(Nature) – A tweak to a technique that edits DNA with pinpoint precision has boosted its ability to correct defective genes in people. Called CRISPR, the method is already used in the lab to insert and remove genome defects in animal embryos. But the genetic instructions for the machinery on which CRISPR relies — a gene-editing enzyme called Cas9 and RNA molecules that guide it to its target — are simply too large to be efficiently ferried into most of the human body’s cells. This week, researchers report a possible way around that obstacle: a Cas9 enzyme that is encoded by a gene about three-quarters the size of the one currently used.
(The Conversation) – The ability to precisely and accurately change almost any part of any genome, even in complex species such as humans, may soon become a reality through genome editing. But with great power comes great responsibility – and few subjects elicit such heated debates about moral rights and wrongs. Although genetic engineering techniques have been around for some time, genome editing can achieve this with lower error rates, more simply and cheaply than ever – although the technology is certainly not yet perfect.
(ABC News) – Ten years after the death of Terri Schiavo, the debate over when to end the life of someone catastrophically ill rages on. Terri Schindler Schiavo collapsed at home in the early morning hours of Feb. 25, 1990, according to the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Foundation started by her parents, Robert and Mary Schindler. She was ultimately diagnosed with hypoxic encephalopathy, a brain injury resulting from oxygen starvation.
(Reuters) – Broadening access to contraceptives in Africa’s arid Sahel region and improving women’s sexual health are key parts of a $200 million World Bank project in the conservative Muslim region, its coordinator said. The project in Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Chad, and Ivory Coast seeks to boost long-term prosperity by relieving population pressures on an environment stricken by drought, Christophe Lemiere, coordinator of the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographics Project, told Reuters.
(Medical Xpress) – New research has challenged the prevailing belief that the higher proportion of male babies born in the general population results from a higher proportion of males being conceived. The conclusions suggest that embryonic death is bound up with the embryo’s sex in ways that are not yet fully understood. Early embryos that are nonviable (because they show chromosomal abnormalities) and miscarried very early in pregnancy are more likely to be male, while the embryos that miscarry later in the first-trimester are more likely to be female, for reasons that remain unclear.
(New York Magazine) – In the latest Vice for HBO documentary, Outsourcing Embryos, correspondent Gianna Toboni traveled to India to report on the booming gestational-surrogacy industry. Commissioning couples from the U.S. and Europe use Indian surrogacy agencies because they’re as much as six times cheaper than Western alternatives. Surrogacy companies claim to offer opportunities for women to escape poverty, promoting international surrogacy as a win-win for everyone involved.
(Washington Post) – In 2013, then-15-year-old Anthony Stokes was dying and desperately needed a heart transplant that he couldn’t get because, according to doctors, he had “a history of noncompliance.” Stokes’s family suspected that his low grades and a history of trouble with the law gave doctors reason to believe that he would not be willing to take his medicine or show up at subsequent doctor’s visits. The Georgia teen’s story story sparked outrage, and the hospital quickly reversed their decision, giving him priority on the transplant list.
(The Epoch Times) – The Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights has amended a motion to name Falun Gong adherents as being among the groups of prisoners of conscience that are being killed for their organs in China. The committee’s initial motion last December condemned forced organ harvesting in China, but didn’t specifically name the affected groups.
(Nanowerk) – Biomedical researchers led by Dr. Gang Zheng at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre have successfully converted microbubble technology already used in diagnostic imaging into nanoparticles that stay trapped in tumours to potentially deliver targeted, therapeutic payloads.
(Buzz Feed) – A medical research study launched Tuesday aims to screen the genes of at least 20,000 people. Part of a surging tide of genetic research, this project would be unremarkable if not for the place it’s recruiting and communicating with volunteers: Facebook. The scientists behind the project, Genes for Good, hope that Facebook users will send a tube of their spit to a laboratory at the University of Michigan and use a free Facebook app to fill out periodic surveys about their health, habits, and moods.
(Nature) – University of Minnesota psychiatrist Kathryn Cullen had just started recruiting volunteers for the first clinical trial of the anaesthetic ketamine against treatment-resistant depression in adolescents when the university’s administration stopped the study in its tracks. On 18 March she received a surprising letter from the university president announcing that he was “suspending enrollment in all Department of Psychiatry interventional drug studies currently active or awaiting approval.”
(NPR) – The largest pharmacist association in the country has voted to discourage its members from participating in executions. The move could make executions harder for states that have been ordering their drugs from compounding pharmacies. As we’ve reported, some states like Texas turned to the pharmacies after big pharmaceutical companies — under pressure from death penalty opponents — decided to stop selling their drugs to U.S. prisons.
(Nature) – The results, detailed in two papers published in the past 18 months1, 2, were dramatic. The number of red-blood-cell transfusions dropped by 24% between 2009 and 2013, representing an annual savings of $1.6 million in purchasing costs alone. And as transfusion rates fell, so did mortality, average length of stay and the number patients who needed to be readmitted within 30 days of a transfusion. By simply asking doctors to think twice about transfusions, the hospital had not only reduced costs, but also improved patient outcomes.
(BBC) – Depression and heart-disease drugs are to be tested in a trial to find treatments for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) from existing medicines. There are currently no treatments in the secondary progressive stage of the debilitating disease. Doctors hope the necessary drugs are already out there, but have never been tested on MS.
(Science Daily) – A research team from the University of Houston has created an algorithm that allowed a man to grasp a bottle and other objects with a prosthetic hand, powered only by his thoughts. The technique, demonstrated with a 56-year-old man whose right hand had been amputated, uses non-invasive brain monitoring, capturing brain activity to determine what parts of the brain are involved in grasping an object.
(News-Medical) – In a paper published in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine, experts in global health from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for Global Health and the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, write that, while the international response to the epidemic included unprecedented measures that appeared to be gaining control of the outbreak by the end of 2014, the past year has also revealed critical weaknesses in the global public health system.
(U.S. News & World Report) – An estimated 600 to 800 abortions are performed every day in Morocco, where the operation is illegal except in cases of threat to the mother’s health. Although the procedure is widely practiced underground, the subject has long been taboo. Years of activism, however, have culminated this month in a new official move to reform the law to stem the tide of illegal abortions by making operations more accessible.
(Medical Xpress) – Intensive care units across the United States vary widely in how they manage the care of patients who have set preexisting limits on life-sustaining therapies, such as authorizing do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders and prohibiting interventions such as feeding tubes or dialysis, according to new research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Their work is published in the current issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.
(Forbes) – The virus was engineered by Dr. Matthias Gromeier, a molecular biologist at Duke who has been working on the treatment for the last 25 years. As Pelley explained, Gromeier removed part of the virus’ genetic material, which rendered it incapable of harming normal cells. That means it can only replicate in cancer cells, and in the process of doing so, it kills them while sparing healthy tissues. It’s a promising new approach in the burgeoning area of cancer immunotherapy.
(Wired) – Over the last several decades, DNA – the genetic material of life as we know it – has completed a remarkable scientific cycle. In 1953, it was a mysterious blur on an X-ray diffractogram. By the 1970s, it was possible to determine the sequence of short nucleotide chains. And now, a scientist can produce her own genetic code of choice with the click of a mouse.