News from Bioethics.com

Spike in Ebola Cases Alarms Health Officials in DRC

2 days 11 hours

(The Guardian) – Health officials are investigating an alarming spike in Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with many blamed on a single individual who appears to have contracted the disease for a second time this year. Amid the struggle to bring the 16-month outbreak under control, the World Health Organization noted an almost 300% increase in cases in the last three weeks, with 17 of 27 linked to a single chain of transmission. According to officials, it appears to be the second time the person has been documented as suffering from Ebola in six months. An investigation is being held to understand the circumstances around the case.

In the Fight for Money for the Opioid Crisis, Will the Youngest Victims Be Left Out?

2 days 11 hours

(Kaiser Health News) – Babies born to mothers who used opioids during pregnancy represent one of the most distressing legacies of an opioid epidemic that has claimed almost 400,000 lives and ravaged communities.  In fact, many of the ongoing lawsuits filed against drug companies refer to these babies, fighting through withdrawal in hospital nurseries. The cluster of symptoms they experience, which include tremors, seizures and respiratory distress, is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. Until recently, doctors rarely looked for the condition. Then case numbers quadrupled over a decade. Hospital care for newborns with NAS has cost Medicaid billions of dollars.

Another Opioid Crisis Is Raging Through the Developing World

2 days 11 hours

(ABC News) – Reports rolled in with escalating urgency — pills seized by the truckload, pills swallowed by schoolchildren, pills in the pockets of dead terrorists. These pills, the world has been told, are safer than the OxyContins, the Vicodins, the fentanyls that have wreaked so much devastation. But now they are the root of what the United Nations named “the other opioid crisis” — an epidemic featured in fewer headlines than the American one, as it rages through the most vulnerable countries on the planet.

New STAT Report Explores Viral Vectors, the Linchpin of Gene Therapy

2 days 11 hours

(STAT News) – Gene therapy, once dismissed as too dangerous, has made a comeback, with two products approved in the U.S. since December 2017 and hundreds more in the pipeline. STAT’s latest report takes a deep dive into a crucial component of these new treatments: the viral vectors used to deliver gene therapies to cells and organs. As dozens of new gene therapies near the market, we spoke with academic experts, pioneers in the field, and executives with 18 companies, large and small, to identify the most important challenges surrounding the engineering of better vectors, their safety, effectiveness, efficiency, production, and cost — and how key players are thinking about overcoming those hurdles.

Judges Rule FDA Can Regulate E-Cigarettes Like Traditional Cigarettes

2 days 11 hours

(Advisory Board) –  An appeals court panel on Tuesday ruled that FDA is able to regulate e-cigarettes just like it does traditional cigarettes, saying the products are “indisputably highly addictive and pose health risks, especially to youth, that are not well understood.” The lawsuit stems from FDA’s 2016 final rule that extends the agency’s regulatory authority over tobacco products to include e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and water pipe tobacco. The agency issued the final rule under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which granted FDA broad authority to regulate cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and rolled tobacco, and gave the agency the power to deem other tobacco products, like e-cigarettes, within its jurisdiction, as long as it first issues a rule to that effect.

The War on Polio Just Entered Its Most Dangerous Phase

3 days 12 hours

(Wired) – The picture looks different now. The count for 2019 won’t be concluded until next year, but so far this year there have been 117 cases of naturally occurring polio. And in a galling development, there have been an additional 216 cases of what is called “vaccine-derived polio”—an accidental byproduct of the eradication campaign, brought into being by the campaign’s own vaccines. In other words, there now exist more cases of polio paralysis caused by vaccines than there are cases caused by the original wild virus.

Here Are Some Actual Facts About George Church’s DNA Dating Company

3 days 12 hours

(MIT Technology Review) – None of the outraged hot takes offered any details on the app, but we now have exclusive details on the new DNA dating company spinning out of Church’s lab. The startup, called Digid8, was incorporated in September by Barghavi Govindarajan, a self-described “Harvard-trained technologist, innovator & educator” who Church says is his cofounder in the venture. The company takes its name from D8, internet slang for date, and will pursue what Church calls “whole-genome dating.”

FDA Blasts Alkermes for Underselling the Risks of Opioid Addiction Drug Vivitrol

3 days 13 hours

(STAT News) – The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday chastised the pharmaceutical company Alkermes for “misbranding” Vivitrol, its controversial treatment for opioid addiction, saying the company’s promotional materials failed to warn patients and doctors of the serious risks associated with the drug. The company failed to sufficiently communicate the risk of overdose associated with Vivitrol, which is one of three FDA-approved medications used to treat opioid use disorder.

Harvard Geneticist Wants to Build Dating App That Sure Sounds Like Eugenics

3 days 13 hours

(Popular Mechanics) – Church’s proposed app will pair potential star-crossed lovers based on their genome sequence, rather than, say, their love of Stephen King novels or affinity for chess. The idea is that if two people will likely produce offspring with genetic mutations, they’re not a good match. “You wouldn’t find out who you’re not compatible with,” Church told 60 Minutes. “You’ll just find out who you are compatible with.”

China’s Curing Cancer Faster and Cheaper Than Anywhere Else

3 days 13 hours

(Bloomberg) – The therapy Zhang received was Chimeric Antigen Receptor-T cells, known as CAR-T, and it’s being hailed as one of the most exciting developments in the quest to cure cancer. First developed by Israeli scientist Zelig Eshhar in the 1980s, CAR-T re-works the genes of the body’s own immune cells so that they actively seek out and destroy cancer cells. While it’s been embraced by researchers and drugmakers around the world, perhaps nowhere is CAR-T having more impact — and being pushed dangerously close to its limits — than in China, home to the world’s biggest cancer population and some of the most ambitious experiments.

Here’s the Pentagon’s Terrifying Plan for Cyborg Supersoldiers

4 days 11 hours

(Vice) – A new report from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center—a scientific research division of the Army with a focus on biological and chemical weapons—detailed what the field of cybernetics might look in 2050. The report, titled Cyborg Soldiers 205: Human/ Machine Fusion and the Implications for the Future of the DOD, reads like the framework for a dystopian novel set in a near future where injured soldiers are cybernetically enhanced, but come home to an America terrified of cyborgs.

U.S. Supreme Court Leaves in Place Kentucky Abortion Restriction

4 days 11 hours

(New York Times) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday left in place a Kentucky restriction requiring doctors to show and describe ultrasound images to women seeking an abortion, turning away a challenge arguing that the measure violates the free speech rights of physicians. The justices declined without comment to hear an appeal by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of a lower court ruling that upheld the law after a federal judge previously had struck it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

Fifty-Two Public Health Groups Demand Facebook Remove Latest Round of ‘Frightening’ HIV Ads

4 days 11 hours

(Newsweek) – Fifty-two public health companies and LGBTQ organizations wrote a public letter to Facebook Monday demanding it remove misleading advertisements about HIV prevention medicine. The posts imply that HIV-negative people could suffer health complications from prevention pills only seen in a shrinking group of HIV-positive people, thus deterring them from treatment, the letter claims.

A Controversial DNA Database Used to Solve Crimes Has Gone Commercial

5 days 13 hours

(Gizmodo) – A third-party DNA database that began as a passion project and later became embroiled in an ongoing debate over genetic privacy has now gone commercial. This week, the San Diego-based forensics company Verogen announced its acquisition of the controversial genealogy website GEDmatch. But it’s anyone’s guess as to how the shift in ownership will affect its over one million users—or its recent repurposing as a controversial crime-solving tool.

The Gene-Based Hack That Is Revolutionizing Epidemiology

5 days 13 hours

(Nature) – Fed up with this logical cul-de-sac, by the turn of this century some epidemiologists had begun suggesting that their field should call it a day. Advances in genetics, they said, could do a better job. They were half-right. Two decades on, genetics has transformed how people untangle correlation from causation. But it has come to raise epidemiology, not bury it. Genetic differences, it turns out, can help remove confounding variables from analyses, by standing in as proxies for environmental exposure. The technique is called Mendelian randomization.

Research Using Brains-in-a-Dish Forces a Radical Rethinking of Huntington’s Disease

5 days 13 hours

(STAT News) – Even allowing for the fact that these were lilliputian brains, they were not behaving at all according to plan. From the first days of the tiny lab-grown organs’ development, primitive “progenitor cells” romped out of their birthplaces in the deep interior and quickly turned into neurons and glia, specialized cells that do the brain’s heavy lifting, from thinking and feeling and moving to boring old neurological housekeeping. But the cells were jumping the gun.

Study Links Frozen Embryo Transfer to Higher Childhood Cancer Risk

5 days 13 hours

(CNN) – Children born after the use of frozen embryo transfer were at higher risk of childhood cancer, according to a new study, but the risk remains low. The study, published in the medical journal JAMA on Tuesday, looks at babies born in Denmark, a country with one of the highest rates of assisted reproductive technology. In 2018, nearly 10% of all children were born through some form of fertility treatment.

Uighurs and Genetic Surveillance in China

6 days 13 hours

(NPR) – DNA data has been used to track and identify alleged criminals for decades, but what happens when China begins to use that technology to identify and detain people based on their ethnicity, especially ethnic minorities like Uighur Muslims, in the name of national security? Yves Moreau is an engineer and professor at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium. He studies human genetics and the ethics involved in that. Mr. Moreau, thanks so much for being with us.

Surgeons Transplant a Testicle from One Brother to His Twin

6 days 13 hours

(New York Times) – A 36-year-old man born without testicles received one transplanted from his identical twin brother in a six-hour operation performed on Tuesday in Belgrade, Serbia, by an international team of surgeons. The surgery was intended to give the recipient more stable levels of the male hormone testosterone than injections could provide, to make his genitals more natural and more comfortable, and to enable him to father children, said Dr. Dicken Ko, a transplant surgeon and urology professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, who flew to Belgrade to help with the procedure.

Safety Problems Lead to Early End for Study of ‘Abortion Pill Reversal’

6 days 13 hours

(NPR) – A study designed to test the effectiveness of a controversial practice known as “abortion pill reversal” has been stopped early because of safety concerns. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, were investigating claims that the hormone progesterone can stop a medication-based abortion after a patient has completed the first part of the two-step process. 

The Hidden Crisis in Rural America

1 week 2 days

(The Atlantic) – It’s prohibitively difficult to access mental-health services in rural America. That’s because, relative to urban areas, rural counties have so few mental-health professionals. The majority of nonmetropolitan counties in the U.S. don’t have a psychiatrist, and almost half lack a psychologist. The paucity has resulted in a public-health crisis—rural Americans suffering from a psychiatric condition are more likely to encounter police than receive treatment. Each year, 2 million mentally ill Americans, most of whom aren’t violent criminals, end up in jail.

Tear Gas Is Now a Fact of Life in Hong Kong. Residents Are Wondering What It’s Doing to Their Health

1 week 2 days

(TIME) – Known also as CS gas, tear gas is not actually a gas, but fine powder used as a riot control agent. It becomes active when heated. Exposure causes streaming eyes, runny nose, shortness of breath, burning skin and sometimes vomiting and headaches. Lately, Hong Kong has been abuzz with concerns about the long term effects of tear gas exposure and any potential harm to the built environment caused by repeated tear gas contamination. Fears have been exacerbated by the police force’s switch to mainland Chinese-made tear gas. Experts say it contains aluminum and magnesium, causing it to burn at higher temperatures than the U.S.- and U.K.-made tear gas used previously.

China’s Genetic Research on Ethnic Minorities Sets Off Science Backlash

1 week 2 days

(New York Times) – China’s efforts to study the DNA of the country’s ethnic minorities have incited a growing backlash from the global scientific community, as a number of scientists warn that Beijing could use its growing knowledge to spy on and oppress its people. Two publishers of prestigious scientific journals, Springer Nature and Wiley, said this week that they would re-evaluate papers they previously published on Tibetans, Uighurs and other minority groups. The papers were written or co-written by scientists backed by the Chinese government, and the two publishers want to make sure the authors got consent from the people they studied.

Families Are Reeling after FDA Rejects Therapy for Kids Born Without a Thymus Gland

1 week 2 days

(STAT News) – All that was supposed to change on Wednesday, when the Food and Drug Administration had to decide whether it was approving a tissue implant that can dramatically increase such children’s chances of survival. Since 1993, 101 children have gotten the experimental treatment at Duke University Hospital, and 73 of them are still alive. With numbers like that, the approval seemed like a shoe-in, almost a formality. As soon as the positive decision was announced, the Luckesens were told, they’d get a call about scheduling Charlie’s surgery. On Wednesday, Katie Luckesen checked her phone again and again — while snuggling with her daughter, while helping the kids with schoolwork, while making stovetop Christmas toffee — but the good news never came. Only the next morning did she learn that regulators had rejected the application.

Experts Split Sharply Over Experimental Alzheimer’s Drug

1 week 3 days

(ABC News) – A company that claims to have the first drug to slow mental decline from Alzheimer’s disease made its case to scientists Thursday but left them sharply divided over whether there’s enough evidence of effectiveness for the medicine to warrant federal approval. Excitement and skepticism have surrounded aducanumab since its developers stopped two studies earlier this year because it didn’t seem to be working, then did a stunning about-face in October and said new results suggest it was effective at a high dose.

Pages