(MIT Technology Review) – A new treatment for macular degeneration is close to the next stage of human testing—a noteworthy event not just for the millions of patients it could help, but for its potential to become the first therapy based on embryonic stem cells. This year, the Boston-area company Advanced Cell Technology plans to move its stem-cell treatment for two forms of vision loss into advanced human trials. The company has already reported that the treatment is, although a full report of the results from the early, safety-focused testing has yet to be published. The planned trials will test whether it is effective.
(The Guardian) – A fundamental key to fertility has been uncovered by British scientists with the discovery of an elusive protein that allows eggs and sperm to join together. The molecule – named Juno after the Roman goddess of fertility – sits on the egg surface and binds with a male partner on a fertilising sperm cell. Japanese researchers identified the sperm protein in 2005, sparking a decade-long hunt for its “mate”.
(Associated Press) – A federal judge on Wednesday overturned a North Dakota law that bans abortions when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy and before many women know they’re pregnant. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland said the law is “invalid and unconstitutional” and that it “cannot withstand a constitutional challenge.” The state attorney general said he was looking at whether to appeal the decision by the Bismarck-based judge.
(JAMA, by subscription) – The World Health Organization (WHO) released a set of guidelines on how countries can provide better information on contraception and easier access to services in ways that ensure the respect and protection of women’s human rights. The WHO estimates that 222 million girls and women who do not want to get pregnant are not using any method of contraception. The girls and women who are most in need of modern contraception include adolescents, those living in poor or rural areas, individuals living with HIV, and internally displaced people. The need is of particular concern where women are at high risk of maternal mortality.
(Washington Post) – Americans agree: It’s immoral to have an affair. Drinking alcohol or using contraception, on the other hand? Nobody cares. That’s according to the results of a new Pew Research Center survey. Interestingly, infidelity was the only category on that list deemed morally unacceptable by a majority of Americans.
(Nanowerk News) – Nanotechnology researchers from Tarbiat Modarres University produced a new drug capable of detecting and removing cancer cells using turmeric (“Dendrosomal curcumin nanoformulation downregulates pluripotency genes via miR-145 activation in U87MG glioblastoma cells”). The compound is made of curcumin found in the extract of turmeric, and has desirable physical and chemical stability and prevents the proliferation of cancer cells.
(New Scientist) – Maître and his collaborators built the digital mirror to explore philosophical questions about how we relate to our body. But in the future, they say they could imagine doctors using a similar system to help people explore a particular part of their body or prepare for an upcoming operation. Other researchers have already started exploring how augmented reality can help medicine.
(The Guardian) – There are fewer hospital beds per person in Britain than most other European countries, with less than half the number of many, a report has found. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UK had three hospital beds per 1,000 people in 2011, with Ireland having the same number. This was far behind the majority of other countries on the continent, with Germany having 8.3 per 1,000 people, Austria 7.7, Hungary 7.2, Czech Republic 6.8 and Poland 6.6.
(New York Times) – A new study has found that PET scans may help answer these wrenching questions. It found that a significant number of people labeled vegetative had received an incorrect diagnosis and actually had some degree of consciousness and the potential to improve. Previous studies using electroencephalogram machines and M.R.I. scanners have also found signs of consciousness in supposedly vegetative patients.
(Washington Post) – Inside an otherwise ordinary office building in lower Manhattan, government-funded scientists have begun collecting and connecting together terabytes of patient medical records in what may be one of the most radical projects in health care ever attempted. The data — from every patient treated at one of New York’s major hospital centers over the past few years — include some of the most intimate details of a life. Vital signs. Diagnoses and conditions. Results of blood tests, X-rays, MRI scans. Surgeries. Insurance claims. And in some cases, links to genetic samples.
(New Scientist) – Taking all your heart drugs in one combined pill appears to work as well as taking them individually. This is the upshot of the largest systematic review so far of “polypills” designed to treat cardiovascular disease. Polypills can combine up to five different medications – including statins, aspirin and drugs that lower blood pressure – in a single tablet. Proponents of the combined pill hope it will reduce the number of deaths from cardiac problems by tackling multiple disease components at once and reducing the number of pills that people have to take.
(Wired) – In the new study, Mégevand and colleagues report what happened when they stimulated a brain region thought to be important for the perception of places — the so-called parahippocampal place area — in one particular patient. “At first we were really stunned. It was the first time in 70 patients that someone gave such a detailed, specific report,” said Mégevand, a post-doctoral research fellow at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York.
(The Telegraph) – People who had only used cannabis once or twice a week for a matter of months were found to have changes in the brain that govern emotion, motivation and addiction. Researchers from Harvard Medical School in America carried out detailed 3D scans on the brains of students who used cannabis casually and were not addicted and compared them with those who had never used it.
(Medical News Today) – The new method has been developed by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, within an international collaboration lead by Professor Paolo Macchiarini. The technique to grow human tissues and organs, so called tissue engineering, has been employed so far to produce urinary bladder, trachea and blood vessels, which have also been used clinically. However, despite several attempts, it has been proven difficult to grow tissue to replace a damaged oesophagus.
(Nature) – The lead author of two hotly debated stem-cell papers made a tearful plea for forgiveness last week after her employer found her guilty of misconduct. Haruko Obokata, a researcher at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Kobe, Japan, struggled to answer questions about errors in the papers, which described how simple stressors such as acid or pressure could reprogram mature cells into an embryonic-like state. But that did not stop her from insisting that the reports were not fraudulent and that the phenomenon described in them is real.
(JAMA) – While once widely rejected as a health care option, physician aid in dying is receiving increased recognition as a response to the suffering of patients at the end of life. With aid in dying, a physician writes a prescription for life-ending medication for an eligible patient. Following the recommendation of the American Public Health Association, the term aid in dying rather than “assisted suicide” is used to describe the practice. In this Viewpoint, we describe the changing legal climate for physician aid in dying occurring in several states.
(Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News) – For nearly a half-century, interrupted only by the Cultural Revolution, China promoted the growth of genetic testing to prevent and address birth defects through state-run hospitals, as well as charities and increasingly in recent years, private enterprises. Then in February, China reversed course. The China Food and Drug Administration posted a new regulation that immediately banned genetic testing—even previously approved services “including prenatal genetic testing, gene sequencing technology-related products, and cutting-edge products and technologies.”
(Bioethics.gov) – The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has posted its latest video, in which Commission Members discuss their report Anticipate and Communicate: Ethical Management of Incidental and Secondary Findings in the Clinical, Research, and Direct-to-Consumer Contexts. In the three minute piece, Members highlight the essential message of the report on the ethical management of incidental findings across contexts: the importance of practitioners—including clinicians, researchers, and direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies—having a plan to anticipate and manage incidental findings.
(Science Codex) – Nanotechnology has unlocked new pathways for targeted drug delivery, including the use of nanocarriers, or capsules, that can transport cargoes of small-molecule therapeutics to specific locations in the body. The catch? These carriers are tiny, and it matters just how tiny they are. Change the size from 10 nanometers to 100 nanometers, and the drugs can end up in the wrong cells or organs and thereby damage healthy tissues.
The Department of Bioethics & Humanities at Washington School of Medicine
27th Annual Summer Seminar in Health Care Ethics
August 4 – 8, 2014
See here for more information.