(Reuters) – A U.N. body on Thursday added two chemicals used to make the drug fentanyl, which killed music star Prince, to an international list of controlled substances, which the United States said would help fight a wave of deaths by overdose. Fentanyl is a man-made opioid 100 times more powerful than morphine. Roughly 20,000 U.S. overdose deaths in 2015 involved heroin or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
(Kaiser Health News) – Marathon Pharmaceuticals’ controversial $89,000-a-year drug that has drawn outrage from patients and intense questioning from Congress is getting a new owner. After striking a deal Wednesday evening, PTC Therapeutics announced plans early Thursday to buy the Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug Emflaza from Marathon for $140 million in cash and stock. The drug’s new price was not announced.
(Scientific American) – They can also give rise, however, to potentially dangerous mutations, possibly including ones that lead to cancerous tumors. Thus, iPS cells are a double-edged sword—their great promise is tempered by risk. Another problem is the high cost of treating a patient with his or her own newly reprogrammed cells. But now Japanese researchers are trying a different approach.
(Discovery) – All of that is more true today than then. Yet, despite exponential advances in biotechnology in the intervening years, the issue generally has faded from public discussion and concern. That needs to change. The stakes for our children’s future and free society demands that we reengage with these issues, not merely passively drift with the tide. Through democratic deliberation, society needs to meet its responsibility to fashion wise ethical parameters around the science sector that are, as Goldilocks put it, “not to hot and not to cold, but ju-u-u-st right,” e.g. sufficiently open to permit innovation and derive new knowledge, while also sufficiently protective of the sanctity and intrinsic dignity of human life enough to avoid the dystopian perils we face. It will be a tricky business.
(MIT Technology Review) – “This pig might save your bacon.” So say the company T-shirts printed up by biotechnology startup eGenesis, which today raised $38 million to fund a new effort to edit the DNA of pigs so they can serve as the source of transplant organs. The plan, says the company, is to use the gene-editing method known as CRISPR to introduce extensive DNA modifications into pigs as a way of humanizing their organs so they won’t get rejected if transferred into a person. (The back of the T-shirt reads: “PS, I like my bacon extra CRISPR’ed.”)
(NBC News) – Nearly a decade after the opioid onslaught, Everett is still struggling with the cost. And now the city wants the company that manufactured OxyContin to pay the bill. In January, the city filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against Purdue Pharma alleging the drug maker “supplied OxyContin to obviously suspicious physicians and pharmacies,” ultimately failing “to prevent the illegal diversion of OxyContin into the black market.”
(NPR) – With new cancer drugs commonly priced at $100,000 a year or more, Krahne’s story is becoming increasingly common. Hundreds of thousands of cancer patients are delaying care, cutting their pills in half or skipping drug treatment entirely, a Kaiser Health News examination shows. One-quarter of all cancer patients chose not to fill a prescription due to cost, according to a 2013 study in The Oncologist. And about 20 percent filled only part of a prescription or took less than the prescribed amount.
(CBC) – A total of 461 patients were granted doctor-assisted death during the first year of Quebec’s medical aid in dying law, according to data obtained by CBC’s French-language service, Radio-Canada. The number of requests increased significantly in the second half of 2016. From December 2015 to end of June 2016, 253 patients requested the procedure, and 166 of them underwent it. Between June and December 2016, 468 people made requests for medically assisted dying, with 295 of them undergoing it.
(Wired) – Technically it ain’t brain surgery, but let’s just say you wouldn’t want to do a cochlear implant while sleepy or distracted. So it’s a good thing this surgery robot can’t be either of those things. It drills into the bone behind the ear, watching with two shining eyes. The bit passes just half a millimeter from the facial nerve, and another half a millimeter from the taste nerve, before entering the spiraling cochlea of the inner ear. Here a human deposits an electrode.
(New Scientist) – The team managed to correct mutations in three out of six embryos, suggesting CRISPR repair is more efficient in viable embryos. “It does look more promising than previous papers,” says Fredrik Lanner of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. However, the study highlights a further roadblock to using gene editing to create healthy babies. Two of the edited embryos were mosaics – mixtures of edited and unedited cells. The team injected the CRISPR machinery when the embryos were just single cells, but it seems that, in these two embryos, it didn’t make repairs until after they had replicated their DNA. So when they divided, some cells inherited unrepaired DNA.
(New Scientist) – Now, in a world first, Victoria has retroactively removed the privacy of donors like Clark. Since 1 March, all donor-conceived people have had the legal right to find out their donor’s name and date of birth, even if the donor was promised anonymity. Some barriers remain – including a requirement to formally seek permission before making contact, under threat of a A$7500 fine – but Clark, now a general practitioner in Wonthaggi in southern Victoria, says it is still a “broken promise”. He believes many who donated would not have done so if they had known they could be tracked down later.
(Nature) – Like a zombie that keeps on kicking, legal battles over mutant mice used for Alzheimer’s research are haunting the field once again — four years after the last round of lawsuits. In the latest case, the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa has sued the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) for authorizing the distribution of a particular type of mouse used in the field. The first pre-trial hearing in the case is set to begin in a federal court on 21 March. The university holds a patent on the mouse, but the NIH has contracted the Jackson Laboratory, a non-profit organization in Bar Harbor, Maine, to supply the animals to researchers. The USF is now claiming that it deserves some of the money that went to the contractor.
(NPR) – Should the Irish Giant be allowed to rest in peace? That’s the question swirling around the bones of Charles Byrne, a literal giant from Ireland who was an 18th century celebrity. His enormous skeleton is on public display today at a London museum, part of a collection of anatomical specimens acquired by the eminent surgeon and scientist Dr. John Hunter, who died in 1793. The bizarre story of how Byrne’s skeleton got there dismays medical ethicists.
(CNBC) – The recently discovered, hotly contested gene-editing enzyme CRISPR is poised to change the way we treat, even cure, many diseases. But treatment will come years before talk of any “cure” is reasonable, and researchers know where they’d put their money if they had to bet on which kind of disease will be the first to the clinic. Bet on CRISPR succeeding first against a rare, single mutation.
(Vox) – A new bill is quietly making its way through Congress that could bring the US a little closer to a Gattaca-like future in which employers could discriminate against their employees based on their genes and risk of disease. To understand how we might get to Gattaca, let’s back up. Under Obamacare, employers are allowed to offer employees deep discounts on health insurance premiums if they participate in workplace wellness programs. The programs often involve medical questionnaires and health assessments — which has meant employers can get access to some of their employees personal health data.
(SciDevNet) – The placenta — an organ responsible for carrying oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the foetus — is much more vulnerable to Zika infection in the first trimester of pregnancy, and this explains why the congenital damage caused by the virus is more serious in the early stages of a child’s prenatal development, according to a study. The researchers, who published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (February 13), used reprogrammed embryonic stem cells to reproduce cells of the human placenta in the first trimester of gestation.
(Medical Xpress) – About 700 people have died from malaria in Burundi so far this year, the health minister said, with the authorities having registered 1.8 million infections in a rising epidemic. “Burundi faces a malaria epidemic,” Josiane Nijimbere said Monday, commenting on a World Health Organization (WHO) report. From January 1 to March 10 this year, 1.8 million infections were registered in Burundi, according to the WHO.
(Medical Xpress) – Immune responses to Ebola vaccines at one year after vaccination are examined in a new study appearing in the March 14 issue of JAMA. The Ebola virus vaccine strategies evaluated by the World Health Organization in response to the 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa included a heterologous primary and booster vaccination schedule of the adenovirus type 26 vector vaccine encoding Ebola virus glycoprotein (Ad26.ZEBOV) and the modified vaccinia virus Ankara vector vaccine, encoding glycoproteins from Ebola, Sudan, Marburg, and Tai Forest viruses nucleoprotein (MVA-BN-Filo).
(ABC News) – Thousands of doctors at Kenya’s public hospitals have agreed to end a 100-day strike that saw people dying from lack of care, an official with the doctors’ union said Tuesday. The strike was blamed for dozens of deaths, as the majority of Kenyans cannot afford private health care. The government and union officials signed a deal to address pay and other issues in dispute, said Dr. Ouma Oluga, the secretary-general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union.
(PhysOrg) – Some heritable but unstable genetic mutations that are passed from parent to affected offspring may not be easy to investigate using current human-induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) modeling techniques, according to research conducted at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published March 14, in the journal Stem Cell Reports. The study serves to caution stem cell biologists that certain rare mutations, like the ones described in the study, are difficult to recreate in laboratory-produced stem cells.