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Scientists Split as Genetics Lab Scales Down Animal Tests

June 11, 2019

(The Guardian) – A row has broken out among scientists over the decision by one of the world’s leading genetics laboratories – the Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire – to close its animal breeding facility. The Wellcome Trust, which runs the institute, has decided that the £30m animal laboratory, where mice, rats and zebrafish are bred for medical experiments, should be shut within the next three years. It was set up 12 years ago and employs 70 staff. The institute – which played a leading role in the first sequencing of the human genome – says its scientists are now using fewer and fewer animals in their research.

How Dutch Law Got a Little Too Comfortable with Euthanasia

June 10, 2019

(The Atlantic) – In most countries, the debate over physician-assisted suicide has centered on adults in the final stages of incurable physical illnesses. Pothoven’s age and mental illness made her case quite different, which is why the initial English-language news stories on her death sparked such alarm. That uproar subsided when subsequent reports clarified that Pothoven’s euthanasia request had been turned down, and that she had instead died by refusing to eat and drink. This sad outcome does not, however, show that all is well with the Dutch approach to assisted death—or that fears of a slippery slope are merely alarmist.

Poll: Majority Want to Keep Abortion Legal, But They Also Want Restrictions

June 10, 2019

(NPR) – Three-quarters of Americans say they want to keep in place the landmark Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade, that made abortion legal in the United States, but a strong majority would like to see restrictions on abortion rights, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll. What the survey found is a great deal of complexity — and sometimes contradiction among Americans — that goes well beyond the talking points of the loudest voices in the debate. In fact, there’s a high level of dissatisfaction with abortion policy overall. Almost two-thirds of people said they were either somewhat or very dissatisfied, including 66% of those who self-identify as “pro-life” and 62% of those who self-identify as “pro-choice.”

Opioid Overdose Now Provides 1 in 6 Donor Hearts

June 10, 2019

(Med Page Today) – Hearts from overdose-death donors represent a growing proportion of transplants and appear to do as well as organs from other sources, a retrospective study found. Overdose-death donors have accounted for a rapidly growing proportion of cardiac allografts, with a 14-fold increase from about 1% in 2000 to now 16.9%, “consistent with the rising opioid epidemic,” reported Nader Moazami, MD, of New York University Langone Health in New York City, and colleagues in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery.

You Can Buy Prescription Drugs without Seeing a Doctor

June 7, 2019

(The Atlantic) – Alongside cosmetic treatments for skin and hair, the Hers website has “Shop sex” and “Shop well-being” tabs. It offers birth-control pills, the female libido booster Addyi, and propranolol, a high-blood-pressure medication that Hers markets to customers for the treatment of performance anxiety. Though the medications are, in some cases, far more expensive than they would be at a pharmacy counter after insurance, the Hers price includes an online consultation with a doctor to get the prescription.

Alabama Bill: Chemical Castration for Some Sex Offenders

June 7, 2019

(ABC News) – Some sex offenders in Alabama could be chemically castrated before being released on parole, under a bill approved by state lawmakers. Lawmakers gave final approval to the bill last week and sent it to Gov. Kay Ivey. Chemical castration involves taking medication that blocks testosterone production in order to decrease the person’s sex drive. At least eight states allow the procedure — including California, Florida and Texas— but it is unclear how often it is used.

The Cost of Cancer: 25% of Survivors Face Financial Hardship, Report Finds

June 7, 2019

(CNN) – Cancer can take a toll not only on the body but also a patient’s bank account — and just how much of a toll has been revealed in a new report. About one-fourth of cancer survivors in the United States say they have had problems paying medical bills and about one-third say they have worried about medical costs, according to the report published in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Thursday. The report found that cancer survivors have significantly higher annual out-of-pocket spending on average compared with people who have never had cancer.

China Urged to Abandon Plan to Sell Unproven Cell Therapies

June 7, 2019

(Nature) – An international group of stem-cell researchers is urging China to cancel draft regulations that would permit some hospitals to sell therapies developed from patients’ own cells, without approval from the nation’s drug regulator. The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) sent a statement outlining its concerns to Jiao Hong, director of China’s National Medical Products Administration in Beijing, on 20 May. The society, which is based in Skokie, Illinois, represents more than 4,000 scientists, clinicians and ethicists around the world.

Cannabis Companies Push F.D.A. to Ease Rules on CBD Products

June 7, 2019

(New York Times) – The F.D.A. has been skeptical of the rapidly growing cannabis industry, but it is under increasing pressure from Congress to ease the path to market for cannabis-derived products. These products are different from medical marijuana, which a growing number of states allow for treating severe pain, nausea and other ailments. Conservative estimates predict that sales of CBD in the United States could be $16 billion by 2025.

As Americans Shun the Measles Vaccine, the Residents of Idjwi Are Dying to Get It

June 7, 2019

(STAT News) – From my home in Idjwi, an island in Lake Kivu between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda with a population of 300,000, I’ve been watching the U.S. measles outbreak with a mixture of astonishment and incredulity. The U.S. outbreak, with nearly 1,000 reported cases so far, is due in large part due to parents who have not vaccinated their children against this highly contagious disease. In Idjwi, many parents would give anything for their children to receive a measles vaccination, because they know all too well what can happen to unvaccinated children.

Analysis: Why Alexa’s Bedside Manner Is Bad for Health Care

June 7, 2019

(Kaiser Health News) – Virtual communications have streamlined life and transformed many of our relationships for the better. There is little need anymore to sit across the desk from a tax accountant or travel agent or to stand in a queue for a bank teller. And there is certainly room for disruptive digital innovation in our confusing and overpriced health care system. But it remains an open question whether virtual medicine will prove a valuable, convenient adjunct to health care. Or, instead, will it be a way for the U.S. profit-driven health care system to make big bucks by outsourcing core duties — while providing a paler version of actual medical treatment?

How Fetal Personhood Emerged as the Next Stage of the Abortion Wars

June 7, 2019

(The New Yorker) – But it is important to understand that the alarm over abortion as eugenics is a decoy of sorts. A deeper, more troubling argument that is now gathering force is tucked more quietly into Thomas’s invocation of legal anti-discrimination norms. If the right to be free of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or disability can be made relevant to a fetus, then fetuses are figured as entities with anti-discrimination rights—like people. This move imbues the fetus with rights that the pregnant person—and, by extension, the abortion provider—might violate. What is really at stake is an idea of fetal personhood.

More Than 12M People May Be Affected by Latest Medical Data Breach. Why Those Patients Are Now Vulnerable

June 7, 2019

(USA Today) – On Monday, the diagnostic testing provider confirmed in a filing with securities regulators that up to 12 million patients may be affected by a recent data breach at the American Medical Collection Agency. The AMCA was also the third party responsible for a recent LabCorp data breach affecting 7.7 million customers, the testing company said Tuesday. Apart from personal medical information, the company reported that the affected patients’ Social Security numbers and financial data were breached as well, leaving patients susceptible to financial fraud.

Will Europe’s Clampdown on Faulty Medical Devices Hurt Patients?

June 7, 2019

(Reuters) – When a Californian company founded by a U.S. veteran wounded in Afghanistan sought to register a new medical device this year, it turned to Europe before the United States. The European approvals system had long been quicker, the company said, but the introduction of new rules is changing all that. “Now it has flipped,” said Bill Colone, CEO of San Clemente-based Spinal Singularity, which hopes to launch a ‘smart’ catheter for men with spinal injuries or disease early next year after squeezing in its application under the old European rules. 

Could Antibiotics Be a Silver Bullet for Kids in Africa?

June 6, 2019

(NPR) – The story starts in 2009, when a group of ophthalmologists from the University of California, San Francisco published some surprising results from a study they had conducted in Ethiopia on trachoma, an eye infection that is the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness. The eye doctors knew that the antibiotic azithromycin was effective in fighting the disease and had administered it to tens of thousands of children there, ages 1 to 9. Meanwhile, they wanted to keep watch on whether the drug seemed to have any other beneficial effects on the children’s health. What they found was remarkable: Mass azithromycin treatment, administered two times a year, seemed to have an almost miraculous ability to reduce childhood deaths. 

One Million New STIs Every Day, Says WHO

June 6, 2019

(BBC) – One million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) occur every single day, the World Health Organization has estimated. That means more than 376 million new cases annually of four infections – chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis. The WHO highlights a lack of progress in stopping the spread of STIs, and says its figures are a “wake-up call”. Experts are particularly concerned about the rise in drug-resistant STIs.

Redefining Normal: Study Shows Mutations Even in Healthy Tissues Throughout the Body

June 6, 2019

(STAT News) – A large-scale analysis published Thursday in Science examined more than 6,700 samples of normal human tissue from 29 major tissue groups — from brain and bladder to breast and prostate tissue. The researchers used RNA sequencing data to look in these tissues for large mutational clones — groups of cells that have the same mutations. They found many more clones than they had expected, including some that contained mutations that drive cancer. “This study opens up the big question of what is normal?” said Cristian Tomasetti, an associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University who was not involved with the study. “This is now a picture of our normal tissues being quite messy and full of these mutational clones. We are really at the beginning of knowing how to evaluate them.”

As Pressure for Afghan Peace Grows, Drug Threat Remains

June 6, 2019

(Reuters) – As pressure grows for a political settlement to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan, the drug trade remains a major threat, leaving the country at the risk of becoming a “narco-state”, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. Congressional watchdog, said in recent report. 

Welcome to the Age of One-Shot Miracle Cures That Can Cost Millions

June 6, 2019

(Bloomberg) – This is the tantalizing promise of gene therapies, the potential cures for dozens of once-incurable illnesses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued its first approval of a systemic gene therapy, a Novartis AG treatment for spinal muscular atrophy, on May 24 and says it expects to approve 10 to 20 therapies a year starting in 2025. There are more than 800 trials under way, targeting diseases including rare metabolic disorders, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, and Parkinson’s. As the list grows, such treatments have the potential to fundamentally remake the health-care system at every level. There are two big caveats. First, most studies haven’t run longer than a few years, so it’s impossible to know yet whether the therapies will remain effective for life, help everyone the same, or yield side effects decades in the future.

Dallas Woman’s Push to Make Fertility Fraud a Crime Results in New Law on the Books in Texas

June 6, 2019

(Dallas Morning News) – Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill late Tuesday that makes fertility fraud a crime in Texas. “It’s very validating,” Eve Wiley, the Dallas woman who pushed for the law, said early Wednesday. Wiley said her world and sense of identity were shaken badly last year when she discovered that her mother’s fertility doctor is her biological father.

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