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Scientists Went to China to Create Controversial Human-Monkey Embryos

August 5, 2019

(Gizmodo) – An international collaboration is claiming to have created hybridized human-monkey embryos in China. Disturbingly, the research could result in monkeys capable of producing human organs for transplants, leading to a host of ethical concerns. A researcher involved in the experiment, biologist Estrella Núñez from the Catholic University of Murcia (UCAM), confirmed the achievement to Spanish news site El País. The project is being led by Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, who runs a lab at the Salk Institute in the United States. 

The Vaccine Whisperers: Counselors Gently Engage New Parents Before Their Doubts Harden Into Certainty

August 5, 2019

(STAT News) – Vaccination counselors, the new employees were called. In 2017 and 2018, over 50 of them were stationed in more than a dozen of the province’s largest maternity wards, with plans to hire one or more at every last Québec hospital where mothers give birth by 2021. The counselors are themselves a kind of prophylaxis. Their job is to ask about parents’ worries long before anyone’s trying to vaccinate their kids at 2 months of age, to answer whatever questions come up — in other words, to inoculate against the misconceptions that might infect them online. Yet, unlike most medical interventions, this one unfolds entirely on the family’s terms.

Alzheimer’s Blood Test Could Predict Onset Up to 20 Years in Advance

August 2, 2019

(The Guardian) – A blood test that can detect signs of Alzheimer’s as much as 20 years before the disease begins to have a debilitating effect has been developed by researchers in the US. Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis in Missouri believe the test can identify changes in the brain suggestive of Alzheimer’s with 94% accuracy, while being much cheaper and simpler than a PET brain scan. The results of the study, which was published in the journal Neurology on Thursday, represent a potential breakthrough in the fight against the disease.

Scientists Are Making Human-Monkey Hybrids in China

August 2, 2019

(MIT Technology Review) – In a controversial first, a team of researchers have been creating embryos that are part human and part monkey, reports the Spanish daily El País. Daring biologist: According to the newspaper, the Spanish-born biologist Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, who operates a lab at the Salk Institute in California, has been working working with monkey researchers in China to perform the disturbing research. Their objective is to create “human-animal chimeras,” in this case monkey embryos to which human cells are added.

The Untold Story of the ‘Circle of Trust’ Behind the World’s First Gene-Edited Babies

August 2, 2019

(Science) – Because the Chinese government has revealed little and He is not talking, key questions about his actions are hard to answer. Many of his colleagues and confidants also ignored Science‘s requests for interviews. But Ryan Ferrell, a public relations specialist He hired, has cataloged five dozen people who were not part of the study but knew or suspected what He was doing before it became public. Ferrell calls it He’s circle of trust. That circle included leading scientists—among them a Nobel laureate—in China and the United States, business executives, an entrepreneur connected to venture capitalists, authors of the NASEM report, a controversial U.S. IVF specialist who discussed opening a gene-editing clinic with He, and at least one Chinese politician.

New Jersey Will Allow Terminally Ill Patients to End Their Lives Starting Today

August 2, 2019

(CNN) – Terminally ill adults in New Jersey will now be able to ask for medical help to end their lives. In April, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act. It goes into effect Thursday.  It allows adults with a prognosis of six months or less to live to get a prescription for life-ending medication. Other jurisdictions that allow physician-assisted suicide are: California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Hawaii, Montana and the District of Columbia. 

Bangladesh Struggles with Worst Outbreak of Dengue Fever

August 1, 2019

(Reuters) – Bangladesh is grappling with its worst outbreak of dengue fever, with hospitals packed with patients as the disease spreads rapidly in the densely-populated country. At least 14 people have died and more than 17,000 have come down with the virus so far this year, according to official figures, making it the deadliest year since the first recorded epidemic in 2000. More than 1,400 people have been diagnosed with dengue in the past 24 hours alone, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.

Kenyan Survivors: Cancer Is ‘National Disaster’

August 1, 2019

(BBC) – Cancer patients and carers are calling on Kenya’s government to declare the illness a “national disaster” and provide extra funds. Protesters took to the streets of the capital, Nairobi, in matching T-shirts that read Act on Cancer Today. They say long delays caused by a lack of accessible and affordable treatment mean many patients’ conditions worsen. Three recent high-profile deaths drew attention to cancer in Kenya which has 35 oncologists for 40 million people.This means there are more than 3,000 cancer cases for each oncologist in Kenya, compared to less than 150 in the US and China, according to the Journal of Global Oncology.

The Long Shadow of a CRISPR Scandal

August 1, 2019

(Science) – In the months after He Jiankui’s widely condemned embryo editing went public, Chinese researchers using the genome editor CRISPR reeled with embarrassment, outrage, and fear of unwarranted scrutiny and criticism of their own work. Some see He as a nobody in the country’s CRISPR community who sullied their whole field. “Many Chinese scientists got angry about [He],” says Deng Hongkui, a stem cell researcher at Peking University in Beijing. “Many of us got training in Western countries, and we know the international standards.”

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

July 31, 2019

(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

July 31, 2019

(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

July 31, 2019

(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

July 31, 2019

(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

July 30, 2019

(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

July 30, 2019

(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

July 30, 2019

(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

July 29, 2019

(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

July 29, 2019

(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

July 29, 2019

(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

July 29, 2019

(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.

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