(The Guardian) – There are 200 of these embryos to choose from, all made by in vitro fertilisation (IVF) from you and your partner’s eggs and sperm. So, over to you. Which will you choose? If there’s any kind of future for “designer babies”, it might look something like this. It’s a long way from the image conjured up when artificial conception, and perhaps even artificial gestation, were first mooted as a serious scientific possibility. Inspired by predictions about the future of reproductive technology by the biologists JBS Haldane and Julian Huxley in the 1920s, Huxley’s brother Aldous wrote a satirical novel about it.
(STAT News) – These are newborns born dependent on opioids, the youngest victims of an epidemic that’s touched every corner of the country. Even when mothers seek treatment for their addictions early in pregnancy, they are typically urged to stay on methadone to minimize the risk of miscarriage. That means babies are often born experiencing symptoms of withdrawal — such as twitching and tremors, trouble feeding, and difficulty sleeping.
(New York Times) – Opioid addiction is America’s 50-state epidemic. It courses along Interstate highways in the form of cheap smuggled heroin, and flows out of “pill mill” clinics where pain medicine is handed out like candy. It has ripped through New England towns, where people overdose in the aisles of dollar stores, and it has ravaged coal country, where addicts speed-dial the sole doctor in town licensed to prescribe a medication. Public health officials have called the current opioid epidemic the worst drug crisis in American history, killing more than 33,000 people in 2015. Overdose deaths were nearly equal to the number of deaths from car crashes. In 2015, for the first time, deaths from heroin alone surpassed gun homicides.
(Quartz) – Despite the fact that psychedelic drugs have been used for millennia as medicine in ritualistic ceremonies, there remain many questions in the scientific community about the relationship between their spiritual qualities and healing potential. Researchers at Johns Hopkins and New York Universities are giving psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, to ordained ministers in the hopes that they can help provide some answers.
(Science) – During World War II, as part of its racial hygiene program, the Nazi regime systematically killed at least 200,000 people it classified as mentally ill or disabled, historians say. Stories like Hans-Joachim’s have largely been lost to history. Now, a new initiative is seeking to reconstruct the biographies of victims used in brain research. Starting this month,the Max Planck Society (MPG), Germany’s top basic research organization, will open its doors to four independent researchers who will scour its archives and tissue sample collections for material related to the euthanasia program.
(STAT News) – In a farewell address Wednesday, outgoing Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin revealed that his father took advantage of the state’s end-of-life law, just a year after Shumlin signed the measure. Shumlin’s father, George, died in April 2014 at 88. In a statement at the time, the governor did not mention that his father had chosen to end his own life, although he said “that his decline was brief,” according to the Burlington Free Press.
(The Guardian) – Implanting two embryos during IVF can cut the chance of becoming pregnant by more than a quarter if one of the embryos is in a poorer state of health, new research suggests. A study of almost 1,500 embryos that were implanted in women of all ages found that putting back a healthier embryo with one of poorer quality dramatically cut the chance of a successful pregnancy compared to just transferring one embryo.
(The Guardian) – A future in which human workers are replaced by machines is about to become a reality at an insurance firm in Japan, where more than 30 employees are being laid off and replaced with an artificial intelligence system that can calculate payouts to policyholders. Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance believes it will increase productivity by 30% and see a return on its investment in less than two years. The firm said it would save about 140m yen (£1m) a year after the 200m yen (£1.4m) AI system is installed this month. Maintaining it will cost about 15m yen (£100k) a year.
(Science Daily) – In an article to be published in the Jan. 5 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, a Henry Ford Hospital critical care medicine physician describes in candid detail about how her own near-death experience inspired an organizational campaign to help health professionals communicate more effectively and demonstrate more empathy to their patients. Rana Awdish, M.D., director of the hospital’s Pulmonary Hypertension Program, writes in “A View from the Edge: Creating a Culture of Caring” that as a patient “I learned that though we do many difficult, technical things so perfectly right, we fail our patients in many ways.”
(STAT News) – A transgender man sued a Roman Catholic hospital Thursday, saying it cited religion in refusing to allow his surgeon to perform a hysterectomy as part of his sex transition. Jionni Conforti’s sex and gender discrimination lawsuit comes as new regulations hailed as groundbreaking anti-discrimination protections for transgender individuals are under legal attack from religious groups.
(The Washington Post) – Ebola has proven itself a tricky foe to get rid of in the human body. In numerous cases in which it was thought to be gone and patients fully recovered, the virus has been found in the eyes, semen, amniotic fluid, placenta, breast milk and central nervous system. Now a paper published in the journal PLOS Pathogens describes another possible hiding place for the virus: the lungs.
(NPR) – Desmond Tutu, South Africa’s former Anglican archbishop and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, recently celebrated his 85th birthday with an interesting message: He wants the option of an assisted death. Tutu has largely retired from public life, but is still considered the moral conscience of South Africa for his leading role in the fight against apartheid. Some were taken aback when Tutu said he wants the option to end his life when he chooses.
(Reuters) – Gene therapy is about ready to be the next big thing. The prospect of treating diseases by tinkering with DNA has a long history of both promise and frustration. Steady progress means 2017 should be the year the technology finally hits the U.S. market. The problem may be figuring out how to pay for cures.
(STAT News) – Pharma companies are afraid to test drugs on babies because they’re so vulnerable, and because the risk of liability is so high. Parents and doctors say they’re wary of enlisting newborns as “guinea pigs” in clinical trials. The result: An estimated 90 percent of medications administered to newborns are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in children so young. That means neonates — premature and full-term infants less than 28 days old — are routinely treated with drugs that are not adequately tested for safety, dosing, or effectiveness.
(The Sydney Morning Herald) – A “human trafficking syndicate” has been hiring Filipino women to travel to Cambodia to carry surrogacy babies for foreigners, including Australians, Philippine authorities say. Four women were detained at Manila’s international airport on New Year’s Day while about to depart for Phnom Penh, indicating that surrogacy clinics are still operating in the city despite a crackdown on commercial surrogacy there.
(Australian Broadcasting Co.) – Syrian refugees desperate for money to get passage to Europe are selling their organs on the black market and the profits are lining the pockets of organised crime and terrorist networks, two experts say. Griffith University’s Dr Campbell Fraser said some Syrian refugees living in different parts of the Middle East were desperate to get to Europe, but had no money to pay their way.
Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (vol. 109, no. 10, 2016) is available online by subscription only.
- “Population Healthcare: A New Clinical Responsibility” by Muir Gray
- “Empathy, Sympathy and Compassion in Healthcare: Is There a Problem? Is There a Difference? Does it matter?” by David Jeffrey
Journal of Perinatology (vol. 36, no. s3, 2016) is available online by subscription only.
- “Toward Single Digit Neonatal Mortality Rate in India” by V K Paul, R Kumar and S Zodpey
European Journal of Human Genetics (vol. 25, no. 1, 2017) is available online by subscription only.
- “Communicating Microarray Results of Uncertain Clinical Significance in Consultation Summary Letters and Implications for Practice” by Jean Lillian Paul, Rachel Pope-Couston, Samantha Wake, Trent Burgess, and Tiong Yang Tan
JAMA (vol. 316, no. 21, 2016) is available online by subscription only.
- “Navigating Ethical Tensions in High-Value Care Education” by Matthew DeCamp and Kevin R. Riggs