(Wired) – Doctors still don’t fully understand how depression works, which makes studying and developing new treatments all the more challenging. “We don’t know how any of these meds work on the brain,” says Mandel. “We know about as much about ketamine as we do about any of the others. We do know that ketamine tends to cause new growth in the brain.”
(CNN) – The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled Wednesday that courts may consider vaccines to be the cause of an illness, even in the absence of scientific evidence confirming a link. The EU’s highest court said that if the development of a disease is timely to the person’s receiving a vaccine, if the person was previously health with a lack of history of the disease in their family and if a significant number of disease cases are reported among people receiving a certain vaccine, this may serve as enough proof.
(STAT News) – It has been 61 years since the discovery of the mutation responsible for sickle cell, which affects about 100,000 people in the U.S., and 30 years since scientists found a compensatory mutation — one that keeps people from developing sickle cell despite inheriting the mutant genes. Last year, when STAT examined the lack of progress, scientists and hospital officials were frank about one reason for it: Other genetic disorders, notably cystic fibrosis, attracted piles of money that led to cures, but sickle cell strikes the “wrong” kind of people, including African-Americans, and so has historically been starved for funds.
(Nature) – Compare the genomes of enough people with and without a disease, and genetic variants linked to the malady should pop out. So runs the philosophy behind genome-wide association studies (GWAS), which researchers have used for more than a decade to find genetic ties to diseases such as schizophrenia and rheumatoid arthritis. But a provocative analysis now calls the future of that strategy into question — and raises doubts about whether funders should pour more money into these experiments. GWAS are fast expanding to encompass hundreds of thousands, even millions, of patients (see ‘The genome-wide tide’). But biologists are likely to find that larger studies turn up more and more genetic variants — or ‘hits’ — that have minuscule influences on disease, says Jonathan Pritchard, a geneticist at Stanford University in California.
(The Conversation) – Of course, the judge’s actions decided only the case before him. But now the genie is out of the bottle. Who else might find the engine of the criminal justice system bearing down on him or her because of words less morally bankrupt than Michelle Carter’s? Do doctors advising patients about end-of-life decisions have to worry about criminal prosecution if a patient stops taking medicine and dies as a result? Will family members have to urge their terminal relatives to do everything in their power to stay alive, lest they be prosecuted on the same theory as Carter’s?
(STAT News) – What insiders know, however, is not well-understood by the rest of us, who take for granted that each A, T, C, and G that makes up the DNA of all 23 pairs of human chromosomes has been completely worked out. When scientists finished the first draft of the human genome, in 2001, and again when they had the final version in 2003, no one lied, exactly. FAQs from the National Institutes of Health refer to the sequence’s “essential completion,” and to the question, “Is the human genome completely sequenced?” they answer, “Yes,” with the caveat — that it’s “as complete as it can be” given available technology.
(BBC) – Seventeen children have been paralysed by polio following an outbreak of the disease in Syria that the World Health Organization says is “very serious”. Earlier this month, the agency reported two polio cases in the Mayadin area of Deir al-Zour province, much of which is controlled by so-called Islamic State. Fourteen new cases have now been confirmed in the same area, while another was recorded in Raqqa province. It is the first re-emergence of polio in the war-torn country since 2014.
(Undark Magazine) – By its very nature, the biobank juxtaposes those who collect with those who are collected. Those who collect are most often scientists — those imbued with authority and the auspices of research — and they are often the arbiters of what happens to the samples after they enter the laboratory. Those who are collected from — medical patients or indigenous communities as part of anthropological studies — do not have the same sort of say in how their bodies are used, especially for commercial ends. This conjunction is at the very heart of the bioethical questions now facing biobanking overall. Who gets to participate in scientific research? Under what circumstances? And with what degree of autonomy?
(ProPublica) – You can walk into your local drugstore and buy a month’s supply of Aleve and Nexium for about $40. For Vimovo, the pharmacy billed my insurance company $3,252. This doesn’t mean the drug company ultimately gets paid that much. The pharmaceutical world is rife with rebates and side deals — all designed to elbow ahead of the competition. But apparently the price of convenience comes at a steep mark-up.
(Managed Care Magazine) – The federal government says that hospitals and other organizations that process or store patient health care information must report cyber breaches to HHS. But the rules are murky, and some of the worst cyberattacks have not been brought to light, the Wall Street Journal reports. The newspaper focuses on attacks by hackers using ransomware, which keeps the data under lock until the victim organizations pay up. So, technically, no patient medical information is released in such circumstances, which means health care organizations can avoid the embarrassment—as well as the competitive and financial fallout—that making such an attack public knowledge would generate.
(Thomas Reuters Foundation) – Police raided an illegal fertility clinic in southern Indian at the weekend and discovered 47 surrogate mothers – who had been lured to rent their wombs for money – living in “terrible conditions”, they said. Following a tip-off, Telangana state police raided the fertility clinic in the city of Hyderabad on Saturday and discovered the women, nearly all from northeastern India. “The women were all huddled in one large room and had access to just one bathroom,” investigating officer B. Limba Reddy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday.
(PBS Newshour) – In vitro fertilization has grown to a $3 billion industry in the U.S. that is responsible for more than 1 million babies. But implanting several embryos under pressure for success often obscures potential complications and added responsibilities that can come with carrying twins, triplets or more. Bernice Yeung of Reveal joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss these ethical concerns.
(The Conversation) – Physicians accept that cystic fibrosis, for example, is much more common in people with Northern European ancestry and that sickle cell disease occurs dramatically more often in people with African origins. These commonly accepted racial and ethnic differences in disease prevalence are just the tip of the iceberg when looking at clinical differences that vary based on genetics. But there’s a problem, a recent study from the National Institutes of Health found. Many physicians and other providers are uncomfortable discussing race with their patients, and also reticent to connect race or ethnicity to genetics and clinical decision-making, the study suggested.
(The Sydney Morning Herald) – An Australia-first service that combines whole genome sequencing and a comprehensive health assessment could offer individuals an unprecedented glimpse into their future health. People with a niggling curiosity and $6400 can now find out if their genetics and lifestyle has left them prone to developing a suite of life-threatening conditions including 31 types of cancer and 13 heart conditions across 230 genes.
(Boston Globe) – Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter Friday by a judge who ruled that the young woman recklessly goaded her boyfriend into suicide with a series of phone calls and texts, and then failed to help him. Carter was 17 when she urged 18-year-old Conrad Roy III to kill himself in July 2014 — even after he told her he was too scared to go through with the act.
(The Globe and Mail) – It has been one year since Parliament passed Bill C-14 and made physician-assisted death a reality in Canada. Based on data gathered by the CBC, close to 30 Canadians are availing themselves of this legal right every week. That’s four people, every day, making the conscious decision to die at the time and place of their choosing, surrounded by their loved ones, putting an end to intolerable pain and suffering caused by an incurable medical condition.
(Reuters) – A bipartisan group of state attorneys general announced on Thursday that they are jointly investigating the marketing and sales practices of drug companies that manufacture opioid painkillers at the center of a national addiction epidemic. Attorneys general from states including Massachusetts, Texas, Illinois and Pennsylvania announced the investigation two weeks after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sued five drug manufacturers for misrepresenting the risks of opioids.
(New York Post) – A New York fertility doctor has a provocative vision to treat infertility: get patients pregnant with “three-parent” babies. Dr. John Zhang, who formed the company Darwin Life, wants to use two women’s eggs and swap cells from the donor egg to the patient’s, according to Gizmodo. The technique, which could cost as much as $100,000, aims to reverse the effects of aging and repair certain cellular defects.
(The Verge) – But we might be able to get around some of these issues with advances in genome editing. Just a few months ago, scientists debuted the world’s first human-pig chimeras, or pig embryos injected with human stem cells. The pigs, which weren’t allowed to develop past the fetal stage, started to grow organs with human cells in them. They set the stage for a world where we could grow human organs in other animals. One day, we may even be able to use stem cells to grow our own organs in other animals. But all of this comes with ethical questions.