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He Jiankui, Chinese Scientist Who Edited Babies’ Genes, Jailed for Three Years

December 30, 2019

(The Guardian) – The scientist who created the world’s first “gene-edited” babies has been sentenced to to three years in prison by a court in China. He Jiankui said in November 2018 that he had used gene-editing technology known as Crispr-Cas9 to change the genes of twin girls, causing a backlash in China and globally about the ethics of his research and work. The court in Shenzen found him guilty of illegal practice and also fined him 3m yuan (US$430,000), according to the state news agency Xinhua. Two other people on He’s research team received lesser sentences and fines.

How NIST Tested Facial Recognition Algorithms for Racial Bias

December 27, 2019

(Scientific American) – Facial-recognition technology is already being used for applications ranging from unlocking phones to identifying potential criminals. Despite advances, it has still come under fire for racial bias: many algorithms that successfully identify white faces still fail to properly do so for people of color. Last week the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published a report showing how 189 face-recognition algorithms, submitted by 99 developers across the globe, fared at identifying people from different demographics.

Study: State Laws Restricting Opioid Prescriptions Appear to Work

December 27, 2019

(UPI) – Opioid abuse may still be at crisis levels across the United States, but legislative efforts designed to place limits on use of prescription painkillers driving the problem appear to be working, a new analysis has revealed. In an article published Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers comparing opioid prescribing levels among surgeons before and after new laws in Massachusetts and Connecticut — two states where use of the drugs has reached epidemic proportions — found that they were at least somewhat successful at reducing use of the medications.

Pentagon Warns Military Not to Use Consumer DNA Test Kits

December 26, 2019

(ABC News) – The Pentagon is warning its military service members that they should not use popular consumer DNA test kits because they could pose operational risks and they may not provide reliable or accurate health results. But the two main DNA consumer kit companies are pushing back on the Pentagon’s claims that their information is not secure and that their DNA results may not be reliable or accurate.

A Single Woman Fights to Freeze Her Eggs in China

December 24, 2019

(The Wall Street Journal) – A 31-year-old woman is challenging China’s ban on unmarried women freezing their eggs after a hospital rejected her request for the procedure. On Monday, a Beijing court heard the first such case in a country struggling with one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. Chinese regulations from the Health Ministry forbid unmarried women from freezing their eggs unless they have a health reason, such as cancer, which forces many single women to freeze their eggs overseas.

A Genetic Test Led Seven Women in One Family to Have Major Surgery. Then the Odds Changed.

December 23, 2019

(The Wall Street Journal) – Ms. Mathes, who has one child, decided she would have no more. To reduce her cancer risk, she underwent surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. So did her younger sister, their mother and four other relatives. Ms. Mathes and her sister also had double mastectomies. This year, their mother sat them down at the table of their parents’ winter home in Florida. Two weeks earlier, her genetic counselor had called. The lab was no longer sure the variant is a significant problem.

Doctors Prescribe More of a Drug If They Receive Money from a Pharma Company Tied to It

December 20, 2019

(ProPublica) – Doctors who receive money from drugmakers related to a specific drug prescribe that drug more heavily than doctors without such financial ties, a new ProPublica analysis found. The pattern is consistent for almost all of the most widely prescribed brand-name drugs in Medicare, including drugs that treat diabetes, asthma and more. The financial interactions include payments for delivering promotional talks, consulting and receiving sponsored meals and travel.

New Evidence Strengthens Link Between Vitamin E Acetate and Vaping Illness

December 20, 2019

(STAT News) – New evidence strengthens the suspected link between a substance known as vitamin E acetate and the outbreak of serious lung illnesses tied to vaping and e-cigarette use, U.S. health officials said Friday. Researchers tested lung fluid samples from 51 patients with vaping-related illness, dubbed EVALI. They found vitamin E acetate — a sticky substance used as an additive or thickening agent in some vaping products — in 48 of the samples.

Merck Says Ebola Vaccine to Be Available at Lowest Access Price for Poor Nations

December 20, 2019

(Reuters) – Merck & Co said on Friday it expects to make licensed doses of its recently approved Ebola vaccine available in the third quarter of 2020 and price the single-dose injection at the lowest possible access price for poor and middle-income countries. The vaccine, Ervebo, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, a month after Europe gave its nod to the vaccine, a move that has been hailed by the World Health Organization.

New Details on Diplomat’s Mysterious Brain Injury Linked to ‘Sonic Attacks’

December 19, 2019

(CNN) – Doctors shared details Thursday about what happened to the brain of one diplomat who may be a victim of the so-called sonic attacks that have impacted dozens of people in Cuba and China. Researchers revealed the results of an independent brain analysis of Mark Lenzi, a US diplomat who was stationed in Guangzhou, China, in 2017 when he started experiencing unexplained symptoms including headache, difficulty reading, irritability, as well as memory and sleep problems.

Waning Treatment for Immune Deficiency Is a Warning for All ‘One-and-Done’ Therapies

December 19, 2019

(STAT News) – Then, when Ray was around 18, his immunity began to wane. For him, it came in the form of a norovirus he couldn’t shake. For others with the same rare disease, it appears as pneumonia or gastrointestinal trouble or an unexpected T cell decline. Over the last 10 years, the trend has become increasingly clear: The bone marrow transplants that kept certain babies with SCID alive sometimes stop working after years or decades of providing fairly reliable immune defenses. Now, to patient advocates, this has become an urgent lesson in the language people use to talk about treatment — and not just for SCID. They see their community’s experience as a cautionary tale for anyone developing or receiving a therapy that’s marketed as potentially curative.

A Tweet Gave a Journalist a Seizure. His Case Brings New Meaning to the Idea of ‘Online Assault.’

December 17, 2019

(The Washington Post) – The Epilepsy Foundation announced on Monday it lodged a sweeping slate of criminal complaints against a legion of copycats who targeted people with epilepsy and sent them an onslaught of strobe GIFs — a frightening phenomenon that unfolded in a short period of time during the organization’s marking of National Epilepsy Awareness Month in November. With Rivello’s expected guilty plea, the foundation has a legal road map for fighting back.

New Oral Polio Vaccine to Bypass Key Clinical Trials

December 17, 2019

(The Scientist) – To stem a growing polio crisis, health officials are accelerating the development of a new oral vaccine with plans for emergency approval and deployment in regions with active polio transmission as early as June 2020. The new vaccine, called nOPV2, might conclusively end the outbreaks, caused by the live virus in the vaccine reverting to a virulent form. But expedited approval means skipping the real-world testing of large clinical trials. Instead, key questions about the vaccine’s effectiveness will be answered in the field.

Sydney’s Wildfire Smoke Declared a ‘Public Health Emergency’

December 17, 2019

(Bloomberg) – The smoke blanketing Sydney is a “public health emergency,” according to a coalition of Australian doctors and researchers who say climate change has helped fuel the wildfires that have produced unprecedented haze. Air pollution across Australia’s most-populous city and parts of the eastern state of New South Wales have reached levels as much as 11 times higher than the threshold for “hazardous,” the group said. It called on state and Australian government officials to “implement measures to help alleviate the health and climate crisis.”

Apple Is Offering Free Genetic Tests to All Its Silicon Valley Employees

December 16, 2019

(CNBC) – Apple employees in Silicon Valley can now get free genetic screenings for diseases from their on-site health clinics, thanks to a pilot partnership with Color Genomics. Apple, which recently set up dedicated health clinics known as “AC Wellness” for employees and their dependents near its headquarters, has been working with Color for several months, according to several people with direct knowledge of the discussions. The people requested anonymity because they were not authorized to publicize the deal on their companies’ behalf.

Spike in Ebola Cases Alarms Health Officials in DRC

December 13, 2019

(The Guardian) – Health officials are investigating an alarming spike in Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with many blamed on a single individual who appears to have contracted the disease for a second time this year. Amid the struggle to bring the 16-month outbreak under control, the World Health Organization noted an almost 300% increase in cases in the last three weeks, with 17 of 27 linked to a single chain of transmission. According to officials, it appears to be the second time the person has been documented as suffering from Ebola in six months. An investigation is being held to understand the circumstances around the case.

In the Fight for Money for the Opioid Crisis, Will the Youngest Victims Be Left Out?

December 13, 2019

(Kaiser Health News) – Babies born to mothers who used opioids during pregnancy represent one of the most distressing legacies of an opioid epidemic that has claimed almost 400,000 lives and ravaged communities.  In fact, many of the ongoing lawsuits filed against drug companies refer to these babies, fighting through withdrawal in hospital nurseries. The cluster of symptoms they experience, which include tremors, seizures and respiratory distress, is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. Until recently, doctors rarely looked for the condition. Then case numbers quadrupled over a decade. Hospital care for newborns with NAS has cost Medicaid billions of dollars.

Another Opioid Crisis Is Raging Through the Developing World

December 13, 2019

(ABC News) – Reports rolled in with escalating urgency — pills seized by the truckload, pills swallowed by schoolchildren, pills in the pockets of dead terrorists. These pills, the world has been told, are safer than the OxyContins, the Vicodins, the fentanyls that have wreaked so much devastation. But now they are the root of what the United Nations named “the other opioid crisis” — an epidemic featured in fewer headlines than the American one, as it rages through the most vulnerable countries on the planet.

New STAT Report Explores Viral Vectors, the Linchpin of Gene Therapy

December 13, 2019

(STAT News) – Gene therapy, once dismissed as too dangerous, has made a comeback, with two products approved in the U.S. since December 2017 and hundreds more in the pipeline. STAT’s latest report takes a deep dive into a crucial component of these new treatments: the viral vectors used to deliver gene therapies to cells and organs. As dozens of new gene therapies near the market, we spoke with academic experts, pioneers in the field, and executives with 18 companies, large and small, to identify the most important challenges surrounding the engineering of better vectors, their safety, effectiveness, efficiency, production, and cost — and how key players are thinking about overcoming those hurdles.

Judges Rule FDA Can Regulate E-Cigarettes Like Traditional Cigarettes

December 13, 2019

(Advisory Board) –  An appeals court panel on Tuesday ruled that FDA is able to regulate e-cigarettes just like it does traditional cigarettes, saying the products are “indisputably highly addictive and pose health risks, especially to youth, that are not well understood.” The lawsuit stems from FDA’s 2016 final rule that extends the agency’s regulatory authority over tobacco products to include e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and water pipe tobacco. The agency issued the final rule under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which granted FDA broad authority to regulate cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and rolled tobacco, and gave the agency the power to deem other tobacco products, like e-cigarettes, within its jurisdiction, as long as it first issues a rule to that effect.

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