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‘Sham’ Sharing Ministries Test Faith of Patients and Insurance Regulators

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(Kaiser Health News) – Each of these Washington state residents required medical treatment during the past few years, and each thought they had purchased health insurance through an online site. But when it was time to pay the bills, they learned that the products they bought through Aliera Healthcare Inc. weren’t insurance at all — and that the cost of their care wasn’t covered. Lewis and the others had enrolled in what Aliera officials claimed was a health care sharing ministry (HCSM) — faith-based co-ops in which members agree to pay one another’s medical bills.

Baby with Spina Bifida Receives Pioneering Keyhole Surgery

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(The Guardian) – For the first time in the UK, doctors have performed pioneering keyhole surgery to repair the spine of a baby with spina bifida while still in the womb. Surgeons from King’s College hospital in London used the cutting-edge technique to successfully close a hole in the spine of Jaxson Sharp 27 weeks into the pregnancy.

Investigators Found Autopilot Was Engaged in a Tesla Crash in Florida

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(Quartz) – Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot software was engaged during a fatal crash in March, according to a report released by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) May 16. On March 1, a Model 3 car slammed into a tractor-trailer attempting to cross a Florida highway traveling around 68 miles per hour, according to investigators who reviewed video footage from the car and nearby surveillance cameras. The impact sheared the roof off of the car, killing the driver, 50-year-old Jeremy Beren Banner. Investigators say Banner had engaged Autopilot about ten seconds before the crash, and did not have his hands on the wheels for up to eight seconds beforehand. NTSB did not assign blame to anyone for the incident and continues to investigate.

Cambodian Surrogates Freed After Agreeing to Keep Babies

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(The Jakarta Post) – Eleven women allegedly paid to be surrogate mothers have been released on bail after agreeing to keep the babies, Cambodia’s trafficking czar said Wednesday, as the poor Southeast Asian nation seeks to regulate the womb-for-hire trade. The women were charged in November with human trafficking and acting as intermediaries for surrogacy agents after they were discovered in a raid on a house in the capital Phnom Penh.

With a ‘Recoded’ Bacteria Genome Made from Scratch, Scientists Give Life a New Dictionary

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(STAT News) – The bacteria happily eating and reproducing and respiring in little plastic dishes sprinkled with nutrient broth in Jason Chin’s lab outside London look ordinary enough, but they differ in a fundamental way from every other living thing on earth, from fungi and avocados to tulips, robins, and elephants. They use a different genetic code — and yet, these artificial microbes are doing just fine. In fact, these Escherichia coli have the most extensively “recoded” genome ever created, Chin and his colleagues at England’s Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge reported on Wednesday in Nature.

Second Worst Ebola Outbreak in History Is Now Killing 66 Percent of People Who Become Infected

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(Gizmodo) – The current outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has infected 1,720 and killed 1,136, giving the viral disease a whopping 66 percent fatality rate. And the situation is making public health experts on the ground increasingly nervous.

Benzodiazepines in Early Pregnancy Tied to Heightened Risk of Miscarriage

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(Reuters) – Pregnant women who take a class of drugs that’s often prescribed for anxiety or insomnia may run a higher risk of miscarriage, a new study suggests. Canadian researchers looked at the outcomes from more than 160,000 early pregnancies and found that women taking benzodiazepines, such as Alprazolam (Xanax), Diazepam (Valium) and Clonazepam (Klonopin), were nearly twice as likely to miscarry, according to the results in JAMA Psychiatry. 

Alabama Governor Signs Controversial Abortion Ban into Law But Will Likely Face Legal Challenges

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(ABC News) – Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed the state’s controversial abortion ban into law, though it is expected to face near-immediate legal challenges. The ban makes it a felony for doctors in the state to perform abortions in all cases, with the only exception being when the life of the mother is threatened. The law, which was passed by the state’s Senate on Tuesday, does not include exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

Judge Orders FDA to Begin Regulating E-Cigarettes

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(ABC News) – A federal judge is ordering the Food and Drug Administration to begin reviewing the health effects of e-cigarettes. The ruling handed down Wednesday says the agency abdicated its legal duty when it postponed reviewing all U.S. vaping products by several years.

New Liver Transplant Rules Begin Amid Fight Over Fairness

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(ABC News) – Where you live makes a difference in how sick you have to be to get a transplant, or if you’ll die waiting. Now the nation’s transplant system is aiming to make the wait for livers, and eventually all organs, less dependent on your ZIP code. New rules mandating wider sharing of donated livers went into effect Tuesday despite a fierce and ongoing hospital turf war in federal court.

How Biotech Went from “No Way” to Payday in the Cannabis Business

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(MIT Technology Review) – Melo isn’t alone. As biotechnology embraces the legal cannabis industry, not a few of its executives are grappling with a dilemma: what will it mean if they make the drug much easier to get? So far, 33 US states have legalized medical marijuana, and 10 of these also permit recreational use. In October 2018, Canada permitted pot sales nationally. Health Canada expects that its citizens will consume 926,000 kilograms of cannabis this year, or one to two billion joints’ worth. Most will be consumed by daily pot smokers, who make up about 5% of Canada’s adult population, according to the agency.

Stem Cell Treatments Flourish with Little Evidence That They Work

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(New York Times) – Many people have become captivated by the idea of using stem cells to fix their damaged joints, and some claim to have been helped. But there is no clear evidence that these treatments work, and their safety has yet to be established. Most researchers, including those at the National Institutes of Health, think that efforts to sell therapies involving adult stem cells, which can develop into different types of cells to replenish tissue, have gotten way ahead of the science.

German Ethics Council Expresses Openness to Eventual Embryo Editing

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(STAT News) – A panel of government-appointed experts in Germany agreed unanimously that the human germline — DNA that is inherited by children from their parents — “is not inviolable,” rejecting one objection to using genome editing technologies such as CRISPR to make heritable changes in the DNA of human embryos, sperm, or eggs. In a 47-page report made public on Monday, the independent German Ethics Council concluded that the power of CRISPR, and the announcement last November that a scientist in China had used it to edit two IVF embryos that resulted in the birth of twin girls, means that “the possibility of intervening more easily and precisely in the human germline is drawing closer and closer.”

Cambodian Surrogates Face an Impossible Choice–Forced Motherhood, or Years in Prison

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(Australian Broadcasting Co) – The circumstances are anything but conventional: Phalla was a surrogate paid to carry the baby for a couple in China. Now, due to stop-gate measures enacted by Cambodian authorities late last year intended to act as a deterrent to the practice of surrogacy, Phalla is among dozens of women forced to raise the child they bore. If she doesn’t, she faces up to 20 years in prison for human trafficking.

Experimental Drug for Huntington’s Disease Jams Malfunctioning Gene

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(NPR) – Scientists are gearing up a major study to find out whether a drug can silence the gene that causes a devastating illness called Huntington’s disease. This development follows the discovery that the experimental drug reduced levels of the damaged protein that causes this mind-robbing ailment. The new study will determine whether that drug can also stop progression of the disease. It is also another sign that drugs built with DNA, or its cellular collaborator RNA, can be powerful tools for tempering diseases that until now have seemed out of reach.

Same-Sex Couples and Singles Use of Fertility Treatment Hits UK Record

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(Thomas Reuters Foundation) – More people in Britain are opting for fertility treatment with the fastest growth among same-sex couples, single women and surrogates, the fertility watchdog said on Thursday, as modern families become increasingly diverse. While heterosexual couples accounted for 91 percent of patients – having about 68,000 treatment cycles in 2017 – they saw the smallest increase on 2016 of 2 percent, data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) showed. On the other hand, treatments for female same-sex couples rose by 12 percent – to 4,463 cycles – and for single women by 4 percent – to 2,279 cycles – and for surrogates by 22 percent – to 302 cycles.

How Big a Problem Is Religious Objection in Health Care?

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(NPR) – When a health care provider feels they have been forced to do something they disagree with on moral or religious grounds, they can file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services. Some high-profile cases have involved nurses who objected to abortion. For the last decade, HHS has gotten an average of one of those complaints per year. Last year, though, that number jumped to 343.

Hepatitis A Infections Increased by Nearly 300% Over Two Years, Report Says

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(CNN) – Hepatitis A, a vaccine-preventable illness, like measles, has made a resurgence among adults in the United States who are at risk for the infection, according to a new report. Researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed the number of cases reported to the agency through the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System from 2013 to 2018. Hepatitis A infections increased 294% between 2016 and 2018, according to the study, published Thursday in the MMWR weekly report.

Coca-Cola Spent 8 mn Euros to Influence Research in France: Report

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(Medical Xpress) – US beverage giant Coca-Cola paid more than eight million euros in France to health professionals and researchers in a bid to influence research, according to an investigation by French newspaper Le Monde published on Thursday. The newspaper said the aim of the funds was to have research published that would divert attention away from the detrimental effect of sugary drinks on health.

State Bans Pesticide Linked to Developmental Problems

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(Kaiser Health News) – California will ban the use of a widely used pesticide in the face of “mounting evidence” that it causes developmental problems in children, state officials announced Wednesday. Several studies have linked prenatal exposure of chlorpyrifos to lower birth weights, lower IQs, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism symptoms in children. The chemical is mostly used on crops — including citrus, almonds and grapes — but is also applied on golf courses and in other non-agricultural settings.

FDA Takes New Steps to Bolster Research on Pregnant and Lactating Women

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(STAT News) – F ederal health officials on Wednesday rolled out two new draft guidances about how to study drug safety and efficacy in pregnant and lactating women, the latest in a series of steps to make sure women have the information they need to make medical decisions. The draft documents, released by the Food and Drug Administration, give drug makers insight into the agency’s thinking on when they should study a medicine in lactating women and how they can better monitor outcomes in pregnant women who are taking medications that have already been approved.

Addiction Medicine Mostly Prescribed to Whites, Even as Opioid Deaths Rose in Blacks

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(NPR) – White drug users addicted to heroin, fentanyl and other opioids have had near exclusive access to buprenorphine, a drug that curbs the craving for opioids and reduces the chance of a fatal overdose. That’s according to a study out Wednesday from the University of Michigan. It appears in JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers reviewed two national surveys of physician-reported prescriptions. Between 2012 and 2015, as overdose deaths surged in many states, so did the number of visits during which a doctor or nurse practitioner prescribed buprenorphine, often referred to by its brand name, Suboxone. The researchers assessed 13.4 million medical encounters involving the drug, but found no increase in prescriptions written for African Americans and other minorities.

In This Doctor’s Office, a Physical Exam Like No Other

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(New York Times) – But on Wednesday, Dr. Snyder and his colleagues published a study suggesting that big data may succeed where conventional medicine fails. In 109 volunteers whose bodies were closely tracked and analyzed, the researchers discovered a host of hidden conditions that required medical attention, including diabetes and heart disease. “It turns out 53 out of 109 people learned something really, really important from doing these deep profiles,” Dr. Snyder said.

Viruses Genetically Engineered to Kill Bacteria Rescue Girl with Antibiotic-Resistant Infection

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(Science) – With the standard treatments failing, Isabelle’s mother asked Spencer about alternatives—adding that she had read something about using viruses to kill bacteria. Spencer decided to take a gamble on what seemed like a far-fetched idea: phages, viruses that can destroy bacteria and have a long—if checkered—history as medical treatments. She collaborated with leading phage researchers, who concocted a cocktail of the first genetically engineered phages ever used as a treatment—and the first directed at a Mycobacterium, a genus that includes tuberculosis (TB). After 6 months of the tailor-made phage infusions, Isabelle’s wounds healed and her condition improved with no serious side effects, the authors report today in Nature Medicine.

The Kidney Brokers: Yemeni Organs Sold for $5,000 in Egypt

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(Al Jazeera) – An Egyptian hospital and officials at the Yemeni embassy in Cairo were involved in a large-scale organ-trafficking ring from 2014 that included hundreds of patients and brokers from Yemen and Egypt, an Al Jazeera investigation has revealed. Through interviews and documents obtained by Al Jazeera, the investigation exposes officials who have been giving out false papers for personal gain in order to facilitate the organ trafficking.