News from Bioethics.com

Period Tracker Apps Used by Millions of Women Are Sharing Incredibly Sensitive Data with Facebook

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(Buzz Feed) – Period tracker apps are sending deeply personal information about women’s health and sexual practices to Facebook, new research has found. UK-based advocacy group Privacy International, sharing its findings exclusively with BuzzFeed News, discovered period-tracking apps including MIA Fem and Maya sent women’s use of contraception, the timings of their monthly periods, symptoms like swelling and cramps, and more, directly to Facebook. Women use such apps for a range of purposes, from tracking their period cycles to maximizing their chances of conceiving a child.

European Doctor Who Prescribes Abortion Pills to U.S. Women Online Sues FDA

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(NPR) – A European doctor who prescribes abortion pills to American women over the Internet is suing the Food and Drug Administration in an effort to continue providing the medications to patients in the United States. The lawsuit being filed Monday in federal court in Idaho names several federal officials, including U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

A Human Liver Can Be Cooled to -4 Degrees Celsius and Still Survive

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(The Atlantic) – On ice, a liver destined for transplant can last nine, maybe 12 hours. A lot must happen in this time: The liver must be flown to another hospital, a surgical team assembled, an operating room prepped, a recipient rushed into surgery, and the diseased liver carefully removed. Each hour on ice, the liver deteriorates; too many hours, and it will never function in a human body again. Ice can only do so much to slow biological time. For this reason—along with the sobering statistic that 20 people die every day waiting for a transplant—doctors and scientists have long sought ways to preserve organs. Biologists now report a new strategy tested on five human livers: supercooling the organ to 4 degrees Celsius below zero, or just under 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

US Couple Lose Child Custody Over Chemo Refusal

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(BBC) – A cancer-stricken four-year-old boy in Florida has been ordered to live with his grandmother after his parents prevented him from having chemotherapy. The custody ruling on Monday against parents Taylor Bland and Joshua McAdams came after their bid for alternative treatment garnered national attention. The boy was taken from his parents in April after they skipped chemotherapy and left the state.

Google, Mayo Clinic Strike Sweeping Partnership on Patient Data

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(STAT News) – Mayo Clinic, one of medicine’s most prestigious brands, announced Tuesday that it has struck a sweeping partnership with Google to store patient data in the cloud and build products using artificial intelligence and other technologies to improve care. The 10-year partnership is a testament to Google’s expanding role in the U.S. health care system and gives Mayo greater access to the engineering talent and computing resources it needs to embed its expertise in algorithms and commercial devices.

How an AI Startup Designed a Drug Candidate in Just 46 Days

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(Singularity Hub) – Discovering a new drug can take decades, billions of dollars, and untold man hours from some of the smartest people on the planet. Now a startup says it’s taken a significant step towards speeding the process up using AI. The typical drug discovery process involves carrying out physical tests on enormous libraries of molecules, and even with the help of robotics it’s an arduous process. The idea of sidestepping this by using computers to virtually screen for promising candidates has been around for decades. But progress has been underwhelming, and it’s still not a major part of commercial pipelines.

New Google Policy Bars Ads for Unproven Stem Cell Therapies

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(The Washington Post) – Responding to ubiquitous online marketing by stem cell clinics selling unapproved treatments for everything from achy joints to Alzheimer’s, Google announced Friday it will no longer accept ads for “unproven or experimental medical techniques,” including most stem cell therapy, cellular therapy and gene therapy. The Internet giant said it was taking the step after seeing “a rise in bad actors” trying to take advantage of patients by offering “untested, deceptive treatments.”

The Role of Nurses When Patients Decide to End Their Lives

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(New York Times) – Some have policies that forbid nurses even to discuss end of life options. Others hold a “neutral” stance on aid in dying, but bar doctors or nurses from being in the room while a patient self-ingests the medication and begins the dying process. n June, the American Nurses Association passed a position statement providing guidance on the nurse’s role in medical aid in dying, said Liz Stokes, the director of the American Nurses Association Center for Ethics and Human Rights.

First Hint That Body’s ‘Biological Age’ Can Be Reversed

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(Nature) – A small clinical study in California has suggested for the first time that it might be possible to reverse the body’s epigenetic clock, which measures a person’s biological age. For one year, nine healthy volunteers took a cocktail of three common drugs — growth hormone and two diabetes medications — and on average shed 2.5 years of their biological ages, measured by analysing marks on a person’s genomes. The participants’ immune systems also showed signs of rejuvenation.

Indian Woman Gives Birth to Twins at Age of 73

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(CNN) – A 73-year-old woman in India has given birth to twin girls. Erramatti Mangayamma, a farmer from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, is believed to be the oldest person ever to give birth. She became pregnant through IVF and doctors delivered the babies via caesarian section Thursday. “The surgery went well … the mother and the babies are all healthy with no complications,” Dr. Sanakayyala Umashankar, the director of Ahalya IVF, who performed the C-section, told CNN.

Vaping’s Plausible Deniability Is Going Up in Smoke

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(The Atlantic) – That rationale has helped nicotine-vaping rates explode since 2015, especially among teens. The same technology has become popular among cannabis users both legal and non-. But the question of vaping’s relative danger has recently taken on a much more desperate tone. While vaping is still so new that broad, long-term data on inhaling the often mysterious chemicals found in both nicotine and cannabis “vape juice” won’t be available for years, Americans are beginning to see the effects that heavy or extended use of the vaping market’s vast array of products might have.

In an Emergency, Where Ambulances Take Patients Differs by Race, Study Finds

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(STAT News) – Ambulance crews are generally supposed to take seriously ill patients to the closest hospital that offers the necessary emergency services, such as stroke or trauma care. However, new research shows that patients are sometimes transported somewhere else, and that their race may have something to do with it. A national study published in JAMA Network Open on Friday found there were differences in the emergency departments where patients were taken by emergency medical services, based on their race or ethnicity.

Vitamin E Chemical Is ‘Key Focus’ in Vaping Illness Investigation, Health Officials Say

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(CNN) – An investigation into the link between vaping and severe lung illnesses has yielded the discovery of extremely high levels of the chemical vitamin E acetate in nearly all cannabis-containing vaping products that were analyzed, New York health officials said Thursday. At least one vape product containing this chemical has been linked to each person who fell ill and submitted a product for testing in the state.

The Brain, the Criminal and the Courts

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(Knowable Magazine) – Despite this explosion in neuroscience knowledge, and notwithstanding Hinckley’s successful defense, “neurolaw” hasn’t had a tremendous impact on the courts — yet. But it is coming. Attorneys working civil cases introduce brain imaging ever more routinely to argue that a client has or has not been injured. Criminal attorneys, too, sometimes argue that a brain condition mitigates a client’s responsibility. Lawyers and judges are participating in continuing education programs to learn about brain anatomy and what MRIs and EEGs and all those other brain tests actually show.

The Problem with MRIs for Low Back Pain

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(Undark) – It’s a symptom of a well-diagnosed problem: the overuse of medical services. Unnecessary imaging isn’t confined to just low back pain. Americans spend more than $100 billion on various types of diagnostic imaging each year, much of which is unnecessary and potentially even harmful. F. Todd Wetzel, past president of the North American Spine Society, identifies the problem as “the technological tail wagging the medical dog.” After MRI and computed tomography (CT) emerged in the 1970s, many physicians started routinely using scans to make a diagnosis for low back pain, rather than using them the way they’re intended to be used: to confirm or refute an uncertain diagnosis.

Czech Doctors Deliver Baby Girl 117 Days After Mother’s Brain-Death

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(Reuters) – When a helicopter rushed an unconscious Czech woman who had suffered a severe stroke to hospital in April, her chances of survival were slim – and those of the foetus she had carried in her womb for 15 weeks little better. And yet, on Aug. 15, against all odds, a healthy baby girl was born by caesarean section – weighing 2.13 kg (4.7 lb) and measuring 42 cm (16.5 inches) – to her brain-dead mother, setting a new record in the process, Brno’s University Hospital said on Monday.

Coming Soon to a Battlefield: Robots That Can Kill

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(The Atlantic) – Lethal, largely autonomous weaponry isn’t entirely new: A handful of such systems have been deployed for decades, though only in limited, defensive roles, such as shooting down missiles hurtling toward ships. But with the development of AI-infused systems, the military is now on the verge of fielding machines capable of going on the offensive, picking out targets and taking lethal action without direct human input. So far, U.S. military officials haven’t given machines full control, and they say there are no firm plans to do so.

The First and Last Resort

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(Managed Care Magazine) – What the man in Room 15 and many other patients with behavioral health problems endured is called—with a whiff of euphemism—psychiatric boarding. When no treatment is available, ED patients with behavioral health needs are often tucked away in back hallways, or, like Weiner’s patient, put in a secure room under a constant, vigilant eye. Sedation, even physical restraints, are used. Boarding behavioral health patients is neither unusual—or new. In October 2008, the Lewin Group and the HHS published a paper that said that 80% of ED medical directors reported boarding behavioral health patients.

French Bioethics Bill Will Lead to the ‘Mutilation’ of Intersex Children–Claim

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(RFI) – The proposed bioethics law deals with such issues as making Medically Assisted Reproduction available to lesbian couples, as well refining clauses on filiation and the anonymity of gamete donors. During the first day of deliberations, Laurène Chesnel, a member of the Inter-LGBT association, addressed a topic that is not even included in the legislation. She asked the government to “put an end to the mutilations performed on intersex infants”.

Four U.S. CRISPR Trials Editing Human DNA to Research New Treatments

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(Smithsonian) – Last fall, the birth of genetically edited twin girls in China—the world’s first “designer babies”—prompted an immediate outcry in the medical science community. The change to the twins’ genomes, performed using the gene editing technology CRISPR, was intended to make the girls more resistant to H.I.V. But the edited genes may result in adverse side effects, and the International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing is currently working on stricter and less ambiguous guidelines for editing the DNA of human embryos as a response to the rogue experiment. Human genetic engineering has also witnessed more regulated advances. In the past 12 months, four clinical trials launched in the United States to use CRISPR to treat and potentially cure patients of serious medical conditions.

When Apps Get Your Medical Data, Your Privacy May Go With It

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(New York Times) – Americans may soon be able to get their medical records through smartphone apps as easily as they order takeout food from Seamless or catch a ride from Lyft. But prominent medical organizations are warning that patient data-sharing with apps could facilitate invasions of privacy — and they are fighting the change.

A Tiny, 25-Year-Old Study Still Drives Opinion on Pregnancy and Pot

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(The Atlantic) – Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive molecule in cannabis, is small and fat-soluble, easily crossing the placenta into the fetal bloodstream. The blood circulates THC throughout the body, including the brain, where the molecule can interact with endocannabinoid receptors active in neurodevelopment. How that might affect a developing fetus isn’t easy to sort out, and medical groups acknowledge that the science has limitations and inconsistencies. Still, they say, there are enough studies—many more recent than Dreher’s—linking cannabis use to outcomes such as low birthweight among regular users and changes in brain development to recommend against using it during pregnancy.

The Science of Senolytics: How a New Pill Could Spell the End of Ageing

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(The Guardian) – It could happen, with the science of senolytics: an emerging – and highly anticipated – area of anti-ageing medicine. Many of the world’s top gerontologists have already demonstrated the possibilities in animals and are now beginning human clinical trials, with promising results. If the studies continue to be as successful as hoped, those who are currently middle-aged could become the first generation of oldies who are youthful for longer – with a little medical help.

IVF Changes Babies’ Genes But These Differences Disappear by Adulthood

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(The Conversation) – Around one in 25 Australian children are now conceived through use of assisted reproductive treatments such as IVF. These reproductive technologies appear to leave a biological “signature” on several genes that can be measured at birth. This may explain why assisted conception increases the chance of early delivery, low birth weight and congenital abnormalities – and the question has remained about why this might be so. But the good news, according to our research published today in the journal Nature Communications, is these “epigenetic” changes largely disappear by adulthood. In fact, people born via IVF are as healthy as their naturally conceived peers.

Woman Is First to Receive Cornea Made from ‘Reprogrammed’ Stem Cells

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(Nature) – A Japanese woman in her forties has become the first person in the world to have her cornea repaired using reprogrammed stem cells. At a press conference on 29 August, ophthalmologist Kohji Nishida from Osaka University, Japan, said the woman has a disease in which the stem cells that repair the cornea, a transparent layer that covers and protects the eye, are lost. The condition makes vision blurry and can lead to blindness. To treat the woman, Nishida says his team created sheets of corneal cells from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. These are made by reprogramming adult skin cells from a donor into an embryonic-like state from which they can transform into other cell types, such as corneal cells.

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