(Quartz) – Organ transplants in the United States reached a record high for the fourth consecutive year. In 2016, more than 33,600 organ transplants were performed in the US, according to preliminary data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). The total number of transplants increased nearly 9% from the year prior and a whopping 20% since 2012, when around 28,000 transplants were performed.
(The Atlantic) – There seemed to be a chasm of understanding in human discussions of pain. I wanted to find out how the medical profession apprehends pain—the language it uses for something that’s invisible to the naked eye, that can’t be measured except by asking for the sufferer’s subjective description, and that can be treated only by the use of opium derivatives that go back to the Middle Ages.
(Quartz) – With growing public awareness of transgender identity, the demand for medical care for trans individuals in the US is burgeoning. Yet, a majority of endocrinologists—doctors who treat hormone conditions—are not trained to provide hormone treatments to trans individuals. A new study found that four out of five endocrinologists have never received formal training on care for transgender individuals. The research, carried out by the Endocrine Society and the Mayo Clinic, was published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism on Jan. 10.
(Science) – Federal officials today released a plan to help U.S. agencies decide whether to fund controversial studies that make viruses more dangerous. The guidance may finally bring an end to a moratorium that has kept a handful of experiments funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on hold for more than 2 years. The policy from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) essentially follows recommendations from last May from an advisory committee that attempted to define the riskiest experiments and spell out when they should be funded.
(STAT News) – A Cleveland Clinic doctor who wrote a column laced with anti-vaccine rhetoric appeared to retract his commentary Sunday, but will face disciplinary action for publishing it without authorization, the health system said. Dr. Daniel Neides, whose column spouted a widely discredited theory that vaccines are linked to autism — and whose comments sparked an online uproar — issued a brief statement through a Cleveland Clinic spokeswoman.
(The Guardian) – There are 200 of these embryos to choose from, all made by in vitro fertilisation (IVF) from you and your partner’s eggs and sperm. So, over to you. Which will you choose? If there’s any kind of future for “designer babies”, it might look something like this. It’s a long way from the image conjured up when artificial conception, and perhaps even artificial gestation, were first mooted as a serious scientific possibility. Inspired by predictions about the future of reproductive technology by the biologists JBS Haldane and Julian Huxley in the 1920s, Huxley’s brother Aldous wrote a satirical novel about it.
(New York Times) – Opioid addiction is America’s 50-state epidemic. It courses along Interstate highways in the form of cheap smuggled heroin, and flows out of “pill mill” clinics where pain medicine is handed out like candy. It has ripped through New England towns, where people overdose in the aisles of dollar stores, and it has ravaged coal country, where addicts speed-dial the sole doctor in town licensed to prescribe a medication. Public health officials have called the current opioid epidemic the worst drug crisis in American history, killing more than 33,000 people in 2015. Overdose deaths were nearly equal to the number of deaths from car crashes. In 2015, for the first time, deaths from heroin alone surpassed gun homicides.
(Science) – During World War II, as part of its racial hygiene program, the Nazi regime systematically killed at least 200,000 people it classified as mentally ill or disabled, historians say. Stories like Hans-Joachim’s have largely been lost to history. Now, a new initiative is seeking to reconstruct the biographies of victims used in brain research. Starting this month,the Max Planck Society (MPG), Germany’s top basic research organization, will open its doors to four independent researchers who will scour its archives and tissue sample collections for material related to the euthanasia program.
(The Guardian) – Implanting two embryos during IVF can cut the chance of becoming pregnant by more than a quarter if one of the embryos is in a poorer state of health, new research suggests. A study of almost 1,500 embryos that were implanted in women of all ages found that putting back a healthier embryo with one of poorer quality dramatically cut the chance of a successful pregnancy compared to just transferring one embryo.
(STAT News) – Pharma companies are afraid to test drugs on babies because they’re so vulnerable, and because the risk of liability is so high. Parents and doctors say they’re wary of enlisting newborns as “guinea pigs” in clinical trials. The result: An estimated 90 percent of medications administered to newborns are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in children so young. That means neonates — premature and full-term infants less than 28 days old — are routinely treated with drugs that are not adequately tested for safety, dosing, or effectiveness.
(The Sydney Morning Herald) – A “human trafficking syndicate” has been hiring Filipino women to travel to Cambodia to carry surrogacy babies for foreigners, including Australians, Philippine authorities say. Four women were detained at Manila’s international airport on New Year’s Day while about to depart for Phnom Penh, indicating that surrogacy clinics are still operating in the city despite a crackdown on commercial surrogacy there.
(Australian Broadcasting Co.) – Syrian refugees desperate for money to get passage to Europe are selling their organs on the black market and the profits are lining the pockets of organised crime and terrorist networks, two experts say. Griffith University’s Dr Campbell Fraser said some Syrian refugees living in different parts of the Middle East were desperate to get to Europe, but had no money to pay their way.
(Science Daily) – Scientists have used pluripotent stem cells to generate human stomach tissues in a Petri dish that produce acid and digestive enzymes. They grew tissues from the stomach’s corpus/fundus region. The study comes two years after the same team generated the stomach’s hormone-producing region (the antrum). The discovery means investigators now can grow both parts of the human stomach to study disease.
(New Scientist) – A FAST test for genetic disorders means women could learn about the future health of their baby as early as 6 weeks into pregnancy. The test for single-gene disorders, which are collectively more common than Down’s syndrome, could become available within five years. This would enable prospective parents to choose whether to proceed with a pregnancy if conditions like muscular dystrophy or Huntington’s disease are detected.
(STAT News) – The only FDA-approved drug for morning sickness, taken by some 33 million women worldwide since the 1950s, has had a history of ups and downs. A new study adds further uncertainty about the drug. Diclegis, approved by the FDA in 2013, is the rebranded version of an earlier medication called Bendectin. That pill was widely prescribed for more than 50 years, but in the late 1970s, lawsuits began calling into doubt its safety, alleging that the drug caused birth defects.
(Kaiser Health News) – At 44 years old, Dave Adox was facing the end of his two year battle with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He needed a ventilator to breathe and couldn’t move any part of his body, except his eyes. Once he started to struggle with his eyes — his only way to communicate — Adox decided it was time to die. He wanted to donate his organs, to give other people a chance for a longer life. To do this, he’d need to be in a hospital when he went off the ventilator.
(JAMA) – Three years ago, a group of more than 100 researchers presented a spectacularly lackluster finding in Molecular Psychiatry: a study of more than 76?000 major depressive disorder (MDD) cases and controls from combined data sets—the largest ever genetic study of the condition—turned up zero genetic associations. “In most genetic studies in medicine, by the time people collected cohorts of up to about 10?000 cases and controls, there had been at least 1 genome-wide association,” said Roy H. Perlis, MD, director of the Center for Quantitative Health in the division of clinical research at Massachusetts General Hospital and a coauthor of the study. “Depression stood out really as one of the only exceptions to that, not just within psychiatry, but in medicine as a whole.”
(Quartz) – One Japanese insurance company, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, is reportedly replacing 34 human insurance claim workers with “IBM Watson Explorer,” starting by January 2017. The AI will scan hospital records and other documents to determine insurance payouts, according to a company press release, factoring injuries, patient medical histories, and procedures administered. Automation of these research and data gathering tasks will help the remaining human workers process the final payout faster, the release says.
(The Guardian) – Rising mortality rates, an increase in life-threatening infections and a shortage of staff and medical equipment are crippling Greece’s health system as the country’s dogged pursuit of austerity hammers the weakest in society. Data and anecdote, backed up by doctors and trade unions, suggest the EU’s most chaotic state is in the midst of a public health meltdown. “In the name of tough fiscal targets, people who might otherwise survive are dying,” said Michalis Giannakos who heads the Panhellenic Federation of Public Hospital Employees. “Our hospitals have become danger zones.”
(Vox) – Over-the-counter birth control is very likely to become a reality in the United States, Vox has learned. It will be several years, at least, before the Food and Drug Administration actually approves an oral contraceptive pill for use without a prescription — but the first steps of the process are underway. The best way to prevent unwanted pregnancy is to make it as easy as possible for women to access birth control. But in most states, women can only get hormonal contraception with a prescription from a doctor — which requires time and money for doctors’ visits that some women just don’t have.
(Smithsonian) – Now, a team of researchers from the U.S. and U.K. are aiming to change that. Inspired by the earmouse, doctors at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Regenerative Medicine have perfected a new technique to grow a fully formed human ear, using patients’ own stem cells. They begin with a 3D-printed polymer mold of an ear, which is then implanted with stem cells drawn from fat. As these stem cells differentiate into cartilage, the polymer scaffold degrades, leaving a full “ear” made of mature cartilage cells.
(STAT News) -The Sanfilippo story is a window into the fraught world of rare disease research. Drug companies increasingly see opportunity in the field, both to alleviate suffering and to reap huge profits. Regulators are under enormous pressure to approve new therapies even with scant evidence that they’re effective. And families seize on every risky trial as a last chance to save a beloved child.
(CNN) – Can drug use contribute to a person’s earlier-than-expected death, even if they stopped using long ago? Undoubtedly, yes. Although each drug causes unique physiological and neurological effects, all drugs overlap in one important way, said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief for psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, New Hyde Park in New York. All drugs cause changes in the brain, some in ways that may be long-lasting or even permanent.
(Reuters) – Drones delivering blood and medicine to rural areas of Tanzania could help to save the lives of many mothers and newborn babies in a country where one of the biggest causes of maternal deaths is blood loss during childbirth, the UK aid department said. The Department for International Development (DFID), which has given funding for the trial due to start early next year, said the drone deliveries could assist more than 50,000 births a year in the East African country.
(New Scientist) – In 2015, a little girl called Layla was treated with gene-edited immune cells that eliminated all signs of the leukaemia that was killing her. Layla’s treatment was a one-off, but by the end of 2017, the technique could have saved dozens of lives. Gene editing involves altering or disabling existing genes, which used to be extremely difficult. It took many years to develop the gene-editing tool that saved Layla (pictured), but thanks to a revolutionary method known as CRISPR, this can now be done in just weeks.