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The Coronavirus Cruise Ship Quarantine Is a Scary Public Health Experiment

February 12, 2020

(Vox) – The cruise ship quarantine is not just a human rights or justice issue, though; it’s a public health problem, too. In this case, people who aren’t yet sick and who may not have been exposed to the new coronavirus are being held together in close proximity with people who may already have the disease. Layer on top of that the fact that we don’t yet know exactly how this virus spreads; all we know is that respiratory viruses like it — MERS and SARS — spread mainly through exposure to droplets, from coughing or sneezing.

The World’s Scariest Facial Recognition Software, Explained

February 11, 2020

(Vox) – Law enforcement has been using facial recognition for a while. But Clearview’s technology represents a scary step further than anything we’ve seen before, according to reporting from the New York Times. The secretive company says it’s created a database of over 3 billion images that have been scraped from all corners of the internet, including social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. From just a snapshot or video still, Clearview claims its app lets a police officer identify a face and match it with publicly available information about the person, within just a few seconds. 

Super-Precise CRISPR Tool Enhanced by Enzyme Engineering

February 11, 2020

(Nature) – A super-precise version of the CRISPR genome-editing tool just got even better. Researchers have boosted the accuracy of a technique based on the popular but error-prone CRISPR–Cas9 system by engineering enzymes that can precisely target DNA without introducing as many unwanted mutations. The enzymes, reported on 10 February in Nature Biotechnology, could make a method called base editing, which allows researchers to convert one DNA letter into another, more feasible as a tool to treat genetic diseases.

Mission Impossible? WHO Director Fights to Prevent a Pandemic without Offending China

February 11, 2020

(Science) – Yet the crisis has put Tedros “in a near-impossible situation,” says Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. If Tedros wants WHO to stay informed about what’s happening in China and influence how the country handles the epidemic, he cannot afford to antagonize the notoriously touchy Chinese government—even though it is clear the country has been less than fully transparent about the outbreak’s early stages, and perhaps still is. Critics say that stance puts WHO’s moral authority at risk. “WHO has never faced such a fast-moving epidemic in a country that is quite that powerful and, in many ways, closed,” Gostin says.

China Locked Down Millions in Coronavirus-hit Hubei. Has It Done More Harm Than Good?

February 10, 2020

(South China Morning Post) – Nicholas Evans, a medical ethics expert at University of Massachusetts Lowell, said it was a “complete overreaction” to quarantine millions of people. “A bigger concern is that because the disease largely does not transmit itself before symptoms show, then isolation of the patient is usually a sufficient response, combined with tracking a patient’s close contacts,” Evans said. “So in addition to being disproportionate, and possibly ineffective, it is almost certainly too restrictive compared to other effective measures.”

Dutch Euthanasia Center Reports 22% Rise in Assisted Death Requests in 2019

February 10, 2020

(TIME) – A Dutch organization that carries out euthanasia received 3,122 requests last year, a 22% increase from the year before, the Euthanasia Expertise Center said Friday. “Every work day, 13 people say: ‘Help me, I can’t go on,’” Steven Pleiter, director of the center formerly known as the End of Life Clinic, said.

More Than 200 Medical Professionals Condemn Bills Trying to Restrict Transgender Kids from Getting Gender Reassignment Treatments

February 7, 2020

(CNN) – A slew of states have proposed curbing transgender minors’ access to gender-affirming health care. But medical professionals are pushing back against the legislation, claiming it discriminates against trans patients and hinders physicians from doing their jobs. In an open letter from the Campaign for Southern Equality, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ rights in the South, more than 200 nurses, physicians, counselors and social workers condemned the movement to restrict transgender minors’ rights.

Dutch Euthanasia Clinic Sees Jump in Death Requests

February 7, 2020

(Medical Xpress) – The Netherlands’ only euthanasia clinic said on Friday there had been a 22 percent jump in people wanting help to end their lives last year compared with 2018.  The Euthanasia Expertise Centre, which helps doctors to carry out assisted death, said the 3,122 requests it received last year was “far more than expected”.

A Lottery Like No Other Offers Up a Cutting-Edge Medicine–with Lives on the Line

February 7, 2020

(STAT News) – The lottery was devised by the drug’s manufacturer, Novartis, to give families in those places a chance to get it through a novel form of compassionate use — a way to get medications that have not been approved — while they wait. Fifty doses are slotted to be given away for free in the first half of the year, with up to 100 total. The first drawing occurred Monday. Ethicists and advocates have debated the merits and the design of the unusual arrangement. Parents said that it was uncomfortable to cast their child’s fate into what felt like a sweepstakes — a kind of bizarre Willy Wonka contest in which, as Maura Blair, a Canadian mother of a child with SMA put it, “we’re talking about lives.” But if it was a chance to get the drug, it was worth trying.

Crispr’d Cells Show Promise in First US Human Safety Trial

February 6, 2020

(Wired) – It’s been over three years since US regulators greenlit the nation’s first in-human test of Crispr’s disease-fighting potential, more than three years of waiting to find out if the much-hyped gene-editing technique could be safely used to beat back tough-to-treat cancers. Today, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford finally revealed the first published report describing the trial. The highly anticipated results showed that the procedure is both safe and feasible; the Crispr’d cells went where they were supposed to go and survived for longer than expected. They didn’t cure anyone’s cancer, but they didn’t kill anyone, either, which means the results hold significant promise for the future of Crispr-based medicines.

Questions Swirl After China Attempts to Censor News of Whistleblowing Doctor’s Death

February 6, 2020

(Quartz) – Li Wenliang, the doctor who initially warned the medical community about a cluster of severe pneumonia cases in December and was reprimanded by Wuhan authorities for that warning, has himself died of the coronavirus. His death was initially reported by China’s state-run paper Global Times, then retracted, sowing confusion.

Health Officials Err on Side of Caution to Contain Viral Outbreak

February 5, 2020

(The Wall Street Journal) – Amid the fast-moving coronavirus outbreak emanating from China, companies, governments and schools are developing policies on the fly to try to halt the spread, creating a live global public-health experiment in containment. In the U.S., some businesses and universities have told people who had recently returned from the epicenter of the outbreak or from mainland China to stay home for as long as two weeks after returning. The U.S. government also said on Friday that it would deny entry to foreign citizens who had traveled to China within the past 14 days and imposed a maximum two-week quarantine on Americans returning from Hubei province where the outbreak started.

In Quarantined Wuhan, Hospital Beds for Coronavirus Patients Are Scarce

February 5, 2020

(NPR) – Scientists and public health authorities in China and around the world have mobilized quickly to identify and treat a global outbreak of this new strain of the coronavirus. But in Wuhan, which has fully a third of the more than 24,000 confirmed cases of the illness as of Wednesday, overwhelmed hospitals are struggling to screen all potential cases and to treat the ever-growing number of patients. NPR spoke to more than a dozen families with confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus. They recounted days of waiting in line to be screened with little more than an intravenous drip as treatment.

Some Hospitals Wary as New Liver Transplant Rules Begin

February 4, 2020

(New York Times) – Under the new policy, patients near death within 500 nautical miles (575 miles) of a donor hospital will be offered a matching liver first. If there are no takers, it will be offered next to progressively less sick patients at different distances within that circle. The flip side: Patients that aren’t as sick living in areas where there are more organ donors, such as parts of the South and Midwest, likely will wait longer as livers once used locally are shipped to urban centers where the shortage is more severe.

High-Profile Report on Asymptomatic Spread of Coronavirus Based on Faulty Information, Health Officials Say

February 4, 2020

(STAT News) – Ahigh-profile scientific paper that found that a patient with the new coronavirus had transmitted it to other people in Germany before showing any symptoms was based on faulty information, health officials say. The woman, whose case was reported last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, had experienced mild symptoms and was taking fever-suppressing medication at the time she infected two colleagues, the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s public health agency, confirmed via email. The woman, from China, was on a work trip to her company’s headquarters in Bavaria.

Another H.I.V. Vaccine Fails a Trail, Disappointing Researchers

February 4, 2020

(New York Times) – In another setback in the long quest to prevent H.I.V. infection, a trial in South Africa has been shut down because an experimental vaccine was not working, federal health officials announced on Monday. The trial, which began in 2016, followed one in Thailand that ended in 2009. That vaccine offered only modest protection against infection. Experts argued over how much, but the vaccine was no more than 30 percent protective. Nonetheless, it was the only vaccine that had appeared to work at all.

Doctors in China Are Starting Human Trials for a Coronavirus Treatment

February 3, 2020

(TIME) – China has kick-started a clinical trial to speedily test a drug for the novel coronavirus infection as the nation rushes therapies for those afflicted and scours for vaccines to protect the rest. Remdesivir, a new antiviral drug by Gilead Sciences Inc. aimed at infectious diseases such Ebola and SARS, will be tested by a medical team from Beijing-based China-Japan Friendship Hospital for efficacy in treating the deadly new strain of coronavirus, a hospital spokeswoman told Bloomberg News Monday.

Belgium Euthanasia: Three Doctors Cleared in Landmark Trial

February 3, 2020

(BBC) – A court in Belgium has acquitted three doctors accused of unlawfully poisoning a woman whose life they helped to end. Tine Nys, 38, died surrounded by her family on 27 April 2010. In the landmark case, her sisters and prosecutors had argued she wanted to die because of a failed relationship – not an “incurable disorder” as required by Belgium’s euthanasia law. But after hours of deliberations the jury in Ghent cleared the doctors, prompting applause in the courtroom. Those acquitted early on Friday were Joris Van Hove, the doctor who administered the lethal injection, Nys’s former doctor Frank D and psychiatrist Lieve Thienpont.

“Mini Brains” Are Not Like the Real Thing

February 3, 2020

(Scientific American) – The idea of scientists trying to grow brain tissue in a dish conjures up all sorts of scary mental pictures (cue the horror-movie music). But the reality of the research is quite far from that sci-fi vision—and always will be, say researchers in the field. In fact, a leader in this area of research, Arnold Kriegstein of the University of California, San Francisco, says the reality does not measure up to what some scientists make it out to be.

An AI Epidemiologist Sent the First Warnings of the Wuhan Virus

January 31, 2020

(Wired) – On January 9, the World Health Organization notified the public of a flu-like outbreak in China: a cluster of pneumonia cases had been reported in Wuhan, possibly from vendors’ exposure to live animals at the Huanan Seafood Market. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had gotten the word out a few days earlier, on January 6. But a Canadian health monitoring platform had beaten them both to the punch, sending word of the outbreak to its customers on December 31. BlueDot uses an AI-driven algorithm that scours foreign-language news reports, animal and plant disease networks, and official proclamations to give its clients advance warning to avoid danger zones like Wuhan.