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Australians Can Be Denied Life Insurance Based on Genetic Test Results, and There Is Little Protection

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 11:42

(The Conversation) – A parliamentary inquiry is currently underway into Australia’s life insurance industry, which has raised several issues including discrimination by insurers against people with mental health problems. In our submission to the inquiry, we argue comparable discrimination is possible based on genetics, with insurers denying applicants life insurance and raising premiums inappropriately based on genetic test results.

Zipline Expands Drone Delivery of Medical Supplies

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 11:38

(MIT Technology Review) – Less than a year after launching the world’s first national drone delivery service in Rwanda, Silicon Valley–based Zipline is expanding. Billed as the largest drone delivery service in the world, the new venture is in Tanzania, Rwanda’s neighbor to the east, and involves more than a thousand health facilities covering 10 million people in some of that country’s most remote and hard-to-reach areas. Announced Thursday by the government of Tanzania, the partnership will entail the delivery of a range of medical products by drone from four distribution sites in three distinct areas of the country.

For Pregnancy or Profit: Motive for Undergoing IVF May Alter the Experience

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 11:17

(Yale News) – An individual’s reason for undergoing a medical intervention — be it to prevent or treat disease, earn money, or have a child — may result in variations in the bodily experience of the patient, Yale researchers have found. A new study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine compares the physical, emotional, and cognitive experiences of women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) either to become pregnant or to donate their eggs for money. The researchers found that there is a direct correlation between the intensity of a woman’s bodily experience and her reason for harvesting eggs.

Medical Staff Involved in Organ Trafficking Arrested in Egypt

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 11:09

(Al Arabiya) – Egyptian authorities announced on Tuesday evening the capture of a gang of medical staff for trafficking human organs in the area of Abu Nomros in Giza, southern Egypt. The authorities arrested 16 people involved in the case, reported Al Arabiya. An official security source confirmed to Al Arabiya that the suspects formed a gang of eight people who go after those those wishing to sell their organs. The gang includes a doctor from a hospital in Abu Al-Nomros and technicians in laboratory analysis who purchase the kidney for 25,000 LE ($1,400) and sell it to wealthy people for $25,000.

Hunting a Killer: Sex, Drugs and the Return of Syphilis

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 16:10

(New York Times) – For months, health officials in this socially conservative state capital have been staggered by a fast-spreading outbreak of a disease that, for nearly two decades, was considered all but extinguished. Syphilis, the deadly sexually transmitted infection that can lead to blindness, paralysis and dementia, is returning here and around the country, another consequence of the heroin and methamphetamine epidemics, as users trade sex for drugs.

Insurer’s Mailing to Customers Made HIV Status Visible through Envelope Window

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 16:03

(STAT News) – Thousands of people with HIV received mailed letters from Aetna last month that may have disclosed their HIV status on the envelope. The letters, which Aetna said were sent to approximately 12,000 people, were meant to relay a change in pharmacy benefits. Text visible through a small window on the envelopes listed the patients’ names and suggested a change in how they would fill the prescription for their treatment for the virus.

Rural-Urban Gap in Some Vaccination Rates Leaves Health Officials Puzzled

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 15:51

(STAT News) – Both rural and urban kids in large numbers were vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis —a combined vaccine known as Tdap. In fact, 88 percent of teens received that vaccination, with nearly equal uptake rates among urban and rural adolescents. But the vaccination rate against human papillomavirus, or HPV, was 16 percentage points lower in rural areas than urban areas. These sexually transmitted viruses can cause a number of cancers. And though one might be tempted to assume that rural parents were less inclined to vaccinate their children against a sexually transmitted virus, it was not the only kind of vaccine for which there was a stark rural-urban divide.

Google Has Created a Tool That Tests for Clinical Depression

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 15:45

(Quartz) – In an effort to encourage more patients to seek treatment sooner, Google announced Aug. 23 that it has teamed up with National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), an advocacy group, to create a simple tool for users to assess if they may be depressed. Now, when people in the US search for “clinical depression” on their phones, the typical “knowledge panel”—a container that displays company-vetted information on Google’s search results page—will come with an option to take a quiz that can assess the severity of symptoms. (Google says the quiz results will not be seen by anyone but the quiz-taker.)

Germany’s Self-Driving Car Ethicists: All Lives Matter

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 15:42

(Quartz) – The German federal government will adopt new guidelines for self-driving cars inside the country, which will prioritize the value and equality of human life over damage to property or animals. These guidelines, presented on Aug. 23 by an ethics committee on automated driving, stress that self-driving cars must do the least amount of harm if put into a situation where hitting a human is unavoidable, and cannot discriminate based on age, gender, race, disability, or any other observable factors. In other words, all self-driving cars must be programmed to understand that human life is equal.

Cambodia Set to Permanently Ban Commercial Surrogacy

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 15:23

(Sydney Morning Herald) – Cambodia is set to permanently ban commercial surrogacy, ending hopes of Australian parents intending to enter into any arrangements with surrogate mothers in the impoverished country. A draft law imposing the ban is likely to be passed by Cambodia’s parliament early next year. Surrogacy operators had been confident the government in Phnom Penh would allow commercial surrogacy under strict supervision, legalising what was a booming industry until it was shut down during a crackdown late last year.

Palliative Care Cut Healthcare Use in Advanced Cancer

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 15:18

(Med Page Today) – In elderly patients with advanced cancer, a palliative care consultation soon after diagnosis substantially decreased healthcare use, and helped caregivers manage patients’ expectations, as well as maintain their quality of life (QoL), according to researchers. A matched retrospective cohort study of Medicare patients showed that those given palliative care earlier in the course of disease had decreased rates of hospitalization (risk ratio 0.53), fewer invasive procedures (RR 0.52), and chemotherapy (RR 0.46). They also had longer hospice stays (P<0.001) compared with patients who received palliative care closer to the end of life, reported James D. Murphy, MD, of the University of California San Diego, and colleagues.

Sickle-Cell Patients See Hope in CRISPR

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 15:02

(MIT Technology Review) – The idea is that CRISPR could correct the genetic mutation responsible for sickle-cell so that patients’ bodies could make normal red blood cells, alleviating the pain and other severe symptoms associated with the disease. Researchers have already tested the gene-editing tool on human sickle cells in the lab and are now working on getting the technique to clinical trials. Early results hint that sickle-cell could be among the first diseases that CRISPR essentially cures.

Will CRISPR Fears Fade with Familiarity?

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 11:10

(The Conversation) – The first “test-tube baby” made headlines around the world in 1978, setting off intense debate on the ethics of researching human embryos and reproductive technologies. Every breakthrough since then has raised the same questions about “designer babies” and “playing God” – but public response has grown more subdued rather than more engaged as assisted reproductive technologies have become increasingly sophisticated and powerful.

‘Breakthrough’ Leukemia Drug Also Portends ‘Quantum Leap’ in Cost

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 11:02

(Kaiser Health News) – Switzerland-based Novartis hasn’t announced a price for the medicine, but British health authorities have said a price of $649,000 for a one-time treatment would be justified given the significant benefits. The cancer therapy was unanimously approved by a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee in July, and its approval seems all but certain. The treatment, CTL019, belongs to a new class of medications called CAR T-cell therapies, which involve harvesting patients’ immune cells and genetically altering them to kill cancer. It’s been tested in patients whose leukemia has relapsed in spite of the best chemotherapy or a bone-marrow transplant.

Doctors in the Netherlands Are Taking a Novel Approach to Treat Cystic Fibrosis

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 10:58

(Associated Press) – This experiment to help people with rare forms of cystic fibrosis in the Netherlands aims to grow mini intestines for every Dutch patient with the disease to figure out, in part, what treatment might work for them. It’s an early application of a technique now being worked on in labs all over the world, as researchers learn to grow organs outside of the body for treatment – and maybe someday for transplants. So far, doctors have grown mini guts – just the size of a pencil point – for 450 of the Netherlands’ roughly 1,500 cystic fibrosis patients.

Artificial Wombs Are Coming. They Could Completely Change the Debate over Abortion.

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 10:40

(Vox) – The Supreme Court’s decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey treats “viability” — when a fetus can survive outside the womb — as the important constitutional dividing line for individual states’ ability to restrict abortion. US states have much more power to restrict abortion after viability than before (although even post-viability there are important constitutional carve-outs, including for abortions to protect the health of the mother). If — and it is a big “if” — artificial wombs were to become available for human fetuses, we face the following question: Could anti-abortion laws require pregnant women whose fetuses are not yet viable to transfer the fetus to a nurturing site outside the body, possibly by way of minimally invasive surgery? The right to abortion would thereby be restricted.

With Court’s OK, Chile Relaxes One of the World’s Strictest Abortion Bans

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 10:30

(Scientific American) – A Chilean court dealt abortion rights activists a landmark victory Monday, approving a controversial bill that rolled back parts of one of the world’s strictest abortion bans. The bill passed by lawmakers earlier this month — after a years-long campaign by President Michelle Bachelet — added three exceptions to a law that for nearly three decades outlawed abortion in all cases. By a narrow margin, lawmakers rendered abortion legal when the pregnancy results from rape, when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life and when the fetus is unviable.

Cryptographers and Geneticists Unite to Analyze Genomes They Can’t See

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 10:28

(Scientific American) – A cryptographer and a geneticist walk into a seminar room. An hour later, after a talk by the cryptographer, the geneticist approaches him with a napkin covered in scrawls. The cryptographer furrows his brow, then nods. Nearly two years later, they reveal the product of their combined prowess: an algorithm that finds harmful mutations without actually seeing anyone’s genes.

How Your Digital Self Could ‘Live’ on after You Die

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 10:16

(BBC) – The death and funerals industry is due for a shake-up, a growing number of tech start-ups believe. After you die, how do you fancy springing back to life in the form of a digital avatar? Your digital ghost could jump onto Facebook and join in a light-hearted argument about Friends, or post Instagram updates reminiscing about that Italian road trip you took with an ex-lover. Living a digital afterlife might sound strange – a possible episode of satirical TV show Black Mirror perhaps – but some start-ups are investing serious time and money in the concept.

A Pioneering Neuroscientist Reports from ‘the Border of Life and Death’

Wed, 08/23/2017 - 10:09

(New York Times) – In Owen’s chronicle of these cases, “Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death,” he describes what happened next. In an initial examination Jeff indeed seemed dead to the world, failing to respond to simple commands to look in the mirror or stick out your tongue. When an object was moved in front of his face, he was barely able to track it with his eyes. But when Jeff was put into a scanner — an fMRI machine (for functional magnetic resonance imaging) — and shown a short Alfred Hitchcock film, “Bang! You’re Dead,” parts of his brain lit up.