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Ukraine’s Backlog of Babies Born to Surrogates Begins to Ease

June 11, 2020

(New York Times) – For weeks, more than 100 foreign genetic parents of babies born to surrogate mothers in Ukraine have been waiting nervously, prevented by Ukraine’s rigid coronavirus restrictions from entering the country to pick up their newborns. But the government has been granting some exemptions, and on Wednesday, having gone through a mandatory quarantine, 11 couples from Argentina and Spain were joyously united with their newest family members. It was a first step in whittling down a backlog of babies born into Ukraine’s surrogate motherhood industry during the pandemic that some officials have said could swell to as many as 1,000.

Researcher Involved in Retracted Lancet Study Has Faculty Appointment Terminated, as Details in Scandal Emerge

June 11, 2020

(STAT News) – The University of Utah has “mutually agreed” to terminate the faculty appointment of Amit Patel, who was among the authors of two retracted papers on Covid-19 and who appears to have played a key role in involving a little-known company that has ignited a firestorm of controversy. “The terminated position was an unpaid adjunct appointment with the Department of Biomedical Engineering,” a university spokesperson told STAT. Patel had listed the affiliation on both papers, published in the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine. The spokesperson  declined to comment on whether the decision was related to the retractions.

For Experts Who Study Coronaviruses, a Grim Vindication

June 11, 2020

(Undark) – The now prophetic words could be found buried at the end of a research paper published in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews in October of 2007: “The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic animals in southern China, is a time bomb.” The warning — made nearly 13 years ago and more than four years after a worrying first wave of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, killed nearly 800 people globally — was among the earliest to predict the emergence of something like SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the current pandemic of Covid-19. Many other warnings would follow.

Scientists Create Embryo-Like Research Model from Human Stem Cells

June 10, 2020

(Reuters) – Scientists have used human embryonic stem cells to create an embryo-like research model to help them study some of the earliest stages of human development. The model overcomes some of the ethical restrictions on using human embryos for research and will allow scientists to study a period of human development known as the “black box” period, which they say has never been directly observed before. 

Human Trials Are Beginning Early for One Possible Coronavirus Vaccine, Here’s Where the Others Stand

June 10, 2020

(Newsweek) – Human trials for one potential novel coronavirus vaccine will begin two months earlier than anticipated, Johnson & Johnson announced Wednesday. The vaccine the company is creating through Janssen Pharmaceuticals, its drug development arm, joins 10 others that have already entered the clinical stage of development, which means they have received necessary approvals to begin testing on human subjects.

Exclusive: Lilly COVID-19 Treatment Could Be Authorized for Use as Soon as September–Chief Scientist

June 10, 2020

(Reuters) – Eli Lilly and Co could have a drug specifically designed to treat COVID-19 authorized for use as early as September if all goes well with either of two antibody therapies it is testing, its chief scientist told Reuters on Wednesday. Lilly is also doing preclinical studies of a third antibody treatment for the illness caused by the new coronavirus that could enter human clinical trials in the coming weeks, Chief Scientific Officer Daniel Skovronsky said in an interview.

Nigerian Minister Calls for Action on ‘Alarming’ Increase in Rapes During Coronavirus Lockdown

June 10, 2020

(Reuters) – Nigerian Minister of Women Affairs Pauline Tallen called on law enforcement to expedite rape cases as they spiked during lockdowns aimed at containing the spread of the new coronavirus. Her call followed protests (here) earlier this week over sexual violence in West Africa’s most populous nation and a series of high-profile rapes. 

Mini-Organs Push Along Covid-19 and Other Virus Research

June 10, 2020

(Knowable Magazine) – In the case of Covid-19, scientists already have used organoids and related systems to confirm that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease, infects gut tissues. They have also been able to test and identify promising medications. They’ve even built organoids based on the tissues of bats, the likely source of the virus, in order to study other coronaviruses that have the potential to cross over into people.

Who’s to Blame? These Three Scientists Are at the Heart of the Surgisphere COVID-19 Scandal

June 10, 2020

(Science) – Three unlikely collaborators are at the heart of the fast-moving COVID-19 research scandal, which led to retractions last week by The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), and the withdrawal of an online preprint, after the trove of patient data they all relied on was challenged. The three physician-scientists never were at the same institution nor had they ever before written together, but they are the only authors in common on the disputed papers, and the other co-authors all have ties to at least one of them. Their partnership, which seized a high-impact role during a global public health crisis, has now ended disastrously.

Social Distancing and Shutdowns Have Been Astonishingly Effective at Blunting the Pandemic

June 9, 2020

(Vox) – Lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, closed schools, and canceled public events prevented millions of Covid-19 coronavirus cases and deaths, according to two new peer-reviewed studies in the journal Nature. One of the studies estimated the number of Covid-19 cases with and without these tough interventions. They found that in six countries, including China and the US, pandemic control policies had a huge effect. In the United States alone, the measures stopped 4.8 million more confirmed cases of Covid-19 and up to 60 million infections in total. In China, they prevented 285 million infections. In the second study, researchers looked at the number of deaths from Covid-19 in 11 countries in Europe. They found that 3.1 million deaths in these countries were avoided with pandemic control measures.  

Artificial-Intelligence Aims to Tame the Coronavirus Literature

June 9, 2020

(Nature) – The COVID-19 literature has grown in much the same way as the disease’s transmission: exponentially. The NIH’s COVID-19 Portfolio, a website that tracks papers related to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and the disease it causes, lists more than 28,000 articles — far too many for any researcher to read (See ‘Explosive Growth’; code and data at github.com/jperkel/covidlit). But a fast-growing set of artificial-intelligence (AI) tools might help researchers and clinicians to quickly sift through the literature. Driven by a combination of factors — including the availability of a large collection of relevant papers, advances in natural-language processing (NLP) technology and the urgency of the pandemic itself — these tools use AI to find the studies that are most relevant to the user, and in some cases to extract specific findings from the results.

Gilead’s Remdesivir Prevents Lung Damage in COVID-19 Study on Monkeys

June 9, 2020

(Reuters) – Gilead Sciences Inc’s (GILD.O) antiviral drug remdesivir prevented lung disease in macaque monkeys infected with the new coronavirus, according to a study published in the journal Nature on Tuesday.  The findings were first reported in April by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a “preprint,” prior to traditional academic validation provided by a medical journal.

Unpacking the New WHO Controversy Over Asymptomatic COVID-19 Transmission

June 9, 2020

(TIME) – For months, researchers have warned that people without any COVID-19 symptoms could still be silent carriers of the disease, making it that much harder to get the pandemic under control—and that much more important to take precautions like social distancing and wearing a mask, even if you feel fine. So it came as a surprise when Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) technical lead for COVID-19, said at a press briefing on June 8 that asymptomatic transmission appears to be “very rare.” Her statement came just days after the organization directed healthy people living in areas with widespread community transmission to wear fabric face masks in public to help contain the advance of the disease.

The Pandemic and Legal Abortion: What Happens When Access Is Limited?

June 9, 2020

(NPR) – Around the world, the pandemic has made it harder for women — especially young women and women in lower-income or rural settings — to access contraception and abortion services. The International Planned Parenthood Federation reports that over 5,000 reproductive health clinics globally have closed since the start of the pandemic due to COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures. In some cases, they have closed because of a lack of personal protective equipment to keep doctors and patients safe from contracting the virus.

The Sexual-Health Supply Chain Is Broken

June 9, 2020

(The Atlantic) – DKT’s struggles highlight the fragility of a global supply chain in which essential goods and medicines are often sourced from a small handful of countries whose competitive advantage has allowed them to dominate various steps of the production cycle. This is not a challenge limited to reproductive health: All over the world, manufacturing, shipping, and logistics have slowed or halted altogether as governments have closed factories, grounded flights, and sealed off borders in response to the coronavirus. But whereas for most goods, this represents little more than an inconvenience, when it comes to vital sexual- and reproductive-health commodities, such breakdowns can put lives at risk.

Coronavirus Spread by People with No Symptoms ‘Appears to Be Rare,’ WHO Official Says

June 8, 2020

(CNN) – The spread of Covid-19 by someone who is not showing symptoms appears to be rare, Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for coronavirus response and head of the emerging diseases and zoonoses unit, said during a media briefing in Geneva on Monday. “From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual,” Van Kerkhove said on Monday.

At Least 7 Coronavirus Strains Circulating in Northern California, Study Finds

June 8, 2020

(UPI) – At least seven strains of the new coronavirus have been circulating in California since the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States started, an analysis published Monday by the journal Science has revealed. The findings suggest that the cases of the disease, caused by SARS-CoV-2, likely originated from several sources, including not only overseas travelers but also from visitors from other states — like Washington — as well, the authors said. 

WHO Says Pandemic ‘Far from Over’ as Daily Cases Hit Record High

June 8, 2020

(Reuters) – New coronavirus cases had their biggest daily increase ever as the pandemic worsens globally and has yet to peak in central America, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday, urging countries to press on with efforts to contains the virus.  “More than six months into the pandemic, this is not the time for any country to take its foot off the pedal,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online briefing.

Coronavirus: The Chaplains at the Front Line of End-of-Life Care

June 8, 2020

(BBC) – Coronavirus has radically altered the working life of hospitals. But it has not just affected the doctors, nurses and ancillary staff. While the main role of chaplains – helping patients find a sense of peace – remains unchanged, the way they are doing that has changed beyond recognition. Lying on a table within the chapel of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is a special document. On its pages are prayers and blessings for dying patients to be read out not by a person of the cloth but by a member of staff – such as a nurse or doctor – in the event a chaplain is unavailable. The document’s very existence is testament to the immense impact of Covid-19 on the inner workings of the health service.

Abortion Opponents Protest COVID-19 Vaccines’ Use of Fetal Cells

June 8, 2020

(Science) – Senior Catholic leaders in the United States and Canada, along with other antiabortion groups, are raising ethical objections to promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates that are manufactured using cells derived from human fetuses electively aborted decades ago. They have not sought to block government funding for the vaccines, which include two candidate vaccines that the Trump administration plans to support with an investment of up to $1.7 billion, as well as a third candidate made by a Chinese company in collaboration with Canada’s National Research Council (NRC). But they are urging funders and policymakers to ensure that companies develop other vaccines that do not rely on such human fetal cell lines and, in the United States, asking the government to “incentivize” firms to only make vaccines that don’t rely on fetal cells.

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