News from Bioethics.com

Is a Dubious ‘Brain Health Quiz’ Stoking Alzheimer’s Anxiety to Lure Patients?

2 months 4 weeks

(Undark Magazine) – The American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics prohibits advertising that is “misleading” or creates “unjustified medical expectations,” and it requires claims to be “factually supportable.” The Brain Health Quiz, as I discovered, is almost guaranteed to generate a 100 percent hit rate, even for people without any of the objective risk factors. It purports to be making individualized assessments through meaningful screening, but it ends up pushing consultations for nearly everyone. After all, why take the quiz if you aren’t already concerned?

Genetic Tweaks to Tuberculosis Could Speed Up Discovery of a New Vaccine

2 months 4 weeks

(STAT News) – The only existing tuberculosis vaccine — known as Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) — contains a weakened bacterium that is a different cousin of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. And while the vaccine is 60 to 80 percent effective in children, it works poorly in adults. Partly for that reason, while BCG is widely administered in many parts of the world, it’s not used in the United States. Multiple other vaccine candidates are currently moving through clinical trials, with some encouraging early results. A better vaccine could save lives on a stunning scale. Annually, tuberculosis kills more people than HIV or malaria, though the number of deaths has fallen over time.

Exclusive: Inside the Lab Where Scientists Are Editing DNA in Human Embryos

3 months 2 days

(NPR) – Human eggs are the key starting point for the groundbreaking experiments underway in this lab. It’s run by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a biologist who’s been on the cutting edge of embryonic genetic research for decades. Mitalipov and his international team electrified the world this summer when the group announced it had successfully — and seemingly safely — figured out how to efficiently edit the DNA in human embryos. For the first time, they said, they had corrected a mutation that causes a potentially fatal heart condition. The hope is this landmark step could someday help prevent thousands of genetic diseases that have plagued families for generations.

Accessing Drugs for Medical Aid-in-Dying

3 months 2 days

(The Scientist) – So why the rise? Just one month prior to Seconal’s price hike, California had proposed legislation that would make it the fifth state to allow medical-aid-in-dying, in which terminally ill patients given less than six months to live could choose to end their own lives with a physician’s prescription for a lethal quantity of a drug—Seconal being the drug of choice. Valeant denied ulterior motives for the decision. But some health-care practitioners called the move exploitative, whether or not the timing was deliberate. With Seconal’s climbing cost, the standard lethal-dose protocol—emptying 100 capsules into a beverage—has a price tag of $3,000 or more. “‘Shocked’ is one word you could use,” says David Grube, a family doctor in Oregon and national medical director of the nonprofit group Compassion and Choices, which advocates for better end-of-life medical care. “I had other feelings as well—all of them negative. . . . It’s pharmaceutical-company greed.”

Elderly Couple Got ‘Deepest Wish’–to Die Together–in Rare Euthanasia Case

3 months 2 days

(Washington Post) – Nic and Trees Elderhorst knew exactly how they wanted to die. They were both 91 years old and in declining health. Nic Elderhorst suffered a stroke in 2012 and more recently, his wife, Trees Elderhorst, was diagnosed with dementia, according to the Dutch newspaper, De Gelderlander. Neither wanted to live without the other, or leave this world alone. So the two, who lived in Didam, a town in the eastern part of the Netherlands, and had been together 65 years, shared a last word, and a kiss, then died last month hand-in-hand — in a double euthanasia allowed under Dutch law, according to De Gelderlander.

Chess Study Revives Debate over Cognitive-Enhancing Drugs

3 months 3 days

(JAMA) – While media attention has since waned, the underground use of CEs seemingly has not. A 2013 survey found that 19.9% of the 1105 German surgeons who responded admitted to having taken a prescription or illicit drug to enhance cognition at least once. Another study found that 61.8% of undergraduates at the University of Maryland had been offered prescription stimulants for nonmedical purposes, most of them by friends with prescriptions, and 31% had used them.

Oregon Governor Expands Abortion, Reproductive Coverage

3 months 3 days

(ABC News) – Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday signed into law a bill expanding coverage on abortions and other reproductive services to thousands of Oregonians, regardless of income, citizenship status or gender identity. Proponents called it America’s most progressive reproductive health policy. The Pro-Choice Coalition of Oregon said it is the first legislation in the United States to comprehensively address systemic barriers to accessing reproductive health care. Chris Pair, Brown’s press secretary, confirmed Brown signed the bill Tuesday.

At Last, a Big, Successful Trial of Probiotics

3 months 4 days

(The Atlantic) – Since 2008, Panigrahi’s team has been running a large clinical trial in rural India, where they gave a probiotic of their own devising to thousands of randomly selected newborn babies. Their product contained a strain of Lactobacillus plantarum, chosen for its ability to attach to gut cells. The team also added a sugar, chosen to nourish the microbe and give it a foothold when it enters a baby’s gut. Together, this combination is called a synbiotic. And it was strikingly effective.

White Nationalists Are Flocking to Genetic Ancestry Tests. Some Don’t Like What They Find

3 months 4 days

(STAT News) – But instead of rejecting members who get contrary results, Donovan said, the conversations are “overwhelmingly” focused on helping the person to rethink the validity of the genetic test. And some of those critiques — while emerging from deep-seated racism — are close to scientists’ own qualms about commercial genetic ancestry testing. Panofsky and Donovan presented their findings at a sociology conference in Montreal on Monday. The timing of the talk — some 48 hours after the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. — was coincidental. But the analysis provides a useful, if frightening, window into how these extremist groups think about their genes.

More Than 500,000 Infected with Cholera in Yemen

3 months 4 days

(New York Times) – More than 500,000 Yemenis have been infected with cholera this year, and nearly 2,000 have died, the World Health Organization said Monday. Cholera is endemic in Yemen, which is on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula and across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. But the disease, caused by a bacterium in contaminated water, has spread rapidly since April. Civil war and bombing by neighboring Saudi Arabia have crippled much of the country’s water-distribution system, destroyed hospitals and forced vast numbers of people to flee their homes.

China’s Embrace of Embryo Selection Raises Thorny Questions

3 months 4 days

(Nature) – Early experiments are beginning to show how genome-editing technologies such as CRISPR might one day fix disease-causing mutations before embryos are implanted. But refining the techniques and getting regulatory approval will take years. PGD has already helped thousands of couples. And whereas the expansion of PGD around the world has generally been slow, in China, it is starting to explode. The conditions there are ripe: genetic diseases carry heavy stigma, people with disabilities get very little support and religious and ethical push-back against PGD is almost non-existent. China has also lifted some restrictions on family size and seen a subsequent rise in fertility treatments among older couples.

A Cancer Conundrum: Too Many Drug Trials, Too Few Patients

3 months 5 days

(New York Times) – With the arrival of two revolutionary treatment strategies, immunotherapy and personalized medicine, cancer researchers have found new hope — and a problem that is perhaps unprecedented in medical research. There are too many experimental cancer drugs in too many clinical trials, and not enough patients to test them on. The logjam is caused partly by companies hoping to rush profitable new cancer drugs to market, and partly by the nature of these therapies, which can be spectacularly effective but only in select patients.

“What Kind of Society Do You Want to Live in?”: Inside the Country Where Down Syndrome Is Disappearing

3 months 5 days

(CBS News) – With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number of babies born with Down syndrome has significantly decreased, but few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland. Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women — close to 100 percent — who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.

Plants ‘Hijacked’ to Make Polio Vaccine

3 months 5 days

(BBC) – Plants have been “hijacked” to make polio vaccine in a breakthrough with the potential to transform vaccine manufacture, say scientists. The team at the John Innes Centre, in Norfolk, says the process is cheap, easy and quick. As well as helping eliminate polio, the scientists believe their approach could help the world react to unexpected threats such as Zika virus or Ebola. Experts said the achievement was both impressive and important. The vaccine is an “authentic mimic” of poliovirus called a virus-like particle.

The Ethics Issue Blocking Organ Transplant Research

3 months 5 days

(The Atlantic) – There’s nothing to do for the dead patient at this point. But his or her organs can be saved, and because most transplanted organs in the United States come from brain-dead donors, these minutes are crucial. For this reason, researchers have wanted to study the use of drugs or procedures in brain-dead donors, halting organ damage that happens in the minutes after death. But this kind of research is almost impossible to do in the United States. The ethics of so-called donor-intervention research are incredibly fraught. How do you get informed consent and from whom? The dead donor?

India Restores Hospital Oxygen Supply as Anger Mounts over Child Deaths

3 months 5 days

(Reuters) – Indian health authorities on Monday delivered oxygen to a public hospital where 63 people have died of encephalitis in recent days, nearly half of them children, as it ran out of medical supplies because of unpaid bills, triggering public outrage. The deaths of the children have again exposed India’s underfunded and poorly managed public healthcare despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s vows to revamp the system.

From Alaska to Florida, States Respond to Opioid Crisis with Emergency Declarations

3 months 6 days

(NPR) – Public health officials and others concerned about the nation’s opioid crisis are hailing President Trump’s decision to declare it a national emergency. A Presidential commission on opioids said in its interim report that an emergency declaration would allow the administration to take immediate action and send a message to Congress that more funding is needed. But while the Trump administration prepares the presidential order, governors in six states have already declared emergencies to deal with opioids. They range from Alaska and Arizona in the West to Florida, Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts in the East.

Babies with a Rare Form of Epilepsy Depend on This Drug. The Maker Stopped Selling It.

3 months 6 days

(Miami Herald) – The medicine has had a powerful effect. Seizures that once struck multiple times an hour now come once every five or six days. But the drug came with a deadline: At the end of June, GlaxoSmithKline, the British drug company that sells Potiga, pulled it off the market because of declining sales, forcing families to stockpile supplies or wean their children off a drug that dramatically improved their quality of life. The dilemma faced by parents whose children benefited from Potiga – and future families who potentially may never have access to the drug – highlights the limitations of drug companies’ business model.

Hospitals Slashed Use of Two Heart Drugs after Huge Price Hikes

3 months 6 days

(Kaiser Health News) – Even before media reports and a congressional hearing vilified Valeant Pharmaceuticals International for raising prices on a pair of lifesaving heart drugs, Dr. Umesh Khot knew something was very wrong. Khot is a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, which prides itself on outstanding heart care. The health system’s pharmacists had alerted doctors about the skyrocketing cost of the drugs, nitroprusside and isoproterenol. But these two older drugs, frequently used in emergency and intensive care situations, have no direct alternatives.

These Scientists Took over a Computer by Encoding Malware in DNA

3 months 1 week

(The Atlantic) – DNA is fundamentally a way of storing information. Usually, it encodes instructions for making living things—but it can be conscripted for other purposes. Scientists have used DNA to store books, recordings, GIFs, and even an Amazon gift card. And now, for the first time, researchers from the University of Washington have managed to take over a computer by encoding a malicious program in DNA.

People Back Editing Genes to Treat Disease, but Are Wary of Inheritable Changes

3 months 1 week

(NPR) – People generally think that editing human genes might be OK, but most think that there’s a clear line that shouldn’t be crossed when it comes to changing traits that would be passed down to new generations, according to a survey reported Thursday. It’s not an abstract question. Earlier this month, gene editing made headlines after scientists in Oregon reported they had successfully corrected a genetic defect in human embryos in the laboratory. Along with the potential to prevent some diseases, this technology also comes with complicated ethical questions, including what kind of gene edits would be acceptable and who could benefit or be harmed.

Gene Therapy Is Not Available but Who Will Pay for It?

3 months 1 week

(Scientific American) – The science of gene therapy is finally delivering on its potential, and drugmakers are now hoping to produce commercially viable medicines after tiny sales for the first two such treatments in Europe. Thanks to advances in delivering genes to targeted cells, more treatments based on fixing faulty DNA in patients are coming soon, including the first ones in the United States. Yet the lack of sales for the two drugs already launched to treat ultra-rare diseases in Europe highlights the hurdles ahead for drugmakers in marketing new, extremely expensive products for genetic diseases.

Birth of CRISPR’d Pigs Advances Hopes for Turning Swine into Organ Donors

3 months 1 week

(STAT News) – This newborn is a pig, and it’s the first to be born with dozens of genetic changes that could enable scientists to turn swine into a source of organs for human transplants, Yang and her colleagues reported on Thursday in Science. They named the piglet Laika, after the first dog to orbit Earth in 1957. The new Laika, born this year in China after numerous miscarriages and other setbacks, could be a pioneer in her own right. Using the genome-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9, Yang and her team at the biotech startup eGenesis knocked out pig DNA that has long been considered a deal-breaker for efforts to use pigs as organ donors. Laika and 36 other designer piglets are completely free of it.

Gene Editing Might Mean My Brother Would’ve Never Existed

3 months 1 week

(TIME) – The ableist conflation of disability with disease and suffering is age-old. Just peruse the history of medicine. Decades of eugenic practices. Sanctioned torture of people with intellectual disability. The mutilation of otherwise healthy bodies in the name of functional or aesthetic normality. These stories demonstrate over and over again how easily biomedical research and practice can mask atrocity with benevolence and injustice with progress. Which leads me to ask: What, precisely, are we editing for?

Stem Cell Therapy for Heart Failure Gets a Gold-Standard Trial

3 months 1 week

(Scientific American) – In the days after a heart attack, surviving patients and their loved ones can breathe a sigh of relief that the immediate danger is over—but the scar tissue that forms during the long healing process can inflict lasting damage. Too often it restricts the heart’s ability to fill properly between beats, disrupting rhythm and ultimately leading to heart failure. Yet a new possible treatment may help to revitalize an injured ticker. A cadre of scientists and companies is now trying to prevent or reverse cardiac damage by infusing a cocktail of stem cells into weakened hearts.

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