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Brain Cancer Survival Improves with Novel Electrical Device, Data Suggest

April 6, 2017

(Washington Post) – A wearable medical device that delivers electrical fields through the scalp helped to extend the survival of patients with lethal brain tumors, according to data presented Sunday. In a study involving major medical centers in the United States and abroad, the novel treatment was used to administer alternating, low-intensity “tumor-treating fields” to newly diagnosed glioblastoma patients who also were getting chemotherapy. Such electrical fields may block the division of cancer cells and cause their demise, according to Roger Stupp, the study’s lead investigator and a neuro-oncologist at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

How to Create a New Life Form: Historian Sophia Roosth on the Future of Synthetic Biology

April 6, 2017

(The Verge) – The field of synthetic biology, or engineering new forms of life, is less than two decades old, but its pioneers are responsible for some of the most interesting projects coming out of labs today: inscribing lines of James Joyce onto a synthetic genome, reproducing the smell of a rose without actually needing a rose, and possibly bringing back the extinct woolly mammoth.  So how did this field get started? Where do synthetic creatures belong on the family tree? And how does the language we use when we describe synthetic biology shape the field? The Verge spoke with Sophia Roosth, a historian of science at Harvard University who spent years studying the culture of synthetic biology for her new book, Synthetic: How Life is Made.

Stem Cells Offer Hope for Autism

April 6, 2017

(CNN) – Gracie was one of 25 children who took part in the first-of-its-kind study at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The goal: to see whether a transfusion of their own umbilical cord blood containing rare stem cells could help treat their autism. The results were impressive: More than two-thirds of the children showed reported improvements. A larger second trial is underway, one its researchers hope will lead to long-term treatment for children with autism.

States Find Other Execution Methods after Difficulties with Lethal Injection

April 6, 2017

(NPR) – Death penalty laws are on the books in 31 states, but only five carried out executions last year. Now Arkansas is rushing to execute death row inmates at an unprecedented pace this month, before the state’s supply of lethal drugs expires. Nationwide the number of executions are down, as states struggle to obtain execution drugs that pass constitutional muster. Pharmacies are refusing to provide the deadly combinations of paralytics and fast-acting sedatives needed to put prisoners to death.

How Flawed Science Is Undermining Good Medicine

April 6, 2017

(NPR) – “He tried to reproduce them all,” Harris tells Morning Edition host David Greene. “And of those 53, he found he could only reproduce six. That was “a real eye-opener,” says Harris, whose new book Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions explores the ways even some talented scientists go wrong — pushed by tight funding, competition and other constraints to move too quickly and sloppily to produce useful results. “A lot of what everybody has reported about medical research in the last few years is actually wrong,” Harris says. “It seemed right at the time but has not stood up to the test of time.”

The Moral Failure of Crowdfunding Health Care

April 5, 2017

(Medium) – The study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, finds that crowdfunding sites give an advantage to those already skilled in self-marketing and generating attention on social media. The digital platforms can present problems for older people?—?those most likely to have costly chronic conditions?—?as well as non-English speakers. Very few campaigns go viral beyond one’s personal network, which penalizes those who don’t have wealthy connections. It’s easier to fundraise for a single need, rather than a tangle of medical costs, housing payments, utility bills, and car repairs?—?exactly the kinds of needs that pile up for those living in poverty. In short, the rise of medical crowdfunding reflects?—?and potentially worsens?—?the inequities already at play in the United States.

Is It Ethical to Swallow a Morality Pill?

April 5, 2017

(Canadian Broadcasting Co) – Imagine a pill that could make you a more “moral” person. Would you take it? Today, leading scientists are debating the ethics of just that — a pill that improves morality. In recent years, research has shown drugs widely prescribed to treat conditions like anxiety or depression have been found to amplify characteristics such as empathy, self-control and increased trust; even an improvement in attitudes towards people of other races.

When the Doctor Recommends Against the Surgery a Breast Cancer Patient Wants

April 5, 2017

(Medical Xpress) – More women with breast cancer are electing to have both breasts removed, even when cancer affects only one breast. The procedure, called contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM), is a more complex surgery that has not been shown to improve survival. A new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center examines the complex interaction between patients’ desires for the most extensive treatment and surgeons’ responsibility to minimize harm. The population-based survey, published in JAMA Surgery, found that few patients sought a second opinion or went to a different hospital when their surgeon recommended against CPM.

The Cost of Cancer: New Drugs Show Success at a Steep Price

April 5, 2017

(Reuters) – Newer cancer drugs that enlist the body’s immune system are improving the odds of survival, but competition between them is not reining in prices that can now top $250,000 a year. The drugs’ success for patients is the result of big bets in cancer therapy made by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co (BMY.N), Merck & Co Inc (MRK.N) and Roche Holding AG (ROG.S), among others in big pharma. The industry’s pipeline of cancer drugs expanded by 63 percent between 2005 and 2015, according to the QuintilesIMS Institute, and a good number are reaching the market. The global market for cancer immunotherapies alone is expected to grow more than fourfold globally to $75.8 billion by 2022 from $16.9 billion in 2015, according to research firm GlobalData.

Australian Scientists Begin World’s Largest Genetic Study into Depression

April 5, 2017

(Australian Broadcasting Co) – The Australian Genetics of Depression Study has been launched as part of an international collaboration aiming to identify genes that predispose people to depression. The results of the research will eventually help eliminate the guesswork involved in treatment, according to the country’s lead investigator Professor Nick Martin from the Q-I-M-R Berghofer Medical Research Institute. “At the moment if somebody goes to their doctor with depression they get put on one of the standard drugs and it works for some people, but doesn’t work for a lot of them,” he told Hack.

Ontario Creating Service to Help People Access Medically Assisted Dying

April 5, 2017

(The Sun) – Ontario is setting up a new service for people seeking medically assisted death that will allow them to reach out for help directly, bypassing health-care providers who object to assisted suicide on conscience grounds. Health Minister Eric Hoskins says a “care co-ordination service” for medically assisted death will be up and running as early as May. The service will allow patients to contact central staff who will connect them with health-care providers prepared to handle requests for a medically assisted death.

Study Reverses Thinking on Genetic Links to Stress, Depression

April 4, 2017

(Science Daily) – For years, scientists have been trying to determine what effect a gene linked to the brain chemical serotonin may have on depression in people exposed to stress. But now, analyzing information from more than 40,000 people who have been studied over more than a decade, researchers have found no evidence that the gene alters the impact stress has on depression.

Treating Depression Is Guesswork. Psychiatrists Are Beginning to Crack the Code

April 4, 2017

(Vox) – But no one treatment reliably works for everyone. And it’s not just about talk therapy versus drugs. Even in the realm of medication, available drugs like Zoloft and Cymbalta will work for some but not others. Enter “precision psychiatry.” Inspired in part by “precision medicine,” which changed the way doctors treat certain kinds of cancer, psychiatric researchers are hoping to bring a “precision” approach to diagnosing and treating depression using brain scans and machine learning algorithms. Too many patients are left frustrated after treatments fail. These scientists think they can do better.

Zika Appears to Cause Birth Defects in One in 10 Pregnancies

April 4, 2017

(Scientific American) – About one in 10 pregnant women with confirmed Zika infections had a fetus or baby with birth defects, offering the clearest picture yet of the risk of Zika infection during pregnancy, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday. The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the first to analyze a group of U.S. women with clear, confirmed test results of Zika infection during pregnancy.

Mini Brains from the Petri Dish

April 4, 2017

(Science Daily) – A new method could push research into developmental brain disorders an important step forward. This is shown by a recent study in which the researchers investigated the development of a rare congenital brain defect. To do so, they converted skin cells from patients into so called induced pluripotent stem cells. From these ‘jack-of-all-trades’ cells, they generated brain organoids – small three-dimensional tissues which resemble the structure and organization of the developing human brain.

Telehealth Overview: The Reality Check, Please

April 4, 2017

(Managed Care Magazine) – So, if not a full-on buzzkill, the results from a study reported last month in Health Affairs were a bit sobering. Lori Uscher-Pines, a respected Rand researcher who has conducted many of the most important telehealth studies, and her colleagues found that the Teladoc services provided to California Public Employees’ Retirement System beneficiaries increased annual spending on acute respiratory illness by $45 per telehealth user. What’s more, about 88% of the usage was new utilization, not a replacement for more expensive care at a physician’s office or in an emergency department.

Ghost in the Shell Thrills but Ducks the Philosophical Questions Posed by a Cyborg Future

April 4, 2017

(The Conversation) – How closely will we live with the technology we use in the future? How will it change us? And how close is “close”? Ghost in the Shell imagines a futuristic, hi-tech but grimy and ghetto-ridden Japanese metropolis populated by people, robots, and technologically-enhanced human cyborgs.  Beyond the superhuman strength, resilience, and X-ray vision provided by bodily enhancements, one of the most transformative aspects of this world is the idea of brain augmentation, that as cyborgs we might have two brains rather than one.

Cyborgs at Work: Employees Getting Implanted with Microchips

April 4, 2017

(ABC News) – The syringe slides in between the thumb and index finger. Then, with a click, a microchip is injected in the employee’s hand. Another “cyborg” is created. What could pass for a dystopian vision of the workplace is almost routine at the Swedish startup hub Epicenter. The company offers to implant its workers and startup members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.

Genetic Details of Controversial ‘Three-Parent Baby’ Revealed

April 4, 2017

(Nature) – When a US fertility clinic revealed last year that it had created a baby boy using a controversial technique that mixes DNA from three people, scientists were quick to raise the alarm. Some objected on ethical grounds, and others questioned the scientific claims made by the clinic’s leader, physician John Zhang. Now, after months of intense debate and speculation, Zhang’s team has provided more details about the child’s conception, in a paper published on 3 April in Reproductive Biomedicine Online. But major questions remain about the long-term health of the boy, and whether the experiment will ultimately advance reproductive medicine.

A ‘Catch-22’ of Medical Marijuana and Organ Transplants

April 3, 2017

(CNN) – A rise in the use of medical marijuana has spurred a debate about organ transplantation, and it’s changing some laws across the nation. Garry Godfrey found out in 2010 that he was removed from an organ transplant waiting list in Maine due to a health risk associated with his use of medical marijuana, CNN affiliate WGME reported. Now Godfrey is speaking out in support of a bill in Maine that would prohibit hospitals from determining a patient’s suitability for transplantation solely on the basis of medical marijuana use. That bill is in committee, and similar legislation has been passed in other states, including California, Washington, Illinois, Arizona, Delaware and New Hampshire.

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