(Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News) – Just before his death in 1988, Richard Feynman wrote on his blackboard in his Caltech office, “What I cannot create, I do not understand.” This statement has lived on in a way that perhaps not even professor Feynman could have predicted: as a founding tenet of the field of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is defined as, “the design and engineering of biologically based parts, novel devices and systems as well as the redesign of existing, natural biological systems” and this emerging technology is rapidly changing the way industry and academia are approaching problems within a wide range of applications—particularly medicine and drug development.
(MIT Technology Review) – Perhaps the best existing analog to Amino is the popular open-source electronic engineering kits made by DIY pioneer Arduino. “Only instead of playing with wires, circuit boards, and programming languages,” Stinson writes, “it’s bacteria, DNA, and incubators.” It’s also, of course, a living system. Even if bacteria aren’t held to the same cultural and ethical standards as, say, puppies, they’re very much living things. A world where everyone can build their own electronic devices seems like an unalloyed good, a proper democratization of science and engineering. But a world where everyone can muddle about in bacterial DNA?
(The Guardian) – Hospices in the UK must meet the challenge of an ageing Muslim population by overcoming barriers that deter Britain’s largest faith minority from using their services, ensuring that language, cultural and religious needs are met. The UK hospice network should see a significant increase in Muslim patients in coming years as a result of rising numbers of elderly Muslims combined with changes to traditional family structures, a new report says.
(CBS News) – For the first time, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital is opening a clinic for transgender patients. Transgender veterans will be able to receive primary care, hormonal therapy, mental health care and other services at The Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, starting this month.
(Eurekalert) – Johns Hopkins researchers report that a new study of mouse cells has revealed reasons why attempts to grow stem cells to maturity in the laboratory often fail, and provided a possible way to overcome such “developmental arrest.” Their findings, described in the Nov. 24 issue of the journal Cell Reports, will likely advance the use of stem cells to study and treat adult-onset heart disease, the investigators say.
(Science Codex) – Researchers from the Morgridge Institute for Research and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in Australia have devised a way to dramatically cut the time involved in reprogramming and genetically correcting stem cells, an important step to making future therapies possible. Led by Sara Howden, a postdoctoral fellow at MCRI and formerly with the Morgridge Institute, the study demonstrates how genetically repaired stem cells can be derived from patient skin cells in as little as two weeks, compared to conventional multi-step approaches that take more than three months.
(Washington Post) – First tested in patients a quarter-century ago, gene therapy — a risky approach aimed at fixing the malfunctioning genes at the root of some diseases — is finally emerging from its own darkness after weathering high-profile tragedies, including the death of a teenage patient. As it evolves from experimental to applied medicine, gene therapy might soon find itself steeped in a new controversy: soaring drug prices.
Public Health Ethics (vol. 8, no. 3, 2015) is available online by subscription only.
- “The Ethical Significance of Antimicrobial Resistance” by Jasper Littmann and A.M. Viens
- “The Choice to Travel: Health Tourists and the Spread of Antibiotic Resistance” by Michael R. Millar
- “Forensic Screening and Prevention in Children and Adolescents: Public Health Ethical Aspects” by Dorothee Horstkötter
- “Medicalization, Demedicalization and Beyond: Antisocial Behaviour and the Case of the Dutch Youth Law” by Dorothee Horstkötter, Wybo Dondorp, and Guido de Wert
- “Gene by Environment Research to Prevent Externalizing Problem Behavior: Ethical Questions Raised from a Public Healthcare Perspective” by Rabia R. Chhangur, et al.
- “Ebola and Learning Lessons from Moral Failures: Who Cares about Ethics?” by Maxwell J. Smith and Ross E.G. Upshur
(Washington Post) – A third of the clinical trial results that federal regulators reviewed to approve drugs made by large pharmaceutical companies in 2012 were never publicly reported, according to a new study that grades companies on their transparency. To assemble the report, a handful of dogged researchers pored over thousands of pages of regulatory documents, counting up the number of trials Food and Drug Administration regulators reviewed, versus how many trials were published or publicly reported.
(New York Times) – Six doctors swarmed around the body of the deceased organ donor and quickly started to operate. The kidneys came out first. Then the team began another delicate dissection, to remove an organ that is rarely, if ever, taken from a donor. Ninety minutes later they had it, resting in the palm of a surgeon’s hand: the uterus. The operation was a practice run. Within the next few months, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic expect to become the first in the United States to transplant a uterus into a woman who lacks one, so that she can become pregnant and give birth.
(Science Daily) – A new RNA test of blood platelets can be used to detect, classify and pinpoint the location of cancer by analyzing a sample equivalent to one drop of blood. Using this new method for blood-based RNA tests of blood platelets, researchers have been able to identify cancer with 96 per cent accuracy, scientists report.
Despite Substantial Progress, the World Fell Short of the Maternal Morality Target in the Millennium Development Goals
(Medical Xpress) – Progress was analysed on the basis of reductions in the maternal mortality ratio, the number of maternal deaths per 100 000 live births. The authors estimated levels and trends in maternal mortality for 183 countries from 1990 to 2015. Furthermore, they constructed projections to show the future reductions needed to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of less than 70 maternal deaths per 100 000 livebirths, globally, by 2030. Their analysis showed that the global MMR fell from approximately 385 deaths per 100 000 in 1990, to 216 in 2015, corresponding to a relative decline of 44%, with an estimated 303 000 maternal deaths worldwide in 2015. This was only just over half way to the MDG target of a 75% reduction.
(BBC) – A Scottish nurse who was readmitted to hospital after suffering complications arising from the Ebola infection has made a “full recovery”, doctors say. Pauline Cafferkey initially contracted Ebola while working at a treatment centre in Sierra Leone last year. She was successfully treated at the Royal Free Hospital in London, but was taken there again in October after the virus caused her to develop meningitis.
(Washington Post) – When Apple visionary Steve Jobs got a liver transplant in 2009 many wondered why the operation took place in Tennessee — more than 2,000 miles away from his home in Northern California. The answer has to do with money and the complexities of the U.S. transplant system. A typical patient with failing organs gets listed at only one transplant center close to them. But the rules set by the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit that manages the country’s organ transplant system under a federal government contract, allow people to apply for and get on wait lists at multiple centers simultaneously, and Jobs had the resources to do this.
(The New York Times) – But even then, it wasn’t clear whether Crispr was anything more than a curiosity. Unlike most living things — people, animals, plants — the cells of bacteria have no nucleus, and their RNA and DNA interact in a different way. Because of that, Jinek says, it was hard to say ‘‘whether the system would be portable’’ — whether it would work in anything except bacteria. Going over the problem in Doudna’s office, Jinek began sketching the two RNA molecules on the whiteboard. In their natural form, the two are separate, but Doudna and Jinek believed that it would be possible to combine them into a single tool — one that was more likely to work in a wide range of organisms. ‘‘That was the moment the project went from being ‘This is cool, this is wonky’ to ‘Whoa, this could be transformative,’?’’ Doudna says.
(Scientific American) – The number of U.S. women who use long-acting reversible contraceptive devices is soaring, according to a new federal report. The National Center for Health Statistics this week released findings from a national survey based on personal interviews of about 10,400 women. Whereas the birth control pill and the condom are the most commonly used methods, the number of women using long-acting implants such as intrauterine devices (IUDs)—the third-most common method—has gone up dramatically since the beginning of this century.
(Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News) – Preparing stem cell lines is a balancing act. Stem cells should be highly potent, retaining the ability to differentiate into desired adult cell types. But they shouldn’t run riot. They shouldn’t form tumors. Striking a compromise between high potency and safety, researchers based at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) have developed a kind of cell culture that produces progenitor cells, which are early descendants of stem cells. Unlike pluripotent stem cells, which retain a high degree of differentiation ability, progenitor cells possess only limited differentiation ability. They are, in a sense, semi-potent.
(Japan Today) – Gene therapy has dramatically improved the conditions of two bedridden teens suffering from a rare disease, Jichi Medical University said Tuesday. The Tochigi Prefecture-based university said that the finding could lead to the development of treatment for other rare neurological diseases. The two teens have a deficiency in an enzyme called aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase (AADC), which is necessary to produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Patients with AADC deficiency, which emerges within a month after birth, have only minimal motor skills.
Journal of Medical Ethics (vol. 41, no. 11, 2015) is available online by subscription only.
- “Directed Altruistic Living Donation: What is Wrong with the Beauty Contest?” by Greg Moorlock
- “‘What’s Psychology Got to Do with It?’ Applying Psychological Theory to Understanding Failures in Modern Healthcare Settings” by Michelle Rydon-Grange
- “Treatment-Resistant Depression and Physician-Assisted Death” by Franklin G. Miller
- “Physician-Assisted Death Does Not Violate Professional Integrity” by Udo Schulenk and Suzanne van de Vathorst
- “Obesity, Paternalism and Fairness” by Johannes Kniess
- “Questioning the Significance of the Non-Identity Problem in Applied Ethics” by Rob Lawlor
- “The Ethics of Biosafety Considerations in Gain-of-Function Research Resulting in the Creation of Potential Pandemic Pathogens” by Nicholas Greig Evans, Marc Lipsitch, and Meira Levinson
- “Challenges with Participant Reimbursement: Experiences from a Post-Trial Access Study” by Kathryn Therese Mngadi, et al.
- “Participant Selection for Preventive Regenerative Medicine Trials: Ethical Challenges of Selecting Individuals at Risk” by Sophie L. Niemansburg, et al.
American Journal of Medical Quality (vol. 30, no. 6, 2015) is available online by subscription only.
- “The Meaningful Use of Electronic Health Records and Health Care Quality” by Lisa M. Kern, et al.
- “Training in Quality and Safety: The Current Landscape” by Andrew S. Karasick and David B. Nash
- “Adherence to Standard of Care in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Suspected Bacterial Meningitis” by David Chia, et al.
- “A Continuous Quality Improvement Initiative for Electronic Prescribing in Ambulatory Care” by Ajit A. Dhavle, et al.