(Eurekalert) – The treatment was originally intended to demonstrate the safety of the latest generation of the therapies. But if early data is accurate, it is already the world’s first successful example of telomere lengthening via gene therapy in a human individual. Gene therapy has been used to lengthen telomeres before in cultured cells and in mice, but never in a human patient.
(Nature) – The topic was front and centre at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, on 16–20 April. Researchers there described early data from clinical trials suggesting that personalized vaccines can trigger immune responses against cancer cells. Investors seem optimistic that those results will translate into benefits for patients; over the past year, venture capitalists have pumped cash into biotechnology start-ups that are pursuing the approach. But some researchers worry that the excitement is too much, too soon for an approach that still faces many technical challenges. “What I do really puzzle at is the level of what I would call irrational exuberance,” says Drew Pardoll, a cancer immunologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
(Reuters) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday proposed a ban on electrical stimulation devices (ESDs) that are used to curb individuals from engaging in self-injurious or aggressive behavior, saying they pose an “unreasonable and substantial” risk to public health. ESDs administer electrical shocks through electrodes attached to the skin to attempt to condition to stop individuals from harming themselves or being aggressive.
(New York Times) – Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults. The rise was particularly steep for women. It was also substantial among middle-aged Americans, sending a signal of deep anguish from a group whose suicide rates had been stable or falling since the 1950s.
(ProPublica) – NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital has agreed to pay a $2.2 million penalty to federal regulators for allowing television crews to film two patients without their consent – one who was dying, the other in significant distress. Regulators said Thursday that the hospital allowed filming to continue even after a medical professional asked that it stop. At the same time, regulators clarified the rules regarding the filming of patients, prohibiting health providers from inviting crews into treatment areas without permission from all patients who are present. That could end popular television shows that capture emergencies and traumas in progress, only getting permission from patients afterward.
(The Baltimore Sun) – The rapid spread of the Zika virus — and its now clear association with microcephaly in babies exposed prenatally — has put extraordinary pressure on the research community to develop a vaccine as rapidly as possible. But accelerating the development of this vaccine is not only scientifically and logistically complicated, it is ethically complicated. Pregnant women are at the crux of Zika’s most devastating consequences. Their needs must be uppermost in Zika prevention plans. While this will not be easy, the knee-jerk response that research with pregnant women is too complex to contemplate is not acceptable.
(The Scientist) – Pain can be tough to take, and it’s also difficult to study: rodent models for pain do not necessarily translate to human pain conditions and expression of disease-causing mutations in cell lines may not precisely mimic the physiology of human pain disorders. Now, researchers have developed a new way to test pain—and, potentially, other sensory-targeting medications. Edward Stevens and James Bilsland of the Pfizer’s U.K.-based neuroscience and pain research units and their colleagues have shown that induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from blood samples of patients with a pain disorder can be used to create sensory neurons that recapitulate the disease phenotype.
(New York Daily News) – Medical staff found Frank Kavanaugh, 88, and his wife Barbara Kavanaugh, 81, dead at 1:17 a.m. at Solaris HealthCare in Port Charlotte, about 100 miles south of Tampa on Florida’s western coast, said Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Skip Conroy. Frank Kavanaugh, a retired George Washington University public policy professor, served on the national advisory board of the Final Exit Network. Leaders of the group, devoted to “supporting the human right to a death with dignity,” said the Kavanaughs’ deaths demonstrate need for widespread reforms to end-of-life care.
(STAT News) – South Dakota will soon require doctors to tell women that they can change their minds after taking the abortion pill and potentially halt an abortion in progress. Arizona and Arkansas passed similar laws last year. And an antiabortion group is promoting model legislation to inform women they can “reverse” medication abortions. Yet that claim has no solid science behind it — just an anecdotal case report written by a physician who invented a protocol and arranged to have it tested on a half-dozen patients who regretted swallowing the abortion pill.
(The Sydney Morning Herald) – A regional Victorian man has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing his infant surrogate twin daughters – and two young nieces from NSW – in a case certain to fuel debate about international surrogacy laws. The man was already abusing his nieces when he spent $44,000 to have the twins conceived overseas using a donor egg with the clear intention of sexually exploiting the children. He began abusing them when they were 27 days old and continued for seven months.
(The Wall Street Journal) – The Obama administration and religiously affiliated employers in a final round of legal briefs Wednesday moved no closer to a compromise for covering contraception in workers’ insurance plans, likely leaving it to the eight-member Supreme Court to settle the dispute. The justices in an unusual step had requested supplemental briefs from both sides on a potential solution as they sought a way to avoid a potential 4-4 split following the February death of the court’s ninth justice, Antonin Scalia. The high court is reviewing a dispute over the 2010 health-care law requirement that employers provide birth-control coverage for workers.
(The Conversation) – There’s a long way still to go, but this field is receiving a great deal of publicity. This raises several ethical questions. We must ask ourselves if this research can ever be socially neutral given the eugenic-Galtonian history underpinning it. This kind of research could have an impact on human genetic engineering and the choices parents make when deciding to have children.
(NPR) – In Greenland, the problem was only getting worse. Between 1970 and 1980, the suicide rate there quadrupled to about seven times the U.S. rate (it’s still about six times higher). The suicide rate was, and still is, so high that it’s not an exaggeration to say that everyone in Greenland knows someone who has killed himself. Many people I spoke with struggled to explain what that felt like, to live in a place where suicide is so pervasive, and most of them settled uncomfortably on the same word: normal.
(The Guardian) – The results, they argue, offer little support for the notion that screening saves lives. In an American study, they report, examining personal and family histories and carrying out a physical examination only raised suspicions of a heart disease in 3% of athletes who went on to die suddenly. The use of ECGs, the authors add, is also flawed and would not identify 25% of those who have a disease that could cause sudden cardiac death. What’s more, for the most common conditions picked up at screening, the majority of people “will never experience any symptoms and lead a normal life if the disease is left undetected,” they write.
(The New Yorker) – It was the annual meeting of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, a group of people who believe that the development and dissemination of advanced technologies—cryogenics, bionics, artificial intelligence, and so on—will raise humanity to the heights of power and immortality that Smith envisioned. In the past, the meeting has included presentations from visiting scholars such as Richard Bushman, a prominent Mormon historian and Smith archivist, and Aubrey de Grey, the chief science officer of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence Research Foundation, whose slogan is “Reimagine Aging.”
(STAT News) – But if he were born today, Vetter would likely have been the perfect candidate for a new gene therapy technique that seems to get the immune systems of SCID patients back on track. And while previous genetic treatments had been performed on infants, this new approach works in teenagers and young adults, according to a small but promising study published Wednesday.
(Medical News Today) – A small minority of patients treated with a common chemotherapy drug develop severe heart damage, but there is currently no way of identifying in advance who they might be. Now, researchers have developed a method using reprogrammed stem cells derived from the patient’s own skin cells that predicts whether they fall into this group. The chemotherapy drug doxorubicin (brand name Adriamycin) is very effective against a wide range of cancers – including breast cancer and childhood leukemia. But in around 8% of patients, it causes cardiotoxicity, where the heart muscles become damaged, and in severe cases, leads to heart failure.
(NPR) – The National Institutes of Health has suspended work in two facilities that manufacture products given to people who are enrolled in research studies, saying the facilities haven’t complied with safety standards designed to protect already-sick people from inappropriate risks. “There is no evidence that any patients have been harmed, but a rigorous clinical review will be undertaken,” the NIH said in a statement provided to NPR Tuesday. “NIH will not enroll new patients in affected trials until the issues are resolved.”
(STAT News) – In an updated request sent to Capitol Hill Monday and provided to STAT by a congressional aide, the administration increases the amount of research funding, including vaccine research, for the National Institutes of Health from $130 million to $277 million. That money will help NIH prepare for Phase 2 trials for vaccines in the next fiscal year, according to the aide.
(Reuters) – Commonly used drugs for problems like colds, allergies, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease have long been linked to cognitive impairment and dementia. Now researchers have some fresh evidence that may help explain the connection. The drugs, known as anticholinergics, stop a chemical called acetylcholine from working properly in the nervous system. By doing so, they can relieve unpleasant gastrointestinal, respiratory or urinary symptoms, for example.