(Los Angeles Times) – Thirty years ago Paul Simon immortalized one of the first animal-human transplants with the lyrics, “These are the days of miracle and wonder.… Medicine is magical and magical is art. Thinking of the boy in the bubble and the baby with the baboon heart.” Today we face the possibility of babies getting organs grown in human/nonhuman chimeras — beasts that are pigs except for a single human organ. To the uninitiated, this may sound more like the dark arts than modern medicine, but pursuing careful research and potential clinical use of these chimeras is both proper and important.
(Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News) – Scientists say they have developed a new and highly efficient method for gene transfer. The technique, which involves culturing and transfecting cells with genetic material on an array of carbon nanotubes, reportedly overcomes the limitations of other gene editing technologies. The device, which is described in a study (“High-Efficiency Gene Transfection of Cells through Carbon Nanotube Arrays”) published in Small, is the product of a collaboration between researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).
(Medical Xpress) – Therapeutic stem cells can be made without introducing genetic changes that could later lead to cancer, a study in PLOS Genetics has found. The discovery, made by researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, is a boost for scientists working on ways to make regenerative medicines from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells; a type of stem cell made by reprogramming healthy body cells. It is the first time scientists have tracked the genetic mutations gathered by iPS cells as they are grown in the laboratory.
(Science Daily) – Would you kill one innocent person to save five? Choose your answer wisely: your popularity may depend on it. New research from Oxford and Cornell Universities shows people gauge others’ trustworthiness based on their moral judgments. The findings can help explain why snap judgements about morality tend to be based on a set of absolute moral rules (such as “don’t kill innocent people”), even if we might make different decisions when given more time.
(CNN) – The World Health Organization says the mosquito-borne Zika virus causes microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome. “Based on a growing body of preliminary research, there is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome,” the World Health Organization said in its weekly Zika virus situation report Thursday. Previously, the agency said there was not yet enough scientific evidence to say the virus caused these conditions, although it was likely.
(Nature) – HIV can defeat efforts to cripple it with CRISPR gene-editing technology, researchers say. And the very act of editing — involving snipping at the virus’s genome — may introduce mutations that help it to resist attack. At least half a dozen papers over the past three years have explored using the popular CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique to combat HIV, but the latest finding, described in a study published on 7 April in Cell Reports, adds to questions about the feasibility of the approach. However, the researchers involved say that the discovery is a minor setback that does not preclude the idea altogether.
(Nature) – In The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction, lawyer and bioethicist Henry Greely does an enviable job of explaining the scientific underpinnings and legal regulation of current reproductive and genetic technologies. The central focus of his book is his prediction that a new technology will develop — one that he dubs “Easy PGD”. Greely envisions a situation in which a woman will not have to undergo treatment with hormones and have her eggs removed to produce an embryo for testing — as is done in the course of IVF.
(BBC) – A senior judge has strongly criticised an IVF clinic in London over errors with paperwork for a lesbian couple. One of the women gave birth to twins after the treatment. But her partner, who was the biological mother, had to go to court to be declared a legal parent – because the wrong forms were filled in at the clinic. The case is among 15 similar ones brought to the High Court.
(STAT News) – Andrew Conrad, who runs Google’s ambitious biotech offshoot, successfully pushed the company to award a research contract to a luxury health clinic he largely owns that has no documented experience with this kind of work, STAT has learned. The arrangement has stirred concern inside Verily Life Sciences — and among corporate governance experts who see it as a conflict of interest.
(UPI) – Hydromorphone — an opioid painkiller — may be another treatment option for heroin addiction, a new Canadian study suggests. The research included more than 200 heroin addicts in Vancouver. They hadn’t responded to commonly used treatments such as methadone or suboxone. This was the first study to assess the effectiveness of hydromorphone in treating heroin addiction, the researchers noted.
(Medical Xpress) – Federal money left over from the largely successful fight against Ebola will now go to combating the growing threat of the Zika virus, the Obama administration announced Wednesday. Most of the $589 million would be devoted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for research on the virus and Zika-related birth defects, as well as the creation of response teams to limit its spread. The National Institutes of Health would continue research into a vaccine and the U.S. Agency for International Development would intensify efforts to fight the virus overseas.
(Associated Press) – Threats and violence directed at U.S. abortion clinics increased sharply in 2015, according to the National Abortion Federation, which attributed the surge to the release of undercover videos intended to discredit Planned Parenthood. “In my more than 20 years with NAF, I have not seen such an escalation of hate speech, threats and calls to action against abortion providers,” said Vicki Saporta, the federation’s CEO. According to the federation, death threats targeting abortion providers increased from one in 2014 to 94 in 2015, while incidents of vandalism at clinics rose from 12 to 67.
(The New Yorker) – When the abortion drug mifepristone first became legally available in the U.S., in 2000, it seemed to carry with it the potential for a ceasefire in the abortion wars. Because the pills could be administered in a variety of medical settings, and the abortion itself took place at home, the new regimen offered an alternative to the freestanding clinics that had become flashpoints for protest. So-called medical (as opposed to surgical) abortions could occur earlier in gestation, almost as soon as a woman realized that she was pregnant. Americans had fewer moral qualms about abortions performed at this stage, and women preferred to have them then. The drug seemed to unfurl a vision of the future in which abortion was less politicized, more private, and more seamlessly and matter-of-factly folded into health care.
(Reuters) – Major drug companies took hefty price increases in the U.S., in some cases more than doubling listed charges, for widely used medications over the past five years, a Reuters analysis of proprietary data found. Prices for four of the nation’s top 10 drugs increased more than 100 percent since 2011, Reuters found. Six others went up more than 50 percent. Together, the price increases on drugs for arthritis, high cholesterol, asthma and other common problems added billions in costs for consumers, employers and government health programs.
(US News & World Report) – Throughout the life cycle, people from racial and ethnic minority groups in America often get inferior care compared to white Americans. Many minorities live and work in environments that are less healthy, receive less preventive care and less chronic disease management, and experience inferior access to state-of-the-art care for major medical problems. Care toward the end of their life is no exception, but it can be. This leads me to introduce hospice.
(Medical Daily) – In the past five years, a new form of stem cell research has surfaced. Instead of focusing on creating full organs from pluripotent stem cells, it involves building organoids — complex 3D organ tissues in lab dishes that aren’t quite organs yet — which provide clearer insight into cell development and diseases. In a small lab in Dresden, Germany, a group of researchers led by Dr. Mike Karl have made a significant step forward in organoid research: They’ve found an effective way to build mini retinas, or retinal organoids, to study eye development and various eye diseases that cause blindness.
(The Guardian) – David and Nicky Beard made headlines in March after travelling to Mexico to have triplings – three babies born from one set of sperm and one egg, but carried by different surrogates – and then publicly appealing for money when they ran into financial difficulties in what was described as a “third-world” country.
(Eurekalert) – In the editorial -Nurses and Industry: Conflict or Collaboration? – set for online first publication in the April 5th edition of Annals of Internal Medicine, Connie M. Ulrich, PhD, RN, FAAN, Associate Professor in the Department of Biobehavioral Health Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing), underscores the need for evidence-based investigation to understand in what ways nurse-industry relationships affect the ethical conduct of nurses, or what is normal and necessary interaction between nurses and industry as part of delivering healthcare. Ulrich co-authored the editorial with Christine Grady, PhD, RN, FAAN, of the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center.
(ProPublica) – The New England Journal of Medicine is arguably the best-known and most venerated medical journal in the world. Studies featured in its pages are cited more often, on average, than those of any of its peers. And the careers of young researchers can take off if their work is deemed worthy of appearing in it.But following a series of well-publicized feuds with prominent medical researchers and former editors of the Journal, some are questioning whether the publication is slipping in relevancy and reputation. The Journal and its top editor, critics say, have resisted correcting errors and lag behind others in an industry-wide push for more openness in medical research. And dissent has been dismissed with a paternalistic arrogance, they say.
(New Scientist) – For many people in Zambia with health queries, sending a text message is the best way to get it answered. U-report, a free SMS-based service set up by UNICEF and run by volunteers, receives many thousands of questions a month, many specifically about HIV and AIDS. Also popular in Uganda, U-report has seen usage triple in the last three years, and about a thousand new users register every day. The volume of messages is growing so fast that the volunteers can’t keep up, so UNICEF is testing software that reads and responds to many of the messages automatically.