(STAT News) – The National Institutes of Health would like six vials of your blood, please. Its scientists would like to take a urine sample, measure your waistline, and have access to your electronic health records and data from the wearable sensor on your wrist. And if you don’t mind sharing, could they have your Social Security number? It is a big ask, the NIH knows, and of an equally big group — the agency eventually hopes to enroll over 1 million participants in the next step of what four researchers referred to in a 2003 paper as “a revolution in biological research.”
(NPR) – For the first time, scientists have edited the DNA in human embryos to make a fundamental discovery about the earliest days of human development. By modifying a key gene in very early-stage embryos, the researchers demonstrated that a gene plays a crucial role in making sure embryos develop normally, the scientists say. The finding might someday lead to new ways for doctors to help infertile couples have children, and could aid future efforts to use embryonic stem cells to treat incurable diseases, the researchers say.
(Australian Broadcasting Co) – Scientists are pushing to overhaul human cloning laws in Australia so they can use DNA from three different people to create a baby when there is a risk of the child inheriting the debilitating and potentially fatal mitochondrial disease. Known as the three-parent procedure, it involves replacing a small amount of a mother’s DNA with the DNA of a third parent. But that would require the Australian Government to review human cloning laws — something that has already been done in the United Kingdom.
(BBC) – Legal permission will no longer be required to end care for patients in a permanent vegetative state, a judge has ruled. Until now a judge must also consent, even if medics and relatives agree to withdraw nutrition from a patient. But in what been described as a landmark decision, those cases will no longer have to come to court.The Official Solicitor, appointed by the state to act for such patients, is likely to appeal against the ruling. Doctors are able to withdraw treatment from a patient – if relatives consent – under various circumstances without needing court approval.
(Vox) – I was born nearly 55 years ago with spinal muscular atrophy, a congenital, progressive neuromuscular weakness akin to muscular dystrophy. Without extensive daily interventions — hands-on (and expensive) assistance with bathing, dressing, toileting, and feeding, as well as breathing treatments, wheelchair maintenance, and so forth — I wouldn’t last long. In fact, before recent medical advances, half of the infants diagnosed with my condition perished before age 2. Their hearts and lungs simply became too weak to go on. The knee-jerk questioning of whether my life is worth saving drives my opposition to the legalization of assisted suicide. And I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this kind of dismissive attitude, the subtle pressures and invisible coercions to unburden others.
(The Atlantic) – Willie Parker is an imposing ob-gyn who has been traveling across the deep South providing abortions since 2012. At times, he has been one of the few providers in the only abortion clinic for hundreds of miles. Though he had been flying down from his home in Chicago twice a month to provide abortions in Mississippi and elsewhere, he recently moved to Birmingham, Alabama—closer to the center of the abortion wars. He is also a practicing Christian, and he frequently refers to his faith as being the reason why he does what he does.
(Scientific American) – The combination of cheap computing power and memory, connected devices, abundant data and advances in algorithm design create such successes—which then attract further attention and investment, driving further progress. Many speculate that machines will replace humans in many roles and that we will need to reinvent the nature of work itself as a result. Yet a newly published report by MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group shows there is an enormous gap between these expectations and the current reality for most organizations.
(MIT Technology Review) – The idea behind gene therapy is that genetic material is used as a “living drug” to treat disease. Scientists have been trying to get gene therapies to work for decades, so Kymriah’s approval is historic. But the therapy’s $475,000 price tag was immediately met with alarm and criticism from patient advocates. More gene therapies are in development, and those too could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while some see sticker shock, others see a bargain.
(The Conversation) – Starting a family through surrogacy is fraught with stresses and uncertainties. For heterosexual couples it is often the last resort after a history of disappointment and even tragedy. Gay couples remain subject to discrimination and stigma when it comes to planning a family. Surrogates face the risk that the intended parents might opt out of the arrangement, leaving them the legal mother of a child they did not plan to raise. They are often not compensated for their service.We think it is time for a new way to regulate surrogacy to provide certainty over legal parentage and protection of the surrogate’s rights.
(STAT News) – CVS Health announced Thursday that it was limiting the amount and strength of prescription opioid painkillers it provides to patients taking the drugs for the first time, a step intended to help curb opioid abuse. Through its pharmacy benefit manager, CVS Caremark, which has 90 million plan members, the company will introduce three new policies, effective in February. First, patients new to opioids will only get seven days’ worth of medication. The program will also limit daily dosages and require that immediate-release formulations of drugs be given before extended-release versions are prescribed.
(Wired) – Recently, the “trolley problem,” a decades-old thought experiment in moral philosophy, has been enjoying a second career of sorts, appearing in nightmare visions of a future in which cars make life-and-death decisions for us. Among many driverless car experts, however, talk of trolleys is très gauche. They call the trolley problem sensationalist and irrelevant. But this attitude is unfortunate. Thanks to the arrival of autonomous vehicles, the trolley problem will be answered—that much is unavoidable. More importantly, though, that answer will profoundly reshape the way law is administered in America.
(Reuters) – In the rush to approve new medicines, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration often requires drug companies to study possible side effects and alternative doses for medicines once they hit the broader market. A new analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine concludes that, in many cases, that’s not being done.
(ABC News) – The Navy’s surgeon general has ordered a stand down for all Navy medical personnel over the next 48 hours to reaffirm service commitments to patients and review social media policies after photos emerged on social media of medical personnel posing with newborns at a Navy hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. Two Navy hospital corpsmen at the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, were removed from their jobs treating patients after they allegedly posted a video and photos of newborns to Snapchat, including a photo showing one of them flipping the middle finger at a newborn with the caption “how I currently feel about these mini Satans.”
(The Guardian) – Dying and death is not a new phenomenon: we have always become ill, suffered, were going to die and someone else could have killed us. So why now, at the beginning of the 21st century, after prohibiting euthanasia for thousands of years and when we can do so much more to relieve suffering than in the past, do we suddenly think that legalising it is a good idea? I propose a major cause is a catastrophic failure of collective human memory and collective human imagination.
(Nature) – Gene-edited human embryos have offered a glimpse into the earliest stages of development, while hinting at the role of a pivotal protein that guides embryo growth. The first-of-its-kind study stands in contrast to previous research that attempted to fix disease-causing mutations in human embryos, in the hope of eventually preventing genetic disorders. Whereas those studies raised concerns over potential ‘designer babies’, the latest paper describes basic research that aims to understand human embryo development and causes of miscarriage.
(Nature) – These studies are valuable on several counts. They provide important insights into the biology of human embryos, and the possible mechanisms of genome editing in this context. They also highlight technical and ethical issues that inform researchers, funders, journals and regulators as they plan and assess future projects in this field. In particular, they show the importance of properly assessing the suitability of the type and number of embryos needed for research projects that explore different aspects of human germline editing.
(Quartz) – More than 40 million people around the world are enslaved, either through forced labor or by forced marriage, a human-rights group estimates. The same organization found there were 45.8 million people enslaved last year, 35.8 million in 2014, and 29.8 million in 2013—making news with these whopping numbers each time. The figures are heartbreaking, yet the fluctuations don’t mean that the enslaved population changes drastically year to year. They show just how hard it is to pin down the data.
(UPI) – Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are on the rise, and the World Health Organization issued a warning Wednesday of the lack of new antibiotics under development while the threat of antimicrobial resistance grows. Although the superbugs have not spread widely in the United States, two patients last year were infected by a bacteria that was resistant to colisitin, an antibiotic of last resort, and a Nevada woman in her 70s died after returning from a trip to India with a superbug resistant to all antibiotics.
(New Scientist) – Human embryos have been genetically edited in the UK for the first time, using a technique called CRISPR. But why do researchers think this is so important? The UK team, led by Kathy Niakan of the Francis Crick Institute in London, used the CRISPR genome-editing method to disable a gene thought to play a key role in early development. The researchers used around 60 spare embryos donated by couples who’d had IVF, which would otherwise have been discarded.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Has Filed a Federal Lawsuit That Challenges a Maine Restriction Common across Most of the U.S.
(Associated Press) – The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday that challenges a Maine restriction common across most of the U.S. that abortions be performed solely by physicians. The two groups were joined by four nurses and abortion provider Maine Family Planning in challenging the law that prevents advanced practice registered nurses, such as nurse practitioners and nurse midwives, from performing the procedure.