News from Bioethics.com

A Pivotal Test of an Experimental Malaria Vaccine Set to Begin

2 days 12 hours

(STAT News) – Researchers are preparing to launch a pivotal test of an experimental malaria vaccine this month — one that global health leaders believe could eventually lead to big reductions in the number of cases and deaths worldwide. Despite those high hopes, there are also concerns that the theoretical benefits of the vaccine, made by GSK, might not translate into the real world.

Virus Identified as a Cause of Paralyzing Condition in Minnesota Children

2 days 12 hours

(Star Tribune) – A virus appears to be the cause behind a rash of polio-like illnesses that struck Minnesota last fall, causing paralyzing symptoms in several children, including one girl who lost all motor function and remains hospitalized. Researchers from Minnesota and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that they found Enterovirus-D68 in the spinal fluid of one of six children who suffered acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM.

The Girl in the Depression Helmet

2 days 12 hours

(The Atlantic) – Researchers at some academic institutions are taking the technology seriously. Yale has a Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Research Clinic, and the service is offered at Johns Hopkins. Numerous studies have suggested promising clinical uses, including one this week in the journal Neurology. But the mechanisms proposed are vague. TMS may be beneficial in treating addiction, according to a 2017 paper in Nature Neuroscience Reviews, by “influencing neural activity … throughout the brain.” According to the Mayo Clinic: “Though the biology of why TMS works isn’t completely understood, the stimulation appears to impact how the brain is working, which in turn seems to ease depression symptoms and improve mood.”

U.S. Researcher Says He’s Ready to Start Four Pregnancies with ‘Three-Parent’ Embryos

2 days 13 hours

(STAT News) – Researchers at Columbia University in New York have created embryos containing genetic material from three people and are ready to use them to start pregnancies. But they’re at a legal impasse. At a public forum at Harvard Law School on Wednesday, Dietrich Egli, assistant professor of developmental cell biology at Columbia, said his team has used a controversial technique called mitochondrial replacement therapy to make embryos for four female patients. The women are all carriers of genetic disorders that are passed down through maternal mitochondria, the energy-generating organelles inside cells.

Experimental Gene Therapy Frees “Bubble-Boy” Babies from a Life of Isolation

3 days 8 hours

(Scientific American) – An experimental gene therapy has restored functioning immune systems to seven young children with a severe disorder that would have sentenced them to a life of isolation to avoid potentially deadly infections. They are now with family at home, and an eighth child is slated to be released from hospital at the end of this week.

Stanford Clears Three Faculty Members of ‘CRISPR Babies’ Involvement

3 days 8 hours

(STAT News) – Stanford University cleared three faculty members of any misconduct in their interactions with the Chinese scientist who created “CRISPR babies” last year, the school announced on Tuesday evening. A review by a faculty member and an outside investigator concluded that they “were not participants in [He Jiankui’s] research regarding genome editing of human embryos for intended implantation and birth and that they had no research, financial or organizational ties to this research.”

As Calls Mount to Ban Embryo Editing with CRISPR, Families Hit by Inherited Diseases Say, Not So Fast

4 days 9 hours

(STAT News) – Watching all this have been people with a special interest in embryo editing: those who carry genetic mutations that can cause severe disease. They wonder whether experts who denounce embryo editing have any understanding of what millions of people with such inherited diseases — especially ones that have plagued their families for generations — suffer.

Part-Revived Pig Brains Raise Slew of Ethical Quandaries

4 days 9 hours

(Scientific American) – The remarkable study, published in this week’s Nature, offers the promise of an animal or even human whole-brain model in which many cellular functions are intact. At present, cells from animal and human brains can be sustained in culture for weeks, but only so much can be gleaned from isolated cells. Tissue slices can provide snapshots of local structural organization, yet they are woefully inadequate for questions about function and global connectivity, because much of the 3D structure is lost during tissue preparation. The work also raises a host of ethical issues.

First U.S. Patients Treated with CRISPR as Human Gene-Editing Trials Get Underway

4 days 9 hours

(NPR) – The powerful gene-editing technique called CRISPR has been in the news a lot. And not all the news has been good: A Chinese scientist stunned the world last year when he announced he had used CRISPR to create genetically modified babies. But scientists have long hoped CRISPR — a technology that allows scientists to make very precise modifications to DNA — could eventually help cure many diseases. And now scientists are taking tangible first steps to make that dream a reality.

Human Gene Editing Is Controversial. Shoukhrat Mitalipov Isn’t Deterred

4 days 9 hours

(Discover Magazine) – Off screen, the sperm vacuum makes a quick pit stop to grab an additional solution before appearing again, poised and ready. In a moment, the egg will be injected not only with sperm but with a dose of CRISPR-Cas9, a DNA editing system that allows scientists to cut out a gene segment and replace it with another. If all goes well, the CRISPR system will cause this single-celled human embryo to repair a disease-causing mutation in its DNA. This lab, at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland, is the only group in the U.S. to publish this kind of research in human embryos.

Promising Malaria Vaccine to Be Tested in First Large Field Trial

5 days 8 hours

(Nature) – A malaria vaccine that can provide up to 100% protection against the disease will be tested in a large clinical trial for the first time, to study its efficacy under real-world conditions. The trial will begin in early 2020 on Bioko, an island off the coast of Equatorial Guinea, and will involve 2,100 people aged 2–50 years. The trial is intended to provide the efficacy and safety data needed for regulatory approval, says malaria researcher Steve Hoffman, who is leading the study and is chief executive of Sanaria, the company in Rockville, Maryland, that developed the vaccine. Equatorial Guinea’s government and private energy companies are sponsoring the trial.

Sex-Selective Abortions May Have Stopped the Birth of 23 Million Girls

5 days 8 hours

(New Scientist) – A huge analysis of worldwide population data suggests sex-selective abortions have led to at least 23 million fewer girls being born. The majority of these “missing” girls are in China and India. Many societies value sons over daughters. As people around the world increasingly have fewer children, there has been a rise in families choosing to abort female fetuses in an effort to have at least one son. Normally, 103 to 107 boys are born for every 100 girls. But an analysis has found evidence of an unnatural excess of boys in 12 countries since the 1970s, when sex-selective abortions started becoming available.

Scientists Say They Just Created the World’s First 3D-Printed Heart

5 days 8 hours

(Quartz) – The new experimental organ is tiny—about the size of a rabbit’s heart, or half the size of your thumb, say. It doesn’t yet beat, which means it can’t pump blood, and that of course is an extremely important function. Nonetheless, this development is remarkable. The researchers made their organic ink for 3D printing using human fatty tissue. They separated the tissue’s cellular and non-cellular components, creating stem cells which they then directed to grow into either cardio or endothelial cells. The non-cellular components and “programmed” cells together formed the basis for a “hydrogel,” or “bio-ink,” used in the printing process.

Patient Advocates and Scientists Launch Push to Lift Ban on ‘Three-Parent IVF’

5 days 9 hours

(STAT News) – In the U.S., the procedure is effectively banned because of a congressional amendment passed in 2015 that’s been renewed every year since. But now, a group of scientists, patient advocates, and bioethicists want to see the prohibition lifted. The technique, they say, could help certain women who are carriers of serious genetic diseases have healthy, biologically related children. In the first of a series of meetings meant to draft policy recommendations to Congress, stakeholders will meet Wednesday at Harvard Law School to discuss how to move forward in the U.S.

Congo Ebola Outbreak Not a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, WHO Says

6 days 8 hours

(CNN) – The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern, the World Health Organization’s director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Friday. Robert Steffen, chairman of the WHO International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, said there is no added benefit in declaring an emergency at this time. “If it stays within a country, it is, by definition, not an issue of international concern,” he explained. However, he emphasized that this does not downplay the situation and said everything must still be done to stop this outbreak.

A Baby Was Born with DNA from 3 People. Here’s How That’s Possible

6 days 8 hours

(TIME) – Researchers at the Institute of Life in Athens, Greece announced that a healthy baby boy was born on Tuesday morning to a 32-year-old woman who had experienced several failed cycles of IVF. The six-pound boy, who the doctors say in a statement is healthy, was born using a technique called maternal spindle transfer.

For Anatomy Labs in Search of Cadavers, Assisted-Dying Law Brings Scheduled Arrivals, and Ethical Complications

6 days 8 hours

(The Globe and Mail) – In a paper published this month in the journal Anatomical Sciences Education, Dr. Wainman and a New Zealand colleague are now looking to fill that chasm in knowledge – one brought on by the fact that Canada’s nearly three-year-old federal assisted-dying law is something of a double-edged scalpel for anatomy programs. The law opens up an important new source of good-quality cadavers, but it also raises delicate questions about how anatomy programs should deal with grievously ill patients and families who contact them about body donation while they are exploring the option of a physician-assisted death.

Researchers Want to Link Your Genes and Income–Should They?

6 days 8 hours

(Wired) – The UK Biobank is the single largest public genetic repository in the world, with samples of the genetic blueprints of half a million Brits standing by for scientific study. But when David Hill, a statistical geneticist at the University of Edinburgh, went poring through that data, he wasn’t looking for a cure for cancer or deeper insights into the biology of aging. Nothing like that. He was trying to figure out why some people make more money than others.

Chinese Scientists Have Put Human Brain Genes in Monkeys–And Yes, They May Be Smarter

1 week 2 days

(MIT Technology Review) – According to their findings, the modified monkeys did better on a memory test involving colors and block pictures, and their brains also took longer to develop—as those of human children do. There wasn’t a difference in brain size. The experiments, described on March 27 in a Beijing journal, National Science Review, and first reported by Chinese media, remain far from pinpointing the secrets of the human mind or leading to an uprising of brainy primates.

‘Three-Person’ Baby Born in Greece

1 week 2 days

(BBC) – Fertility doctors in Greece and Spain say they have produced a baby from three people in order to overcome a woman’s infertility. The baby boy was born weighing 2.9kg (6lbs) on Tuesday. The mother and child are said to be in good health. The doctors say they are “making medical history” which could help infertile couples around the world. But some experts in the UK say the procedure raises ethical questions and should not have taken place.

South Korea Rules Anti-Abortion Law Unconstitutional

1 week 2 days

(New York Times) – South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled as unconstitutional a 66-year-old law that made abortion a crime punishable by up to two years in prison, calling for an amendment to the law. The court gave Parliament until the end of 2020 to revise the law. If legislators do not meet that deadline, the law will become null and void. It currently remains in force.

Three-Person Baby Born in Medical ‘Revolution’

1 week 3 days

(Medical Xpress) – A team of Greek and Spanish doctors announced Thursday the birth of a baby using DNA from three people after a controversial fertility treatment that has provoked intense ethical debate.
The team used an egg from the infertile mother, the father’s sperm and another woman’s egg to conceive the baby boy, transferring genetic material with chromosomes from the mother to the egg of a donor whose own genetic material had been removed in a process its creators hailed as a medical “revolution”.

Ebola in DRC ‘Spreading Faster’: Red Cross

1 week 3 days

(Medical Xpress) – The Red Cross on Thursday sounded the alarm Thursday over Ebola’s increasingly rapid spread in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the latest outbreak of the virus has killed more than 700 people. Eighteen new cases were confirmed on Tuesday alone, the highest single day figure in the eight-month outbreak, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said in a statement.

New York City Is Requiring Some Residents to Get Vaccinated Against Measles. Is That Legal–And Ethical?

1 week 3 days

(TIME) – New York City officials on Tuesday took the unusual and dramatic step of requiring some Brooklyn residents to get vaccinated against measles, as an outbreak there continues to worsen. The controversial policy was announced just days after a New York judge halted an order in nearby Rockland County, which had previously banned all unvaccinated children from visiting public places. Under New York City’s policy, people in four Brooklyn zip codes who resist vaccination could face fines of up to $1,000, but it’s not clear whether they could actually be compelled to get vaccinated if they continue to refuse. Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said those who refuse vaccination would be dealt with on a “case-by-case basis.”

Childhood HPV Vaccination ‘Profoundly’ Cuts Cervical Disease in Young Women

1 week 4 days

(Reuters) – Young women who received human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines as adolescents had significantly lower rates of a condition that’s a precursor to cervical cancer, in a nationwide study in Scotland. “The magnitude of the effect is greater than expected,” study author Dr. Tim Palmer from the University of Edinburgh told Reuters Health by email.

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