(Kaiser Health News) – Americans in their 80s and 90s are not the ones amassing the largest medical bills to hold off death, according to a new analysis that challenges a widely held belief about the costs of end-of-life care. Younger seniors — those with potentially longer expectancies — are. Medicare claims data for 2014 for beneficiaries who died the same year shows that average Medicare spending per person peaked at age 73 — at $43,353, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported Thursday. That compared with $33,381 per person for 85-year-olds and among 90-year-olds, $27,779 per person. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)
(Euekalert) – It has been difficult to generate human embryonic stem cells at the earliest stage of pluripotency, in what is named “ground” or “naïve” state, whereas this is readily done with mouse cells. The labs of Rudolf Jaenisch at MIT, Joe Ecker at the Salk Institute, and Didier Trono at EPFL have now developed a four-step process for determining accurate signatures of human embryonic stem cells and relating them to precise developmental stages. The work, a first for human embryonic stem cells, is published in Cell Stem Cell.
(Inverse) – Thanks to science, we already have cyborg rats and cyborg beetles. Cyborg humans seem inevitable — all the more so now that Luke Skywalker-style advanced prosthetics are coming to market. While bionics are not yet advanced enough to rival natural limbs much less incentivize voluntary replacement, a “better arm” is likely coming. When it arrives, cyborgization will be possible, but only with the assistance of a medical professional offering anatomical upgrades, something today’s physicians could lose their licenses for doing. The question is whether or not that situation is likely to change.
(The Atlantic) – And why stop with Granny? You could have the same afterlife for yourself in any simulated environment you like. But even if that kind of technology is possible, and even if that digital entity thought of itself as existing in continuity with your previous self, would you really be the same person? As a neuroscientist, my interest lies mainly in a more practical question: is it even technically possible to duplicate yourself in a computer program? The short answer is: probably, but not for a while.
(STAT News) – Federal regulators on Tuesday gave Juno Therapeutics the all-clear to resume testing an experimental cancer treatment, just days after shutting down the trial because of three patient deaths. Juno is at work in a newfangled field of oncology in which scientists remove a patient’s own white blood cells and rewire them to home in on cancerous growths, part of the growing field of immunotherapy. The Food and Drug Administration put the study on hold last week after three young leukemia patients who had received Juno’s experimental therapy developed fatal brain swelling.
(Medical Xpress) – A large Canadian study has shown a link between blood donor characteristics and transfusion recipients’ outcomes. This is the first study to suggest that red blood cell transfusions from young donors and from female donors may be associated with poorer survival in recipients. Red blood cell transfusions are the most common medical procedure provided in hospitals, with more than 100 million units collected worldwide every year for this purpose, according to the World Health Organization.
(Reuters) – The Zika outbreak rampaging through Latin America will likely burn itself out in the next two to three years, based on the fact that people develop immunity to the virus after an initial infection, British scientists said on Thursday. The researchers, whose work is published in the journal Science, estimated that infections from the mosquito-borne virus will become so widespread in affected countries that populations will develop what is called “herd immunity.” This occurs when a high percentage of a population has become immune to an infection either through developing natural immunity or through vaccination, making a wider outbreak less likely.
(Science Daily) – Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have mapped out the sets of biological and chemical signals necessary to quickly and efficiently direct human embryonic stem cells to become pure populations of any of 12 cell types, including bone, heart muscle and cartilage. The ability to make pure populations of these cells within days rather than the weeks or months previously required is a key step toward clinically useful regenerative medicine — potentially allowing researchers to generate new beating heart cells to repair damage after a heart attack or to create cartilage or bone to reinvigorate creaky joints or heal from trauma.
(Scientific American) – In an unusual move for a sitting president, Barack Obama has published a scholarly paper in a scientific journal. The paper, which discusses the success and future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was published Monday (July 11)in the prestigious medical journal JAMA. It may be the first time a sitting president has authored a complete academic article — with an abstract, findings and conclusions — that’s been published in a scientific journal, at least in recent history. However, several other presidents have written commentaries or opinion pieces that have been published in scientific journals during their presidency, including George W. Bush, who wrote about access to health care in a paper published in JAMA in 2004, and Bill Clinton, who wrote a commentary published in the journal Science in 1997.
(The Verge) – 23andMe, the direct-to-consumers genetics company, is launching a new service that allows researchers to use 23andMe’s saliva collection kit and genotyping services for their own genetic research studies. In return, research participants can decide to enroll in the 23andMe database and receive information about their genetic makeup. The service benefits 23andMe both in terms of new revenue (the company will charge $199 per DNA sample), as well as new patients’ genetic data that will be included in the 23andMe database, if patients agree to it. That means that, if patients give their consent, this anonymous aggregated genetic data can be sold by 23andMe to other researchers and pharmaceutical companies for other research purposes.
(TIME) – About 750,000 Americans travel abroad to receive medical care and plastic surgery every year, usually in hopes of cheaper rates. But a new report from U.S. health officials reveals that some Americans have contracted severe infections from getting plastic surgery—including breast augmentations, liposuction and buttock lifts, among other procedures—in foreign countries, highlighting the possible risks of medical tourism.
(The Atlantic) – In the world of cancer medicine, bureaucracy can be as difficult an adversary as tumors. And sometimes, the biggest wins aren’t in making splashy, technology-driven scientific discoveries, but in doing the thankless, unglamorous logistical work that allows patients to actually benefit from said discoveries. “It’s about making sure that the things we’ve done are genuinely going to help people,” says Rahman. Every year, 225,000 women around the world are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and between 10 and 15 percent of these cases are driven by inherited mutations in two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2. It’s important for women to know if they’re part of that 15 percent; their health, and that of their relatives, might depend on it.
(Medical News Today) – Faulty genes are major triggers and drivers of cancer, and the more knowledge we have about them individually, the better we can predict, track, and treat the disease in a way that is specific to individual patients’ particular genetic promoters. To do this, researchers need models that are as realistic as possible. Cell and animal models help, but they do not meet the need at the tissue level. Now, using tissue engineering techniques, researchers have created a human colon model that allows them to identify and track the genes that drive colorectal cancer from initial abnormal mass to invasive tumor.
(New York Times) – Before they see a doctor, most patients turn to websites and smartphone apps. Caution is advised. Research shows they aren’t very good. A few years ago, doctors from the Mayo Clinic tested the wisdom of online health advice. Their conclusion: It’s risky. According to their study, going online for health advice is more likely to result in getting no advice or incomplete advice than the right advice.
(The Washington Post) – Over the last few years, Gilead Sciences has grown into one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, fueled by the sales of expensive specialty treatments for hepatitis C. The company’s revenue has tripled since 2012, to $32.6 billion last year. According to a report to be released Wednesday, Gilead has also developed another specialty: Avoiding billions in taxes.
(UPI) – Researchers have found a human protein that can help grow large numbers of stem cells, which may reduce the time and cost required to produce the billions of cells needed for use in disease treatment. The protein inter-alpha inhibitor, derived from human blood, eliminated the need for highly prepared cultures generally used to produce pluripotent stem cells, according to a study conducted Uppsala University and the University of Nottingham.
(ABC News) – The risk of Zika virus transmission during the upcoming Olympic games in Rio will be low due to colder weather, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today. In a new risk-assessment report, the CDC found that since the games are occurring during winter in Brazil, the cooler, drier weather will reduce mosquito populations, thus lowering the chance of Zika transmission to visiting athletes and spectators. Additionally, the agency found that even though there will be increased travel to the area for the Olympics, the overall risk of the virus being transmitted to new areas due to Olympics-related travel is low.
(University of Texas) – Character traits, such as grit or desire to learn, have a heavy hand in academic success and are partially rooted in genetics, according to a psychology study at The University of Texas at Austin. Though academic achievement is dependent on cognitive abilities, such as logic and reasoning, researchers believe certain personality and character traits can motivate and drive learning.
(Managed Care Magazine) – In hospitals nationwide, workarounds to compensate for medication shortages are daily routines for treating patients––and health experts say it’s not about to change any time soon, according to a report from WNPR News. Acute-care drugs in short supply nationally include antibiotics, antipsychotics, intravenous saline, and morphine. In Connecticut, hospital officials say they are turning to alternative drugs, rationing supplies, or seeking new suppliers to work around the shortages.
(Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News) – The advance of human civilization has been driven by game-changing technologies that give us new capabilities to improve the fundamental aspects of our lives. Examples of such technologies include autonomous vehicles and 3D printing. One game-changing technology of the future—with as much disruptive potential as both 3D printing and autonomous vehicles—is synthetic biology. What grounds are there for taking this view?