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Chinese Infiltration of US Labs Caught Science Agencies Off Guard

November 20, 2019

(Science) – US science agencies’ slow response to the threat posed by China’s talent-recruitment programmes has allowed China to divert US government funds and private-sector technology to further its military and economic goals, a US Senate panel has found.  Its report, which lawmakers discussed at a hearing on 19 November, describes China’s efforts to infiltrate US research institutions in new detail — including contract provisions requiring participating scientists to work on behalf of China. The analysis focused on China’s Thousand Talents Plan, the most prestigious of more than 200 programmes that are designed to recruit leading academics and promote domestic research.

OxyContin Maker Thrives in China with Abandoned U.S. Tactics

November 20, 2019

(STAT News) – The documents and interviews indicate that representatives from the Sacklers’ Chinese affiliate, Mundipharma, tell doctors that time-release painkillers like OxyContin are less addictive than other opioids — the same pitch Purdue admitted was false in U.S. court more than a decade ago. Mundipharma has pushed ever larger doses of opioids, even as it became clear that higher doses present higher risks, and represented the drug as safe for chronic pain, according the interviews and documents.

Gene-Edited ‘Supercells’ Make Progress in Fight Against Sickle Cell Disease

November 20, 2019

(NPR) – Doctors are reporting the first evidence that genetically edited cells could offer a safe way to treat sickle cell disease, a devastating, incurable disorder that afflicts millions of people around the world. Billions of cells that were genetically modified with the powerful gene-editing technique called CRISPR have started working, as doctors had hoped, inside the body of the first sickle cell patient to receive the experimental treatment, according to highly anticipated data released Tuesday.

FDA Approves Alnylam’s Givlaari, Second-Ever Drug Based on RNAi

November 20, 2019

(STAT News) – The FDA has approved the second-ever drug based on a Nobel prize-winning technique known as RNA interference, Alnylam’s givosiran. The medicine is intended to treat a rare genetic condition called acute hepatic porphyria that can cause attacks of severe abdominal pain. The drug, which will be branded as Givlaari, will cost $575,000 per year, the company announced Wednesday; after discounts, it expects the average price to be $442,000 per year. Each vial of the drug will cost $39,000.

The Quiet Rooms

November 19, 2019

(ProPublica) – The students, most of them with disabilities, scratch the windows or tear at the padded walls. They throw their bodies against locked doors. They wet their pants. Some children spend hours inside these rooms, missing class time. Through it all, adults stay outside the door, writing down what happens. In Illinois, it’s legal for school employees to seclude students in a separate space — to put them in “isolated timeout” — if the students pose a safety threat to themselves or others. Yet every school day, workers isolate children for reasons that violate the law, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois has found.

‘Designer Babies’ Could Be Just Two Years Away, Expert Claims

November 19, 2019

(CNN) – Genetically-modified babies are “highly desirable” to help protect people from disease and could be created ethically within two years, according to a new scientific paper. Gene editing now presents such low risks that it could be used in human embryos, according to an analysis by Kevin Smith, a bioethicist at Abertay University in Scotland, published last week in the journal Bioethics.  Advocates like Smith want to change the genetic makeup of embryos to prevent the transmission of gene-related diseases.

First CRISPR Treatment for Blood Diseases Shows Early Benefits in Two Patients

November 19, 2019

(STAT News) – The first two patients to receive a CRISPR-based treatment for the inherited blood disorders sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia have benefited from the experimental therapy and experienced only temporary and treatable side effects, the companies developing the treatment announced on Tuesday. The two patients, enrolled in a pair of ongoing clinical trials, have been free from blood transfusions and disease symptoms for a relatively short time, but the encouraging data offer hope that genome editing might one day offer a safe, durable cure for both blood diseases.

Leaked Report Exposes Maternity Scandal at Shropshire NHS Trust

November 19, 2019

(The Guardian) – At least 42 babies and three mothers may have died unnecessarily and more than 50 newborns suffered avoidable brain damage at a hospital trust, in what is believed to be the worst maternity scandal in NHS history. A leaked status update on a review of clinical malpractice in the maternity service of Shrewsbury and Telford hospital NHS trust raised concerns about the high number of deaths and injuries there. The review covers hundreds of cases between 1979 and 2017. The full extent of the scandal is expected to be found to be even worse as more cases are reviewed.

Google Just Got Access to Millions of Medical Records. Here Are the Pros and Cons.

November 19, 2019

(Vox) – Google has been venturing into new areas of business and recently made huge news when it got access to the health records of millions of Americans through a partnership with the Ascension hospital network. Both companies insist their goal is “to provide better care to patients,” but the program, code-named Nightingale, is already creating major privacy concerns. Just 48 hours after it was announced, federal regulators from the Department of Health and Human Services announced an investigation into whether the partnership violates HIPPA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. On this episode of the Reset podcast, Christina Farr, a tech and health reporter for CNBC, tells host Arielle Duhaime-Ross that this type of initiative isn’t exactly new for Google.

A New Treatment Promises to Make Little People Taller. Is It an Insult to ‘Dwarf Pride’?

November 18, 2019

(STAT News) – Scientists have come up with a drug, injected once a day, that appears to make children’s bones grow. To many, it’s a wondrous invention that could improve the lives of thousands of people with dwarfism. To others, it’s a profit-driven solution in search of a problem, one that could unravel decades of hard-won respect for an entire community. In the middle are families, doctors, and a pharmaceutical company, all dealing with a philosophically fraught question: Is it ethical to make a little person taller?

In States with Restrictive Abortion Laws, Women Seek Online Options

November 18, 2019

(Reuters) – There’s demand among U.S. women for an online service offering abortion medication, and it’s driven mainly by restrictive abortion policies, but also by high costs, stigma or simply the appeal of a private, at-home solution, a small study suggests.  At the time the study was done, the U.S did not have online access to abortion care, researchers note in the American Journal of Public Health.

Chinese Government May Have Falsified Organ Donation Numbers, Study Says

November 18, 2019

(The Guardian) – The Chinese government may have been systematically falsifying its organ donation numbers, raising renewed concerns over the use of executed prisoners and other forced donors for transplants, a new academic paper says. In 2015, China publicly promised it would no longer source organs from executed prisoners, previously almost its sole source. But a study led by Australian National University PhD student Matthew Robertson, published in the BMC Medical Ethics journal on Friday, says Chinese-government supplied datasets on organ donations show “highly compelling evidence they are being falsified”.

CRISPR’s Unwanted Anniversary

November 15, 2019

(Science) – There are key moments in the history of every disruptive technology that can make or break its public perception and acceptance. For CRISPR-based genome editing, such a moment occurred 1 year ago—an unsettling push into an era that will test how society decides to use this revolutionary technology. In November 2018, at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, scientist He Jiankui announced that he had broken the basic medical mantra of “do no harm” by using CRISPR-Cas9 to edit the genomes of two human embryos in the hope of protecting the twin girls from HIV.

Google’s Totally Creepy, Totally Legal Health-Data Harvesting

November 14, 2019

(The Atlantic) – In the six years since, Google has gone from a basic digital reference book to a multibillion-dollar player in the health-care industry, with the potential to combine medical and search data in myriad alarming new ways. Earlier this month, it announced its $2.1 billion acquisition of the wearables company Fitbit, and suddenly the company that had logged all our late-night searches about prescriptions and symptoms would potentially also have access to our heart rates and step counts. Immediately, users voiced concern about Google combining fitness data with the sizable cache of information it keeps on its users.

The First US Clinical Trial of Using an In-Brain Chip to Fight Opioid Addiction Is Now Underway

November 14, 2019

(Tech Crunch) – Opioid addiction is easily one of the top widespread healthcare issues facing the U.S., and research indicates we’re nowhere near achieving any kind of significant mitigating solution. But a team of medical researchers working at the West Virginia University Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) and West Virginia University Medicine (WVU) are beginning a new clinical trial of a solution that uses brain-embedded technology to potentially curb opioid addiction in cases that have resisted other methods of treatment.

Apple’s Reach Reshapes Medical Research

November 14, 2019

(New York Times) – Harvard’s new study is just one of three new large research efforts that Apple is working on with leading academic research centers and health organizations. Together, the studies, which Apple is paying for, show how the Silicon Valley giant and its popular products are reshaping medical research. To enroll in clinical trials, patients have often had to travel to medical centers to be briefed by researchers and fill out the study paperwork in person. Many studies also follow patients only intermittently, in periodic surveys and visits to hospitals.

Autonomous Care Safety Group Proposes Human Operator Training and Oversight

November 14, 2019

(CNET) – Self-driving cars are basically in the Wild West right now. Sure, there are some federal guidelines, but mostly, it’s patchwork stuff that varies from state to state. The Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium was founded by US automakers to try and change that. The group’s latest proposal surrounds human operators and best practices for those tasked with overseeing Level 4 and Level 5 self-driving cars. These are the autonomous cars that (when working perfectly) do not need any human assistance, but their development requires people who can take control if they begin to malfunction. The group’s best practices include what companies should look for in a human test driver, their training and how to oversee a test driver’s performance.

CDC Report: 35,000 Americans Die of Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Each Year

November 13, 2019

(STAT News) – An estimated 35,000 Americans die of antibiotic-resistant infections each year — one every 15 minutes — according to a stark new report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention that reveals that the problem is substantially greater than previously estimated. The new report, the first update of a landmark 2013 publication that estimated the scope of drug resistance in the United States, used better data sources to recalculate the estimates in the earlier version.

Facing ‘Certain Death,’ Teenager with Vaping Injury Gets Double Lung Transplant

November 13, 2019

(New York Times) – A 17-year-old boy whose lungs were irreversibly damaged by vaping received a double-lung transplant at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, a lifesaving measure taken when a patient’s own lungs are diseased or damaged beyond repair and there is no other hope of survival, doctors said on Tuesday. Without the transplant, performed last month, the patient “would have faced certain death,” Dr. Hassan Nemeh, who led the surgical team, said during a news conference at the hospital. The patient’s lungs were scarred, stiffened, pocked with dead spots and extremely inflamed, he said.

Ebola Vaccine Approved as Second Jab Trialled

November 13, 2019

(BBC) – A second Ebola vaccine is to be offered to around 50,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as part of a major clinical trial. The Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine will be used alongside a vaccine made by Merck, which has already been given to around 250,000 people. Merck’s jab has now been approved by the World Health Organization. More than 2,100 people have died in DR Congo, in the second largest Ebola outbreak on record.

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