(New York Times) – The pharmaceutical giant GSK, which has held first place in the Access to Medicine Index ever since its introduction in 2008, was ranked first again this week. The index measures how well the world’s top 20 pharma companies do at getting their drugs and vaccines — and often their scientific expertise — to the world’s poorest countries. The list was created by Wim Leerveld, a Dutch former pharmaceutical executive, and grew with early support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Dutch and British governments.
(Kaiser Health News) – They are a little-known presence in many operating rooms, offering technical expertise to surgeons installing new knees, implanting cardiac defibrillators or performing delicate spine surgery. Often called device reps — or by the more cumbersome and less transparent moniker “health-care industry representatives” — these salespeople are employed by the companies that make medical devices: Stryker, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic, to name a few. Their presence in the OR, particularly common in orthopedics and neurosurgery, is part of the equipment packages that hospitals typically buy.
(UPI) – A high-tech implant has enabled a paralyzed woman with late-stage ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) to communicate through brain signaling, researchers say. The degenerative disease robbed Hanneke De Bruijne, 58, of all voluntary muscle control — including the ability to speak — while leaving her mind intact. But an experimental implant-software program allows the “locked-in” Dutch woman to type words without assistance.
(Science Daily) – The rate of adolescents reporting a recent bout of clinical depression grew by 37 percent over the decade ending in 2014, with one in six girls reporting an episode in the past year, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research suggests. The findings, published online Nov. 14 in the journal Pediatrics, highlight a need to focus on the mental well-being of young people and match those in peril with mental health professionals.
(Nature) – Concerns about the potential harm in sequencing the genomes of healthy people come as new companies vie to provide such services for the general public. In August, researchers reported that the average person carries about 54 genetic mutations that are considered lethal, but that don’t seem to harm their health. As a result, physicians don’t know what to tell healthy people who harbour these variants.
(Nature) – A Chinese group has become the first to inject a person with cells that contain genes edited using the revolutionary CRISPR–Cas9 technique. On 28 October, a team led by oncologist Lu You at Sichuan University in Chengdu delivered the modified cells into a patient with aggressive lung cancer as part of a clinical trial at the West China Hospital, also in Chengdu.
(Sydney Morning Herald) – Some of Australia’s leading IVF clinics have been caught advertising false or misleading information about their success rates in what the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has described as a “race to the bottom” targeting vulnerable people. On Monday, the ACCC said “several major IVF clinics” and some smaller ones had been asked to change claims on their websites following an investigation into the increasingly competitive and profitable industry.
(The Guardian) – Increased numbers of women suffered from a serious complication of IVF last year, according to official figures that raise concerns about the use of powerful fertility drugs. In 2015, 60 women were admitted to hospital with severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a 40% increase on the previous year. The condition, which is triggered when the ovaries swell up and leak fluid, is potentially life-threatening. Symptoms include abdominal swelling and pain, nausea, dehydration and blood clots in the legs.
(Nature) – Public prosecutors in Turin, Italy, are investigating whether disgraced stem-cell entrepreneur Davide Vannoni — convicted on criminal charges last year for administering unproven stem-cell therapies in Italy — is offering his treatments again, this time in eastern Europe. In March 2015, Vannoni was convicted on charges of conspiracy and fraud related to his treatments, which had been declared dangerous by the Italian Health Authority (AIFA). His case was a cause célèbre among Italian scientists, who fought for many years to stop him administering stem cells to patients through his Stamina Foundation.
(STAT News) – A major reason is cost, with list prices for some 12-week treatment courses approaching $100,000. But a series of other forces helps explain why Kentucky is struggling to respond to the hepatitis C crisis, including a growing opioid epidemic that is fueling new cases and a changing patient base that is demanding hard choices be made about who gets treatment first. With opioid use seeding the spread of infectious disease across the country, this state could be a case study in how hepatitis C affects other areas, and what happens when demands for specialists, surveillance, and treatment outstrip the ability of health systems to respond.
(UPI) – In a discovery that challenges conventional thinking, researchers report that several people over the age of 90 had excellent memory even though their brains showed signs that they had Alzheimer’s disease. The meaning of the findings isn’t entirely clear. The elderly people, whose brains were studied after their deaths, may have been in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, although the researchers said they doubt this. It’s also possible that something about these people — or their brains — could have kept dementia symptoms in check.
(Science) – Of all the materials valued in biomedical research, embryonic stem (ES) cells and fetal tissue have gotten disproportionate attention from politicians. Because creating ES cell lines initially requires destroying a human embryo, President George W. Bush tightly restricted the use of federal funds for research on all but a few stem cell lines. President Barack Obama then made lifting those restrictions one of his first official actions after he took office in 2009. More recently, accusations that abortion clinics were unlawfully selling fetal tissue to researchers has stoked opposition to that type of research. So far, however, members of Congress have been unable to enact any restrictions into law. Now, biomedical researchers are wondering: How will a Donald J. Trump administration handle these ethically delicate materials?
(Deutsche Welle) – Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, on Friday passed a law changing the conditions researchers must meet to conduct clinical research on dementia patients. Previously, doctors were only permitted to test new medication to specifically treat patients themselves. Under the new framework, doctors can test a wider array of medicinal products that may not be catered to current patients but are rather designed to treat future patients.
(Quartz) – Precision medicine—the practice of scanning patients’ genes to devise tailor-made treatment programs—is already routine in rich countries for some diseases. Oncologists in the US and Europe use genetic tests to determine which treatments will work best for their patients’ cancers. But Africans and people of African descent, such as African Americans, have been left behind in this medical revolution. Out of the more than 35 million participants that have participated in genetic screening studies to date, 81% were of European ancestry. Of the rest, three-quarters were Asians. Only 3% were of African origin.
(Reuters) – Sixty percent of the world’s 5.9 million children who died before their fifth birthday last year were in 10 countries in Asia and Africa, said a study published on Friday, prompting calls for action to reduce the mortality. The study published in The Lancet medical journal said the latest data highlights the inequality in children’s death among the 194 countries it studied, even though the number of under-five deaths has fallen by 4 million compared to 2010.
(Scientific American) – In his new book, Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform and Heal (National Geographic Publishing, November 2016; 288 pages), science writer and Scientific American contributor Erik Vance seeks to explain one of our brain’s most remarkable powers: its ability to heal both mind and body. Vance explores the profound influence our thoughts, feelings and expectations can have on our well-being—how a positive outlook can, for example, help ease physical pain. The ways in which this mind–body link manifests remain mysterious, but decades of research have clued us in to some fascinating connections.
(Wired) – Compared to methodical do-no-harm modern medicine, historical vaccinologists were cowboys. They used coarse methods that only let them see results at the end of their research. And they took a lot of risks with their patients’ health. And now—though patient safety standards are better, and biologists know more about the immune system—vaccines are basically developed using the same old primitive methods devised by pioneers like Edward Jenner and Jonas Salk. In order to trigger an immune system response, they use a weakened, dead, or deconstructed version of the virus. But now the field is starting to move away from empirical gunslinging, and towards rational drug design.
(MIT Technology Review) – But what if the robot has a biological brain made up of brain cells, possibly even human neurons? Neurons grown under laboratory conditions on an array of non-invasive electrodes provide an attractive alternative with which to realize a new form of robot controller. In the near future, we will see thinking robots with brains not very dissimilar to those of humans. That development will raise many social and ethical questions.
(The Conversation) – Think of a device which is around postage stamp size and has thousands upon thousands of tiny spikes on its surface: this is a nanopatch. There are approximately 20,000 projections per square centimeter on each patch, each around 60 to 100 micrometres in length. One micrometre is one million times smaller than a metre, so the height of these tiny spikes is approximately the width of a human hair.
(Reuters) – Swiss scientists have helped monkeys with spinal cord injuries regain control of non-functioning limbs in research which might one day lead to paralyzed people being able to walk again. The scientists, who treated the monkeys with a neuroprosthetic interface that acted as a wireless bridge between the brain and spine, say they have started small feasibility studies in humans to trial some components.