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We’ve Created Human-Pig Chimeras–But We Haven’t Weighed the Ethics

January 26, 2017

(STAT News) – I’m worried about a new paper in the journal Cell that details the creation of a human-pig chimera. As a neuroscientist, I appreciate groundbreaking research at a purely scientific level and understand the hard work that goes into advances like this. But I also believe that science should be guided by ethics, and this work seems to be jumping ahead of ethical considerations. In the new work, led by investigators at the Salk Institute, researchers injected days-old pig embryos with human pluripotent stem cells. By the time the fetal pigs were aborted, they had begun to grow partly human organs.

Mysterious Cluster of Amnesia Cases, Possibly Tied to Opioids, Alarms Health Officials

January 26, 2017

(STAT News) – Public health officials on Thursday said they had detected a bizarre cluster of cases in which patients in Massachusetts developed amnesia over the past few years — a highly unusual syndrome that could be connected to opioid use. The officials have identified only 14 cases so far. But officials said it’s possible that clinicians have simply missed other cases. The patients were all relatively young — they ranged in age from 19 to 52. Thirteen of the 14 patients identified had a substance use disorder, and the 14th patient tested positive for opioids and cocaine on a toxicology screen.

Scientists Create Part-Human, Part-Pig Embryo

January 26, 2017

(UPI) – It might sound like science fiction, but researchers have successfully used human stem cells to create embryos that are part-human, part-pig. Scientists said the long-range goal is to better understand and treat an array of human diseases. The researchers hope to ultimately cultivate human tissue that can be given to patients awaiting transplants. But that’s a long way off, said Jun Wu, who worked on the research.

Legalizing Aid in Dying Doesn’t Mean Patients Have Access to It

January 26, 2017

(NPR) – Across California, and in the five other states where medical aid-in-dying is now allowed, access is not guaranteed, advocates say. Hospitals, health systems and individual doctors are not obligated to prescribe or dispense drugs to induce death, and many choose not to. Most of the resistance comes from faith-based systems. The Catholic Church has long opposed aid-in-dying laws as a violation of church directives for ethical care. But some secular hospitals and other providers also have declined.

Bioethics: Democracy in Vitro

January 25, 2017

(Nature) – Experiments in Democracy reminds me of this painting, in both its ambitious scope and its sense of unease. Science historian Benjamin Hurlbut offers a wide-angle history of US attempts at democratic deliberation on the ethics of human-embryo research. Painstakingly researched and spanning more than four decades — from the advent of in vitro fertilization in the 1970s to contemporary developments such as germline editing — the book draws attention to an intricate interplay between science and democracy.

Gene-Edited Cells Keep Cancer Babies Well More Than One Year On

January 25, 2017

(Reuters) – Two babies rescued from previously incurable leukemia after receiving infusions of gene-edited immune cells are doing well at home more than a year after initial treatment, scientists said on Wednesday. Layla Richards became the first person in the world to get the “off-the-shelf” cell therapy developed by French biotech firm Cellectis at Britain’s Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2015. A second girl was treated soon afterwards. Now the team involved in both cases have published details of their work in a peer-reviewed journal, reporting that the two girls remained disease-free 18 and 12 months after treatment respectively.

Deep Learning Algorithm Does as Well as Dermatologists in Identifying Skin Cancer

January 25, 2017

(Medical Xpress) – It’s scary enough making a doctor’s appointment to see if a strange mole could be cancerous. Imagine, then, that you were in that situation while also living far away from the nearest doctor, unable to take time off work and unsure you had the money to cover the cost of the visit. In a scenario like this, an option to receive a diagnosis through your smartphone could be lifesaving. Universal access to health care was on the minds of computer scientists at Stanford when they set out to create an artificially intelligent diagnosis algorithm for skin cancer.

Bangladeshi Man Pleads for Mercy Killing of Terminally Ill Sons, Grandson

January 25, 2017

(The Guardian) – Hossain, a fruit vendor from Meherpur in the rural west of the country, wrote to his local district administration pleading for them to either help care for his loved ones – who suffer from an incurable form of muscular dystrophy – or “allow them to be put to death with medicine”, he said. One of Asia’s poorest countries, Bangladesh lacks any kind of free health care and medical treatment is often beyond the reach of the tens of millions of inhabitants who live below the poverty line. An estimated 600,000 Bangladeshis suffer from incurable diseases, yet the country has just one palliative care centre and no hospice services.

Soon Printing a Human Heart on Demand Will No Longer Be Sci-Fi

January 25, 2017

(CNBC) – Imagine being able to grow a liver in a laboratory from cells and tissue for a transplant patient. Or engineering cells to grow into a heart valve to replace one damaged from heart disease. Around the world, start-ups — like Tokyo-based Cyfuse Biomedical — are emerging to develop such breakthroughs in the field of regenerative medicine. It is a market projected to reach $101.3 billion by 2022. Unlike conventional medicines and treatments, regenerative medicines have the ability to restore or heal the body’s own cells or create new body parts from a patient’s own cells and tissues, thereby eliminating tissue rejection and the excessively long wait for a donor organ.

Integrated Plans Fertile for Real-World Evidence

January 25, 2017

(Managed Care Magazine) – Real-world evidence (RWE) is the hot topic this year, a way to evaluate treatments—and make changes on the fly, if necessary—under a new president who thinks the FDA moves too slowly. Put simply, RWE looks at how well new medications and medical devices do after they’ve hit the market, relying on data collected outside of traditional clinical studies. Many drugs often don’t do well, said Shalilja Dixit, one of the presenters at a recent conference in Philadelphia by EyeforPharma, a worldwide company that seeks to keep the pharmaceutical industry relevant by tracking shifting trends. Dixit, who studies health outcomes for Intercept Pharmaceuticals, said that 49% of drugs do not have the same impact on outcomes that they had in clinical trials.

New Stem Cell Method Could Lead to Powerful Treatments for Skeletal System Injuries

January 25, 2017

(News-Medical) – A recent study, affiliated with UNIST has developed a new method of repairing injured bone using stem cells from human bone marrow and a carbon material with photocatalytic properties, which could lead to powerful treatments for skeletal system injuries, such as fractures or periodontal disease. This research has been jointly conducted by Professor Youngkyo Seo of Life Sciences and Dr. Jitendra N. Tiwari of Chemistry in collaboration with Professor Kwang S. Kim of Natural Science, Professor Pann-Ghill Suh of Life Sciences, and seven other researchers from UNIST.

Pakistani Police Rescue 24 from Organ Trafficking Gang

January 25, 2017

(BBC) – “We will remove your kidney, and you will receive 300,000 rupees [£2,300].” Sadi Ahmed was held hostage for three months by an organ trafficking gang. In October last year, he was one of 24 people rescued by police in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. They had been imprisoned in a building in an affluent suburb, awaiting the forced removal of their kidneys. Three people are due in court later this month.

Understanding the Spike in China’s Birth Rate

January 25, 2017

(The Economist) – WHEN China’s government scrapped its one-child policy in 2015, allowing all couples to have a second child, officials pooh-poohed Western demographers’ fears that the relaxation was too little, too late. Rather, the government claimed, the new approach would start to reverse the country’s dramatic ageing. On January 22nd the National Health and Family Planning Commission revealed data that seemed to justify optimism: it said 18.5m babies had been born in Chinese hospitals in 2016. This was the highest number since 2000—an 11.5% increase over 2015. Of the new babies, 45% were second children, up from around 30% before 2013, suggesting the policy change had made a difference.

Tackling Patients’ Social Problems Can Cut Health Costs

January 24, 2017

(Kaiser Health News) – Patients like the Houston man are health care’s so-called “super-utilizers”— people with complex problems who frequent emergency rooms for ailments more aptly handled by primary care doctors and social workers. They cost public and private insurers dearly — making up just five percent of the U.S. population, but accounting for 50 percent of health care spending. As health care costs continue to rise, hospitals and doctors are trying to figure out how to find these patients and get to the root of their problems.

Nigeria Airstrike Dead ‘Rises to 115’ in Rann

January 24, 2017

(BBC) – The number of people mistakenly killed last week in an air attack on a camp for those who have fled conflict in north-east Nigeria has been revised to 115, an official has told the BBC.  Camp residents and aid workers were among those killed when the air force bombed Rann, in Borno state, thinking it was a base of Boko Haram militants. It was the biggest known botched attack in eight years of fighting the group.

Deep Brain Stimulation Studies in Alzheimer’s Disease Pose Ethical Challenges

January 24, 2017

(Medical Xpress) – Promising, early studies of deep brain stimulation (DBS) for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease have paved a path for future clinical trials, but there are unique ethical challenges with this vulnerable population regarding decision making and post-study treatment access that need to be addressed as they ramp up, Penn Medicine researchers argue in a new review in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Does the patient still have the capacity to make an informed decision half way through the trial? Are there any misconceptions about its therapeutic benefit? Will the device remain after the trial ends, and who will pay for it?

Organisms Created with Synthetic DNA Pave Way for Entirely New Life Forms

January 24, 2017

(The Guardian) – From the moment life gained a foothold on Earth its story has been written in a DNA code of four letters. With G, T, C and A – the molecules that pair up in the DNA helix – the lines between humans and all life on Earth are spelled out. Now, the first living organisms to thrive with an expanded genetic code have been made by researchers in work that paves the way for the creation and exploitation of entirely new life forms. Scientists in the US modified common E coli microbes to carry a beefed-up payload of genetic material which, they say, will ultimately allow them to program how the organisms operate and behave.

The Interactome of Infected Neural Cells Reveals New Therapeutic Targets for Zika

January 24, 2017

(Medical Xpress) – Zika virus (ZIKV) interferes with the cellular machinery controlling cell division and alters the expression of hundreds of genes guiding the formation and development of neurons and astrocytes, according to findings released on January 23rd 2017 at Scientific Reports. Several evidences indicate that ZIKV infection is associated with microcephaly—a condition in which baby’s head is abnormally small, often because the brain has not developed properly—and other fetal brain defects. Despite the association, cellular alterations caused by the virus are largely unknown.

Medically Assisted Deaths Could Save Millions in Health Care Spending: Report

January 24, 2017

(CBC News) – New research suggests medically assisted dying could result in substantial savings across Canada’s health-care system. Doctor-assisted death could reduce annual health-care spending across the country by between $34.7 million and $136.8 million, according to a report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday. The savings exceedingly outweigh the estimated $1.5 to $14.8 million in direct costs associated with implementing medically assisted dying.

Alberta Rate of Physician-Assisted Suicide Climbs to Four or Five a Week

January 23, 2017

(Calgary Sun) – The rate of those choosing physician-assisted death in Alberta continues to increase and more are opting out of dying at home, say Alberta Health Services officials. Since Feb. 6 when the procedure was made possible, 76 people in the province have taken that route to end their lives, which in Alberta is through the intravenous delivery of drugs. In the week from Jan. 9 to 16, five more people died with the assistance of a physician, a process that became fully legal last June.

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