News from Bioethics.com

Sequencing the Genome of Every UK Baby Would Be an Ethical Minefield

1 week 11 hours

(New Scientist) – Plans for the National Health Service to sequence the DNA of every baby born in the UK, starting with a pilot scheme of 20,000 children, were announced by health minister Matt Hancock this week. It sounds like the UK is leading the way in high-tech healthcare – but doctors are saying the idea is ethically questionable. Babies are already tested for certain health conditions soon after birth, so it may seem as though sequencing their genome, their entire set of genes, is a simple upgrade of this routine screening, but that isn’t the case.

‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ Endanger Adolescent Health, Doctors Say

1 week 11 hours

(Reuters) – “Crisis pregnancy centers” look and act like healthcare clinics but fail to meet medical and ethical standards, often using biased and inaccurate information to persuade women not to pursue an abortion, say two national doctors’ groups. The “misinformation” these centers offer typically includes limited options for the next steps of pregnancy and unscientific sexual and reproductive health explanations, according to a joint statement by the Society for Adolescent Health and the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology that was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. 

A Takeda Vaccine for Dengue Appears Effective, But the Story Is Nuanced

1 week 11 hours

(STAT News) – A key hurdle Takeda must clear is to demonstrate that its own vaccine is not hindered by an issue that has clouded Sanofi’s Dengvaxia vaccine, which can actually make future cases of the mosquito-borne virus more severe in people who were not previously infected. After this finding was disclosed two years ago, a widespread vaccination campaign run by the Philippine government was abruptly halted amid scandal. Sanofi has struggled ever since to make a success of the product. For the moment, Takeda reported preliminary results that are decidedly mixed.

CDC: Childhood Trauma Is a Public Health Issue And We Can Do More to Prevent It

1 week 11 hours

(NPR) – Childhood trauma causes serious health repercussions throughout life and is a public health issue that calls for concerted prevention efforts. That’s the takeaway of a report published Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experiencing traumatic things as a child puts you at risk for lifelong health effects, according to a body of research. The CDC’s new report confirms this, finding that Americans who had experienced adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, were at higher risk of dying from five of the top 10 leading causes of death. 

Juul Disregarded Early Evidence It Was Hooking Teens

1 week 1 day

(Reuters) – The San Francisco startup that invented the groundbreaking Juul e-cigarette had a central goal during its development: captivating users with the first hit. The company had concluded that consumers had largely rejected earlier e-cigarettes, former employees told Reuters, because the devices either failed to deliver enough nicotine or delivered it with a harsh taste. Developers of the Juul tackled both problems with a strategy they found scouring old tobacco-company research and patents: adding organic acids to nicotine, which allowed for a unique combination of smooth taste and a potent dose.

The Air Ambulance Billed More Than His Surgeon Did for a Lung Transplant

1 week 1 day

(Kaiser Health News) – “Balance billing,” better known as surprise billing, occurs when a patient receives care from a medical provider outside of his insurance plan’s network, and then the provider bills the patient for the amount insurance didn’t cover. These bills can soar into the tens of thousands of dollars. Surprise bills hit an estimated 1 in 6 insured Americans after a stay in the hospital. And the air ambulance industry, with its private equity backing, high upfront costs and tendency to remain out-of-network, is among the worst offenders.

Doctors Use CRISPR Gene Editing in Cancer Patients, a First in the U.S.

1 week 1 day

(Los Angeles Times) – The first attempt in the United States to use the CRISPR gene-editing tool against cancer seems safe in the three patients who have had it so far, but it’s too soon to know whether the treatment will improve survival, doctors reported Wednesday. The doctors were able to take immune system cells from the patients’ blood and alter them genetically to help them recognize and fight cancer, with minimal and manageable side effects.

From Assisted Hatching to Embryo Glue, Most IVF ‘Add-ons’ Rest on Shaky Science, Studies Find

1 week 1 day

(STAT News) – In the 40 years since the world’s first “test tube baby,” fertility clinics have cooked up nearly three dozen such “add-ons,” or supplementary procedures. Like immune therapy for supposed genetic incompatibility, they’re not essential to IVF. Instead, clinics offer procedures such as “assisted hatching” and “embryo glue” and “uterine artery vasodilation” as purportedly science-based options that increase the chance of having a baby. Except there is little to no evidence that the vast majority of IVF add-ons do any such thing, conclude four papers published on Tuesday in Fertility and Sterility, the journal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Oversight of ‘Right to Try’ Stem Cell Market Raises Concerns, Bioethicists Say

1 week 2 days

(S & P Global) – Already troubled by the murky oversight of the rapidly expanding U.S. direct-to-consumer marketplace of unapproved stem cell therapies, bioethicists are now raising concerns about a new pathway that at least one company is taking to sell those products — the Right to Try Act. The law, adopted in May 2018, allows critically ill patients to sidestep the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in seeking access to experimental therapies. The growing unapproved stem cell market combined with the congressionally mandated laissez-faire approach for Right to Try, or RTT, could expose vulnerable patients to harm, bioethicists told S&P Global Market Intelligence.

U.S. Blames Drug Shortages on Low Prices and a ‘Broken Marketplace’

1 week 2 days

(New York Times) – Chronic drug shortages that threaten patient care are caused by rock-bottom prices for older generic medicines and a health care marketplace that doesn’t run on the rules of supply and demand, among other factors, according to a federal report published on Tuesday. The report, the work of a task force led by the Food and Drug Administration and comprising representatives from various federal agencies, recommended that buyers like hospitals consider paying higher prices for older generic drugs.

Controversy Kicks Up Over a Drug Meant to Prevent Premature Birth

1 week 2 days

(NPR) – An independent panel of advisers to the Food and Drug Administration recommended last week that a medication to prevent preterm birth be taken off the market because, the advisers decided, the preponderance of evidence suggests it doesn’t work. But some other leading OB-GYNs say they hope the FDA won’t take the panel’s advice this time. The medication, brand-named Makena, is a progestin, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone.

The Health Care Industry Needs to Be More Honest About Medical Errors

1 week 2 days

(TIME) – Yet, in 2019, medical errors are about as prevalent as in 1999. “To Err Is Human” was an uneasy read; so is a September 2019 report on patient safety from the World Health Organization. Among WHO’s findings: Globally, hospital-acquired infections afflict about 10% of hospitalized patients. Medical errors harm some 40% of patients in primary and outpatient care. Diagnostic and medication errors hurt millions, and cost billions of dollars every year. So, two decades on, why this chronic state of risk in health care?

Measles and Mistrust in Ukraine Weaken World’s Defenses

1 week 3 days

(Reuters) – Many of the people coming to Anna Kukharuk’s private medical clinic don’t have a disease. What plagues them is doubt. But its effects are a health emergency that the doctor and hundreds of others are struggling to remedy. Deep mistrust of vaccines in Ukraine has allowed measles, a virus which according to United Nations data kills 367 children a day worldwide, to grow into an epidemic infecting more than 58,000 people in the country of 42 million this year alone.

A New Alzheimer’s Therapy Is Approved in China, Delivering a Surprise for the Field But Also Questions

1 week 3 days

(STAT News) – Chinese regulators have granted conditional approval to an Alzheimer’s drug that is derived from seaweed, potentially shaking up the field after years of clinical failures involving experimental therapies from major drug companies. The announcement over the weekend has been met with caution as well as an eagerness from clinicians and others to see full data from the drug maker, Shanghai Green Valley Pharmaceuticals. The company said its drug, Oligomannate, improved cognitive function in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s compared to placebo in a Phase 3 trial, with benefits seen in patients as early as week four and persisting throughout the 36 weeks of the trial. 

Google to Acquire Fitbit for $2.1 Billion in Major Health Tech Deal

1 week 6 days

(STAT News) – Google parent company Alphabet announced on Friday it will buy Fitbit for $2.1 billion — a massive deal that will pit Google squarely against Apple (AAPL) in the market for health and fitness tracking. The deal immediately transforms the market for fitness trackers and smartwatches, which are increasingly being seen as clinical tools for monitoring health and gathering reams of health data.

Measles Erases Immune ‘Memory’ for Other Diseases

2 weeks 14 hours

(Nature) – Measles infections in children can wipe out the immune system’s memory of other illnesses such as influenza, according to a pair of studies. This can leave kids who recover from measles vulnerable to other pathogens that they might have been protected from before their bout with the virus. The findings, published on 31 October in Science and Science Immunology, come at a time when measles cases are spiking around the world. Globally, there were more measles infections in the first six months of 2019 than in any year since 2006, according to the World Health Organization.

Massachusetts General Hospital Oversaw Trial That Led to the First Death from a Fecal Transplant, a New Paper Shows

2 weeks 14 hours

(STAT News) – This spring, a 73-year-old man with a rare blood condition became the first person to die from drug-resistant bacteria found in a fecal transplant. New details about that unprecedented incident emerged on Wednesday. The man was a participant in a clinical trial run at Massachusetts General Hospital and received fecal transplant capsules made in November with fecal material from one stool donor, according to a paper published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Tests after the man’s death revealed that material contained a rare type of E. coli bacteria.

The DNA Database Used to Find the Golden State Killer Is a National Security Leak Waiting to Happen

2 weeks 14 hours

(MIT Technology Review) – A private DNA ancestry database that’s been used by police to catch criminals is a security risk from which a nation-state could steal DNA data on a million Americans, according to security researchers. Security flaws in the service, called GEDmatch, not only risk exposing people’s genetic health information but could let an adversary such as China or Russia create a powerful biometric database useful for identifying nearly any American from a DNA sample. GEDMatch, which crowdsources DNA profiles, was created by genealogy enthusiasts to let people search for relatives and is run entirely by volunteers. It shows how a trend toward sharing DNA data online can create privacy risks affecting everyone, even people who don’t choose to share their own information.

Controversial ‘Gay Gene’ App Provokes Fears of a Genetic Wild West

2 weeks 15 hours

(Nature) – The app’s creator, Joel Bellenson, a US entrepreneur living in Kampala, Uganda, based the test on the findings of a massive study on the genetics of same-sex sexual behaviour — even though the analysis, published in Science in August, concluded that a person’s genes cannot predict their sexuality. Vitti, a computational geneticist at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, thinks the app was misleading — even dangerous. “There are vulnerable queer people all over the world,” says Vitti, “and this app stands to hurt them.” On 11 October, he started an online petition to remove the test. Within two weeks, more than 1,660 people had signed it.

Realizing the Promise of Prescription Digital Therapeutics

2 weeks 15 hours

(STAT News) – Smartphones and tablets have transformed almost every facet of our daily lives, making it nearly impossible to imagine a world without being connected. That same technology has now crossed into health care. Prescription digital therapeutics, or PDTs, are reimagining the way we think about treating disease by using smartphones and tablets to deliver treatment anytime and anywhere.

Ethical Research–The Long and Bumpy Road from Shirked to Shared

2 weeks 2 days

(Nature) – Darwin’s transformative theory inspired modern biology; Galton’s attempt to equate selection and social reform spawned eugenics. The ethical dilemmas engendered by these two late-nineteenth-century visions of biological control proliferate still. And, as older quandaries die out, they are replaced by more vigorous descendants. That there has never been a border between ethics and biology remains as apparent today as it was 150 years ago. The difference is that many of the issues, such as the remodelling of future generations or the surveillance of personal data, have become as everyday as they are vast in their implications. To work out how to move forward, it is worth looking at how we got here.

For Afghan Health Workers, a Gauntlet of Making Do

2 weeks 2 days

(Undark) – Inside the hospital, Dr. Zamaryalai Ghafori, 34, moved calmly among the patients, helping to bandage a shrapnel wound on an officer before moving swiftly to dress the bleeding head of a young boy involved in a motorcycle crash. For all his calm, Ghafori and his small team toil daily against absurdly high odds. Long hours and low pay had recently driven another surgeon at the hospital to quit — a common occurrence. This has left Ghafori in the middle of a 72-hour shift and, on this morning, the only surgeon available at a hospital that — like so many in Afghanistan — faces chronic shortfalls of personnel, beds, and even standard medical equipment. 

California Fires Illuminate Trauma And Resilience

2 weeks 2 days

(Kaiser Health News) – Peggy Goebel, a nurse from Windsor, was helping oversee the medical operation, run largely by volunteers who had responded to calls from Goebel or their employers to lend their services. They provided basic care (like making sure Hammack’s incision was clean) and helped people fill prescriptions or get medical equipment such as walkers and wheelchairs. There were also licensed therapists trained to counsel people during disasters.

U.S. Pitted Against Britain, France, South Africa, Others at U.N. Over Abortion

2 weeks 2 days

(Reuters) – The United States told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that it opposed references to sexual and reproductive health and the safe termination of pregnancies, pitting Washington against Britain, France, South Africa and others. While the United States joined its 14 council counterparts to unanimously adopt a resolution on women, peace and security, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said Washington was unhappy that the text mentioned previous resolutions that promote sexual and reproductive health.

Neural Stem Cell Transplantation Crawls Toward the Clinic

2 weeks 2 days

(The Scientist) – Gupta’s study is the latest report in a series of clinical trials on neural stem cell transplantation, in which pluripotent neural cells taken, in most cases, from the brains of aborted fetuses are expanded in the lab and then injected into the brains or spinal cords of patients with incurable neurological disorders. These include stroke, multiple sclerosis, ALS, spinal injury, and Parkinson’s disease. But for all the effort that has gone in to testing these cells, none have been able to work themselves out of trials and into clinical practice.

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