News from Bioethics.com

China’s CRISPR Push in Animals Promises Better Meat, Novel Therapies, and Pig Organs for People

2 months 2 weeks

(Science) – Ji, Niu, and colleagues were the first to harness CRISPR in monkeys, as they reported in 2014, and they remain leaders in the field. They’ve built on that success, exploiting CRISPR’s speed and precision to create monkey models of muscular dystrophy, autism, and cancer. In a tie with developmental biologist Yang Hui and co-workers at Shanghai’s Institute of Neuroscience (a branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, CAS), they were first to use CRISPR in monkeys to introduce, or knock in, a gene—a particularly difficult feat that the two teams reported in back-to-back papers in 2018 in Cell Research. The team also collaborated with He Jiankui, well before the Chinese biophysicist created the first CRISPR-edited human babies.

‘Mosaic’ HIV Vaccine to Be Tested in Thousands of People Across the World

2 months 2 weeks

(Nature) – An experimental HIV vaccine that targets more strains of the virus than any other developed so far will start a late-stage clinical trial later this year. The ‘mosaic’ vaccine, which incorporates genetic material from HIV strains from around the world, also seems to have the longest-lasting effects of any others tested in people. Small trials of the mosaic vaccine in people showed that it prompted an immune response, such as the production of antibodies, against HIV. But starting in September, scientists will test it in thousands of people to assess whether the vaccine provides any protection against HIV infection. The phase III trial will test the vaccine in transgender individuals and in men who have sex with men across the Americas and Europe.

DeepMind AI Predicts Acute Loss of Kidney Function Two Days in Advance Study Shows

2 months 2 weeks

(STAT News) – One of the biggest challenges hospitals face is predicting when frail patients will decline into a life-threatening spiral. Subtle changes in health status get lost in a sea of data that is too vast for humans to effectively monitor. In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers at DeepMind describe a possible solution: A machine learning system capable of crunching hundreds of thousands of data points in electronic health records to alert physicians to an impending crisis long before it happens.

With Mini-Placentas and Mini-Brains, Scientists Try to Unravel the Roots of Psychiatric Disorders

2 months 2 weeks

(STAT News) – Biologist Jennifer Erwin of the Lieber Institute for Brain Development, however, has no intention of babying her organoids: the world’s first human placentas in a dish that were made from stem cells. Challenging as the half-millimeter-across organoids were to create, she intends to starve them of oxygen and douse them with stress hormones, among other assaults. It’s all for a good cause: to mimic pregnancy complications that raise the risk of brain development going off the rails, resulting in conditions including schizophrenia, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and intellectual disability.

The World Health Organization Says No More Gene-Edited Babies

2 months 3 weeks

(Wired) – The world’s largest public health authority has weighed in with the most authoritative statement yet on the use of Crispr to alter the DNA of human babies. Eight months after a rogue Chinese scientist revealed he had secretly created the world’s first gene-edited children, the World Health Organization is asking countries to put a stop to any experiments that would lead to the births of more gene-edited humans. On Friday, the WHO’s Director-General put out a statement urging “that regulatory authorities in all countries should not allow any further work in this area until its implications have been properly considered.”  While stopping short of the all-out moratorium that many scientists called for in the hours and days after Chinese scientist He Jiankui revealed his controversial work in November, the WHO’s position is a strong rebuke of He’s work. But whether it will prove a powerful deterrent to any who would hope to follow in his footsteps remains to be seen.

Congo Officials Say Second Ebola Case Confirmed in City of Goma

2 months 3 weeks

(STAT News) – Officials in Congo on Tuesday said a second Ebola case had been confirmed in Goma, the city of more than 2 million people whose first confirmed case in this yearlong outbreak was reported earlier this month. There appeared to be no link between his case and the previous one in Goma, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, a local Ebola response coordinator, told reporters. He arrived on July 13 from a mining area in northeastern Congo’s Ituri province and started showing symptoms on July 22. He is now isolated at an Ebola treatment center. Goma is on Congo’s heavily traveled border with Rwanda and has an international airport. 

Artificial Intelligence Could Improve Health Care for All–Unless It Doesn’t

2 months 3 weeks

(Undark) – There is no shortage of optimism about AI in the medical community. But many also caution the hype surrounding AI has yet to be realized in real clinical settings. There are also different visions for how AI services could make the biggest impact. And it’s still unclear whether AI will improve the lives of patients or just the bottom line for Silicon Valley companies, health care organizations, and insurers.

Medical Journal Editors Expect Authors to Disclose Conflicts of Interest–But Don’t Disclose Their Own

2 months 3 weeks

(Science) – Virtually all top medical journals require authors to disclose potential conflicts of interest, but few—just 12%—apply that same medicine to their own editors by publicly disclosing editors’ financial ties to industry, a study has found. Authors of the study, published 23 July in BMJ Open, called that “paradoxical” given that other analyses have shown that about 50% of editors at such journals in the United States have received payments from industry. 

Isolated and Struggling, Many Seniors Are Turning to Suicide

2 months 3 weeks

(NPR) – Across the country, suicide rates have been on the rise, and that rise has struck the nation’s seniors particularly hard. Of the more than 47,000 suicides that took place in 2017, those 65 and up accounted for more than 8,500 of them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Men who are 65 and older face the highest risk of suicide, while adults 85 and older, regardless of gender, are the second most likely age group to die from suicide. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 47.8 million people over the age of 65 in the U.S. as of 2015. By 2060, that number is projected to reach 98.2 million.

In a 1st, Doctors in U.S. Use CRISPR Tool to Treat Patient with Genetic Disorder

2 months 3 weeks

(NPR) – For the first time, doctors in the U.S. have used the powerful gene-editing technique CRISPR to try to treat a patient with a genetic disorder. “It is just amazing how far things have come,” says Victoria Gray, 34, of Forest, Miss. “It is wonderful,” she told NPR in an exclusive interview after undergoing the landmark treatment for sickle cell disease. Gray is the first patient ever to be publicly identified as being involved in a study testing the use of CRISPR for a genetic disease.

Genetic Counselors of Color Tackle Racial, Ethnic Disparities in Health Care

2 months 3 weeks

(NPR) – Genetic counselors work with patients to decide when genetic testing is appropriate, interpret any test results and counsel patients on the ways hereditary diseases might impact them or their families. According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of genetic counselors is expected to grow by 29% between 2016 and 2026, compared with 7% average growth rate for all occupations. However, despite the field’s rapid growth, the number of African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans working as genetic counselors has remained low.

Japan Approves First Human-Animal Embryo Experiments

2 months 3 weeks

(Nature) – A Japanese stem-cell scientist is the first to receive government support to create animal embryos that contain human cells and transplant them into surrogate animals since a ban on the practice was overturned earlier this year. Hiromitsu Nakauchi, who leads teams at the University of Tokyo and Stanford University in California, plans to grow human cells in mouse and rat embryos and then transplant those embryos into surrogate animals. Nakauchi’s ultimate goal is to produce animals with organs made of human cells that can, eventually, be transplanted into people.

Philippines Declares National Alert After 456 Die from Dengue Fever

2 months 3 weeks

(CNN) – Health authorities in the Philippines have declared a “national dengue alert” after a spike in cases of the viral disease which has left more than 450 people dead since January. Around 100,000 dengue cases were reported across the Philippines in the first six months of 2019, an increase of 85% on the same period last year.  Epidemics have been declared in four regions of the country — Mimaropa, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, and Northern Mindanao — which between them are home to more than 20 million people, or roughly 20% of the Philippines population.

Experts Question Rationale for Stem Cell Trial for Autism

2 months 3 weeks

(Spectrum) – The results echo those of a 2017 study at Duke University that reported that infusions of stem cells taken from stored umbilical cord blood are safe. “When there’s more than one group reporting similar results, it tends to look more like a validation,” says Arnold Kriegstein, professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco. But he cautions that the findings are about safety only, and neither study tested the treatment against a placebo. There is also no convincing explanation for how the stem cells might treat autism, he says.Other experts question the ethics of making families pay to participate in such trials.

Concerns Over NHS Gender Identity Service Investigated

2 months 3 weeks

(Medscape) – The UK’s Health Research Authority (HRA) is investigating concerns raised by the BBC’s Newsnight programme about the NHS Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) and early access to puberty blockers. The decision to prescribe the hormone blocking drugs is partly based on the results of a study, the design of which is now in question. Michael Biggs, associate professor of sociology at Oxford University, told the BBC he didn’t see how children and parents could have given informed consent for the drugs based on the “lack of information” provided.

First CRISPR Study Inside the Body to Start in U.S.

2 months 3 weeks

(STAT News) – Patients are about to be enrolled in the first study to test a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR inside the body to try to cure an inherited form of blindness. People with the disease have normal eyes but lack a gene that converts light into signals to the brain that enable sight. The experimental treatment aims to supply kids and adults with a healthy version of the gene they lack, using a tool that cuts or “edits” DNA in a specific spot. It’s intended as a onetime treatment that permanently alters the person’s native DNA.

Report: U.S. Opioid Prescribing Rates Higher Than Other Countries

2 months 3 weeks

(UPI) – Opioid prescription rates for American doctors may be higher than physicians in other countries, new findings show. About 79 percent of patients who felt pain during hospital visits in the United States received opioid prescriptions, according to research published Wednesday in Journal of Hospital Medicine. That’s compared to 51 percent of patients in seven other countries.

How an AI Expert Took on His Toughest Project Ever: Writing Code to Save His Son’s Life

2 months 3 weeks

(STAT News) – On Memorial Day weekend, Buddy became mediKanren’s first medical emergency, a test of whether its AI could help Might and his son’s doctors unlock the answers to an illness that had brought Buddy to the brink. The series of events that followed showcases AI’s power to produce dramatic results in health care. It also shows that the nature of AI’s power is not to automate care, or to replace the judgement of doctors, but to give them crucial information — and a reason to change course — when it matters most.

Scientists Doing Basic Studies of Human Brain Win Longer Reprieve from Clinical Trials Reporting Rule

2 months 3 weeks

(Science) – U.S. scientists who challenged a new rule that would require them to register their basic studies of the human brain and behavior in a federal database of clinical trials have won another reprieve. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, says it now understands why some of that kind of research won’t easily fit the format of ClinicalTrials.gov, and the agency has delayed the reporting requirements for another 2 years.

Juul Targeted Schools, Camps and Youth Programs, House Panel Claims

2 months 3 weeks

(The New York Times) – Juul Labs “deployed a sophisticated program to enter schools and convey its messaging directly to teenage children,” recruited thousands of online influencers to market its vaping devices to youths and targeted children as young as 8 in summer camp, according to an investigation by a panel of House Democrats.

Science Under Fire: Ebola Researchers Fight to Test Drugs and Vaccines in a War Zone

2 months 3 weeks

(Nature) – The race to develop treatments for Ebola has accelerated since the largest epidemic in history devastated West Africa between 2014 and 2016. Scientists responding to the ongoing outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have enrolled more than 500 participants in an unprecedented study of experimental drugs, vaccinated nearly 170,000 people, and sequenced the genomes of more than 270 Ebola samples collected from the sick.

The Opioid Epidemic You Haven’t Heard About

2 months 3 weeks

(Mosaic) – Refugees in northern Nigeria reportedly use tramadol to deal with post-traumatic stress. In Gabon it has infiltrated schools under the name kobolo, leading to kids having seizures in class, while in Ghana the ‘tramadol dance’ is trending, basing its zombie-like moves on the way people behave when they’re high on the painkiller. Musicians from Sierra Leone, Togo and Nigeria have written songs about it. It is popular in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. Among the ranks of Boko Haram and Islamic State, tramadol tablets are taken by fighters, leading them to be dubbed ‘jihadist pills’. But because it’s only about one-tenth the strength of morphine, tramadol is deemed to have a low abuse potential. It’s therefore not internationally controlled – or ‘scheduled’ – by the United Nations. Instead, each country has to set up its own rules and regulations for tramadol production, import, export, distribution and use.

Fitbit and Other Wearables May Not Accurately Track Heart Rates in People of Color

2 months 3 weeks

(STAT News) – An estimated 40 million people in the United States have smartwatches or fitness trackers that can monitor their heartbeats. But some people of color may be at risk of getting inaccurate readings. Nearly all of the largest manufacturers of wearable heart rate trackers rely on technology that could be less reliable for consumers who have darker skin, according to researchers, engineers, and other experts who spoke with STAT. Fitbit uses the potentially problematic technology in every heart rate tracker it offers, and it’s also in many Garmin and Samsung devices. Other popular trackers, like the Apple Watch, use it, too — but simultaneously track heart rates with another method.

Oregon Removes Assisted Suicide Wait for Certain Patients

2 months 3 weeks

(ABC News) – Legislation allowing certain terminally ill patients to have quicker access to life-ending medications under the state’s first-in-the-nation assisted suicide law has been signed into law, Gov. Kate Brown’s office announced Wednesday. The law allows those with 15 days left to live to bypass a 15-day waiting period required under the Death with Dignity Act, something proponents say will reduce bureaucracy and bring relief to gravely ill people.

Study: Malaria Drugs Are Failing at an ‘Alarming’ Rate in Southeast Asia

2 months 4 weeks

(NPR) – Malaria drugs are failing at an “alarming” rate in Southeast Asia as drug-resistant strains of the malaria parasite emerge. That’s the conclusion of researchers in two new reports — one based on a randomized trial and the other on a genetic study — that have just been released in the medical journal The Lancet. And there’s concern that this drug resistance could spread around the globe. Global health officials get nervous when new strains of drug-resistant malaria turn up in Southeast Asia, because it’s a dreaded pattern that they’ve seen before. Resistance that has hatched in this region has doomed previous malaria medications since the middle of the 20th century.

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