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West Africa’s Ebola Outbreak Cost $53 Billion–Study

October 24, 2018

(Reuters) – An Ebola outbreak that ravaged Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia in 2014 cost economies an estimated $53 billion, according to a study in this month’s Journal of Infectious Diseases. The study aimed to combine the direct economic burden and the indirect social impact to generate a comprehensive cost of the outbreak, which was the worst in the world.

Self-Driving Car Dilemmas Reveal That Moral Choices Are Not Universal

October 24, 2018

(Nature) – When a driver slams on the brakes to avoid hitting a pedestrian crossing the road illegally, she is making a moral decision that shifts risk from the pedestrian to the people in the car. Self-driving cars might soon have to make such ethical judgments on their own — but settling on a universal moral code for the vehicles could be a thorny task, suggests a survey of 2.3 million people from around the world. The largest ever survey of machine ethics1, published today in Nature, finds that many of the moral principles that guide a driver’s decisions vary by country.

A New Study Offers a Glimpse into the Genetics of Same-Sex Attraction

October 24, 2018

(STAT News) – A massive genetic study aims to unravel these basic biological questions. It also touches on the question of whether it’s worthwhile, or even ethical, to study the genetics of sexual attraction in the first place. Surveying the genes of nearly 500,000 men and women, researchers found four variants that were linked to people who had self-reported same-sex encounters. When those variants showed up in heterosexual men, those men tended to have a larger number of lifetime sexual partners and — and, though researchers didn’t say who did the judging — to be more physically attractive.

Sociogenomics Is Opening a New Door to Eugenics

October 24, 2018

(MIT Technology Review) – Advocates of sociogenomics envision a prospect that not everyone will find entirely benevolent: health “report cards,” based on your genome and handed out at birth, that predict your risk of various diseases and propensity for different behaviors. In the new social sciences, sociologists will examine the genetic component of educational attainment and wealth, while economists will envision genetic “risk scores” for spending, saving, and investment behavior.

FDA Approves a Fast-Acting Flu Drug That Is Taken in a Single Dose

October 24, 2018

(STAT News) – Xofluza was approved for use in people 12 and older who have been experiencing flu symptoms for no more than 48 hours. It is the first drug in a new class called endonuclease inhibitors. They work by interrupting viral replication — the process by which invading viruses take over the inner workings of cells to make hordes of copies of themselves to further spread the infection.

Saving Mila: How a Tailor-Made Therapy, Developed in a Flash, May Have Halted a Young Girl’s Rare Disease

October 24, 2018

(STAT News) – Drug development typically takes several years before a new therapy can even make it into clinical trials. Mila, however, made it from diagnosis to bespoke therapy in just over a year. Her case serves as a proof-of-concept in efforts to rapidly develop and deliver precision medicine — as tailored to a single patient. The drug was designed specifically for Mila’s unique mutation, and it’s not clear whether many more children carry it as well, or will benefit from the therapy.

Mobile Health Apps Are Going Largely Unpoliced. The Public Deserves Better.

October 23, 2018

(Undark) – As the number of mobile health apps surged to a record 325,000 in 2017, app performance is going largely unpoliced, leading to what’s been dubbed a “Wild West” situation. Unfortunately for health consumers, the public can’t rely on the research community to play the role of sheriff. When colleagues and I recently examined the medical literature on direct-to-consumer diagnostic apps in a study published in Diagnosis, we repeatedly found studies marred by bias, technological naïveté, or a failure to provide crucial information for consumers.

Chinese Maker of Faulty Rabies Vaccines Fined Billions of Yuan

October 23, 2018

(Nature) – A Chinese pharmaceutical company caught producing faulty rabies vaccines has been fined billions of yuan by national and local agencies. China’s national drug regulator announced on 16 October that it will fine Changchun Changsheng Biotechnology 12 million yuan (US$1.7 million), and revoke the company’s licence to make rabies vaccines. The regulator determined that when the company created several batches of faulty rabies vaccine, it broke multiple laws, including: using expired products to make the vaccine; not testing the potency of vaccines according to prescribed methods; and destroying evidence to cover up its actions.

Use the Patent System to Regulate Gene Editing

October 23, 2018

(Nature) – A crucial part of the arsenal for shaping the future of gene editing is hiding in plain sight: the patent system. In the past, patents have played an important part in regulating new technologies and research, from the atom bomb to work involving human embryonic stem cells. Some organizations and individual researchers using CRISPR–Cas9 are already creating licensing agreements that reflect their own moral codes. In my view, government-driven efforts centred on national patent systems should be deployed to help regulate gene editing.

Antipsychotics Drugs Don’t Ease ICU Delirium

October 23, 2018

(NPR) – Ely and colleagues at 16 U.S. medical centers decided to put antipsychotic drugs to a rigorous test. They divided nearly 600 patients who were suffering from delirium into three groups. One group got the powerful antipsychotic haloperidol. A second group got ziprasidone, which is a related medication from a class of drugs called “atypical antipsychotics.” A third group got a placebo. “The three groups did exactly the same,” Ely says. There was no change in the duration of delirium, or the number of coma-free days. “They stayed in the ICU the same amount of time. They stayed on the mechanical ventilator the same amount of time. They didn’t get out of the hospital any sooner.”

Crowdfunding Raises Millions for Risky Medical Treatments, Study Says

October 23, 2018

(CNN) – Certain medical fundraising efforts could do more harm than good for some patients. That’s according to a new research letter published in the medical journal JAMA on Tuesday. The paper found that more than 1,000 online medical crowdfunding campaigns have raised nearly $6.8 million intended for several treatments that are either potentially dangerous or yet to be scientifically supported as effective. The paper specifically tracked funding for five treatments: homeopathy or naturopathy for cancer; hyperbaric oxygen therapy, known as HBOT, for brain injury; stem cell therapy for brain injury and spinal cord injury; and long-term antibiotic therapy for chronic Lyme disease.

Number of Unvaccinated Children Increasing in US Despite Overall High Coverage

October 23, 2018

(ABC News) – Despite increased efforts by federal health officials to vaccinate children early in life, the number of unvaccinated children in the U.S. continues to rise, according to a new report. The percentage of children who were unvaccinated increased from 0.3 percent in 2001 to 1.3 percent in 2017, according to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children by the age of 3 should have already gotten several vaccines, including some follow-up shots and boosters. The CDC points to two reasons why vaccination rates have fallen: lack of health insurance and access to doctors in rural parts of the country.

Designer Babies Aren’t Futuristic. They’re Already Here.

October 22, 2018

(MIT Technology Review) – All embryo testing does fit the “designer” label in one important way, however: it is not available to everybody.  Matthew and Olivia opted in to what is a quiet but significant trend. Although the number of couples using this technology remains small, it is growing rapidly. According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, the number of US IVF attempts with single-gene testing rose from 1,941 in 2014 to 3,271 in 2016, an increase of almost 70%.

155 Cases of Polio-Like Illness Now Under Investigation, CDC Says

October 22, 2018

(CNN) – The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday that there are 155 patients under investigation this year for acute flaccid myelitis, a condition that that can cause paralysis and mostly affects children. Of these, 62 have been confirmed by the CDC in 22 states, and the remainder continue to be investigated.  Acute flaccid myelitis, also called AFM, is a rare but serious condition that affects the nervous system — specifically, the area of the spinal cord called gray matter. It affects fewer than one in a million people each year across the country, the CDC estimates.

Egypt-Holiday-Death Dad David Humphries ‘Missing Heart and Kidneys’

October 22, 2018

(BBC) – A father of four who died on a family holiday in Egypt was returned to the UK without his heart and kidneys, a legal firm for the family has said. David Humphries, 62, collapsed and died while in Makadi, a beachside resort near Hurghada, on 18 September. Lawyers Irwin Mitchell said a post-mortem examination was carried out in Egypt and again in the UK, when it was discovered his organs were missing.

Texas Hospital Must Keep Girl on Life Support, Appeals Court Says

October 22, 2018

(Fort Worth Star Telegram) – An appeals court ruled Friday that a girl suffering from cancer can be maintained on life support in accordance with her parent’s wishes, according to the court clerk’s office for the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth. Attorneys for Cook Children’s Medical Center, where Payton Summons is being kept on a ventilation machine, had appealed a judge’s decision extending an order to maintain the girl on life support until Monday.

How We Discovered the Genetics of University Success

October 22, 2018

(The Conversation) – Many people can vividly remember being 18 and tentatively opening that envelope containing crucial information about the future. On the surface, it’s strange to think that genes have anything to do with it – but our new study, published in Scientific Reports, reveals that genetic factors influence both university enrolment and achievement. How can inherited DNA differences influence university success? Decades of research point to genetics as a major systematic force influencing achievement throughout school – including primary school, secondary school and further education. Studies looking at genetic influence on variation in traits, also known as heritability, have found school achievement to be around 50% heritable.

Researchers Call for a Halt of $63M Cardiac Stem Cell Trial

October 22, 2018

(Cardiovascular Business) – Cardiologists and researchers alike are calling for the early halt of a national heart stem cell trial after Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital expressed concern earlier this week that some of the work the study is based on might be falsified.

An Ebola Outbreak Presents a New Mystery Involving Children

October 19, 2018

(STAT News) – Epidemiologists working on the world’s latest Ebola outbreak are racing to try to solve a mystery. Why have so many children — some still infants — been infected with the virus? The disproportionate number of recent infections among children in the Democratic Republic of Congo — specifically in Beni, the outbreak’s current hot spot — has come as a surprise; typically young children don’t make up a big proportion of cases during an Ebola outbreak.

Consolidation Is Hurting Hospitals’ Supply Costs, Not Helping Them

October 19, 2018

(STAT News) – When health systems merge, one of the goals is to gain economies of scale, lowering costs through the bargaining power that comes from being a bigger player. Yet despite a consolidation wave in hospitals, it appears that they are paying more for supplies than they did a year ago. In the past three years, two-thirds of the country’s leading hospital systems saw declining operating income, resulting in nearly $7 billion in lost earnings. It’s a dire situation that looks even worse when you consider the relative strength of the overall economy.

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