(Vox) – New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that rates of the five leading causes of death — heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke — are higher among rural Americans. In other words, mortality rates in rural areas for these preventable deaths, which were going down, are now plateauing and even increasing.
(Quartz) – The theory of psychosomatic illness is flawed. Many serious illnesses are initially tagged as psychosomatic because they are too complex for doctors to offer a singular explanation or because the patients have no physical symptoms. There may be a connection between the body and mind—the brain is, after all, an anatomical feature of the body—but this does not mean that physiological diseases can be manifested through mental factors. For example, a 2007 commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that while stress can be a factor in some diseases, “a causal relationship” could not be found.
(The Guardian) – A new lab procedure that could allow fertility clinics to make sperm and eggs from people’s skin may lead to “embryo farming” on a massive scale and drive parents to have only “ideal” future children, researchers warn. Legal and medical specialists in the US say that while the procedure – known as in vitro gametogenesis (IVG) – has only been demonstrated in mice so far, the field is progressing so fast that the dramatic impact it could have on society must be planned for now.
(The Guardian) – The European parliament has urged the drafting of a set of regulations to govern the use and creation of robots and artificial intelligence, including a form of “electronic personhood” to ensure rights and responsibilities for the most capable AI. In a 17-2 vote, with two abstentions, the parliament’s legal affairs committee passed the report, which outlines one possible framework for regulation.
(Medical Xpress) – Success rates advertised on the majority of IVF clinic websites are highly misleading, even if published in good faith, because they can cherry-pick their results, according to a new study. Jack Wilkinson, a medical statistician at The University of Manchester, argues an outright advertising ban should be considered if no binding standard of reporting is brought in. The National Institute for Health Research Doctoral Research Fellow said: “Our study shows that success rates are advertised on 67% of IVF clinic websites, and many of these may be highly misleading, because clinics can cherry-pick their results from a dizzying array of options.
(New York Post) – According to the Cerebral Palsy Outreach Network, twins and other multiples are about four times more likely than single birth children to be affected by the disease, a neurological disorder that impairs muscle coordination. Here, Rye, NY, mom Janet Farrell Leontiou, 59, a professor of communications and author of the book “What Do the Doctors Say?,” tells The Post’s JANE RIDLEY why she believes in vitro fertilization (IVF) played a part in creating her son’s disability.
(NPR) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered government agencies to expand access to contraception, especially for poor women. By 2018, he instructs, all poor households in the country should have “zero unmet need for modern family planning.” Duterte’s executive order, signed Monday and announced on Wednesday, is the latest development in a long battle over birth control in the majority-Catholic Philippines. It pits the president, who says family planning is critical for reducing poverty, against the country’s Supreme Court and Catholic leadership.
(Reuters) – Children born through assisted reproductive technologies have similar cognitive, motor and language development at age two as those born through natural conception, according to a new Canadian study. Researchers saw no differences in skills such as movement, memory, exploration, vocabulary, word combination, and sensory and motor development.
(Reuters) – Rieder, a bioethicist, told Reuters Health in a phone interview that he wants to start a conversation about how the dozen doctors treating him were unable to provide him with information about how to stop taking the addictive medications. The fact that no one on his medical team could help him was particularly stunning and infuriating given the national spotlight on the opioid epidemic, a crisis that has touched people in every state and in every demographic category in the U.S., Rieder said.
(The Economist) – Although aiding a suicide remains illegal, updated guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which decides when it is in the public interest to proceed with charges, has narrowed the circumstances in which a prosecution will go ahead. Its guidelines, issued in 2010 and updated in 2014, state that a prosecution is less likely to be in the public interest if, for example, “the victim had reached a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision” and the suspect’s actions “were of only minor encouragement or assistance”.
(STAT News) – It can almost certainly ease chronic pain and might help some people sleep, but it’s also likely to raise the risk of getting schizophrenia and might trigger heart attacks. Those are among the conclusions about marijuana reached by a federal advisory panel in a report released Thursday. The experts also called for a national effort to learn more about marijuana and its chemical cousins, including similarly acting compounds called cannabinoids.
(UPI) – The first case of locally acquired Zika virus in a pregnant woman in the United States did not result in devastating birth defects, doctors report. In a case study from the University of Miami, doctors provide new insight into the mosquito-borne virus, showing fetal exposure doesn’t necessarily mean infection. The report also alerts doctors to suspect Zika in patients who may have traveled to south Florida, not just to areas outside the country where the virus is more prevalent.
(Scientific American) – The researchers released their results in a new study published online Thursday in PLoS Biology, concluding that the devices—promoted to help people lose weight and stay fit—can also reveal personalized circadian rhythms, track changes in specific environments such as airplane cabins during flight and combine biosensor information with medical measurements to help detect when wearers are falling ill.
(STAT News) – In the Obama administration’s final days, the National Cancer Institute is establishing an ambitious new program designed to allow scientists to more quickly access new drugs and compounds for novel research. One of the last achievements of Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer moonshot initiative before he leaves office, the program was unveiled Wednesday and will begin as an agreement between the institute and six drug companies. The hope is that the arrangement, in which NCI will act as an intermediary between outside researchers and drug makers, will make it easier for scientists to pursue new combination therapies for cancer, which are widely seen as one of the most promising avenues for better cancer treatment.
(Undark Magazine) – In practice, this means that unless they are exposed to a robust curriculum of professional ethics at the college or university level, many engineers — licensed or not — will have only a perfunctory education in the importance of doing the right thing. “Engineers and computer scientists are in a position to have a disproportionate impact on society,” says Richard Burgess, an instructor at the National Institute for Engineering Ethics at Texas Tech University. “We could be doing a better job, and so could every other university as well.”
(Quartz) – Just as it seemed the Zika virus was under control around the world, Angolan health officials confirmed on Jan. 9 the country’s first two cases of the disease. Africa’s largest oil producer is already struggling to overcome a cholera outbreak that has infected 106 people and killed six. Last year, an outbreak of yellow fever, also a mosquito-borne virus, left at least 400 people dead, with the government only declaring an end to the epidemic in December. These outbreaks have exposed and exacerbated the weak state of the country’s poor public healthcare system, despite years of prosperity thanks to an oil boom.
(The Telegraph) – A talking robot which chats to elderly people, reminding them to take their medication and stay active, has been launched in London. Elli.Q, which is one of the most advanced social companion robots in the world, has been designed to convey emotion through different speech tones, lights and body language to be as engaging as possible. The little robot suggests activities such as reading, going for a walk, playing games to keep mentally active or phoning friends and family.
(The Atlantic) – Just as the human gut has a microbiome, so too does a hospital, the team posited. They’re among a growing group of researchers who believe that understanding hospitals’ microscopic ecological community could be key to preventing people from getting sicker in hospitals when they should be recovering. Our gut microbiome has been linked to effects ranging from Parkinson’s disease to the body’s immune response; some scientists believe a hospital’s microbiome could play a role in health, too.
(Nature) – Inside the golden-yellow spice turmeric lurks a chemical deceiver: curcumin, a molecule that is widely touted as having medicinal activity, but which also gives false signals in drug screening tests. For years, chemists have urged caution about curcumin and other compounds that can mislead naive drug hunters. Now, in an attempt to stem a continuing flow of muddled research, scientists have published the most comprehensive critical review yet of curcumin — concluding that there’s no evidence it has any specific therapeutic benefits, despite thousands of research papers and more than 120 clinical trials. The scientists hope that their report will prevent further wasted research and alert the unwary to the possibility that chemicals may often show up as ‘hits’ in drug screens, but be unlikely to yield a drug.
(Science Daily) – As consumers have been able to learn more about their genetic makeup in recent years through personal genomic testing, one big criticism has been that without someone to interpret it, the health information could be harmful to the receivers. Not so, according to a University of Michigan study that shows that less than 2 percent of customers regret receiving such information, and only about 1 percent say they are harmed by the results.