(NPR) – Scientists say they have created a partly man-made bacterium that can produce proteins not found in nature. This new life form, the latest development in a field called “synthetic biology,” could eventually be used to produce novel drugs. The Scripps Research Institute’s Floyd Romesberg and colleagues have been pushing toward this goal for well over a decade. Three years ago, they announced that they had added two more letters to the genetic alphabet of a bacterium: To DNA’s familiar A, T, C, and G, they added X and Y.
(ABC News) – An Australian state parliament on Wednesday legalized voluntary euthanasia 20 years after the country repealed the world’s first mercy-killing law for the terminally ill. The final vote in the Victorian parliament means that doctor-assisted suicide will be allowed in Australia’s second-most populous state from mid-2019. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who became a euthanasia advocate after his father died of cancer last year, said the reform showed compassion.
(NPR) – So far, gene therapy has only been tested on a relatively small number of patients who have been followed for relatively short periods of time. Many more patients will have to be studied for longer periods before anyone really knows how well the therapies work, how long the benefits last, and whether the therapies are safe. But doctors and families of those helped so far are elated at the progress.
(Medical News Today) – A team of scientists has developed drug-carrying nanoparticles that can find and kill cancer stem cells, a tiny group of rare cells that can hide in tissue and cause cancer to return years after tumors have been treated. In a paper published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign explain how they developed nanoparticles that can seek and latch on to a protein called CD44, which is found only on the surface of cancer stem cells.
(Wired) – Though he didn’t have the molecular tools to understand why it worked, Coley’s forced infections put the body’s immune system into overdrive, allowing it to take out cancer cells along the way. While the FDA doesn’t have a formal definition for more modern immunotherapies, in the last few years it has approved at least eight drugs that fit the bill, unleashing a flood of money to finance new clinical trials. (Patients had better come with floods of money too—prices can now routinely top six figures.) But while the drugs are dramatically improving the odds of survival for some patients, much of the basic science is still poorly understood. And a growing number of researchers worry that the sprint to the clinic offers cancer patients more hype than hope.
(Kaiser Health News) – The university that employed a controversial herpes vaccine researcher has told the federal government it learned last summer of the possibility of his illegal experimentation on human subjects. But Southern Illinois University did not publicly disclose the tip or its findings about researcher William Halford’s misconduct for months, according to a memo obtained by Kaiser Health News. Last week, Kaiser Health News reported that Halford conducted an experiment in which he vaccinated patients in U.S. hotel rooms in 2013 without any safety oversight and in violation of U.S. laws, according to patients and emails they provided to KHN to support their allegations.
(Fox News) – In 1972, America was finally getting out of Vietnam. Richard Nixon became the first American president to visit China, and a news story stunned the nation. Inside the idyllic looking Willowbrook School on New York’s Staten Island, conditions were shocking. Willowbrook was a state-run human warehouse. More than 5,000 mentally ill and physically disabled children and adults lived in dirt and filth. Often left naked due to lack of caretakers, the helpless children and adults were locked inside building after building, sleeping on cots and given no education.
(MIT Technology Review) – End-of-life care can be stressful for patients and their loved ones, but a new algorithm could help provide better care to people during their final months. A paper published in arXiv by researchers from Stanford describes a deep neural network that can look at a patient’s records and estimate the chance of mortality in the next three to 12 months. The team found that this serves as a good way to identify patients who could benefit from palliative care. Importantly, the algorithm also creates reports to explain its predictions to doctors.
(Telegraph) – IVF and surrogacy cases are putting the courts under pressure, a High Court judge has said, as he urged an update to legislation. Speaking at a conference of the Association of Lawyers for Children, family court judge Mr Justice MacDonald said judges were dealing with more of the cases as family situations became more complex. He also highlighted the growth in disputes between doctors and parents of children who suffer from terminal illnesses, following the high-profile Charlie Gard case earlier this year.
(Medical Xpress) – Do the reproductive choices of prospective parents truly align with their values and priorities? How do doctors, reproductive technologies, and the law influence those choices? And why should certain women receive medical assistance to establish a pregnancy, while others are put in jail when they miscarry? A new Hastings Center special report, Just Reproduction: Reimagining Autonomy in Reproductive Medicine, considers these and related questions. It is a supplement to the Hastings Center Report, November-December 2017.
(News.com.au) – A HI-TECH ‘suicide machine’ is being touted by a euthanasia advocacy group. It’s called the Sarco capsule, and it has a single, simple purpose: to help you commit suicide, painlessly and efficiently. “Sarco does not use any restricted drugs, or require any special expertise such as the insertion of an intravenous needle,” says Dr. Philip Nitschke, the controversial founder and director of Exit International, whose mission is “to inform members and support them in their end of life decision-making.”
(STAT News) – About 11 percent of medicines in developing countries are counterfeit and likely responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of children from diseases like malaria and pneumonia every year, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. It’s the first attempt by the U.N. health agency to assess the problem. Experts reviewed 100 studies involving more than 48,000 medicines. Drugs for treating malaria and bacterial infections accounted for nearly 65 percent of fake medicines.
Scientist Concedes His Controversial MS Therapy, Once a Source of Great Hope, Is ‘Largely Ineffective’
(STAT News) – What many hope will be the final chapter in an unfortunate saga in multiple sclerosis research appears to have been written by the scientist who started the affair in the first place. Italian physician Paolo Zamboni has publicly acknowledged that a therapy he developed and dubbed “the liberation treatment” does not cure or mitigate the symptoms of MS. A randomized controlled trial — the gold standard of medical research — he and other Italian researchers conducted concluded the procedure is a “largely ineffective technique” that should not be recommended for MS patients.
(Reuters) – Facebook Inc will expand its pattern recognition software to other countries after successful tests in the U.S. to detect users with suicidal intent, the world’s largest social media network said on Monday. Facebook began testing the software in the United States in March, when the company started scanning the text of Facebook posts and comments for phrases that could be signals of an impending suicide.
(Reuters) – The South Korean president’s office said on Sunday that it will begin a review on the country’s 64-year-old law to ban abortion. The announcement came after more than 230,000 South Koreans filed a petition calling for the abolishment of the law. South Korea criminalized abortion in 1953 when its leaders wanted to boost the population and build an army powerful enough to fend off its rival North Korea.
(The Guardian) – Britain is to become the first country where Viagra can be bought over the counter, the medicines regulator has announced. The drug has been been credited with revolutionising treatment for male impotence and reducing stigma surrounding the condition since its commercial launch in 1998 but has become a popular target for criminals. Announcing its decision on Tuesday, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said it hopes the move will stop men seeking to buy it from unregulated websites.
(Pro Publica) – Surgical ear piercings are rare, according to the Health Care Cost Institute, a nonprofit that maintains a database of commercial health insurance claims. The institute could only find a few dozen possible cases a year in its vast cache of billing data. But O’Neill’s case is a vivid example of health care waste known as overuse. Into this category fall things like unnecessary tests, higher-than-needed levels of care or surgeries that have proven ineffective.
(New York Times) – Eager to speed development of revolutionary treatments, the Food and Drug Administration recently announced that it would expedite approval of experimental gene therapies. But the regulatory process may not be the biggest obstacle here. Biotech companies have exciting plans to introduce treatments that may be transformative, sometimes curing genetic diseases with a single treatment. And the firms are itching to test their products. But they are struggling to obtain a critical component of the therapy: the disabled viruses used to slip good genes into cells that lack them.
(The Guardian) – In the camps the refugees were made to answer to numbers given to them as their new identity. Denied their names they were not even allowed their stories. Every attempt that could be made was made by the Australian government, from the petty to the disturbing, to deny journalists access to the Pacific lager. When it came to imprisoned refugees free speech became a crime: for some years any doctor, nurse or social worker in the camps who publicly reported on the many instances, now well-documented, of rape, murder, suicide and sexual abuse of refugees was liable to two years’ imprisonment.