(Kaiser Health News) – Patients like the Houston man are health care’s so-called “super-utilizers”— people with complex problems who frequent emergency rooms for ailments more aptly handled by primary care doctors and social workers. They cost public and private insurers dearly — making up just five percent of the U.S. population, but accounting for 50 percent of health care spending. As health care costs continue to rise, hospitals and doctors are trying to figure out how to find these patients and get to the root of their problems.
(BBC) – The number of people mistakenly killed last week in an air attack on a camp for those who have fled conflict in north-east Nigeria has been revised to 115, an official has told the BBC. Camp residents and aid workers were among those killed when the air force bombed Rann, in Borno state, thinking it was a base of Boko Haram militants. It was the biggest known botched attack in eight years of fighting the group.
(Medical Xpress) – Promising, early studies of deep brain stimulation (DBS) for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease have paved a path for future clinical trials, but there are unique ethical challenges with this vulnerable population regarding decision making and post-study treatment access that need to be addressed as they ramp up, Penn Medicine researchers argue in a new review in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Does the patient still have the capacity to make an informed decision half way through the trial? Are there any misconceptions about its therapeutic benefit? Will the device remain after the trial ends, and who will pay for it?
(The Guardian) – From the moment life gained a foothold on Earth its story has been written in a DNA code of four letters. With G, T, C and A – the molecules that pair up in the DNA helix – the lines between humans and all life on Earth are spelled out. Now, the first living organisms to thrive with an expanded genetic code have been made by researchers in work that paves the way for the creation and exploitation of entirely new life forms. Scientists in the US modified common E coli microbes to carry a beefed-up payload of genetic material which, they say, will ultimately allow them to program how the organisms operate and behave.
(Medical Xpress) – Zika virus (ZIKV) interferes with the cellular machinery controlling cell division and alters the expression of hundreds of genes guiding the formation and development of neurons and astrocytes, according to findings released on January 23rd 2017 at Scientific Reports. Several evidences indicate that ZIKV infection is associated with microcephaly—a condition in which baby’s head is abnormally small, often because the brain has not developed properly—and other fetal brain defects. Despite the association, cellular alterations caused by the virus are largely unknown.
(CBC News) – New research suggests medically assisted dying could result in substantial savings across Canada’s health-care system. Doctor-assisted death could reduce annual health-care spending across the country by between $34.7 million and $136.8 million, according to a report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday. The savings exceedingly outweigh the estimated $1.5 to $14.8 million in direct costs associated with implementing medically assisted dying.
(Calgary Sun) – The rate of those choosing physician-assisted death in Alberta continues to increase and more are opting out of dying at home, say Alberta Health Services officials. Since Feb. 6 when the procedure was made possible, 76 people in the province have taken that route to end their lives, which in Alberta is through the intravenous delivery of drugs. In the week from Jan. 9 to 16, five more people died with the assistance of a physician, a process that became fully legal last June.
(PhysOrg) – A new technique will help biologists tinker with genes, whether the goal is to turn cells into tiny factories churning out medicines, modify crops to grow with limited water or study the effects of a gene on human health. The technique, published Jan. 20 in Nature Communications, allows scientists to precisely regulate how much protein is produced from a particular gene. The process is simple yet innovative and, so far, works in everything from bacteria to plants to human cells.
(San Diego Union Tribune) – Stem cells with characteristics of totipotency — capable of creating all the tissue types needed to build and sustain an embryo — have been created in mice by a California-led research team. Researchers found that a microRNA called miR-34a prevents totipotency. Pluripotent mouse cells deficient in that microRNA acquired signs of totipotency. The feat makes it feasible to explore the molecular basis of totipotency, said the researchers in a study published Jan. 12 in the journal Science.
(The Phnom Penh Post) – Commercial surrogacy agency New Life Global Network has severed ties with Dutch intended parents Johan and Pieter* after the Post reported on their experience with a Cambodian surrogate mother. New Life claims the couple broke their contract’s confidentiality clause by passing reporters information about their correspondence with the agency. “New Life Global Network LLP unilaterally terminates the agreement with the immediate effect. Along with that let me inform you that, translators refused to communicate with you and your surrogate mother, as well as hospitals refuse to provide you with pregnancy care and delivery service,” reads an email from New Life seen by the Post.
(The Guardian) – Doctors in India are to get text alerts reminding them to ask families to donate the organs of deceased loved ones as part of a campaign to solve the country’s organ shortage, which has fuelled a black market trade. The drive, “Poochna mat bhoolo” – “Don’t forget to ask” in Hindi – will target 300,000 doctors. It represents the latest in a string of awareness campaigns in India after a kidney racket involving a poor woman was uncovered at a top Mumbai hospital last year. According to government data, up to 200,000 people are on the waiting list for kidneys in India while 25-30,000 are currently awaiting a liver. Legal donations meet about 3% to 5% of the demand.
(The Guardian) – Your medical data is for sale – all of it. Adam Tanner, a fellow at Harvard’s institute for quantitative social science and author of a new book on the topic, Our Bodies, Our Data, said that patients generally don’t know that their most personal information – what diseases they test positive for, what surgeries they have had – is the stuff of multibillion-dollar business. But although the data is nominally stripped of personally identifying information, data miners and brokers are working tirelessly to aggregate detailed dossiers on individual patients; the patients are merely called “24601” instead of “Jean Valjean”.
California Voters Were Promised Cures. But the State Stem Cell Agency Has Funded Just a Trickle of Clinical Trials
(STAT News) – It’s been more than a decade since California launched an unprecedented experiment in medical research by direct democracy, when voters created a $3 billion fund to kick-start the hunt for stem cell therapies. The bold plan, a response to federal funding limits for embryonic stem cell research, was sold with a simple pitch: The money would rapidly yield cures for devastating human diseases such as Parkinson’s and ALS. That hasn’t happened.
(Medical Xpress) – Scientists at the Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM) at Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) are creating an induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-based research library that opens the door to invaluable sickle cell disease research and novel therapy development. The library comprises blood samples from ethnically diverse patients with sickle cell disease from around the world and represents the major genetic backgrounds on which the sickle cell mutation occurred. The library is outlined in the current online issue of the journal Stem Cell Reports.
(STAT News) – Nearly one-third of Colorado’s hospitals are refusing to offer terminally ill patients the option of physician-assisted suicide — even though voters last fall overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative legalizing the practice. And two of the state’s biggest health care systems, both faith-based, appear poised to bar their doctors from providing such services to patients at any of their facilities, under any circumstances — potentially running afoul of the new aid-in-dying law.
(CNN) – In 2015, the United Kingdom approved pronuclear transfer, but only for women suffering mitochondrial disease. The technique replaces defective mitochondria in a mother’s egg with healthy donor mitochrondria as a way of preventing mitochondrial disease from being passed on to a child. The reason this experimental method is a cause for concern — and was vigorously debated in the UK before approval — is the genetic modifications produced in a girl baby could be passed onto her children, according to Lori P. Knowles, adjunct assistant professor at the University of Alberta School of Public Health.
(Reuters) – Inside a bungalow in a plush residential area of Gurugram, on the outskirts of New Delhi, a group of women in different stages of pregnancy share the hope their babies will be delivered safely – or risk losing the chance of big money, forever. Successful pregnancies have never been more important at this surrogacy center where every bed is taken following a jump in demand as India inches towards banning commercial surrogacy. These women could be among the last in the country to rent their wombs for money if the Indian parliament passes a bill to outlaw commercial surrogacy – a 15-year-old industry estimated to be worth as much as $2.3 billion annually – in its next session starting in February.
(Reuters) – If passed the legislation in India would ban commercial surrogacy, but allow altruistic surrogacy for married Indian couples medically proven to be infertile. Singles and gay couples will not be allowed to seek the service. India banned foreign nationals from seeking surrogacy in 2015, a year after the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child said that commercial surrogacy, if not regulated, amounts to the sale of children. Here’s a look at laws in different parts of the world.
(Associated Press) – The first national estimate suggests that nearly half of U.S. men have genital infections caused by a sexually transmitted virus and that 1 in 4 has strains linked with several cancers. Most human papillomavirus infections cause no symptoms and most disappear without treatment. And most adults will get an HPV infection at some point in their lives. But high-risk HPV can cause cancer in the mouth and upper throat, cervical cancer in women and other cancers. Less harmful strains can cause genital warts. Vaccines can prevent infections but experts say vaccination rates in pre-teens and young adults are too low.
(Science Daily) – The views among physicians and the general public when it comes to deciding whether to withhold or withdraw treatment of terminally ill patients differ greatly. However, in a hypothetical case study of a clearly hopeless medical case, great unanimity among physicians’ and the public’s assessments could be seen with regards to cancelling treatment or offering relief at the final stages of life.