable than the average human organ—which Church believes is possible—they could have a profound effect on human health and longevity, he says.

Zipline Expands Drone Delivery of Medical Supplies

2 months 3 weeks

(MIT Technology Review) – Less than a year after launching the world’s first national drone delivery service in Rwanda, Silicon Valley–based Zipline is expanding. Billed as the largest drone delivery service in the world, the new venture is in Tanzania, Rwanda’s neighbor to the east, and involves more than a thousand health facilities covering 10 million people in some of that country’s most remote and hard-to-reach areas. Announced Thursday by the government of Tanzania, the partnership will entail the delivery of a range of medical products by drone from four distribution sites in three distinct areas of the country.

Medical Staff Involved in Organ Trafficking Arrested in Egypt

2 months 3 weeks

(Al Arabiya) – Egyptian authorities announced on Tuesday evening the capture of a gang of medical staff for trafficking human organs in the area of Abu Nomros in Giza, southern Egypt. The authorities arrested 16 people involved in the case, reported Al Arabiya. An official security source confirmed to Al Arabiya that the suspects formed a gang of eight people who go after those those wishing to sell their organs. The gang includes a doctor from a hospital in Abu Al-Nomros and technicians in laboratory analysis who purchase the kidney for 25,000 LE ($1,400) and sell it to wealthy people for $25,000.

Hunting a Killer: Sex, Drugs and the Return of Syphilis

2 months 3 weeks

(New York Times) – For months, health officials in this socially conservative state capital have been staggered by a fast-spreading outbreak of a disease that, for nearly two decades, was considered all but extinguished. Syphilis, the deadly sexually transmitted infection that can lead to blindness, paralysis and dementia, is returning here and around the country, another consequence of the heroin and methamphetamine epidemics, as users trade sex for drugs.

Insurer’s Mailing to Customers Made HIV Status Visible through Envelope Window

2 months 3 weeks

(STAT News) – Thousands of people with HIV received mailed letters from Aetna last month that may have disclosed their HIV status on the envelope. The letters, which Aetna said were sent to approximately 12,000 people, were meant to relay a change in pharmacy benefits. Text visible through a small window on the envelopes listed the patients’ names and suggested a change in how they would fill the prescription for their treatment for the virus.

Rural-Urban Gap in Some Vaccination Rates Leaves Health Officials Puzzled

2 months 3 weeks

(STAT News) – Both rural and urban kids in large numbers were vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis —a combined vaccine known as Tdap. In fact, 88 percent of teens received that vaccination, with nearly equal uptake rates among urban and rural adolescents. But the vaccination rate against human papillomavirus, or HPV, was 16 percentage points lower in rural areas than urban areas. These sexually transmitted viruses can cause a number of cancers. And though one might be tempted to assume that rural parents were less inclined to vaccinate their children against a sexually transmitted virus, it was not the only kind of vaccine for which there was a stark rural-urban divide.

Germany’s Self-Driving Car Ethicists: All Lives Matter

2 months 3 weeks

(Quartz) – The German federal government will adopt new guidelines for self-driving cars inside the country, which will prioritize the value and equality of human life over damage to property or animals. These guidelines, presented on Aug. 23 by an ethics committee on automated driving, stress that self-driving cars must do the least amount of harm if put into a situation where hitting a human is unavoidable, and cannot discriminate based on age, gender, race, disability, or any other observable factors. In other words, all self-driving cars must be programmed to understand that human life is equal.

Sickle-Cell Patients See Hope in CRISPR

2 months 3 weeks

(MIT Technology Review) – The idea is that CRISPR could correct the genetic mutation responsible for sickle-cell so that patients’ bodies could make normal red blood cells, alleviating the pain and other severe symptoms associated with the disease. Researchers have already tested the gene-editing tool on human sickle cells in the lab and are now working on getting the technique to clinical trials. Early results hint that sickle-cell could be among the first diseases that CRISPR essentially cures.

‘Breakthrough’ Leukemia Drug Also Portends ‘Quantum Leap’ in Cost

2 months 3 weeks

(Kaiser Health News) – Switzerland-based Novartis hasn’t announced a price for the medicine, but British health authorities have said a price of $649,000 for a one-time treatment would be justified given the significant benefits. The cancer therapy was unanimously approved by a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee in July, and its approval seems all but certain. The treatment, CTL019, belongs to a new class of medications called CAR T-cell therapies, which involve harvesting patients’ immune cells and genetically altering them to kill cancer. It’s been tested in patients whose leukemia has relapsed in spite of the best chemotherapy or a bone-marrow transplant.

Artificial Wombs Are Coming. They Could Completely Change the Debate over Abortion.

2 months 3 weeks

(Vox) – The Supreme Court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey treats “viability” — when a fetus can survive outside the womb — as the important constitutional dividing line for individual states’ ability to restrict abortion. US states have much more power to restrict abortion after viability than before (although even post-viability there are important constitutional carve-outs, including for abortions to protect the health of the mother). If — and it is a big “if” — artificial wombs were to become available for human fetuses, we face the following question: Could anti-abortion laws require pregnant women whose fetuses are not yet viable to transfer the fetus to a nurturing site outside the body, possibly by way of minimally invasive surgery? The right to abortion would thereby be restricted.

With Court’s OK, Chile Relaxes One of the World’s Strictest Abortion Bans

2 months 3 weeks

(Scientific American) – A Chilean court dealt abortion rights activists a landmark victory Monday, approving a controversial bill that rolled back parts of one of the world’s strictest abortion bans. The bill passed by lawmakers earlier this month — after a years-long campaign by President Michelle Bachelet — added three exceptions to a law that for nearly three decades outlawed abortion in all cases. By a narrow margin, lawmakers rendered abortion legal when the pregnancy results from rape, when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life and when the fetus is unviable.

Cryptographers and Geneticists Unite to Analyze Genomes They Can’t See

2 months 3 weeks

(Scientific American) – A cryptographer and a geneticist walk into a seminar room. An hour later, after a talk by the cryptographer, the geneticist approaches him with a napkin covered in scrawls. The cryptographer furrows his brow, then nods. Nearly two years later, they reveal the product of their combined prowess: an algorithm that finds harmful mutations without actually seeing anyone’s genes.

Dying at Home in an Opioid Crisis: Hospices Grapple with Stolen Meds

2 months 4 weeks

(Kaiser Health News) – Hospices have largely been exempt from the national crackdown on opioid prescriptions because dying people may need high doses of opioids. But as the nation’s opioid epidemic continues, some experts say hospices aren’t doing enough to identify families and staff who might be stealing pills. And now, amid urgent cries for action over rising overdose deaths, several states have passed laws giving hospice staff the power to destroy leftover pills after patients die.

There’s an Unforeseen Benefit to California’s Physician-Assisted Death Law

2 months 4 weeks

(Los Angeles Times) – Some doctors in California felt uncomfortable last year when a new law began allowing terminally ill patients to request lethal medicines, saying their careers had been dedicated to saving lives, not ending them. Many healthcare systems designed protocols for screening people who say they’re interested in physician-assisted death, including some that were meant to dissuade patients from taking up the option. But physicians across the state say the conversations that health workers are having with patients are leading to patients’ fears and needs around dying being addressed better than ever before. They say the law has improved medical care for sick patients, even those who don’t take advantage of it.

The Disturbing, Eugenics-Like Reality Unfolding in Iceland

2 months 4 weeks

(Quartz) – Here’s the interesting thing: Down syndrome, or Trisomy 21 as it is also called, is actually one of the less severe chromosomal conditions. Unlike many other trisomies (genetic conditions in which a person has three copies of a chromosome instead of the standard two), it’s compatible with life.

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