News from Bioethics.com

A Chinese Couple Died in a Car Crash. Four Years Later, Their Child Was Born.

2 months 1 week

(The Washington Post) – The tragedy set off a years-long battle in court, as the parents of both Shen and Liu fought to claim the fertilized embryos as their own. The case, first reported by the Beijing News, presented myriad hurdles: The most daunting, perhaps, was that there was no legal precedent in China for parents to inherit the embryos of their deceased children. Nevertheless, Shen’s and Liu’s parents tried a risky legal move — suing each other — in an attempt to get the Nanjing hospital to release the embryos to one of them, Beijing News reported.

CRISPR Trials Are About to Begin in People–But We Still Don’t Know How Well It Works in Monkeys

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(MIT Technology Review) – Sometime this year, people in the US and Europe will start getting treated for diseases using the gene-editing tool CRISPR, but a big question remains—will it actually work? Our primate cousins may hold the answer. The first use of CRISPR to edit human cells in a dish was reported in 2013. It’s since been touted as an easy way to alter people’s DNA, promising to banish what are currently lethal or lifelong maladies with a single treatment that fixes them at the genetic root.

Non-Profit’s $300 Hepatitis C Cure as Effective as $84,000 Alternative

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(The Guardian) – An affordable hepatitis C treatment has been shown to be safe and effective, with very high cure rates for patients including hard-to-treat cases, in interim clinical trial results that offer hope to the 71 million people living with the disease worldwide. The treatment is expected to cost $300 for 12 weeks, or $3.50 per day, in Malaysia, where trials were conducted along with Thailand – a fraction of the cost of other hepatitis C medicines produced by major drugmakers, which often run to tens of thousands of dollars.

Despite High Hopes for Polio Eradication Discouraging News Is Piling Up

2 months 1 week

(STAT News) – Every year for the past few years, supporters of the global effort to wipe out polio have made an optimistic declaration: This could be the year that polio ends. And this year, the 30th anniversary of the launch of the ambitious program, was no exception. But just three months into 2018, the projection is less rosy. Eight cases of polio have already been reported, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, when there were only 22 cases in total. That’s three more than were seen over the same period last year.

Scientists Edit Thousands of Genes at Once with Upgraded CRISPR

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(Gizmodo) – When the gene-editing technology CRISPR first made a splash back in 2012, it foretold a future in which curing diseases might simply involve snipping out problematic bits of genetic code. Of course, innovation is rarely so straightforward. As incredible as CRISPR is, it also has some pretty sizable flaws to overcome before it can live up to its hype as a veritable cure-all for human disease. A new study published this week in the journal Nature Genetics tackles one CRISPR complication. CRISPR gene-editing systems can easily cut many pieces of DNA at once, but actually editing all those genes is a lot more time-consuming. Now, scientists at UCLA have come up with a way to edit multiple genes at once.

Are Frozen Embryos Human Life? Fertility Treatments Present Ethical Dilemmas

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(Cleveland) – The incident March 3-4, in which rising temperatures in a cryogenic freezer rendered 4,000 frozen eggs and embryos nonviable, has raised many questions about life, death and technology. But the mere fact that a human egg can be fertilized and then frozen poses important ethical questions, according to Cristie Cole Horsburgh, a board member of the Bioethics Network of Ohio and a bioethicist at the Cleveland Clinic. The answers, she added, can depend on circumstances and personal beliefs.

A Year after D.C. Passed Its Controversial Assisted Suicide Law, Not a Single Patient Has Used It

2 months 1 week

(The Washington Post) – Nearly a year after the District enacted a law allowing terminally ill patients to end their lives — over the objections of congressional Republicans, religious groups and advocates for those with disabilities — not a single patient has used it. And just two of the approximately 11,000 physicians licensed to practice in the District have registered to help patients exercise their rights under the law. Only one hospital has cleared doctors to participate.

Cancer Drug Choices Tied to Drugmaker Payouts to Doctors

2 months 1 week

(Reuters) – Some oncologists may be more likely to prescribe certain cancer medicines when they receive payments from the companies that make these drugs, a U.S. study suggests. Researchers examined data on payments drug companies made to doctors in 2013 for research funding as well general payments such as gifts, fees for speaking or consulting work, meals or travel. Then, researchers looked at how often doctors prescribed different drugs for two types of cancers with multiple treatment options: kidney cancer and a rare blood cell cancer known as chronic myeloid leukemia.

Symptoms from Stopping Antidepressants Are Largely a Mystery

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(Seattle Times) – Nearly 25 million adults, like Toline, have been on antidepressants for at least two years, a 60 percent increase since 2010. The drugs have helped millions of people ease depression and anxiety, and are widely regarded as milestones in psychiatric treatment. Many, perhaps most, people stop the medications without significant trouble. But the rise in longtime use is also the result of an unanticipated and growing problem: Many who try to quit say they cannot because of withdrawal symptoms they were never warned about.

Pregnancy Not a Bar to Trial Participation, FDA Says

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(MedPage Today) – Pregnant women can be enrolled in clinical trials when adequate preclinical studies have already been done and the drug could provide otherwise unavailable benefits to the mother or fetus, the FDA suggested in draft guidance issued Monday. The guidance also recommended that pregnant women be enrolled in postmarketing trials if “adequate nonclinical studies (including studies on pregnant animals) have been completed, and there is an established safety database in nonpregnant women from clinical trials and preliminary safety data from the medical literature and/or other sources regarding use in pregnant women.”

Changing Your Mind-Set, Reduce Your Chronic Pain

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(Scientific American) – Medication is one answer, but painkillers such as opioids—and even drugs like ibuprofen and acetaminophen (more familiar to some as the brands Advil and Tylenol)—can have significant downsides. It turns out, however, psychological approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you train your brain away from pain. Brain-imaging research has shown a negative pain mind-set (ruminating on how awful pain is and expecting it to worsen) actually amplifies pain processing in the brain. Using low-risk CBT techniques over the course of several weeks, however, alters brain structure. It learns to ratchet down pain signals, which enhances the effectiveness of medical interventions and helps patients reduce their need for doctors and pills.

The Next Naloxone? Companies, Academics Search for Better Overdose-Reversal Drugs

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(STAT News) – Dr. Nora Volkow has heard a frightening scenario play out around the country. People are administering naloxone to synthetic opioid drug users who have overdosed. But the antidote doesn’t work well. So they give another dose. And it’s only after multiple doses — four, five, even six times — that drug users finally come to their senses. Naloxone is the only widely available drug to reverse opioid overdoses. But anecdotal reports of its limitations against synthetic opioids are on the rise. Spurred by that public health threat — as well as a booming commercial market for the antidote — drug companies, researchers, and health officials are eagerly eyeing the development of new treatments to augment the use of naloxone or, in some cases, potentially replace it.

Ban on Creating Human Organs Inside Bodies of Animals Likely to Be Lifted

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(The Yomiuri Shimbun) – A ban on creating human organs inside the bodies of animals will likely be lifted as early as this autumn, following a planned review of the current guidelines prohibiting such research. An expert panel of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry last month compiled a report on research into producing human organs in the bodies of pigs and other animals. In the report, the panel concluded it would allow researchers to implant an animal embryo (a fertilized egg) containing human cells into an animal’s womb and have the animal give birth.

Patient Advocacy Groups Take in Millions from Drugmakers. Is There a Payback?

2 months 2 weeks

(Kaiser Health News) – Pharmaceutical companies gave at least $116 million to patient advocacy groups in a single year, reveals a new database logging 12,000 donations from large publicly traded drugmakers to such organizations. Even as these patient groups grow in number and political influence, their funding and their relationships to drugmakers are little understood. Unlike payments to doctors and lobbying expenses, companies do not have to report payments to the groups.

Medical Studies in Humans Often Launched on Faulty Evidence Base

2 months 2 weeks

(Reuters) – New research reveals serious flaws in the animal studies that regulators and ethicists use to decide if an experimental drug should be tested in humans. Dr. Daniel Strech, a bioethicist and professor at Hannover Medical School in Germany and his colleagues are the first to take an independent look at so-called investigator brochures (IBs), which regulatory agencies review to weigh the risks and benefits of the experimental treatment and determine whether trials in humans should move forward.

Can Lost Embryos Give Rise to a Wrongful-Death Suit?

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(The Atlantic) – Taubman says that he filed the complaint to “unclog the logjam” of dozens of related fertility-clinic cases in Ohio. If embryos were declared people, he noted, then a wrongful-death claim could also come into play. “The damages are much more severe … There is no cap on damages,” he says. Encapsulated in this legal strategy is a lightning rod of a question. If—and that’s a big if—an embryo is deemed a person, then it could very well alter the practices of in-vitro fertilization clinics, which routinely create more embryos than are implanted into patients. And it will almost certainly alter the landscape of abortion politics.

Medically Assisted Suicide Becomes Legal in Hawaii

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(New York Times) – Hawaii became the latest liberal-leaning state to legalize medically assisted suicide Thursday as the governor signed a measure into law allowing doctors to fulfill requests from terminally ill patients to prescribe life-ending medication. “It is time for terminally ill, mentally competent Hawaii residents who are suffering to make their own end-of-life choices with dignity, grace and peace,” Gov. David Ige said. Ige said the law was written to ensure the patient is in full control and it provides just one option available for end-of-life care, knowing assisted suicide is not for everyone.

A Harder Death for People with Intellectual Disabilities

2 months 2 weeks

(New York Times) – This patient was different. Because he was born with a severe intellectual disability, the law made it much harder for him to avoid unwanted care. In New Hampshire, where I practice, and in many other states, legal guardians of people with intellectual disabilities can make most medical decisions but, by law, they cannot decline life-sustaining therapies like mechanical ventilation. These laws are meant to protect patients with disabilities from premature discontinuation of lifesaving care. Yet, my patient was experiencing the unintended downside of these laws: the selective prolonging of unpleasant and questionably helpful end-of-life care in people with disabilities.

As Controversial ‘Abortion Reversal’ Laws Increase, Researcher Says New Data Shows Protocol Can Work

2 months 2 weeks

(The Washington Post) – Now Delgado, who opposes abortion, has data on a new, larger group of women. His paper — appearing Wednesday in Issues in Law and Medicine, a journal with ties to an antiabortion group — looks at 754 patients who called an informational hotline in the United States from 2012 to 2016 after taking mifepristone, the first drug in a medical abortion, but before taking misoprostol, the second drug.

This Stem-Cell Implant Could Halt an Incredibly Common Cause of Blindness

2 months 2 weeks

(MIT Technology Review) – An eye implant made of a thin sheet of human embryonic stem cells might be an effective treatment for a common form of vision loss. Researchers at the University of Southern California grew stem-cell membranes in a sterile lab for a month and then inserted them into the eyes of four people with “dry” macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in developed countries. An estimated 196 million people worldwide will have some form of macular degeneration by 2020.

Prescribers, Pharmacists Arrested in DEA Opioid Crackdown

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(Medscape) – The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has arrested 28 prescribers and pharmacists and has revoked 147 licenses of individuals who handle controlled substances. The actions were taken as part of the agency’s ongoing efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. For 45 days in February and March, the DEA “surged its enforcement and administrative resources to identify and investigate prescribers and pharmacies that dispensed disproportionately large amounts of drugs. The ultimate goal of the surge was remediating or removing those whose actions perpetuate the controlled prescription drug crisis in America, particularly opioid drugs,” the DEA said in a statement issued April 2.

Assaulted and Shunned, India’s Women with Disabilities May Never Get Their #MeToo Moment

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(Quartz) – Survivors of sexual assault in India rarely get the justice they deserve—and it is all the more difficult for women and girls with disabilities. They routinely struggle with reporting abuse and getting appropriate medical care, besides navigating the country’s courts, an April 03 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) says. The report is based on investigations into 17 cases of rape and gangrape of women and children with disabilities in eight Indian states: Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal. HRW interviewed around 111 people, including survivors, family members, lawyers, the police, and activists.

Brain-Stimulation Trials Get Personal to Lift Depression

2 months 2 weeks

(Nature) – Before playing a guitar, musicians tune the strings to particular frequencies to get the pitch they want. Starting this week, a team of neuroscientists in Australia will apply a similar tuning process to human brains as part of a study to recalibrate abnormal neural patterns to a healthy state. The group, at Monash University in Melbourne, is conducting one of the first trials to use electrodes on people’s scalps, both to monitor their brain activity and to provide customized electrical stimulation. By tuning groups of neurons to specific frequencies, the team will attempt to alleviate people’s depression and other mood disorders.

Monkey Study Suggests Zika Infection in Infancy Could Cause Brain Damage

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(STAT News) – A new study in primates raises the possibility that children infected with the Zika virus during infancy could be at risk of experiencing brain damage. Zika is known to destroy developing brain tissue when it infects a fetus in the womb. Scientists know less — next to nothing, essentially — about how the virus might affect the brain of an infant infected after birth. In the new study, scientists infected rhesus macaques with Zika virus at the age of about one month — which corresponds to about three months of age in a child. The macaques showed troubling brain and behavioral changes.

MIT Severs Ties to Company Promoting Fatal Brain Uploading

2 months 2 weeks

(MIT Technology Review) – The MIT Media Lab will sever ties with a brain-embalming company that promoted euthanasia to people hoping for digital immortality through “brain uploads.” The startup, called Nectome, had raised more than $200,000 in deposits from people hoping to have their brains stored in an end-of-life procedure similar to physician-assisted suicide. MIT’s connection to the company came into question after MIT Technology Review detailed Nectome’s promotion of its “100 percent fatal” technology.

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