News from Bioethics.com

New Frontier in Health Fraud: Genetic Tests of the Elderly

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(Reuters) – The genetic-screening sales reps turn out at health fairs, houses of religion, parks and elder enclaves, offering seniors a chance to learn if they or their loved ones are at risk of developing cancer. All they need, the reps say, is a free cheek swab. In truth, U.S. federal investigators say, some of the sales representatives are part of a burgeoning industry that threatens to become what multiple government investigators call the next big frontier in healthcare fraud: genetic testing, which is reaping millions of dollars from unnecessary tests that target senior citizens. 

U.N. Urged to Investigate Organ Harvesting in China

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(Reuters) – A senior lawyer called on Tuesday for the top United Nations human rights body to investigate evidence that China is murdering members of the Falun Gong spiritual group and harvesting their organs for transplant. Hamid Sabi called for urgent action as he presented the findings of the China Tribunal, an independent panel set up to examine the issue, which concluded in June that China’s organ harvesting amounted to crimes against humanity.

IVF Associated with Higher Risk of Gestational Diabetes

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(Medscape) – Mothers who undergo assisted reproduction are more likely to develop gestational diabetes than those who conceive naturally, shows a new meta-analysis presented here at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) 2019 Annual Meeting. Specifically, the analysis found that women who became pregnant through assisted reproductive techniques (ART) were 53% more likely to develop gestational diabetes than those who conceived naturally.

A Catholic Hospital in Canada Has Been Ordered to Provide Assisted-Suicide Services

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(CNN) – A Catholic hospital in Nova Scotia must provide physician-assisted suicide assessments to eligible patients who request them, the province’s public health service has ruled. St. Martha’s Regional Hospital will now perform assessments for patients seeking medical assistance in dying at its hospital, said Tim Guest, vice president of the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA). The hospital was previously exempt because of its faith-based identity. But the Sisters of St. Martha, the order of Catholic nuns who used to operate the hospital, said in a statement that assisted suicides will not take place at the hospital itself.

As Made-to-Order DNA Gets Cheaper, Keeping It Out of the Wrong Hands Gets Harder

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(NPR) – Making genes from scratch used to be laborious and time consuming, but not anymore. That’s why federal officials are now considering new measures to prevent this rapidly advancing technology from being misused to create dangerous viruses or bioweapons. Genes are made up of DNA, a “code” determined by four chemical bases — known as A, C, T and G — that can be strung together to make the biological instructions that govern cells.

Vaccination Strategy in Long-Running Ebola Outbreak Comes Under Fire

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(STAT News) – The World Health Organization’s vaccination strategy in the long-running Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is coming under fire, with Doctors Without Borders accusing the agency of rationing vaccines and calling for an independent committee to ensure “more transparent management” of the situation. The broadside, issued Monday, follows a prolonged effort by Doctors Without Borders to campaign for wider use of an as-yet unlicensed vaccine, developed by Merck.

In Tiny Doses, an Addiction Medication Moonlights as a Treatment for Chronic Pain

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(NPR) – As the medical establishment tries to do a huge U-turn after two disastrous decades of pushing long-term opioid use for chronic pain, scientists have been struggling to develop safe, effective alternatives. When naltrexone is used to treat addiction in pill form, it’s prescribed at 50 mg, but chronic-pain patients say it helps their pain at doses of less than a tenth of that.

Prominent German Neuroscientist Committed Misconduct in ‘Brain-Reading’ Research

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(Nature) – A prominent German neuroscientist committed scientific misconduct in research in which he claimed to have developed a brain-monitoring technique able to read certain thoughts of paralysed people, Germany’s main research agency has found. The DFG’s investigation into Niels Birbaumer’s high-profile work found that data in two papers were incomplete and that the scientific analysis was flawed — although it did not comment on whether the approach was valid.

Patient Records Found at Shuttered Indiana Abortion Clinic

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(ABC News) – Investigators found thousands of abandoned medical records at three shuttered Indiana abortion clinics that were operated by a late doctor who took home more than 2,200 sets of fetal remains, Indiana’s attorney general said Friday. No fetal remains were found during Thursday’s searches of Dr. Ulrich Klopfer’s former clinics and other properties in Gary, South Bend and Fort Wayne, Attorney General Curtis Hill said at a news conference. But he said thousands of patient medical records were discovered, though he didn’t give an exact number.

How Juul Hooked Kids and Ignited a Public Health Crisis

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(TIME) – To a remarkable degree, a single company is front and center in one of the biggest public-health crises facing the country: the sharp rise in vaping among teenagers and young adults. In 2018, 30% of the nation’s 12th-graders reported vaping nicotine at least once in the past year, according to a January 2019 study sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The study said the increase in vaping last year was “the largest ever recorded for any substance in the 44 years” that it has tracked adolescent drug use.

With Abortion Restrictions on the Rise, Some Women Induce Their Own

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(NPR) – The Food and Drug Administration has an approved two-drug protocol for medication abortions, a combination of misoprostol and mifepristone. Mifepristone is especially heavily regulated in the U.S., and the combination is typically prescribed by a doctor during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy to cause what’s essentially a medically induced miscarriage. That two-drug combination is most effective, but the World Health Organization says misoprostol alone can also be used to safely induce abortion, provided patients get follow-up care.

Philippines Declares New Polio Outbreak After 19 Years

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(ABC News) – Philippine health officials declared a polio outbreak in the country on Thursday, nearly two decades after the World Health Organization declared it to be free of the highly contagious and potentially deadly disease. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said at a news conference that authorities have confirmed at least one case of polio in a 3-year-old girl in southern Lanao del Sur province and detected the polio virus in sewage in Manila and in waterways in the southern Davao region.

French Weight-Loss Pill Scandal Set for Landmark Trial

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(Reuters) – Privately-owned Servier, regulator Agence nationale de securite du medicament (ANSM) and 21 defendants will face more than 2,600 plaintiffs who believe the drugmaker deliberately misled patients for decades, helped by lenient authorities. The charges range from deceit to manslaughter which, under French law, could result in fines and jail sentences.  The case caused an outcry in France, where authorities have said as many as five million patients were exposed to the drug, known as Mediator, before its withdrawal in 2010, causing between 500 and 2,000 related deaths.

The Secret History of Fort Detrick, the CIA’s Base for Mind Control Experiments

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(Politico) – Detrick is today one of the world’s cutting-edge laboratories for research into toxins and antitoxins, the place where defenses are developed against every plague, from crop fungus to Ebola. Its leading role in the field is widely recognized. For decades, though, much of what went on at the base was a closely held secret. Directors of the CIA mind control program MK-ULTRA, which used Detrick as a key base, destroyed most of their records in 1973. Some of its secrets have been revealed in declassified documents, through interviews and as a result of congressional investigations. Together, those sources reveal Detrick’s central role in MK-ULTRA and in the manufacture of poisons intended to kill foreign leaders.

IVF, Assisted Reproduction Techniques Linked to Increased Gestational Diabetes

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(MD Magazine) – A new meta-analysis containing information of nearly 2 million women over more than a decade has found that use of assisted reproductive technologies, including in vitro fertilization(IVF), before giving birth are at a greater risk of developing gestational diabetes. Results of the analysis, which was presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) Annual Meeting, revealed that women who became pregnant via assisted reproductive techniques increased their risk of developing gestational diabetes by 53% compared to women with spontaneous conception.

Amid Privacy Concerns, Startup Becomes First Consumer DNA Company to Offer Anonymous Sequencing

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(STAT News) – The upstart direct-to-consumer DNA-testing company Nebula Genomics announced on Thursday that it will offer anonymous genome sequencing, becoming the first to do so amid public concerns about the privacy of genetic data and law enforcement use of public DNA databases to identify suspects. Customers will be able to purchase Nebula’s whole-genome sequencing “without sharing their name, address, or credit card information,” said Nebula co-founder and chief scientific officer Dennis Grishin.

U.S. Awards $3 Million to Fill Gaps in Medical Marijuana Research

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(STAT News) – The U.S. government will spend $3 million to find out if marijuana can relieve pain, but none of the money will be used to study the part of the plant that gets people high. Nine research grants announced Thursday are for work on CBD, the trendy ingredient showing up in cosmetics and foods, and hundreds of less familiar chemicals. THC research was excluded.

Eighth Death Linked to Vaping as Illnesses Surge Around the United States

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(CNN) – Missouri health officials announced on Thursday the vaping-related death of a man in his mid-40s. This is the United States’ eighth death linked to severe lung injury and illness tied to e-cigarettes. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said the man had normal lung function before he started to vape in May. He developed mild respiratory symptoms that worsened, and was hospitalized on August 22.

Number of Abortions in US Falls to Lowest Level Since 1973

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(Associated Press) – The number and rate of abortions across the United States have plunged to their lowest levels since the procedure became legal nationwide in 1973, according to new figures released Wednesday. The report from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, counted 862,000 abortions in the U.S. in 2017. That’s down from 926,000 tallied in the group’s previous report for 2014, and from just over 1 million counted for 2011.

Exclusive: Behind the Front Lines of the Ebola Wars

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(Nature) – It was June, and Tedros was facing pressure from all directions. The outbreak had already grown to be the second largest in history. And despite having a new Ebola vaccine and drugs to treat the disease, the death rate was soaring at 67% because the therapies weren’t reaching everyone in need. Armed groups weren’t the WHO’s only challenge. Many residents just didn’t accept that Ebola responders were there to help.

Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Are Breeding in Brazil, Despite Biotech Firm’s Assurances to the Contrary

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(Gizmodo) – An experimental trial to reduce the number of mosquitoes in a Brazilian town by releasing genetically modified mosquitoes has not gone as planned. Traces of the mutated insects have been detected in the natural population of mosquitoes, which was never supposed to happen. The deliberate release of 450,000 transgenic mosquitoes in Jacobina, Brazil has resulted in the unintended genetic contamination of the local population of mosquitoes, according to new research published last week in Scientific Reports.

As Congo’s Ebola Outbreak Drags On, Untracked Cases Sow Confusion

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(New York Times) – The United States remains committed to fighting Ebola in Africa, American health officials said on Monday, but the scope of the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has become somewhat unclear. There were rumors that Ebola had reached Tanzania, the officials noted. And the arrest of Congo’s former health minister, who until recently led his country’s response to the outbreak, has raised doubts about how effective that effort ever was.

Millions of Americans’ Medical Images and Data Are Available on the Internet. Anyone Can Take a Peek.

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(ProPublica) – Medical images and health data belonging to millions of Americans, including X-rays, MRIs and CT scans, are sitting unprotected on the internet and available to anyone with basic computer expertise. The records cover more than 5 million patients in the U.S. and millions more around the world. In some cases, a snoop could use free software programs — or just a typical web browser — to view the images and private data, an investigation by ProPublica and the German broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk found.

Could Editing the DNA of Embryos with CRISPR Help Save People Who Are Already Alive?

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(STAT News) – Amid last year’s backlash against the birth of the world’s first genetically edited babies, some experts preached prudence: Editing the genomes of embryos, they argued, could one day “cure” people of diseases before they’re even born. But there is another, less-discussed potential application of editing an embryo: tweaking its DNA to help save someone who is already alive.

Quebec Court Strikes Down Restriction to Medically Assisted Dying Law, Calls It Unconstitutional

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(The Globe and Mail) – A Quebec judge has struck down a restriction that limited assisted dying to terminally ill patients, concluding the requirement was an unconstitutional barrier that forced two Quebeckers with incurable conditions to keep living in great pain. Quebec Superior Court Justice Christine Baudouin’s decision, released as a federal election kicked off on Wednesday, could reverberate across the country and the campaign.

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