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WHO Says Ebola Outbreak Is Not an International Public Health Emergency

June 17, 2019

(NPR) – The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo “does not meet the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” the World Health Organization said Friday. The agency said that while the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo constitutes a health emergency for that country and the region, the risk of it spreading beyond that region is low.

Russian Geneticist Answers Challenges to His Plan to Make Gene-Edited Babies

June 17, 2019

(Science) – In a bold rejection of the widespread sentiment—and regulations in many countries—that no one should alter the genome of a human embryo and transfer it to a woman, Russian geneticist Denis Rebrikov last week went public with his plans to become the second researcher to cross this red line. “We can’t stop progress with words on paper,” Rebrikov told ScienceInsider yesterday, when asked about international efforts to ban such research.

New Evidence Points to Possible Causes of Puzzling Paralysis in Kids

June 14, 2019

(STAT News) – Researchers say they have strong new evidence that a virus is involved in a rare and puzzling polio-like condition that began affecting children in the U.S. about five years ago. The researchers hope their work will lead to a better test for the paralyzing condition, called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), which has been diagnosed in more than 500 kids since 2014. The scientists used an experimental method to pull evidence of viral infections from the spinal fluid of 42 AFM patients. This technique turned up antibodies specific to enteroviruses, a group of viruses that includes the poliovirus.

What Medicine Can Learn from Doctors and Researchers with Disabilities

June 14, 2019

(NPR) – “The exclusion of people with disabilities from the biomedical workforce undermines the goal of achieving true diversity and is a missed opportunity for science and medicine,” she wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine at the end of May. The life experiences of doctors and researchers with disabilities, she wrote, can help them treat patients and ask research questions that others miss. Swenor is pushing for medical institutions to collect more data on individuals with disabilities in their workforces, invite people with disabilities to speak at seminars, and place faculty members with disabilities in leadership roles so they can help shape conditions and policies.

China Announces Hefty Fines for Unauthorized Collection of DNA

June 14, 2019

(Nature) – China this week announced a new law restricting the collection and use of genetic resources from people in the country — including biological samples that yield DNA, such as blood, and data gleaned from sequencing them. There will be hefty fines for unauthorized collection or use of genetic material. The law, which goes into effect on 1 July, formalizes restrictions on such activities that have been in place since 1998.

A CRISPR Startup Is Testing Pig Organs in Monkeys to See if They’re Safe for Us

June 14, 2019

(MIT Technology Review) – A startup he cofounded, eGenesis, had made news for its ambitious plans to use CRISPR gene-editing technology to modify pigs so their organs could be safely transplanted into humans without being rejected. That could solve a critical shortage of human organs available for transplant. But no human test has yet been carried out. Instead, the company is currently testing organs from its pigs in monkeys at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The experiments are being led by the hospital’s chief of transplant surgery, James Markmann.

Amid Measles Outbreak, New York Ends Religious Exemptions for Vaccines

June 13, 2019

(CNN) – Amid an ongoing measles outbreak, New York is requiring schoolchildren to be vaccinated, even if parents have religious objections. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Thursday that removes nonmedical exemptions from school vaccination requirements. The law goes into effect immediately, his office said. The move, which comes despite opposition from anti-vaccination activists and religious freedom advocates, puts New York alongside other states that do not allow nonmedical exemptions: California, Mississippi, West Virginia and Maine.

Fecal Transplant Is Linked to a Patient’s Death, the F.D.A. Warns

June 13, 2019

(The New York Times) – Two patients contracted severe infections, and one of them died, from fecal transplants that contained drug-resistant bacteria, the Food and Drug Administration reported on Thursday.  As a result, the agency is halting a number of clinical trials until the researchers conducting them can demonstrate that they have procedures in place to screen donated stool for dangerous organisms, said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the agency’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. In an interview, he did not specify how many trials would be suspended, but said it was “not just a few.”

France Ends Ban on IVF for Lesbian Couples and Single Women

June 13, 2019

(The Guardian) – The French government intends to end discrimination over women’s reproductive rights by lifting a ban that prevents single women and lesbian couples accessing medically-assisted procreation, the prime minister indicated in his state of the nation address. Currently in France, only heterosexual couples who have been married or living together for more than two years can access procedures such as artificial insemination, IVF or sperm donation. In nearby countries such as the UK and Spain these procedures are open to all women.

Never Say ‘Die’: Why So Many Doctors Won’t Break Bad News

June 12, 2019

(Kaiser Health News) – The poor delivery of Naito’s diagnosis reflects common practice in a country where Back estimates that more than 200,000 doctors and other providers could benefit from communication training. Too often, doctors avoid such conversations entirely, or they speak to patients using medical jargon. They frequently fail to notice that patients aren’t following the conversation or that they’re too overwhelmed with emotion to absorb the information, Back noted in a recent article. “[Doctors] come in and say, ‘It’s cancer,’ they don’t sit down, they tell you from the doorway, and then they turn around and leave,” he said.

New Ebola Outbreak in DRC Is ‘Truly Frightening’, Says Wellcome Trust Director

June 12, 2019

(BBC) – The head of a major medical research charity has called the latest outbreak of Ebola in central Africa “truly frightening”. Nearly 1,400 people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dr Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, said the epidemic was the worst since that of 2013-16 and has showed “no sign of stopping”.

Maine Becomes 8th State to Legalize Assisted Suicide

June 12, 2019

(ABC News) – Maine legalized medically assisted suicide on Wednesday, becoming the eighth state to allow terminally ill people to end their lives with prescribed medication. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who had previously said she was unsure about the bill, signed it in her office. Oregon was the first state to legalize such assistance, in 1997, and it took over a decade for the next state, Washington, to follow suit. While still controversial, assisted suicide legislation is winning increasing acceptance in the United States, and this year at least 18 states considered such measures.

Russian Biologist Plans More CRISPR-Edited Babies

June 12, 2019

(Nature) – A Russian scientist says he is planning to produce gene-edited babies, an act that would make him only the second person known to have done this. It would also fly in the face of the scientific consensus that such experiments should be banned until an international ethical framework has agreed on the circumstances and safety measures that would justify them.  Molecular biologist Denis Rebrikov has told Nature he is considering implanting gene-edited embryos into women, possibly before the end of the year if he can get approval by then. 

Stem Cell Clinics Co-Opt Clinical-Trial Registry to Market Unproven Therapies, Critics Say

June 12, 2019

(STAT News) – A few weeks ago, if you’d been scouring the ever-expanding mass of digitized federal paperwork, you might have noticed a contradiction. On the one hand, the Food and Drug Administration issued a letter stating that what an Arizona distributor was selling as stem cell therapies were “unapproved” and posed “safety concerns.” On the other, a National Institutes of Health database — clinicaltrials.gov — went right on listing the same merchant’s studies, with a link to the company’s website and the word “Recruiting” displayed invitingly in green.

Congo Declares Measles Epidemic After It Kills More Than Ebola

June 11, 2019

(Reuters) – Congo’s government has declared an epidemic of measles, which the latest health ministry figures show has now killed at least 1,500 people, over a hundred more than have died of Ebola. While health officials have focused on the far deadlier hemorrhagic Ebola virus concentrated in Democratic Republic of Congo’s lawless east, some 65,000 suspected cases of measles have been reported across the vast central African country. 

The Misplaced Optimism in Legal Pot

June 11, 2019

(The Atlantic) – The paper, which I covered at the time, launched hopes that medical marijuana could help fight the opioid epidemic. If more people used the less addictive and less harmful pot instead of opioids, the thinking went, deaths might abate. But a new paper, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, throws cold water on that dream. A new set of researchers replicated part of the 2014 study’s findings: That is, from 1999 to 2010, it’s true that the introduction of medical-marijuana laws was associated with a decline in opioid-overdose deaths. But when the researchers included states that introduced laws between 2010 and 2017, the direction of the relationship reversed. Instead of a reduction in opioid overdoses, medical marijuana was associated with a 23 percent increase in overdose deaths.

Alabama Moves to State-Ordered Castration

June 11, 2019

(The Atlantic) – If we could put ethical considerations about nonconsensual medical treatment aside, it still wouldn’t be clear whether this approach will have the desired effect on recidivism. Most research in the area puts sexual desire low on the list of reasons people assault children. The best predictor of sexual assault is not libido, research has shown, but “an early and persistent general propensity to act in an antisocial manner during childhood and adolescence.”

A Murder Trial Will Allow DNA Evidence from a Genealogy Site

June 11, 2019

(Wired) – Today, jury selection began in the trial of William Earl Talbott II, who was arrested last year for the 1987 murders of a young Canadian couple after police began surveilling him and matched his DNA from a discarded cup to a sample from the crime scene. The break in the decades-old cold case stemmed from work by a small forensic firm that used a genealogy website to trace unidentified DNA back to a particular branch of a family tree. The legitimacy of the method, so far untested in a court of law, was expected to be a major flashpoint in the potentially precedent-setting case. Last week, the defense filed motions to make the DNA evidence inadmissible.

DR Congo Ebola Outbreak: Child in Uganda Diagnosed with Virus

June 11, 2019

(BBC) – A five-year-old boy in Uganda has been diagnosed with Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed. This is the first case confirmed in the country amid a deadly outbreak in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 2,000 cases have been recorded there in the last 10 months – most of which have been fatal. The boy is said to have travelled across the border with his family from DR Congo on Sunday.

A Judge Rules Against One Stem-Cell Clinic. There Are Hundreds of Them.

June 11, 2019

(New York Times) – A judicial ruling this month that will stop questionable stem-cell treatments at a clinic in Florida is widely seen as a warning to a flourishing industry that has attracted huge numbers of patients, who pay thousands of dollars for unproven, risky procedures. But with little regulatory oversight for the hundreds of clinics operating these lucrative businesses across the country, it’s too soon to tell how far the impact might reach. The decision, by a federal court on June 3, empowered the Food and Drug Administration to stop U.S. Stem Cell, a private clinic in Sunrise, Fla., from injecting patients with an extract made from their own liposuctioned belly fat.

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