(BBC) – Grinding poverty has made the trafficking of kidneys and other organs a phenomenon in Baghdad. About 22.5% of Iraq’s population of nearly 30 million people live in abject poverty, according to World Bank statistics from 2014. Gangs, offering up to $10,000 (£7,000) for a kidney, have increasingly targeted the country’s poor, making it a new hub for the organ trade across the Middle East. “The phenomenon is so widespread that authorities are not capable of fighting it,” said Firas al-Bayati, a human rights lawyer.
(Scientific American) – For decades physicians have known that a few children like Ceniya have unusual genetic mutations that counteract the effects of the sickle-cell flaw. Researchers would like to re-create their uncommon physiology in everyone with sickle-cell anemia. Though not technically a cure, the compensatory treatment would spare many of the 300,000 infants around the world who are born every year with sickle cell and who often do not live beyond childhood. It would also make life a lot easier for the more than 70,000 individuals living with the disease in the U.S., who, despite treatment that mitigates some of the most serious effects of the condition, often die in their 40s.
(The Telegraph) – Was the judge, who acknowledged that “the safest point in time to have carried out the procedure has long since passed,” right in her refusal to withhold the circumcision order? Should children’s health be prioritised above the spirituality of parents? And can the widespread practice of male circumcision really be classed as genital mutilation?
(Nanotechnology Now) – Scientists at Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) have invented a new way to deliver cancer drugs deep into tumour cells. The NTU scientists create micro-sized gas bubbles coated with cancer drug particles and iron oxide nanoparticles, and then use magnets to direct these bubbles to gather around a specific tumour. Ultrasound is then used to vibrate the microbubbles, providing the energy to direct the drug particles into a targeted area.
(MIT Technology Review) – “A lot of people who hold sensitive data sets like medical images are just not going to share them for legal and regulatory concerns,” says Vitaly Shmatikov, a professor at Cornell Tech who studies privacy. “In some sense we’re depriving these people from the benefits of deep learning.” Shmatikov and researchers at Microsoft and Google are all working on ways to get around that privacy problem. By providing ways to use and train the artificial neural networks used in deep learning without needing to gobble up everything, they hope to be able to train smarter software, and convince the guardians of sensitive data to make use of such systems.
(The Conversation) – The sources of the opioid epidemic are complex, but one powerful motivator has been the pursuit of profit. Purdue Pharma, which calls itself a “pioneer in developing medications for reducing pain, a principal cause of human suffering,” is the producer of OxyContin, a timed-release formulation of oxycodone, an opioid pain reliever.
(New York Times) – According to a report from the Brookings Institution, medical device problems that we know about contribute to about 3,000 deaths per year in the United States. There may be many more we do not know about because we do not track medical device use the way we track prescription drugs for quality and safety. Codes that uniquely identify prescribed drugs are routinely included in medical claims data — such as those made public by the Medicare program. These can be mined for signals of problems. Instead, for medical devices, we rely on a passive system that’s not up to the task. Hospitals, nursing homes and medical device manufacturers and importers are required to notify the Food and Drug Administration of device safety problems. Doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are not.
(STAT News) – But for a while now, a component of the vaccine has caused more problems than it has solved, and has actually resulted in a relatively small number of cases of paralysis. So between this past Sunday and May 1, all countries that use the oral polio vaccine developed more than 60 years ago must stop administering the current formula and replace it with a new version. The unprecedented synchronized campaign, over 18 months in the planning, is appropriately known as “the switch.”
(New York Times) – Now high-resolution, next-generation sequencing has sharpened the view, and researchers are finding something surprising: About 20 percent of embryos have both normal and abnormal cells, and the percentage increases with maternal age. These so-called mosaic embryos have long been known, but they have been detectable during an active IVF cycle only in the last year. At least some of these embryos seem to mature into healthy children.
(Washington Post) – While 8 in 10 people of all ages think it is important to talk to their doctor about their end-of-life wishes, fewer than 1 in 10 report actually having had these discussions. But there are two participants in those end-of-life conversations: patient and doctor. Unless each realizes what the other wants, both risk coming away from those conversations feeling uncomfortable or sensing that things had not gone well.
(Medical Xpress) – Palliative care is designed to improve the quality of life of patients with a serious illness and their families. The World Health Organization and all major national and international cancer societies encourage early access to palliative care. Research indicates that for people with advanced cancer, early palliative care benefits both physical and mental health and can even extend life. However, a new study found that even patients who have benefited from early palliative care feel stigmatized because they see it as being associated with the end of life.
(The Epoch Times) – The Chinese military and paramilitary run an extensive system of hospitals, among the most well-appointed and staffed in the country. Since 2000 many of the facilities went through extensive remodelling, or had added to them large wings dedicated to fields of medicine that integrate transplantation surgery. Since 2005, Chinese officials have said that the vast majority of transplant organs come from death row prisoners—though this explanation fails to account for a vast industry that sprung up after 2000, as the number of death row prisoners was declining. Chinese hospitals have for the last 15 years performed a far greater number of transplants than death row prisoners could possibly supply.
(Nature) – At the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Fredrik Lanner is preparing to edit genes in human embryos. It’s the kind of research that sparked an international frenzy in April last year, when a Chinese team revealed that it had done the world’s first such experiments. But Lanner doesn’t expect his work, which will explore early human development, to cause such a fuss.A year of discussion about the ethics of embryo-editing research, and perhaps simply the passage of time, seems to have blunted its controversial edge — although such work remains subject to the same ethical anxieties that surround other reproductive-biology experiments. “At least in the scientific community, I sense more support for basic-research applications,” says Lanner, who gained approval for his experiments last June.
(NPR) – But the number of genetic counselors, the people who help both doctors and patients make sense of these tests, hasn’t expanded enough to keep up with that demand. There are just 4,000 certified genetic counselors in the country today. That’s one for every 80,000 Americans. “As genetic testing is growing and becoming more widely adopted by everyone for all sorts of different things, not just pregnancy, but cancer, heart disease, there is a disconnect,” says Neha Kumar, chief product officer at Recombine and a trained genetic counselor. “Who will actually interpret and provide those results to patients?”
Bioethicist Wendell Wallach talks about the moral challenges of Artificial Intelligence.
(The Washington Post) – Perinatal hospice grew as more parents connected online and learned about what has since become a flourishing community, Ruiz Ziegler said. Most hospitals will accommodate a parent’s end-of-life wishes, if they ask. But hospice care creates an especially gentle environment with professionals trained to handle despair.
(Boston Herald) – “Down syndrome is a canary in a coal mine in a lot of ways,” said Dr. Brian Skotko of MassGeneral Hospital for Children and senior author of the study. “It’s reflective of how we practice medicine with these tests and how it’s changing.” The paper, published in the journal Genetics in Medicine on Thursday, shows a national trend that seems to be magnified in Massachusetts, due in part to the widespread access to health care and medical technologies, authors say. The study found higher numbers of abortions in the Northeast and Hawaii and the lowest number in the South.
(National Post) – The steady stream of Canadians who continue to buy organs overseas are not only propping up a morally dubious trade, but putting their own lives at serious, long-term risk, suggests a new study. One of the lead authors says the findings offer more reason why the federal government should make participating in transplant tourism a criminal offence. People who obtained a kidney transplant outside Canada, then returned for after-care at a Toronto hospital, were three to four times as likely to die or lose the organ as those transplanted here, the researchers found. And they brought home some nasty souvenirs, including potentially deadly cases of hepatitis and tuberculosis, says the study.
(Nature) – When the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières called the worldwide shortage of snake antivenom a public-health crisis last September, Brazilian biochemist Paulo Lee Ho wasn’t surprised. He has spent his career at São Paulo’s Butantan Institute searching for better ways to create antivenom to treat bites from coral snakes. Conventional methods rely on natural coral-snake venom, which is hard to come by: the snakes produce only small amounts with each bite and are hard to raise in captivity. So Ho and others have turned to proteomics and synthetic biology in the hope of improving the quality and availability of antivenom. “We need a new way to meet the demand for antivenom from the Ministry of Health,” he says.
(The Guardian) – He was touted as the best of the best: Donor 9623 had an IQ of 160 and was an internationally acclaimed drummer who was working towards a PhD in neuroscience engineering. A lawsuit, filed on Wednesday by three families in Canada, alleges the donor was instead a convicted felon with multiple mental illness diagnoses, including schizophrenia. Filed against Georgia-based Xytex Corp and Outreach Health in Canada, the lawsuit alleges that the donor’s sperm was used for as many as 36 children in Canada, the United States and Britain.