(The Guardian) – A male contraceptive gel has been found to work reliably in a trial in primates, bringing the prospect of an alternative form of birth control for humans closer. The product, called Vasalgel, is designed to be a reversible and less invasive form of vasectomy and in the latest study was 100% effective at preventing conception. A blob of the gel is injected into the sperm-carrying tube, known as the vas deferens, and acts as a long-lasting barrier.
(Scroll.in) – The problem was that these trials contained a “no screening” control arm where about 141,000 women were deliberately not offered any test for cervical cancer in order to compare the differences in outcomes between screened and unscreened women – that is, how many in each group would fall ill and die from cervical cancer. A total of 548 women enrolled in the trial eventually died of cervical cancer, of which 254 were from the group that had not been screened. These 254 women were not given the option of having their cancers detected early and treated.
(Nature) – The ECHO project emerged from the ashes of the controversial National Children’s Study (NCS), a programme run by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) that aimed to track 100,000 children from before birth to age 21. The NIH cancelled that study in 2014, after spending more than a decade and US$1.2 billion trying to get it off the ground. ECHO organizers say that their project will be different. By using cohorts that are already under way, they hope to side-step some of the problems that plagued the NCS, which had trouble recruiting participants, defining its hypotheses and sticking to its budget.
(The Washington Post) – Doctors often fail to recommend genetic testing for breast-cancer patients, even those who are at high risk for mutations linked to ovarian and other cancers, according to a study published Tuesday. Researchers said the findings, which appear online in the Journal of the American Medical Association, are troubling because genetic tests can help guide women’s choice of treatments for existing disease, as well as point to ways to reduce the risk of future cancer. Women who have a dangerous mutation might choose to have more stringent screening or opt to have surgery before a cancer develops, they said.
(Vox) – Beatings. Starvation. Rape. And then death, administered quickly and with sickening efficiency. Those are the hallmarks of Saydnaya Prison, a facility just outside of Damascus that the Assad regime has turned into a death camp. Many of the inmates are civilian dissidents, and they are mostly killed not long after their arrival. As detailed in Amnesty International’s newest report from Syria, “Human Slaughterhouse: Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison,” between 5,000 and 13,000 people have been executed there since the civil war began in 2011.
(Philadelphia Inquirer) – It sounds like a godsend for America’s opioid epidemic: genetic tests that can predict how a patient will respond to narcotic painkillers, as well as an individual’s risk of misuse, addiction, and potentially deadly side effects. Proove Biosciences of Irvine, Calif., claims its “opioid response” and “opioid risk” tests are the only precision medicine tools on the market to do all that, giving doctors information “to guide opioid selection and dosage decisions as well as treat side effects.”
(BBC) – In 2016, African Americans accounted for 30% of the overall organ donation waiting list, and 33% of the kidney list, despite being only 13% of the US population. A black organ recipient doesn’t have to have a black donor. But they would be more likely to have a successful match – based on certain genetic markers and antibodies – if more black donors were available. The percentage of black Americans who donate organs has risen since 1988, but there is still an outsized need.
(The Scientist) – Researchers in Japan who have been developing a cell therapy for macular degeneration received support from health authorities this week (February 1) to begin a clinical trial using donor-derived induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells converted to retinal cells. This will be the first trial in which the team’s physicians administer donor cells, an approach expected to lower costs and preparation time. Previously, this same group of scientists, led by the Riken Center for Developmental Biology’s Masayo Takahashi, tested an iPS cell-based therapy for macular degeneration using the patients’ own cells.
(The Guardian) – Vatican officials have defended their decision to invite a Chinese former deputy health minister to a conference on organ trafficking despite concerns that China still relies on the organs of executed prisoners in its transplant programme. Medical ethics experts and human rights activists have decried the move by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to invite Huang Jiefu to a two-day conference starting on Tuesday that aims to expose organ trafficking and seeks to find “moral and appropriate solutions” to the issue.
(The Atlantic) – Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, is deeply interested in matters of life and death. His most lasting legacy from his time on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is likely Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius, a case about religious objections to the rules on birth-control coverage in the Affordable Care Act, which later became a landmark Supreme Court decision. But he hasn’t confined his writing to briefs and rulings. In 2006—the year he joined the Tenth Circuit—he published a book called The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, outlining the moral, legal, and logistical challenges that emerge at the end of life. The most remarkable thing about the book is its measuredness.
(South China Morning Post) – State media has published a rare, lengthy analysis on the possibility of legalising non-commercial surrogate motherhood to support the two-child policy. In the article, People’s Daily said many people believed relaxing regulations around surrogacy could help give more families a second child. It quoted experts who said surrogate motherhood should be considered an option in cases such as high-risk pregnancy and infertility.
(New Atlas) – Glioblastoma is an aggressive form of brain cancer that kills most patients within two years of diagnosis. In tests on mice last year, a team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that adult skin cells could be transformed into stem cells and used to hunt down the tumors. Building on that, they’ve now found that the process works with human cells, and can be administered quickly enough to beat the ticking time-bombs.
(Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News) – Scientists at Brown University report that they have created 3D neural cell cultures of mini-brains that grow blood vessels. The networks of capillaries within the small balls of nervous system cells could enable new kinds of large-scale lab investigations into diseases, such as stroke or concussion, where the interaction between the brain and its circulatory system is paramount, said Diane Hoffman-Kim, Ph.D., senior author of the study (“A Three-Dimensional Neural Spheroid Model for Capillary-Like Network Formation”) that appears in the Journal of Neuroscience Methods.
(Kaiser Health News) – Despite a 99 percent failure rate and another major setback last month, Alzheimer’s researchers are plowing ahead with hundreds of experiments — and a boost in federal money — to try to a crack a deadly disease that has flummoxed them for decades. A law passed by Congress in December and signed by President Obama sets aside $3 billion over 10 years to fund research of brain diseases and precision medicine, a shot in the arm for Alzheimer’s research. The law, called the 21st Century Cures Act, also includes prize money to encourage Alzheimer’s experiments.
(The Atlantic) – While most theologians aren’t paying it much attention, some technologists are convinced that artificial intelligence is on an inevitable path toward autonomy. How far away this may be depends on whom you ask, but the trajectory raises some fundamental questions for Christianity—as well as religion broadly conceived, though for this article I’m going to stick to the faith tradition I know best. In fact, AI may be the greatest threat to Christian theology since Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
(Science Daily) – Researchers have devised a rapid screening method to select the most promising nanoparticles, thereby fast-tracking the development of future treatments. In less than a week, they are able to determine whether nanoparticles are compatible or not with the human body — an analysis that previously required several months of work. This discovery, may well lead to the swift, safe and less expensive development of nanotechnology applied to medicine.
(NPR) – It was a diagnosis that no one could ever want. But the fact that Schwister was able to get a firm diagnosis while still alive is a relatively new development that represents a step forward in understanding a group of devastating neurological disorders. And, some biochemists say, it could lead to better ways of diagnosing brain diseases that are much more common, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
(The Guardian) – But advances in epigenetics – the study of reversible chemical modifications to chromosomes that play a role in determining which genes are activated in which cells – might soon start making their way out of research labs and into criminal forensics facilities. Take the idea of the epigenetic clock, one of the ways in which our cells and DNA can betray our age. Epigenetic patterns change throughout our lives, along broadly predictable paths, making it possible to infer age from DNA samples.
(NPR) – Federal health officials may be about to get greatly enhanced powers to quarantine people, as part of an ongoing effort to stop outbreaks of dangerous contagious diseases. The new powers are outlined in a set of regulations the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published late last month to update the agency’s quarantine authority for the first time since the 1940s. The outlined changes are being welcomed by many health lawyers, bioethicists and public health specialists as providing important tools for protecting the public. But the CDC’s increased authority is also raising fears that the rules could be misused in ways that violate civil liberties.
(The Guardian) – Reflecting on the difference in how I was treated when people saw me as a man, I realised other women were also held back by this. I had assumed the problem was in my body. Now I saw that it wasn’t being female that was stopping me from being myself; it was society’s perpetual oppression of women. Once I realised this, I gradually came to the conclusion that I had to detransition.