(Wired) – We’re not living in the golden age of AI, but we are living in the golden age of AI-enhanced productivity. Call it the First Pass Era. AI is now powerful enough to make a solid first attempt at countless complex tasks, but it’s not so powerful that it seems threatening. For more thought-intensive, subjective work, we still need humans.
(Quartz) – A.J. has now survived long enough that he can receive a kidney transplant, something that would allow him a healthy and normal childhood unmarked by the trials of constant dialysis. His father Anthony Dickerson is an excellent match and eager to donate, but the hospital has said no. The reason why reveals a troubling strain of paternalism in how our transplant field treats living organ donors. Anthony’s donation was scheduled for Oct. 3, but on Sep. 28 he was jailed for a parole violation. The authorities released him in time for surgery, but that’s when the transplant center balked, requiring that Dickerson “demonstrate good behavior” for three months before he would be reconsidered as a donor candidate.
(New York Times) – The hard data have been rolling in now at a steady pace. A recent study in the Annals of Family Medicine used the E.M.R. to examine the work of 142 family medicine physicians over three years. These doctors spent more than half of their time — six hours of their average 11-hour day — on the E.M.R., of which nearly an hour and a half took place after the clinic closed. Another study, in Health Affairs, tracked the activities of 471 primary care doctors over a three-year period, and also found that E.M.R. time edged out face-to-face time with patients.
FDA Issues Strong Warning against Kratom, an Herbal Supplement Used to Treat Pain and Other Conditions
(STAT News) – The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday issued a public health advisory about the potential risks of an herbal supplement called kratom, warning that people who use it to treat pain in place of opioids or to wean themselves off opioids are exposing themselves to an unregulated product that has not been proven safe or effective. The announcement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is sure to rile devoted kratom users, who contend the supplement has provided them with a way to manage pain, anxiety, and a range of other conditions.
(Spectrum) – Several research teams are using so-called induced pluripotent stem cells to study autism. These cells are derived from skin cells and have the same genetic makeup as the donor. A cocktail of chemicals and growth factors transforms the cells into immature brain cells called neural progenitor cells, and eventually into neurons. In the new work, researchers generated neural progenitor cells from two people with deletions of 16p11.2, a chromosomal region tied to autism, and two people with ‘idiopathic’ autism, meaning the condition’s cause is unknown.
(Quartz) – The health-care community lit up in conversation after news broke that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the world’s first digital drug. It’s a pill that contains a minuscule chip—made of magnesium, silicon, and copper—that can send information from inside the body to an adhesive patch that’s placed on a patient’s torso. The patch can send data to a doctor’s office, as well as to a special smartphone app for those who wish to monitor themselves, until the chip is naturally digested.
(NPR) – Does a California law violate the Constitution by requiring anti-abortion pregnancy centers to inform clients about free or low-cost abortion and contraception services? That’s the question the Supreme Court is taking on, in a new case it accepted on Monday. California’s Reproductive FACT Act became law in October of 2015. It requires licensed and covered facilities to give all their clients notice that the state “has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care, and abortion, for eligible women.”
(The Scientist) – Engineering an immune cell to recognize and kill a cancer cell is the key to chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, but modified immune cells also have the potential to cause problems for patients. One such complication, cytokine release syndrome, is an overreaction of the immune system that can cause symptoms as mild as a fever and as serious as organ dysfunction and death. In a study published today (November 13) in Nature Chemical Biology, researchers have generated nonimmune cells with the ability to kill cancer cells on contact.
(New York Times) – The full genetic sequences of Ms. Michelson, Mr. Harris and Ms. Morano are among some three dozen genomes of North American, Caribbean and European supercentenarians being made available this week by a nonprofit called Betterhumans to any researcher who wants to dive in. A few additional genomes come from people who died at 107, 108 or 109. If unusual patterns in their three billion pairs of A’s, C’s, G’s and T’s — the nucleobases that make up all genomes — can be shown to have prolonged their lives and protected their health, the logic goes, it is conceivable that a drug or gene therapy could be devised to replicate the effects in the rest of us.
(News-Medical) – Patients who had lost their sight to an inherited retinal disease could see well enough to navigate a maze after being treated with a new gene therapy, according to research presented today at AAO 2017, the 121st Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Patients in the study had a condition called Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), which begins in infancy and progresses slowly, eventually causing complete blindness. This new, first-of-its-kind gene therapy is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for potential approval this year. There are currently no treatments available for inherited retinal diseases.
Parents Reach Settlement with IVF Clinic after Sons Were Born with Genetic Condition Fragile X Syndrome
(Sydney Morning Herald) – Before she had her two sons, Leighee Eastbury was told she wasn’t a carrier for Fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition that her boys will now live with for the rest of their lives. It wasn’t until her oldest son Hayden was a toddler that Ms Eastbury learned that she was in fact a carrier and both her boys were affected by the condition which causes intellectual disability. “I was devastated, absolutely devastated, it was something I had a test for … you base all your family planning and everything off that test,” she told reporters on Monday in Sydney.
(STAT News) – The teachers’ experience is a stark example of what’s happening around the country to union members fighting addiction. Treatment center operators and middlemen who act as brokers for those facilities are targeting these workers because they usually have generous insurance benefits that pay for long stays in rehab. They also often need a health care provider’s clearance to return to work, handing the centers tremendous power over patients.
(STAT News) – The entire process, from basic research to Food and Drug Administration approval, averages about 10 years for drugs and 10 to 15 years for vaccines. A public health crisis doesn’t change the process or let you circumvent any of the steps involved. One way to speed up drug or vaccine development is to leverage existing products through repurposing. That means using an existing drug or vaccine for a different use than the one it was approved for. Because the drug or vaccine has already been tested for safety and is being manufactured, it can likely be rapidly disseminated.
(Reuters) – Merck & Co Ltd’s drug to prevent serious infection in patients who undergo a type of stem cell transplant was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the drugmaker said on Thursday. Merck said the drug, which is expected to be available from December, was approved both as a tablet and an injection. The list price for the tablets is $195 per day, while it is $270 a day for the injection.The recommended dosing for the drug is once everyday for 100 days after the stem cell transplant, bringing the effective list price to $19,500 for the tablets and $27,000 for the injections.
(The Guardian) – The number of people euthanised in the Netherlands this year is set to exceed 7,000 – a 67% rise from five years ago – in what has been described by the director of the country’s only specialist clinic as the end of “a taboo” on killing patients who want to die. In 2012, 4,188 people were euthanised by doctors in the country, all of whom met the criteria laid down under the 2002 law that made it legal: a voluntary and well considered request in the context of unbearable suffering from which there is no prospect of improvement, or alternative remedy. This year, 18,000 requests for help to die have been made, including 2,500 – up from 1,234 in 2015 – to the Levenseindekliniek – the only medical facility in the Netherlands that specialises in euthanasia.
(Newsweek) – If a pregnant woman is murdered, does the death count as one or two victims? When a gunman entered a Texas church and methodically shot everyone he saw, he killed 25 people, including an eight-month pregnant woman named Crystal Holcombe. But by Texas law, the final death count was 26 to account for Holcombe’s unborn child. Amid legal debate and legislative pushes to create personhood status for unborn children, a fetus is actually counted as a separate person in a majority of state criminal cases thanks to “feticide” laws” in 38 states, which create legal penalties for crimes involving pregnant women.
(Quartz) – The life-extension methods that Silicon Valley visionaries are pumping millions of dollars into will, by definition, be prohibitively expensive. Cryogenics, for example, can range in price from the $28,000 price tag of smaller firms to the $200,000 charged by cryogenics mainstay Alcor. If life extension follows the universal trend of haves and have-nots, it’s likely to widen an already growing lifespan gap, with the poor dying earlier and the rich dying later. Eventually, a minority of super-wealthy immortals could arise.
(The Guardian) – Van Dongen, who had begun to see another woman, suffered 25% burns, lost a leg, his left eye and most of the sight in his right eye and was left paralysed. He applied for euthanasia in Belgium, which was approved after three consultants examined him. It was decided his was a case of “unbearable physical and psychological suffering” and he died in January this year aged 29. In a highly unusual case, prosecutors have charged Wallace with murder despite the victim having died with medical assistance, because they say the acid attack led to his death.
(STAT News) – These micro quasi-brains are revolutionizing research on human brain development and diseases from Alzheimer’s to Zika, but the headlong rush to grow the most realistic, most highly developed brain organoids has thrown researchers into uncharted ethical waters. Like virtually all experts in the field, neuroscientist Hongjun Song of the University of Pennsylvania doesn’t “believe an organoid in a dish can think,” he said, “but it’s an issue we need to discuss.”
(Undark Magazine) – This dystopian nightmare might not be that farfetched, some academics warn, given the rise of big data, advances in machine learning, and — most worryingly — the current rise in studies that bear a troubling resemblance to the long-abandoned pseudoscience of physiognomy, which held that the shape of the human head and face revealed character traits. Modern computers are much better at scanning minute details in human physiology, modern advocates of such research say, and thus the inferences they draw are more reliable. Critics, on the other hand, dismiss this as bunkum. There is little evidence linking outward physical characteristics and anything like predictable behavior, they note.