(BBC) – For decades after she died, at just 24, no one really spoke about Anna Lehnkering. According to her death certificate, Lehnkering, who once dreamed of working in a nursery, died of peritonitis. But she didn’t really, she was gassed, one of tens of thousands of people killed by the Nazis during their “Aktion T4” project. The project targeted disabled and ill people, considered by the Nazis as unworthy, and killed about 70,000 at six sites in German-controlled territory between January 1940 and August 1941. It was, in essence, a trial run for the Holocaust.
(UPI) – Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have successfully generated mature heart muscle cells using stem cells. The mature heart muscle cells were created by implanting stem cells from a healthy adult or one with a type of heart disease into newborn rat hearts. The host hearts then give biological signals and chemistry necessary for the implanted immature heart muscle cells to overcome a developmental blockage that usually stops growth.
(Science) – The controversial idea of growing human organs in host animals has gotten a reality check. Despite recent successes at growing mouse organs in rats, using the same trick to grow human organs in larger animals such as pigs is a long way off, new research shows. The resulting human-animal chimeras don’t grow well, and few human cells survive. The hurdles are not unexpected, says Joe Zhou at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute who was not involved in the work. But despite the “very severe technical challenges,” he says, “I’m optimistic. I think this particular path is promising.”
(Deutsche Welle) – The mass murder of the supposed physically and mentally unfit was a project central to Hitler’s thinking and the ideology of National Socialism. The Nazi leader translated ideas from the international eugenics and Social Darwinist movements of the early 20th century into a homicidal urge to cleanse the corpus of the German people from ailments and weaknesses. This obsession would cost the lives of more than 70,000 people in Germany and many, many more in countries occupied by the Third Reich. But those murders would not have been possible without the active participation of doctors, judges, administrators, scientists and others.
(The Conversation) – Many people don’t realize that their leftover tissue, blood or other samples – otherwise known as “biospecimens” – taken during a visit to the doctor or hospital might be stripped of identifying information and used in research without their consent. This makes some people uncomfortable. So when the federal government decided to revise its “Common Rule” regulations governing federally funded research involving humans for the first time in decades, the draft revision included a proposal to require consent for all research with biospecimens, whether they have identifying information accompanying them or not. The original regulations required a person’s consent for research with biospecimens only if they had information with them that made them identifiable. But when the updated Common Rule was released on Jan. 18, there was no change to this part of the regulation.
(NEJM) – Proponents of transplantation for such patients argue that cognitive function should not be a basis for allocating organs because it allows health care providers to decide that some lives are more valuable than others. Opponents believe that cognitive impairment is one of several legitimate criteria on which allocation decisions may be based. Because organs are scarce, a decision to transplant one into a patient with cognitive impairment will often mean that another patient with no (or milder) impairment will die for lack of a transplant. Furthermore, difficulties in following postoperative recovery programs and adhering to immunosuppressive regimens could limit the benefits of transplantation for cognitively impaired patients.
(Scientific American) – But brain mapping and DNA sequencing are different beasts. A single neuroimaging data set can measure in the terabytes — two to three orders of magnitude larger than a complete mammalian genome. Whereas geneticists know when they’ve finished decoding a stretch of DNA, brain mappers lack clear stopping points and wrestle with much richer sets of imaging and electrophysiological data — all the while wrangling over the best ways to collect, share and interpret them. As scientists develop tools to share and analyze ever-expanding neuroscience data sets, however, they are coming to a shared realization: cracking the brain requires a concerted effort.
(STAT News) – I’m worried about a new paper in the journal Cell that details the creation of a human-pig chimera. As a neuroscientist, I appreciate groundbreaking research at a purely scientific level and understand the hard work that goes into advances like this. But I also believe that science should be guided by ethics, and this work seems to be jumping ahead of ethical considerations. In the new work, led by investigators at the Salk Institute, researchers injected days-old pig embryos with human pluripotent stem cells. By the time the fetal pigs were aborted, they had begun to grow partly human organs.
(STAT News) – Public health officials on Thursday said they had detected a bizarre cluster of cases in which patients in Massachusetts developed amnesia over the past few years — a highly unusual syndrome that could be connected to opioid use. The officials have identified only 14 cases so far. But officials said it’s possible that clinicians have simply missed other cases. The patients were all relatively young — they ranged in age from 19 to 52. Thirteen of the 14 patients identified had a substance use disorder, and the 14th patient tested positive for opioids and cocaine on a toxicology screen.
(UPI) – It might sound like science fiction, but researchers have successfully used human stem cells to create embryos that are part-human, part-pig. Scientists said the long-range goal is to better understand and treat an array of human diseases. The researchers hope to ultimately cultivate human tissue that can be given to patients awaiting transplants. But that’s a long way off, said Jun Wu, who worked on the research.
(NPR) – Across California, and in the five other states where medical aid-in-dying is now allowed, access is not guaranteed, advocates say. Hospitals, health systems and individual doctors are not obligated to prescribe or dispense drugs to induce death, and many choose not to. Most of the resistance comes from faith-based systems. The Catholic Church has long opposed aid-in-dying laws as a violation of church directives for ethical care. But some secular hospitals and other providers also have declined.
(Nature) – Experiments in Democracy reminds me of this painting, in both its ambitious scope and its sense of unease. Science historian Benjamin Hurlbut offers a wide-angle history of US attempts at democratic deliberation on the ethics of human-embryo research. Painstakingly researched and spanning more than four decades — from the advent of in vitro fertilization in the 1970s to contemporary developments such as germline editing — the book draws attention to an intricate interplay between science and democracy.
(Reuters) – Two babies rescued from previously incurable leukemia after receiving infusions of gene-edited immune cells are doing well at home more than a year after initial treatment, scientists said on Wednesday. Layla Richards became the first person in the world to get the “off-the-shelf” cell therapy developed by French biotech firm Cellectis at Britain’s Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2015. A second girl was treated soon afterwards. Now the team involved in both cases have published details of their work in a peer-reviewed journal, reporting that the two girls remained disease-free 18 and 12 months after treatment respectively.
(Medical Xpress) – It’s scary enough making a doctor’s appointment to see if a strange mole could be cancerous. Imagine, then, that you were in that situation while also living far away from the nearest doctor, unable to take time off work and unsure you had the money to cover the cost of the visit. In a scenario like this, an option to receive a diagnosis through your smartphone could be lifesaving. Universal access to health care was on the minds of computer scientists at Stanford when they set out to create an artificially intelligent diagnosis algorithm for skin cancer.
(The Guardian) – Hossain, a fruit vendor from Meherpur in the rural west of the country, wrote to his local district administration pleading for them to either help care for his loved ones – who suffer from an incurable form of muscular dystrophy – or “allow them to be put to death with medicine”, he said. One of Asia’s poorest countries, Bangladesh lacks any kind of free health care and medical treatment is often beyond the reach of the tens of millions of inhabitants who live below the poverty line. An estimated 600,000 Bangladeshis suffer from incurable diseases, yet the country has just one palliative care centre and no hospice services.
(CNBC) – Imagine being able to grow a liver in a laboratory from cells and tissue for a transplant patient. Or engineering cells to grow into a heart valve to replace one damaged from heart disease. Around the world, start-ups — like Tokyo-based Cyfuse Biomedical — are emerging to develop such breakthroughs in the field of regenerative medicine. It is a market projected to reach $101.3 billion by 2022. Unlike conventional medicines and treatments, regenerative medicines have the ability to restore or heal the body’s own cells or create new body parts from a patient’s own cells and tissues, thereby eliminating tissue rejection and the excessively long wait for a donor organ.
(Managed Care Magazine) – Real-world evidence (RWE) is the hot topic this year, a way to evaluate treatments—and make changes on the fly, if necessary—under a new president who thinks the FDA moves too slowly. Put simply, RWE looks at how well new medications and medical devices do after they’ve hit the market, relying on data collected outside of traditional clinical studies. Many drugs often don’t do well, said Shalilja Dixit, one of the presenters at a recent conference in Philadelphia by EyeforPharma, a worldwide company that seeks to keep the pharmaceutical industry relevant by tracking shifting trends. Dixit, who studies health outcomes for Intercept Pharmaceuticals, said that 49% of drugs do not have the same impact on outcomes that they had in clinical trials.
(News-Medical) – A recent study, affiliated with UNIST has developed a new method of repairing injured bone using stem cells from human bone marrow and a carbon material with photocatalytic properties, which could lead to powerful treatments for skeletal system injuries, such as fractures or periodontal disease. This research has been jointly conducted by Professor Youngkyo Seo of Life Sciences and Dr. Jitendra N. Tiwari of Chemistry in collaboration with Professor Kwang S. Kim of Natural Science, Professor Pann-Ghill Suh of Life Sciences, and seven other researchers from UNIST.
(BBC) – “We will remove your kidney, and you will receive 300,000 rupees [£2,300].” Sadi Ahmed was held hostage for three months by an organ trafficking gang. In October last year, he was one of 24 people rescued by police in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. They had been imprisoned in a building in an affluent suburb, awaiting the forced removal of their kidneys. Three people are due in court later this month.
(The Economist) – WHEN China’s government scrapped its one-child policy in 2015, allowing all couples to have a second child, officials pooh-poohed Western demographers’ fears that the relaxation was too little, too late. Rather, the government claimed, the new approach would start to reverse the country’s dramatic ageing. On January 22nd the National Health and Family Planning Commission revealed data that seemed to justify optimism: it said 18.5m babies had been born in Chinese hospitals in 2016. This was the highest number since 2000—an 11.5% increase over 2015. Of the new babies, 45% were second children, up from around 30% before 2013, suggesting the policy change had made a difference.