(The Conversation) – Right now, optimism about the potential of genetics is high. “Breakthroughs” in genetics are reported with enthusiasm, and genetics research continues to comprise a large proportion of all funded research. Funding is often awarded because researchers claim once we understand the genetic components of a disease like cancer, we will be able to better predict, prevent, and even cure disease. Future cures are often reported long before they’re available. However, some scientists and medical specialists are starting to question whether the money invested in genetic research is well spent. Are we getting the promised benefits from this investment?
(The Guardian) – hared concerns included clear agreement that palliative care for terminally ill people is inadequate. Whether for or against assisted dying, participants showed a willingness to discuss quality of life for terminally ill people, the value placed on good-quality care, and how to invest in and provide access to this care in the face of economic inequality. Participants recognised that the debate on legalising assisted dying was taking place in an unequal society.
(NPR) – If you’re failing less, then you’re succeeding more, right? That’s exactly what appears to be happening with birth control in the United States, according to a new study released by the Guttmacher Institute. Contraceptive failure rates for all of the most common contraceptives (think: the pill, condoms, and IUDs) fell from 2006-2010, according to the most recent data collected for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Survey of Family Growth. Overall, the one-year failure rate for forms of contraception dropped from 12 percent in 2002, the last time the data was collected, to about 10 percent.
Bioethics (vol. 31, no. 3, 2017) is available online by subscription only.
- “Conscientious Objection to Vaccination” by Steve Clarke, Alberto Giubilini and Mary Jean Walker
- “Doctors Have no Right to Refuse Medical Assistance in Dying, Abortion or Contraception” by Julian Savulescu and Udo Schuklenk
- “The Edge of Human? The Problem with the Posthuman as the ‘Beyond’” by David R. Lawrence
- “The Invisible Discrimination Before Our Eyes: A Bioethical Analysis” by Francesca Minerva
- “Misplaced Paternalism and other Mistakes in the Debate over Kidney Sales” by Luke Semrau
- “Assisted Suicide in Switzerland: Clarifying Liberties and Claims” by Samia A. Hurst and Alex Mauron
- “The Human Genome as Public: Justifications and Implications” by Michelle J. Bayefsky
- “Permanence can be Defended” by Andrew McGee and Dale Gardiner
(Vox) – A strain of bird flu that’s considered the top pandemic threat is surging in China, and experts are warning that the US isn’t read if it were to arrive here. According to an assessment from the World Health Organization this week, China had 460 lab-confirmed human cases of the H7N9 bird flu virus over this winter–the most of any flu season since the virus was first reported in humans in 2013.
It’s Easy Money: Lab Offers Doctors Up to $144,000 a Year to Push Dubious Genetic Tests, Employees Say
(STAT News) – Proove has grown rapidly by tapping into the public angst over surging opioid addiction. It is one of many companies touting personalized DNA-based tests backed by little or no credible scientific data showing their reliability. That’s because a regulatory loophole has left huge swaths of the multibillion-dollar genetic testing industry largely free of government oversight. A STAT investigation found that Proove employees stationed in physicians’ offices pushed unnecessary tests on patients — a practice called “coercion” by one former manager — and they sometimes completed research evaluation forms on behalf of doctors, rating the tests as highly effective when they weren’t. In fact, Proove tests of DNA captured by swabbing inside a patient’s cheek were so unreliable that many physicians disregarded the results. There was scant evidence, said the company’s former chief scientist, that the tests improved patient outcomes.
(The Telegraph) – A blood test which reveals the sex of a baby after nine weeks should be banned for routine use because it promotes sex-selective abortion, a Government-backed think tank has said. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has warned that unscrupulous private clinics are offering non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) to parents who only want to find out whether or not they are having a boy. It comes amid fears some doctors are unlawfully performing abortions purely on the basis of sex.
(Fox News) – The illegal trade of human organs in the Middle East has surged recently as Syrian refugees seek money to afford smugglers’ fees for a Mediterranean Sea crossing to Europe. One young Syrian man, who gave his name as Mayar, fled his war-torn Syrian village for Cairo, hoping to be able to earn a living and support his family in that city. But that was unsuccessful. “By God, I don’t know how much money I can make from my kidney, but I have no other solution,” A refugee given the pseudonym “Mayar” said to Vocativ in a recent interview. “Life in Egypt is expensive.”
(The Epoch Times) – Investigative journalist and author Ethan Gutmann has been nominated for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for his work exposing the mass harvesting of organs in China’s state-run hospitals from practitioners of the traditional spiritual practice Falun Gong. Gutmann, along with human rights lawyer David Matas and former Canadian member of Parliament David Kilgour, released last summer the report “Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter: an Update,” which expanded on research published in Matas and Kilgour’s 2006 report “Bloody Harvest” and Gutmann’s 2014 book “The Slaughter.”
(NPR) – “Flesh is a dead format,” writes Mark O’Connell in To Be a Machine, his new nonfiction book about the contemporary transhumanist movement. It’s an alarming statement, but don’t kill the messenger: As he’s eager to explain early in the book, the author is not a transhumanist himself. Instead, he’s used To Be a Machine as a vehicle to dive into this loosely knit movement, which he sums up as “a rebellion against human existence as it has been given.” In other words, transhumanists believe that technology — specifically, a direct interface between humans and machines — is the only way our species can progress from its current, far-than-ideal state.
(Australian Broadcasting Co) – Arguably one of the first forms of enhancement was through improving their diet. The phrase “an army marches on its stomach” goes back at least to Napoleon, and speaks to the belief that being well fed enhances the soldier’s chances of winning a battle. But recent research has gone well beyond diet to enhance the capabilities of soldiers, like purposefully altering the structure and function of soldiers’ digestive system to enable them to digest cellulose, meaning they can use grass as a food.
(The Economist) – Alexa is one manifestation of a drive to disrupt an industry that has so far largely failed to deliver on the potential of digital information. Health care is over-regulated and expensive to innovate in, and has a history of failing to implement ambitious IT projects. But the momentum towards a digital future is gathering pace. Investment into digital health care has soared (see chart). One reason for that is the scale of potential cost-savings. Last year Americans spent an amount equivalent to about 18% of GDP on health care.
(New Scientist) – Artificial mouse embryos grown from stem cells in a dish could help unlock secrets of early development and infertility that have until now evaded us. Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz at the University of Cambridge and her team made the embryos using embryonic stem cells, the type of cells found in embryos that can mature into any type of tissue in the body. The trick was to grow these alongside trophoblast stem cells, which normally produce the placenta. By growing these two types of cell separately and then combining them in a special gel matrix, the two mixed and started to develop together.
Social Science & Medicine (vol. 177, 2017) is available online by subscription only.
- “Barriers to Accessing Adequate Maternal Care in Central and Eastern European Countries: A Systematic Literature Review” by Elina Miteniece, Milena Pavlova, Bernd Rechel, and Wim Groot
- “Street-Level Diplomacy? Communicative and Adaptive Work at the Front Line of Implementing Public Health Policies in Primary Care” by Nicola Gale, George Dowswell, Sheila Greenfield, and Tom Marshall
- “International Synthesis and Case Study Examination of Promising Caregiver-Friendly Workplaces” by Shruti Ramesh, Rachelle Ireson, and Allison Williams
- “Adapting Public Policy Theory for Public Health Research: A Framework to Understand the Development of National Policies on Global Health” by Catherine M. Jones, Carole Clavier, and Louise Potvin
- “Knowledge and Power in Policy-Making for Child Survival in Niger” by Sarah L. Dalglish, Daniela C. Rodríguez, Abdoutan Harouna, and Pamela J. Surkan
- “Medicaid’s Lasting Impressions: Population Health and Insurance at Birth” by Heeju Sohn
- “Enacted Abortion Stigma in the United States” by Sarah K. Cowan
- “Do Hospital Boards Matter for Better, Safer, Patient Care?” by R. Mannion, H.T.O. Davies, R. Jacobs, P. Kasteridis, R. Millar, and T. Freeman
Clinical Pediatrics (vol. 55, no. 3, 2017) is available online by subscription only.
- “Influence of Office Systems on Pediatric Vaccination Rates” by Rachael T. Zweigoron et al.
- “Patient and Caregiver Perspectives on Transition and Transfer” by Michele Herzer Maddux, Shawna Ricks, and Julie Bass
(BBC) – Facebook has begun using artificial intelligence to identify members that may be at risk of killing themselves. The social network has developed algorithms that spot warning signs in users’ posts and the comments their friends leave in response. After confirmation by Facebook’s human review team, the company contacts those thought to be at risk of self-harm to suggest ways they can seek help. A suicide helpline chief said the move was “not just helpful but critical”.
(Sixth Tone) – Thirty years after China’s first hospice center opened its doors in Beijing, the country’s top health authority has finally released a set of standards for palliative care — or that which is intended to reduce pain from a disease rather than cure it. The new rules, issued by the National Health and Family Planning Commission in late January, specify that such facilities should be equipped with at least 50 beds, and that there should be at least one doctor, four nurses, and 12 caregivers for every 10 beds.
(CNN) – A new nanoparticle technology warmed cryopreserved heart valves and blood vessels without damaging the tissues, found a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine. According to the researchers, this means that cryopreserving human hearts and kidneys in organ banks — and making them available for later use in patients — is finally within sight.
(New York Times) – The secret is that informed consent in health care is commonly not-so-well informed. It might be a document we ask you to sign, at the behest of our lawyers, in case we end up in court if a bad outcome happens. Unfortunately, it’s often not really about informing you. In schools, teachers determine what students know through tests and homework. The standard is not whether the teacher has explained how to add, but instead whether the student can add. If we were truly invested in whether you were informed, we’d give you a quiz, or at least ask you to repeat back to us what you heard so we could assess its accuracy.
(STAT News) – Patient advocacy organizations carry out important work like funding research and lobbying on behalf of people with a certain health condition — but they also can be less than fully transparent, with some failing to publicly list their sources of funding, a new study finds. Why it matters: While drug and device companies are required by federal law to disclose all payments they make to doctors and teaching hospitals, they don’t need to tell anyone how much money they give to patient advocacy groups.