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Why Elon Musk’s Transhumanism Claims May Not Be That Far-Fetched

February 16, 2017

(Wired) – We must all become cyborgs if we are to survive the inevitable robot uprising. That’s the message from Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the entrepreneur who wants to send the human race to Mars. At the World Government Summit in Dubai, Musk argued that to avoid becoming redundant in the face of artificial intelligence we must merge with machines to enhance our own intellect.

Secrets of Life in a Spoonful of Blood

February 15, 2017

(Nature) – Until now, much of the work has relied on amniotic or placental samples obtained during routine invasive tests such as amniocentesis. But scientists are eyeing the next step: studies that are non-invasive for the fetus and are done on a teaspoonful of blood drawn from a pregnant woman’s arm. In this way, researchers could monitor fetuses as they develop and, down the line, develop non-invasive tests for a broad range of conditions, in both fetus and mother. Physicians are already moving towards treating fetuses in the womb on the basis of such diagnoses. “It’s an exciting time,” says Mark Kilby, a fetal-medicine specialist at the University of Birmingham, UK.

New Malaria Vaccine Effective in Clinical Trial

February 15, 2017

(Science Daily) – University of Tübingen researchers in collaboration with the biotech company Sanaria Inc. have demonstrated in a clinical trial that a new vaccine for malaria called Sanaria® PfSPZ-CVac has been up to 100 percent effective when assessed at 10 weeks after last dose of vaccine. For the trial, Pro-fessor Peter Kremsner and Dr. Benjamin Mordmüller of the Institute of Tropical Medicine and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) used malaria parasites provided by Sanaria. The vac-cine incorporated fully viable — not weakened or otherwise inactivated — malaria pathogens together with the medication to combat them. Their research results have been published in the latest edition of Nature.

A New Method Can Predict Autism in Babies as Young as 12 Months Old

February 15, 2017

(Quartz) – In most cases, autism can’t be diagnosed until children are two years old, but sometimes signs of the condition appear earlier. Usually, babies that have otherwise progressed normally will start showing subtle changes in behavior: difficulty focusing or speaking with others, or trouble pointing at objects. The trouble is, it’s hard to definitively say whether these patterns are reason for concern. Because doctors can’t confirm a diagnosis before a child is 24 months old, parents may be left feeling anxious without answers. However, new research (paywall) led by a team of scientists at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill suggests there may be a biomarker that would enable doctors to give parents a clear answer about their child’s condition (or lack thereof) and intervene with therapies early on if necessary.

Zika Persists in Semen, but Viral Shedding Stops in Most Cases in a Few Months

February 15, 2017

(STAT News) – A new study suggests at least half of men who have been infected with Zika will emit traces of the virus in their semen, but in most cases that viral shedding stops after about three months. The research, conducted in Puerto Rico, found that 56 percent of men who had been infected had traces of virus in their semen but about half of them stopped emitting those viral traces by about a month after they first became ill. And by three months after the onset of symptoms, only 5 percent still had virus in their semen.

Ethicists Advise Caution in Applying CRISPR Gene Editing to Humans

February 15, 2017

(The Washington Post) – The report did not recommend an absolute prohibition of gene editing on the human “germline” if such interventions can be proved safe. This would involve genetic changes to eggs, sperm or embryos that would persist in an adult and could be inherited by future generations. For some ethicists, that represents a slippery slope. At the conclusion of a gene-editing summit in Washington at the National Academy of Sciences in December 2015, scientists said that although some basic research could proceed, it would be irresponsible to use genetically modified germline cells for the purpose of establishing a pregnancy.

U.S. Representatives Vote against D.C. Assisted Suicide Law

February 15, 2017

(Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee voted on Monday to strike down a Washington, D.C. law that would allow physician-assisted suicide there. City leaders passed legislation in December that allows terminally ill patients to end their lives with a doctor’s help, but the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to overturn laws in the 68-square-mile (177-square-km) district.

United Can’t Duck Same-Sex Couple’s Suit Over IVF Treatment

February 15, 2017

(Bloomberg) – United Healthcare can’t escape a lawsuit alleging that it illegally refused to cover in vitro fertilization for a same-sex male couple who wanted to have a child by using a surrogate ( Uddoh v. United Healthcare , 2017 BL 41941, E.D.N.Y., No. 1:16-cv-01002, 2/10/17 ).Judge Brian M. Cogan of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed the discrimination lawsuit Feb. 10, which was filed by New York attorney Humphrey O. Uddoh and his partner, Plamen Koev. But the judge granted the couple leave to amend their lawsuit, which alleged that United discriminated against them when it reversed its preapproval of coverage after learning they were a same-sex couple.

Grassley Launches Inquiry into Orphan Drugs after KHN Investigation

February 15, 2017

(Kaiser Health News) – A six-month Kaiser Health News investigation published in January found that the orphan drug program intended to help desperate patients is being manipulated by drugmakers. While the companies are not breaking the law, they are using the 1983 Orphan Drug Act to secure lucrative incentives and gain monopoly control of rare disease markets where drugs often command astronomical price tags.

Patent Office Hands Win in CRISPR Battle to Broad Institute

February 15, 2017

(MIT Technology Review) – The huge patent fight over the powerful gene-editing technique CRISPR may have a winner—the Broad Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts. On Wednesday, a U.S. Patent Office court ruled in the ongoing dispute over control of patents on CRISPR. The battle was brought by the University of California, Berkeley when it challenged a dozen patents held by the Broad Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard and MIT.

A New Edition of Journal of Genetic Counseling Is Now Available

February 15, 2017

Journal of Genetic Counseling (vol. 26, no. 1, 2017) is available online by subscription only.

Articles include:

  • ““The Top Priority Is a Healthy Baby”: Narratives of Health, Disability, and Abortion in Online Pregnancy Forum Discussions in the US and China” by Grace Li, Subhashini Chandrasekharan, and Megan Allyse
  • “Risk for Patient Harm in Canadian Genetic Counseling Practice: It’s Time to Consider Regulation” by Andrea L. Shugar et al.
  • “Is there a Role for Genetic Counselors in Prenatal Paternity Testing? – An Assessment Based on Audit of 13 years of Clinical Experience in South Australia” by Kate E. Riley

 

New Articles for International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction Are Now Available

February 15, 2017

International Journal of Computer-Human Interaction (Latest Articles) is available online by subscription only.

Articles include:

  • “Consumer Health Informatics Interventions Must Support User Workflows, Be Easy-to-Use, and Improve Cognition: Applying the SEIPS 2.0 Model to Evaluate Patients’ and Clinicians’ Experiences with the CONDUIT-HID Intervention” by Vanessa I. Martine et al.
  • “Nurses’ Perceptions of A Novel Health Information Technology: A Qualitative Study in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit” by Onur Asan et al.
  • “Human Robot Engagement and Acceptability in Residential Aged Care” by Rajiv Khosla, Khanh Nguyen, and Mei-Tai Chu

 

A New Edition of Journal of Medical Ethics Is Now Available

February 15, 2017

Journal of Medical Ethics (vol. 43, no. 2, 2017) is available online by subscription only.

Articles include:

  • “How to Keep High-Risk Studies Ethical: Classifying Candidate Solutions” by Nir Eyal
  • “Why High-Risk, Non-Expected-Utility-Maximisin Gambles Can Be Rational and Beneficial: The Case of HIV Cure Studies” by Lara Buchak
  • “Cure Research and Consent: The Mississippi Baby, Barney Clark, Baby Fae and Martin Delaney” by George J Annas
  • “Informed Consent to HIV Cure Research” by Danielle Bromwich and Joseph R Millum
  • Must Research Benefit Human Subjects if It Is to Be Permissible?” by Daniel Wikler
  • “The Social Value of Candidate HIV Cures: Actualism Versus Possibilism” by Regina Brown and Nicholas Greig Evans
  • “Contractualist Reasoning, HIV Cure Clinical Trials, and the Moral (Ir)Relevance of the Risk/Benefit Ratio” by Rahul Kumar
  • “The Morality of Risks in Research: Reflections on Kumar” by F M Kamm

 

A New Edition of The New England Journal of Medicine Is Now Available

February 15, 2017

The New England Journal of Medicine (vol. 376, no. 6, 2017) is available online by subscription only.

Articles include:

  • “Powerful Ideas for Global Access to Medicines” by S. Moon
  • “Social Risk Factors and Equity in Medicare Payment” by M.B. Buntin and J.Z. Ayanian
  • “Red-State Medicaid Expansions — Achilles’ Heel of ACA Repeal?” by B.D. Sommers and A.M. Epstein
  • “A View from the Front Line — Physicians’ Perspectives on ACA Repeal” by C.E. Pollack, K. Armstrong, and D. Grande

 

The American Journal of Bioethics (vol.

February 15, 2017

The American Journal of Bioethics (vol. 17, no. 2, 2017) is available online by subscription only.

Articles include:

  • “LVAD-DT: Culture of Rescue and Liminal Experience in the Treatment of Heart Failure” by Frances K. Barg et al.
  • “Irrational Exuberance: Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation as Fetish” by Philip M. Rosoff and Lawrence J. Schneiderman

 

Zika Timeline of Events

February 14, 2017

Even though the Zika virus did not make national headlines until November 2015 when Brazil declared a national emergency after reporting an abnormally high number of cases of babies born with microcephaly or Guillain-Barré syndrome, the virus was actually first identified in 1947 in a rhesus monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda. Zika is a mosquito-borne disease that shows mild-to-moderate symptoms in adult humans. Its symptoms are similar to dengue fever and chikungunya. The first human case of Zika was found in Uganda and The United Republic of Tanzania in 1952.

In the intervening sixty years, some cases of Zika were found throughout western Africa and Asia. However, these populations seemed to have a fairly good immunity to the disease. It was not until the virus hit the Pacific Islands in 2007 that it became an outbreak. In 2013, a Zika outbreak occurred in several more Pacific Island nations, and it was during this time that Zika was suspected of causing neurological and autoimmune problems.

By March 2015, Brazil reported an illness that expressed a skin rash, and by May, Brazil confirmed that Zika was in the country. In July, they found that certain neurological disorders correlated with Zika infection, but this was isolated to the state of Bahia. Then, in October, Brazil reported an inordinate number of cases of microcephaly among newborns, and declared a national emergency in November. Meanwhile, cases of Zika were increasingly reported throughout northern South America and Central America. By January 2016, researchers had drawn preliminary links to pregnant mothers infected by Zika and babies born with microcephaly.[1]

At bioethics.com we have kept up with the spread of Zika and the related bioethical questions that this disease brings. Because Zika is dangerous to unborn infants, some have questioned if it would be appropriate to loosen abortion laws in several Latin American countries so that mothers do not have to raise a neurologically disabled child, thus introducing questions of disability ethics, poverty, and human dignity, including the problem of potential misdiagnosis. Additionally, research for effective treatments and/or vaccination poses additional bioethical considerations. Any kind of medications or vaccines for Zika would need to be tested on pregnant women and infants, and some people have called for allowing research on fetal tissue left over from abortions.

Here are some of the headlines that we have documented on Bioethics.com:

December 23, 2015: “Brazil Declares Emergency after 2,400 Babies Are Born with Brain Damage, Possibly Due to Mosquito-Born[e] Virus”

(Washington Post) – Brazilian health authorities are sounding the alarm about a mosquito-borne virus that they believe may be the cause of thousands of infants being born with damaged brains. The pathogen, known as Zika and first discovered in forest monkeys in Africa over 70 years ago, is the new West Nile — a virus that causes mild symptoms in most but can lead to serious neurological complications or even death in others.

“Rio Fears Zika Virus Will Scare Visitors Away from 2016 Olympic Games” by Donna Bowater, National Post (Originally published in the Telegraph), January 25, 2016

Olympic organizers are stepping up their efforts to battle the spread of Zika virus to try to contain the mosquito-borne outbreak ahead of the Rio 2016 Games. Rio’s City Hall announced Sunday night that it would mount extra inspections around venues in the month before the opening ceremony as Brazil sees a rising number of birth defects associated with the virus. (tinyurl.com/jxldzr5)

“Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Join the Fight to Stop Zika Virus” by Greg Allen, NPR, January 26, 2016

The company breeds and releases into the wild male mosquitoes that don’t produce viable offspring. When females mate with the GMO males, they lay eggs that hatch but the larvae die before adulthood. Oxitec says trials conducted in Brazil and other countries over the past decade show releasing bioengineered male mosquitoes can reduce the wild Aedes aegypti population by 90 percent. (tinyurl.com/j8lzj5r)

“Brazil’s Surge in Small-Headed Babies Questioned by Report” by Declan Butler, Nature, January 28, 2016

Researchers at the body responsible for monitoring birth defects in Latin America are questioning the size of an apparent surge in the number of Brazilian children born with ‘microcephaly’—abnormally small heads and brains. Alarm is growing about a reported rise in suspected cases of the rare condition, which has been tentatively linked to the rapid spread of the Zika virus through the Americas. But Jorge Lopez-Camelo and Ieda Maria Orioli, from the Latin American Collaborative Study of Congenital Malformations (ECLAMC), say that the surge might largely be attributed to the intense search for cases of the birth defect, and misdiagnoses, because of heightened awareness in the wake of the possible link with Zika. (tinyurl.com/zxc897h)

“From Rubella to Zika: Pregnancy, Disability, Abortion and the Spectre of an Epidemic” by Salim Al-Gailani, The Guardian, January 29, 2016

As historian Ilana Löwy has recently written, a crucial factor unites those Rubella experiences with the experiences of women in contemporary Brazil faced with Zika—access to abortion. Through the 1950s and most of the ’60s, abortion was illegal in Britain, as it is in much of Latin America today. An expectant mother who had contracted Rubella was confronted with the emotional toil of imagining a future for, and the potential suffering of, a seriously disabled child, and what this might mean for her family. (tinyurl.com/jt2hn7k)

“Zika-Linked Birth Defects a Global Health Emergency WHO Says” by Robert Lowes, Medscape, February 1, 2016

The World Health Organization (WHO) today declared outbreaks of microcephaly and other neurologic abnormalities that may be linked to the Zika virus a ‘public health emergency of international concern,’ the same designation given to the Ebola outbreak 2 years ago. The virus, spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is strongly suspected of causing microcephaly in thousands of newborns in Brazil. Public health authorities also are investigating whether the virus has triggered cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome. (tinyurl.com/z5qvyln)

“Zika Prompts Urgent Debate about Abortion in Latin America” by Dom Phillips, Nick Miroff, and Julia Symmes Cobb, The Washington Post, February 8, 2016

Across Latin America, calls to loosen some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world in the face of the Zika virus outbreak are gaining momentum but encountering strong and entrenched opposition. In El Salvador, where abortions are banned under any circumstance, the health minister has argued for a revision of the law because of the dangers the virus poses to fetal development. (tinyurl.com/hhc98mz)

“A Plea for Open Science on Zika” by Gretchen Vogel, Science, February 10, 2016

Data from studies of Zika virus and its clinical effects should be shared as soon as possible, without scientists having to worry that they’re endangering a later publication, dozens of leading journals and research funding agencies said today in a statement. The 11 journal publishers that signed the declaration—including The New England Journal of Medicine, PLOS, Springer Nature, and Science journals, pledge that they will make all papers concerning Zika virus freely available to anyone, and that data or preprints that are made publicly available won’t preempt their journals from later publishing the work. (tinyurl.com/howcsh5)

“Pope Francis Says Contraception May Be ‘Lesser of Two Evils’ During Zika Virus Outbreak” by Gillian Mohney and Terry Moran, ABC News, February 18, 2016

With the mosquito-borne Zika virus continuing to spread through Central and South America, Pope Francis said today that contraception could be seen as “the lesser of two evils” if women are concerned about having children with the birth defect microcephaly. The Zika virus is usually mild, but has been associated with a rise of the alarming birth defect, characterized by an abnormally small head and brain, often leading to significant developmental delays. (tinyurl.com/gtafkrw)

“Growing Evidence of Zika Link with Microcephaly, WHO Says” by Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, February 19, 2016

The World Health Organization said on Friday there was an increasing accumulation of evidence of an association between the Zika virus and microcephaly, a neurological disorder in babies, but it could take 4–6 months to prove. The WHO said it was convening a meeting on March 7–9 on research into Zika diagnostics and vaccines “similar to what we did in the early days of Ebola”. It will also convene an advisory group on mosquito control in 3–4 weeks. (tinyurl.com/hwrf29y)

“Focus on Disability: ‘Zika Babies’ Need Support Now” by Hannah Kuper, SciDev Net, February 24, 2016

But what are the implications for the thousands of babies born with microcephaly? This is barely considered within the WHO response: disability is mentioned just twice. Microcephaly has many different causes, all with varying impacts. This means the implications for babies with what appears to be Zika-related microcephaly are not yet clear. But we do know that microcephaly can cause wide-ranging physical and mental disabilities, including learning difficulties, hearing problems and physical impairments. (tinyurl.com/j79hb68)

“Researchers Think Zika May Be Linked to More Fatal Birth Defects” by Katherine Ellen Foley and Akshat Rathi, Quartz, February 25, 2016

Researchers already suspect (although have not yet proven) that Zika is associated with microcephaly, a condition which results in babies being born with unusually small brains. The condition causes a range of cognitive and physical disabilities, and in rare cases it can prove fatal. Now, a case study of a Brazilian women who suffered a stillbirth, published today (Feb. 25) in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, has them concerned that the virus may additionally be associated with fatal birth defects. (tinyurl.com/j9sxkl6)

“Zika Virus Kills Developing Brain Cells” by Gretchen Vogel, Science, March 4, 2016

As fear of the Zika virus spreads nearly as quickly as the pathogen itself, two new laboratory studies offer the first solid evidence for how it could cause brain defects in babies: The virus appears to preferentially kill developing brain cells. The observation bolsters the growing case for a connection between the virus, which is spreading rapidly across Latin America, and an increase in the number of cases of microcephaly, a birth defect in which the brain fails to grow properly. (tinyurl.com/hpuu5x2)

“Brazil’s Mothers Left to Raise Microcephaly Babies Alone” by Stephen Eisenhammer, Reuters, March 11, 2016

Single parents are common in Brazil where some studies show as many as 1 in 3 children from poor families grow up without their biological father, but doctors on the frontline of the Zika outbreak say they are concerned about how many mothers of babies with microcephaly are being abandoned. With the health service already under strain, abortion prohibited, and the virus hitting the poorest hardest, an absent father is yet another burden on mothers already struggling to cope with raising a child that might never walk or talk. (tinyurl.com/jn9t28d)

“Test of Zika-Fighting Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Gets Tentative F.D.A. Approval” by Andrew Pollack, The New York Times, March 11, 2016

The federal government on Friday moved to clear the way for the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes into the wild for the first time in the United States, tentatively approving a field test that might help slow the spread of the Zika virus. The genetically engineered insects, which contain a gene that will kill their offspring, have already shown effectiveness in small tests in Brazil and other countries in suppressing the populations of the mosquitoes that transmit both Zika and dengue fever. (tinyurl.com/joxotx7)

“Zika Highlights Role of Controversial Fetal-Tissue Research” by Erika Check Hayden, Nature, March 30, 2016

A protein that helps Zika virus infect adult skin cells might also give the virus access to stem cells that make brain cells, suggests a study carried out on donated human fetal tissue. The result—published today in Cell Stem Cell—is part of a growing body of research that seeks to determine how Zika might cause birth defects, but that requires a type of tissue that is increasingly controversial for researchers in the United States. Recent advances in neuroscience and cell technology have given hints as to why some babies born to Zika-infected mothers have abnormally small heads—a condition called microcephaly—and other problems, such as eye damage. But to fully understand what is happening in the womb, some scientists say that they need to study tissue from fetuses, which can be donated by couples who terminate pregnancies. (tinyurl.com/gwgmqqt)

“WHO: Zika Causes Microcephaly and Guillian-Barré Syndrome” by Debra Goldschmidt, CNN, April 7, 2016

The World Health Organization says the mosquito-borne Zika virus causes microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome. “Based on a growing body of preliminary research, there is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome,” the World Health Organization said in its weekly Zika virus situation report Thursday. Previously, the agency said there was not yet enough scientific evidence to say the virus caused these conditions, although it was likely. (tinyurl.com/z47tswh)

“Zika Babies Reveal Our Society’s Deep, Dangerous Prejudice against Disabilities” by Martina Shabram, Quartz, April 14, 2016

Much of the media coverage of the Zika virus has focused on the disabilities and deformities associated with microcephaly, and on the difficulties faced by women who are pregnant with, or have given birth to, babies with the condition. These are all important subjects for discussion. But as a disability-rights scholar, what concerns me is that the language and imagery we use to discuss disability. Too often, the narrative surrounding microcephaly relies on familiar—and disturbing—assumptions about what kind of lives are worth living. (tinyurl.com/j66z39a)

“Zika Destroys Fetal Brain Cells, Lab Study Finds” by Dennis Thompson, UPI, May 6, 2016

The terrible birth defects caused by Zika virus appear to be the result of an immune system response that triggers prenatal brain cell suicide and obstructs fetal brain development, a new lab study reports. The virus apparently activates an immune receptor called TLR3, which the body uses to identify and defend against invading viruses, said lead researcher Tariq Rana. He is a professor of pediatrics and genetics at the University of California, San Diego. (tinyurl.com/hr6wv8e)

“CDC Monitoring Nearly 300 Pregnant Women with Zika in U.S. States, Territories” by Brady Dennis, The Washington Post, May 20, 2016

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that it is monitoring 279 pregnant women with likely Zika virus infections across U.S. states and territories. The largest number of cases by far are in Puerto Rico, where officials are keeping tabs on 122 pregnant women. But they also are tracking 157 other pregnant women across the country. (tinyurl.com/gp5ftjq)

“150 Experts Say Olympics Must Be Moved or Postponed Because of Zika” by Lena H. Sun, The Washington Post, May 27, 2016

More than 100 prominent physicians, bioethicists and scientists from around the world posted a letter Friday urging World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan to exert pressure on Olympic authorities to move the Olympics from Rio de Janeiro or delay the Games because of public health concerns over the Zika virus. Brazil, which is hosting the Olympics and the Paralympics, is at the epicenter of the rapidly evolving mosquito-borne epidemic. (tinyurl.com/gme9nsn)

“First Zika Vaccine Will Be Tested in Humans Sooner than Expected” by Ryan Cross, MIT Technology Review, June 21, 2016

The first clinical trial for a Zika virus vaccine just received a green light from the FDA. Inovio Pharmaceuticals and GeneOne Life Science announced on Monday that their vaccine, called GLS-5700, will undergo phase I clinical testing for safety in 40 healthy volunteers within a few weeks. Inovio’s effort has plenty of company—the National Institutes of Health, the French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, and the India-based Bharat Biotech all have Zika vaccines in the works. (tinyurl.com/gp38vd7)

“Zika Virus Transmission during the Olympics Is Low, CDC Says” by Gillian Mohney, ABC News, July 13, 2016

The risk of Zika virus transmission during the upcoming Olympic games in Rio will be low due to colder weather, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today. In a new risk-assessment report, the CDC found that since the games are occurring during winter in Brazil, the cooler, drier weather will reduce mosquito populations, thus lowering the chance of Zika transmission to visiting athletes and spectators. Additionally, the agency found that even though there will be increased travel to the area for the Olympics, the overall risk of the virus being transmitted to new areas due to Olympics-related travel is low. (tinyurl.com/gvq2t83)

“Brazil Asks Whether Zika Acts Alone to Cause Birth Defects” by Declan Butler, Nature, July 25, 2016

Government researchers in Brazil are set to explore the country’s peculiar distribution of Zika-linked microcephaly—babies born with abnormally small heads. Zika virus has spread throughout Brazil, but extremely high rates of microcephaly have been reported only in the country’s northeast. Although evidence suggests that Zika can cause microcephaly, the clustering pattern hints that other environmental, socio-economic or biological factors could be at play. (tinyurl.com/zsn8dz7)

“U.S. Launches Early Trial of Zika Vaccine” by Dennis Thompson, UPI, August 3, 2016

A potential vaccine for the Zika virus has entered early clinical trials to assess its safety in humans, U.S. health officials announced Wednesday. The DNA-based vaccine contains genetic pieces of the Zika virus. It is intended to promote an immune response that would protect against the mosquito-borne virus that can cause devastating birth defects, according to a statement from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). (tinyurl.com/zc2a6j4)

“Zika Virus May Cause Long-Term Memory Damage, Similar to Alzheimer’s Disease” by Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph, August 18, 2016

The Zika virus may cause long-term damage to the memory which mirrors the effects of Alzheimer’s disease a new study suggests. Scientists had thought that the virus only impacted the brains of developing foetuses and did not believe an infection posed serious problems for adults. But a new study suggests that Zika can also infect the brain cells of adults, causing long term damage to memory. (tinyurl.com/hlma3ek)

“FDA Says All Blood Donations Should Be Tested for Zika” by Alexandra Sifferlin, TIME, August 26, 2016

Health authorities are recommending that all donated blood for the United States and its territories be tested for the Zika virus. Previously, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had recommended that blood be tested for Zika in areas where there is active spread of the virus among mosquitoes. Now, all states are asked to test their donated blood for the virus, according to an announcement by the FDA Friday morning. (tinyurl.com/hs4gp85)

“Fast Moving Zika Outbreak in Singapore Continues to Grow” by Faith Ungku and Aradhana Aravindan, Scientific American, September 2, 2016

Many of Singapore’s five million people are covering up and staying indoors to avoid mosquito bites as health experts warned that the outbreak of the Zika virus in the tropical city-state would be difficult to contain. One of the world’s leading financial hubs, Singapore is the only Asian country with active transmission of the mosquito-borne virus, which generally causes mild symptoms but can lead to serious birth defects in pregnant women. (tinyurl.com/jg38jw6)

“Thailand Confirms Two Cases of Zika-Linked Microcephaly” BBC, September 30, 2016

Thai health officials have confirmed two cases of microcephaly, a severe birth defect linked to the Zika virus. It is the first time in South East Asia that the disease has been linked to the condition, which causes abnormally small brains and heads. (tinyurl.com/hak4mlt)

“Zika Causes a Unique Syndrome of Devastating Birth Defects” by Lena H. Sun, The Washington Post, November 3, 2016

Now researchers have concluded that a Zika infection during pregnancy is linked to a distinct pattern of birth defects that they are officially calling congenital Zika syndrome. In a report released Thursday in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe five types of birth defects that are either unique to Zika or occur rarely with other infections during pregnancy. (tinyurl.com/jp6xx6f)

“WHO Ends Zika Public Health Emergency” by Debra Goldschmidt, CNN, November 18, 2016

The Zika virus outbreak and related clusters of microcephaly are no longer a public health emergency of international concern, the World Health Organization said Friday. This ends the declaration made by the organization in February due to the simultaneous spread of the virus and “extraordinary clusters” of microcephaly among babies born in areas where the virus was spreading. (tinyurl.com/hvxldqf)

“Zika Is Driving Up Demand for Abortion. Here’s Why It Shouldn’t.” by Christopher Landry, The Washington Post, November 22, 2016

Many women are understandably frightened at the prospect of having a child with significant disabilities, who may require ongoing—and costly—medical care. But there’s a problem with the level of alarm raised by various organizations’ Zika warnings to pregnant women. The latest data on the rate of microcephaly from Zika suggest that abortion demand driven by fear is greatly outpacing the actual risk of birth defects. (tinyurl.com/hoz862s)

“Zika Virus Can Keep Growing in Infant Brains Even after Birth: U.S. CDC” by Julie Steenhuysen and Lisa Shumaker, Reuters, December 13, 2016

U.S. researchers have found evidence of the Zika virus replicating in fetal brains for up to seven months after the mother became infected with the virus, and they showed the virus can persist even after birth, according to a study published on Tuesday. The findings confirm earlier observations from case studies suggesting that the mosquito-borne Zika virus can grow in fetal brains and women’s placentas. (tinyurl.com/gs8rezo)

“CDC Allocates $184 million for Zika Protection” by Robert Preidt, HealthDay News, December 22, 2016

Nearly $184 million has been earmarked to protect Americans against Zika virus infection, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday. The funding will go to states, territories, local governments and universities. It’s part of $350 million awarded to the CDC by Congress earlier in 2016 for Zika response and preparedness, the agency said. (tinyurl.com/hk2jeno)

[1] “The History of Zika Virus” World Health Organization, www.who.int/emergencies/zika-virus/history/en/ (accessed on 01/11/16).

U.S. Science Advisors Outline Path to Genetically Modified Babies

February 14, 2017

(Scientific American) – Scientists should be permitted to modify human embryos destined for implantation in the womb to eliminate devastating genetic diseases such as sickle-cell anaemia or cystic fibrosis — once gene-editing techniques advance sufficiently for use in people and proper restrictions are in place. That’s the conclusion of a February 14 report from the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. The 261-page document follows a 2015 National Academies summit that brought together scientists, ethicists, legal experts and patient groups from around the world. Meeting organizers wanted to survey concerns about human germline editing: genetic modifications to embryos, sperm or egg cells that can be passed on to offspring.

Doctors Finally Admit Drugs Can’t Fix Most Cases of Back Pain

February 14, 2017

(Vox) – America’s doctors have finally admitted it: Their pharmaceutical tools to treat one of patients’ most common ailments don’t work. Lower back pain is one of the most frequent reasons people visit the doctor. Yet doctors are finding drugs should actually often be the last line of treatment for it. A new guideline out Tuesday from the American College of Physicians suggests doctors recommend exercise and treatments like heat wraps, yoga, and mindfulness meditation to their patients before turning to medications like opioids or even over-the-counter painkillers. That marks a big departure from previous guidelines, Roger Chou, a professor at Oregon Health and Science University, told Vox.

No Red Line against CRISPR’ing Early Embryos, Experts Rule

February 14, 2017

(STAT News) – For more than a year, 22 of the world’s leading geneticists, bioethicists, physicians, and legal scholars have been wrestling with thorny questions posed by the revolutionary advances in scientists’ ability to edit the human genome. On Tuesday the experts, convened by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, released their report. One of the most noteworthy conclusions: The supposed agreement that it’s unethical to tinker with the genomes of human eggs, sperm, and early embryos — so-called “germline” editing? Not so much.

Opioids: Sierra Leone’s Newest Public Health Emergency

February 14, 2017

(Aljazeera) – What was until recently a little-known prescription-only medication for treating chronic pain has in the past two years been at the centre of a rapidly expanding addiction crisis in Sierra Leone – a country with virtually no avenues for drug rehabilitation and which remains haunted by an 11-year civil war during which there were high rates of drug abuse among combatants. Propelled by a black market network of importers and sold cheaply under the table by private pharmacies, the problem has become so bad that in August 2016, Sierra Leone’s overwhelmed pharmaceutical regulators declared tramadol abuse a public health emergency.

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