News from Bioethics.com

India’s Laws on Organ Transplants Do Little to Protect Rights of Organ Donors

2 hours 43 min

(Scroll.in) – Thakur’s case is an example of how India’s organ transplant laws do little to protect organ donors, who are often from poor socioeconomic backgrounds and sometimes coerced into making the donation. At a recent meeting of doctors, legal experts, activists and a government representative, on possible changes to the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, most people agreed that donors often agree to transplant procedures due to coercion or a dire need of money, and need to be protected as victims and not seen as perpetrators of the crime.

6,700 Rohingya Killed in First Months of Myanmar Crackdown, MSF Reports

23 hours 21 min

(CNN) – At least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in attacks during the first month of a military crackdown in Myanmar in late August, Médecins Sans Frontières estimates. The aid group interviewed several thousand Rohingya refugees in four camps in Bangladesh in late October and early November, asking how many members of their families had died and how, both before and after the violence began. The survey showed that a minimum of 6,700 Rohingya — including 730 children — were killed by shooting and other violence between August 25 and September 24, and that at least 2,700 others died from disease and malnutrition, according to MSF.

As Zika Babies Become Toddlers, Some Can’t See, Walk or Talk

23 hours 42 min

(New York Times) – As the first babies born with brain damage from the Zika epidemic become 2-year-olds, the most severely affected are falling further behind in their development and will require a lifetime of care, according to a study published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study, the first to comprehensively assess some of the oldest Zika babies in Brazil, focused on 15 of the most disabled children born with abnormally small heads, a condition called microcephaly. At about 22 months old, these children had the cognitive and physical development of babies younger than 6 months. They could not sit up or chew, and they had virtually no language.

Couples Win Lawsuit over Donated Eggs with Genetic Defect

23 hours 50 min

(ABC News) – Two couples that gave birth to children with a genetic defect later traced to donated eggs have won a lawsuit against a New York fertility doctor and his clinic. The two children have Fragile X, which causes intellectual impairments. The egg donors were supposed to be screened for genetic conditions.

40 Years Later, Some Survivors of the First Ebola Outbreak Are Still Immune

23 hours 58 min

(The Atlantic) – Previously, another team found that Ebola patients retain some immunity against the virus after 14 years, but Rimoin’s team have shown that this protection extends for decades more. All of the 14 people they studied still carry antibodies that recognize at least one of the Ebola virus’s proteins, and four had antibodies that could completely neutralize the virus. “Those are the kinds of responses you’d like to see in a vaccine—long-lasting and robust,” says Rimoin, “which means that these antibodies are of great value to science.”

Down Syndrome Families Divided over Abortion Ban

1 day 7 min

(NPR) – When a pregnant woman finds out that she’s likely to give birth to a baby with Down syndrome, she’s often given the option to terminate the pregnancy. But families affected by the genetic disorder, which causes developmental delays, are conflicted over whether such abortions should be legal. Ohio could soon become the latest state to restrict abortions based on a Down syndrome diagnosis. A bill that would make it a felony for doctors to perform abortions after a Down syndrome diagnosis is moving through the state legislature and could be ready for Gov. John Kasich’s signature as soon as this week.

China Is Collecting DNA Under the Guise of Providing Free Health Care

1 day 22 hours

(Quartz) – A free health-care program in an impoverished part of the world sounds like a welcome development. But the “Physicals for All” project in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is not what it seems, according to a Human Rights Watch report published today. Starting in 2016 and running annually from July through November, the project, though operated by health departments, is actually used by police to collect citizens’ DNA samples and blood types. This year, the program gathered such data on over 18 million residents in the region.

ADHD Drug Use in Pregnancy Increases Risk of Heart Defects, Study Finds

1 day 23 hours

(CNN) – The attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder drug methylphenidate is associated with an increased risk of heart defects in infants whose mothers take the medication during pregnancy, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. Specifically, the researchers found a 28% increased prevalence of cardiac malformations after first-trimester exposure to the stimulant, which is the active ingredient in Ritalin, Concerta, Daytrana, Methylin and other ADHD medications.

Will Artificial Ovaries Mean No More Menopause?

1 day 23 hours

(MIT Technology Review) – During menopause a woman’s ovaries stop working—leading to hot flashes, sleep problems, weight gain, and worse, bone deterioration. Now scientists are exploring whether transplanting lab-made ovaries might stop those symptoms. In one of the first efforts to explore the potential of such a technique, researchers say they used tissue engineering to construct artificial rat ovaries able to supply female hormones like estrogen and progesterone.

Early Embryos Kept in Check

1 day 23 hours

(Nature) – During embryonic development, cells differentiate into particular lineages according to information about their position in the embryo. This adoption of a particular cellular identity often triggers changes in the organization of the embryo, which, in turn, results in new positional information. These cycles of differentiation and morphogenesis are key to normal development — but how do embryos coordinate them? One way is to implement checkpoints, similar to those in place during the cell cycle, to block progression until specific criteria are met. In a paper online in Nature, Shahbazi et al. report just such a checkpoint during early development in mammals.

Acupuncture in Cancer Study Reignites Debate about Controversial Technique

1 day 23 hours

(Nature) – One of the largest-ever clinical trials into whether acupuncture can relieve pain in cancer patients has reignited a debate over the role of this contested technique in cancer care. Oncologists who conducted a trial of real and sham acupuncture in 226 women at 11 different cancer centres across the United States say their results — presented on 7 December at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas — conclude that the treatment significantly reduces pain in women receiving hormone therapy for breast cancer.

Abortions in India Are 20 Times Higher Than Estimated: Study

2 days 16 min

(Reuters) – It is India’s first national study of the incidence of abortion and unintended pregnancy, researchers said. Half of India’s more than 48 million pregnancies were unintended, and a third resulted in abortions, the study said, using 2015 abortion pill sales and distribution data and surveys of six highly populated states. Researchers said that close to three in four abortions were achieved using drugs from chemists and informal vendors, rather than from health facilities where proper counseling and health checks should be provided.

Why a Pill That’s 4 Cents in Tanzania Costs Up to $400 in the U.S.

2 days 23 hours

(NPR) – It’s not just a problem with the anti-hookworm pill. Drugs for diseases of the developing world, in particular what are known as “neglected tropical diseases” like hookworm and leishmaniasis, are enormously more expensive in the United States than in the developing world. “There really is no good reason for this price,” Dr. Jonathan Alpern says of the albendazole price tag. Alpern works for the HealthPartners Institute, the research division of a health care organization in Minnesota.

An Overlooked Epidemic: Older Americans Taking Too Many Unneeded Drugs

2 days 23 hours

(Kaiser Health News) – Consider it America’s other prescription drug epidemic. For decades, experts have warned that older Americans are taking too many unnecessary drugs, often prescribed by multiple doctors, for dubious or unknown reasons. Researchers estimate that 25 percent of people ages 65 to 69 take at least five prescription drugs to treat chronic conditions, a figure that jumps to nearly 46 percent for those between 70 and 79. Doctors say it is not uncommon to encounter patients taking more than 20 drugs to treat acid reflux, heart disease, depression or insomnia or other disorders.

CRISPR Therapeutics Plans Its First Clinical Trial for Genetic Disease

3 days 45 min

(Wired) – In the end, Crispr’s leading luminaries formed three companies—Caribou Biosciences, Editas Medicine, and Crispr Therapeutics—to take what they had done in their labs and use it to cure human disease. For nearly five years the “big three’ Crispr biotechs have been promising precise gene therapy solutions to inherited genetic conditions. And now, one of them says it’s ready to test the idea on people. Last week, Charpentier’s company, Crispr Therapeutics, announced it has asked regulators in Europe for permission to trial a cure for the disease beta thalassemia.

‘Promise of a Cure’: Gene Therapy for Hemophilia A

3 days 23 hours

(Medscape) – Patients with hemophilia A who received a single infusion of an investigational gene therapy called valoctocogene roxaparvovec showed substantially increased levels of the essential blood clotting factor VIII. Of the 13 patients who took part in the study, 11 achieved normal or near-normal factor VIII levels.

A Breakthrough Study Could Lead to Synthetic DNA Therapies for Incurable Genetic Diseases

4 days 22 min

(Quartz) – Now, researchers from University College London report they’ve found a way to reverse the effect of this genetic defect—or at least slow it down—through an injection of synthetic DNA. In a small clinical trial of 46 patients, an injection of a synthetic molecule into the spinal cord appeared to stop the mutated huntingtin gene from producing the faulty protein. If it can keep the lethal protein at bay long term, the treatment could effectively cure an otherwise fatal disease.

Venezuela’s Chronic Shortages Give Rise to ‘Medical Flea Markets’

1 week 3 hours

(Reuters) – Venezuela’s critical medicine shortage has spurred “medical flea markets,” where peddlers offer everything from antibiotics to contraceptives laid out among the traditional fruits and vegetables.  The crisis-wrought Latin American nation is heaving under worsening scarcity of drugs, as well as basic foods, due to tanking national production and strict currency controls that crimp imports. The local pharmaceutical association estimates at any given time, there is a shortage of around 85 percent of drugs.

Gene Therapy Shows Promise against Blood-Clotting Disease

1 week 4 hours

(ABC News) – Gene therapy has freed 10 men from nearly all symptoms of hemophilia for a year so far, in a study that fuels hopes that a one-time treatment can give long-lasting help and perhaps even cure the blood disease. Hemophilia almost always strikes males and is caused by lack of a gene that makes a protein needed for blood to clot. Small cuts or bruises can be life-threatening, and many people need treatments once or more a week to prevent serious bleeding. The therapy supplies the missing gene, using a virus that’s been modified so it won’t cause illness but ferries the DNA instructions to liver cells, which use them to make the clotting factor.

DNA Has Gone Digital–What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

1 week 4 hours

(The Conversation) – The ease of accessing genetic information online has democratized science, enabling amateur scientists in community laboratories to tackle challenges like developing affordable insulin. But the line between physical DNA sequences and their digital representation is becoming increasingly blurry. Digital information, including malware, can now be stored and transmitted via DNA. The J. Craig Venter Institute even created an entire synthetic genome watermarked with encoded links and hidden messages.

The ‘Smart Pill’ for Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Raises Tricky Ethical Questions

1 week 23 hours

(STAT News) – Sticking to a medication regimen is as important for people with mental illness as it is for those with physical illness. But what makes Abilify MyCite, a high-tech version of aripiprazole, problematic is that it could easily be incorporated into forced treatment, which ignores the values and preferences of people with mental illness. Involuntary treatment has a long and painful history in mental health. Without their consent, people with mental illness can be committed to inpatient or outpatient treatment, and sometimes forced to take medications. Only in the 1970s did the U.S. Supreme Court first address the lack of rights for people hospitalized against their will.

Even Low-Dose Contraceptives Slightly Increase Breast Cancer Risk

1 week 23 hours

(NPR) – It’s long been known that hormonal contraception, like any medicine, carries some risks. But doctors and women have hoped that the newer generations of low-dose contraceptive pills, IUDs and implants eliminated the breast cancer risk of earlier, higher-dose formulations. Now a big study from Denmark suggests the elevated risk of getting breast cancer — while still very small for women in their teens, 20s and 30s – holds true for these low-dose methods, too.

More Than 2,000 Drugs Now in Cancer Immunotherapy Race

1 week 23 hours

(Reuters) – The race to develop new immunotherapy treatments against cancer has sparked an unprecedented explosion in the oncology drug pipeline, with more than 2,000 immune system-boosting agents now in development. The result is a scramble for patients to enrol in clinical trials, duplication of effort and the likely ultimate failure of many projects, according to experts.

African Slaves Cut Open for Their Kidneys in Libya’s Burgeoning Organ Trafficking Market

1 week 1 day

(International Business Times) – The investigation into Libya’s seedy underbelly, where men and women are sold off to the highest bidder, has earned international condemnation, with demands for a swift investigation into the human rights atrocity. Now, a Ghanaian lawyer claims trafficking in the country is being used to facilitate the illegal sale of human organs and encourage a lucrative “red market”.

Hospitals That Act as Modern-Day Debtor Prisons Deny Rights and Dignity

1 week 1 day

(STAT News) – A new Chatham House paper that I co-authored with Tom Brookes and Eloise Whitaker shows that up to hundreds of thousands of people are detained in hospitals against their will each year. Their crime? Being too poor to pay their medical bills. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in several sub-Saharan African countries, notably Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, and Kenya, but there is also evidence of it in India and Indonesia. The practice of medical detentions is particularly rife in Democratic Republic of Congo. In one study of a health facility over a six-week period in 2016, 54 percent of women who had given birth and were eligible for discharge were detained for the nonpayment of user fees.

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