(Managed Care Magazine) – Mylan Pharmaceuticals––currently the target of public and congressional ire over its hefty price increases for the EpiPen––had the second-highest executive compensation among all U.S. drug and biotech firms during the past five years, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. The big paydays are unusual in view of the company’s small size in the U.S. drug industry, where it is No. 11 by revenue, the article notes.
(Medscape) – Early implementation of palliative care can improve quality of life (QOL), mood, coping, and the frequency of end-of-life discussions for patients with newly diagnosed lung and gastrointestinal (GI) cancer, according to new findings. The study also found that early integration of palliative care resulted in an increase in discussions about patient end-of-life care preferences. However, the effect of palliative care interventions, when compared with standard care, differed by cancer type, noted lead author Joseph Greer, PhD, clinical director of psychology and a research scientist in the Center for Psychiatric Oncology and Behavioral Services at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.
(The Guardian) – Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the alleged theft of thousands of DNA samples from a research laboratory in Sardinia that had been collected more than a decade ago as part of a study into longevity. The launch of the inquiry comes weeks after rights to the DNA samples were apparently sold to a British biotechnology company called Tiziana Life Sciences in a bankruptcy deal that has been vigorously opposed by some citizens and local politicians.
(Nature) – Likewise, the citizens of dozens of European cities have no idea that their sewage is being sifted through right now, officially to protect them; or that the police are studying the results to track crime. The toilet bowl and its contents, once extremely private, are becoming very public indeed. It’s called wastewater-based epidemiology. Improved sensing techniques and analysis have made the contents of sewers and waste pipes a powerful source of data.
(MIT Technology Review) – A company that stepped in to salvage the first-ever medical use of human embryonic stem cells says it has encouraging results in patients with spinal-cord injury. Today, Asterias Biotherapeutics, the company in Fremont, California, that’s developing the treatment, will present data it says shows some gains of movement and sensation in five patients with spinal injuries who received injections of nervous system cells. The company’s technology is notable because of its link to the original discovery of human embryonic stem cells nearly 20 years ago.
(Washington Post) – A cross-ideological group of ethicists recently signed a powerful public letter opposing the proposed federal regulation banning the sale of hematopoietic stem cells, used in bone marrow transplantation. These cells are used in the treatment of patients with serious blood or bone marrow cancer. Often, cell transplantation is needed to save the patient’s life. The new rule would reverse a 2011 court decision holding that offering payment to bone marrow donors is not forbidden by the National Organ Transplantation Act, if it is done by means of a new, relatively noninvasive procedure known as apheresis.
(Managed Care Magazine) – This hasn’t been the best of years for the pharmaceutical industry on Capitol Hill. Even with pro-business Republicans running the show in Congress, pharma executives could not avoid being dragged before the C-Span cameras repeatedly to defend the spiraling cost of drugs and some particularly egregious displays of hubris by certain individuals (e.g., “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli). The bad publicity — along with individual Americans’ sticker shock at their own prescriptions — has led most Americans, including some Republicans, to support some kind of government action to reduce drug prices.
(NPR) – Health care providers and insurers agree that it’s in everyone’s best interest to refer women for genetic testing if their family history of breast or ovarian cancer puts them at higher risk. What they don’t agree on is what should happen before testing — whether women need to be advised by a certified genetic counselor or someone with similar training before the test is ordered.
(New York Times) – The documents show that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, known today as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease. The studies used in the review were handpicked by the sugar group, and the article, which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, minimized the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.
(Nature) – After more than a decade of controversy, the United States is nudging towards approving research on human–animal embryos. Last week, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) closed a month-long public consultation on ‘chimaera research’, and is widely expected to lift a moratorium that forbids federal funding for such work. Human–animal chimaeras are essentially research animals that contain transplanted human cells. Such biologically mixed animals have long been used as staple experimental systems in biomedical studies, including cancer and AIDS research. But, for some, adding human stem cells to animal embryos is a step too far — which is why the NIH imposed the moratorium, in 2015. Before then, it funded chimaeric embryo studies as long as they did not use primate blastocysts.
(BBC) – Scientists say early experiments suggest it may one day be possible to make babies without using eggs. They have succeeded in creating healthy baby mice by tricking sperm into believing they were fertilising normal eggs. The findings in Nature Communications, could, in the distant future, mean women can be removed from the baby-making process, say the researchers. For now, the work helps to explain some of the details of fertilisation.
(Nature) – Ebola survivors are teaching scientists some surprising lessons. Long-term studies have revealed that the virus lasts longer in survivors’ bodies than previously suspected. The findings, presented on 12 September at an Ebola-virus conference in Antwerp, Belgium, underscore the need for extended tracking of people who have beaten Ebola and other rare infections. Researchers have long known that the virus can persist in people who have recovered from the infection. But the size of the West African outbreak, coupled with improved monitoring technologies, is changing how scientists view life after Ebola — and how to prevent future outbreaks.
(BBC) – The Belgian Paralympian Marieke Vervoort, who suffers from an incurable degenerative muscle disease, says she will choose euthanasia, but not yet. The wheelchair racer, who won a silver medal on Saturday in the 400m, said she signed euthanasia papers in 2008. The Belgian press had reported she might take her life after Rio, but she rejected the speculation at a news conference following her victory.
(Medical Xpress) – A new study on euthanasia trends in Belgium, which shows an increase in reported cases since legislation was introduced, provides lessons for countries that have legalized assisted dying. The research is published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). In 2002, Belgium legalized the intentional ending of life by a physician at the patient’s explicit request. The government introduced safeguards to protect patients, including a multidisciplinary review panel—the Belgian Federal Control and Evaluation Committee for Euthanasia—to ensure that each procedure was performed according to legal guidelines.
(The Guardian) – British surgeons have successfully performed the world’s first robotic operation inside the eye, potentially revolutionising the way such conditions are treated. The procedure was carried out at John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, where surgeons welcomed its success. On completing the operation, Professor Robert MacLaren said: “There is no doubt in my mind that we have just witnessed a vision of eye surgery in the future. Current technology with laser scanners and microscopes allows us to monitor retinal diseases at the microscopic level, but the things we see are beyond the physiological limit of what the human hand can operate on.”
(Daily Mail) – Abortions of babies with a minor facial deformity have nearly tripled in the past five years, official figures show. A growing number of terminations are carried out due to a cleft palate or lip – a condition which causes a gap in the roof of the mouth, upper lip or both, but is usually easily fixed by surgery. It is thought that increased access to tests that diagnose the condition in the womb are behind a rise in the number of parents choosing to end pregnancies.
(STAT News) – Scientists on Monday will urge the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on rogue clinics across the country that market stem cell treatments for a dizzying array of ailments from autism to paralysis to erectile dysfunction. But the move comes at an awkward time — because research on stem cell treatments is just starting to bear fruit. Tantalizing results from a series of small studies suggest injections with certain types of stem cells may be effective treatments for conditions such as stroke and multiple sclerosis.
(Reuters) – In each case – and in others Reuters found – death resulted from a drug-resistant bacterial infection contracted while the patients were receiving hospital care, medical records show. Their death certificates omit any mention of the infections. Fifteen years after the U.S. government declared antibiotic-resistant infections to be a grave threat to public health, a Reuters investigation has found that infection-related deaths are going uncounted, hindering the nation’s ability to fight a scourge that exacts a significant human and financial toll.
(The Atlantic) – New York will allow late-term abortions for women whose pregnancies endanger their health, a move that brings the state into federal compliance and ends decades of confusion faced by patients and providers of the procedure, state officials said. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued an opinion publicly on Thursday to clarify that New Yorkers have all the protections afforded to women in the United States under the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade and are not beholden to the state’s more-restrictive abortion law.
(The Atlantic) – James Hallenbeck, a palliative-care specialist at Stanford University, often compares dying to black holes. “We can see the effect of black holes, but it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to look inside them. They exert an increasingly strong gravitational pull the closer one gets to them. As one passes the ‘event horizon,’ apparently the laws of physics begin to change.” What does dying feel like? Despite a growing body of research about death, the actual, physical experience of dying—the last few days or moments—remains shrouded in mystery. Medicine is just beginning to peek beyond the horizon.