(Nature) – The long-running battle over US patents for CRISPR–Cas9 gene editing continues. On 25 October, the Broad Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts, filed a fresh set of arguments with the US government to defend a key patent. That action helps to set the stage for a second round of oral arguments in the unusually vitriolic case, which observers expect to take place in early 2018. A decision is anticipated to follow shortly thereafter. In the filing, lawyers for the Broad and its collaborators argued that its opponent, a team that includes the University of California, Berkeley, has failed to provide new evidence that would undermine the legitimacy of the Broad’s patent. The lawyers also used the University of California’s own press releases as a sign that the case should be thrown out.
(Nature) – After years of studying advanced cancers, researchers are now training their DNA sequencers on precancerous growths to learn more about how they develop into the full-blown disease. A three-year pilot project funded this month by the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) as part of the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, will take this approach with lung, breast, prostate and pancreatic cancer. Investigators hope to create a ‘pre-cancer genome atlas’ by sequencing DNA from precancerous growths, in addition to sequencing RNA from individual tumour cells and identifying the immune cells that have infiltrated the lesions.
(Huffington Post) – The belief that a brain that has died will not ever recover led to the “Brain Death” statutes which allowed for a legal declaration of death for a person who meets certain clinical and laboratory findings indicative of brain death. These statutes allowed for the harvesting of organs for transplant purposes from donors who still had a functioning cardiopulmonary system. Previously, a person had to lose the heart activity in order to be declared dead. This meant that many otherwise useful organs were lost for transplant purposes.
(PhysOrg) – Information shared on social media is being regularly used in research projects without users’ consent, a study suggests. Experts have called for tighter control of the practice, with fresh guidelines needed to ensure personal data is being used appropriately. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh say ethics frameworks around consent, privacy and ownership for such studies are not keeping pace with technological developments.
(Science) – The program that keeps watch over the management of dangerous pathogens at research laboratories still isn’t up to snuff, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The Federal Select Agent Program, run jointly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), regulates how government, academic, and industry labs store, use, and transfer 66 potentially harmful organisms and toxins, including anthrax and plague. It has faced new scrutiny from Congress and GAO in recent years after a string of safety incidents involving select agents at laboratories run by the federal government.
Better Palliative Care Essential as Canada Considers Medically Assisted Death for Youth, Pediatricians Say
(CBC) – The Canadian Paediatric Society is urging improved palliative care for children and youth as a key part of preparing for the possibility of legalizing medical assistance in dying for certain patients under age 18. “Medical assistance in dying is something that has been legislated [for adults] and stated [as] needing to be accessible … but there isn’t the same ‘oomph’ for saying that all Canadians need good access to palliative care,” said Dr. Dawn Davies, chair of the society’s bioethics committee and a pediatric palliative care physician in Edmonton, in an interview with CBC News.
(CNN) – Two issues are the cause of a plethora of diseases and health conditions affecting people worldwide: smoking and obesity. And one local health committee in the UK has announced a controversial policy “to support patients whose health is at risk from smoking or being very overweight.” For an indefinite amount of time, it plans to ban access to routine, or non-urgent, surgery under the National Health Service until patients “improve their health,” the policy states, claiming that “exceptional clinical circumstances (will) be taken into account on a case-by-case basis.”
(Reuters) – The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is closing most of its 37 cholera treatment centers in Yemen, saying the epidemic appears to have peaked. Some 884,368 suspected cholera cases have been recorded in the war-torn country in the past six months, including 2,184 deaths, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO). The case fatality rate is now 0.25 percent.
(BBC) – British athletes were threatened with not being selected if they spoke out about classification concerns in Paralympic sports, MPs have been told. “It’s somewhere between bullying and control,” said 11-time Paralympic champion Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. She was speaking at a Parliamentary committee hearing into claims athletes were cheating the system. It was announced last week that classification rules would be revised, with effect from 1 January.
(Reuters) – Forty-six U.S. state attorneys general will seek to expand a lawsuit alleging price fixing of generic drugs to 18 companies and 15 medicines on Tuesday, including Novartis AG’s generic unit Sandoz and India-based Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, people familiar with the matter said. The original complaint, being litigated in federal court in Pennsylvania, describes an industry-wide conspiracy in which companies divide up the market as a way to push up prices.
(U.S. News & World Report) – A leading group of U.S. pediatricians is encouraging parents to donate to public cord blood banks after the birth of their children. The past decade has seen an increase in the use of umbilical cord blood for stem cell transplants that can save children with fatal or debilitating diseases, the American Academy of Pediatrics says in a new policy statement.
(Medical Xpress) – Female medical interns are more likely to suffer from symptoms of depression than their male counterparts, and the conflict between work and family responsibilities is a factor in that gender difference about a third of the time. That’s a key finding of a study published October 30 in JAMA Internal Medicine. It was led by Connie Guille, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the Medical University of South Carolina, and Srijan Sen, an associate professor at the University of Michigan. The internship year takes place after medical school, putting physicians-in-training through an important but intense time marked by long work hours. Both women and men experience more depression during this year.
(The Verge) – If this sounds like a PR stunt to you, well, you’re right: the Saudi kingdom was using this eye-grabbing headline to promote a tech summit, part of its nationwide policy to transform an oil-based economy into something more forward-thinking. But it’s not just headline fluff. Some experts say this sort of approach to robot rights is actively damaging, both to public understanding of technology and to civil society itself.
(The Conversation) – Palliative care teams are commonly involved with illnesses such as heart, lung or kidney disease, cancer or advanced dementia. Involving palliative care allows for better control of symptoms and an improved sense of quality of life. It also helps the family of the person who is ill. With better symptom control and support, this frequently translates to less time spent in hospital. A number of studies have even shown early involvement of palliative care can lead to improved survival.
(The Guardian) – Earlier this year I went to an event in Austin, Texas, billed as a sneak preview of the evolution of our species. The #Bdyhax Conference, which took place in a downtown exhibition complex, promised a front-row insight into the coming “singularity” – that nirvana foretold by science fiction in which biology and technology would fuse and revolutionise human capability and experience. The headline acts of the conference were mostly bodyhackers – DIY experimenters who, in their basements and garages, seek to enhance their own flesh and blood with biometric implants and cognitive enablers.
(Washington Post) – The kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially granted citizenship to the humanoid robot last week during a program at the Future Investment Initiative, a summit that links deep-pocketed Saudis with inventors hoping to shape the future. Sophia’s recognition made international headlines — and sparked an outcry against a country with a shoddy human rights record that has been accused of making women second-class citizens.
(Chemistry World) – The therapeutic potential of the Crispr/Cas genome editing tool continues to grow, as US scientists have developed a version of the system that targets RNA and chemically alters its nucleotides. As RNA is ultimately translated to make proteins, being able to edit it could be advantageous for research and gene therapy applications, says Feng Zhang who led the team behind the research at the Broad Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.
Bonds of Life–the Organ Transplant Law 20 yrs on/ Traveling Overseas in Dire Quest for Donor Can Lead to Pitfalls Back Home
(The Yomiuri Shimbun) – The Organ Transplant Law prohibits organ trafficking, and people who travel overseas for transplants are viewed with a harsh eye around the world. All countries face an insufficient number of donors compared to the number of people who need transplants. Criticism is intensifying against transplant tourism, in which people from developed countries travel to mainly developing countries to pay for organ transplants. The Transplantation Society in 2008 adopted the Declaration of Istanbul, which calls for each country to save its own patients. In 2010, the World Health Organization issued new guidelines including similar policies to the declaration.
(Quartz) – Imagine you’re lying in a hospital bed during the last moment of your life and your friends and family can’t be with you. Would a robot do? Not a fancy, Ferrari style one, but a simple machine that touches you repetitively and comforts you with a robotic voice, saying things like “You’re not alone.”
(Medscape) – Genetic technologies are rapidly reshaping medical practice. In 2016, more than 48,000 genetic tests were ordered, many with the primary goal of confirming a clinical diagnosis and guiding medical decision-making. The explosion of genomic diagnostics is allowing more patients to recognize when their own medical conditions are hereditary and, of importance, to understand the risk for their offspring to be similarly affected. Yet one of the most powerful tools of genetic disease prevention—preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD)—is frequently overlooked by clinicians.