(MIT Technology Review) – For over a decade, scientists have been trying to reverse heart failure by delivering a new gene to the heart that makes it better at pumping blood and supplying the body with oxygen. A major clinical trial testing this gene therapy flopped in 2015. But as gene therapy has finally become a reality for other diseases after years in the making, there’s now renewed interest in trying it again for heart failure.
(GEN) – A new blood system isn’t created from scratch—just something close to it. A single type of stem cell, a new study demonstrates, can fully repopulate the bone marrow and give rise to all the cell lineages that constitute a complete blood system. This blood-forming stem cell is distinguished by three cell-surface markers—or rather the presence of two markers and the absence of a third. By heeding these markers, scientists may improve transplantation procedures, as well develop better gene therapy and gene-editing approaches.
(Quartz) – Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about advertisements for thermograms falsely claiming the technology could be as good or better than mammograms. In 1982, the FDA approved thermograms for breast-cancer screening—but only in conjunction with regular mammograms. Although thermography is not harmful in and of itself, there’s no scientific evidence that actually can detect breast cancer on its own. Since 2016, the FDA has issued two warnings to companies advertising preventative breast cancer screenings.
(Scientific American) – CRISPR–Cas9 (or CRISPR, for short) has given scientists a powerful way to make precise changes to DNA—in microbes, plants, mice, dogs and even in human cells. The technique may help researchers engineer drought-resistance crops, develop better drugs, cure genetic disorders, eradicate infectious diseases and much more. Ask any biologist, and they’ll likely tell you that CRISPR is revolutionary. It’s cheap and effective, and in many cases, it works much better than older methods for making genetic modifications. Biologists will also tell you that CRISPR is very easy to use. But what does “easy to use” mean?
(Wired) – So what can help? There is a category of jobs today that is critical to our society. Many of us will employ the services of these workers, but these positions are all-too-often held in low esteem with poor pay and minimal career advancement prospects. Some are designing so-called social robots to take these jobs. Yet, these are jobs we categorically do not want machines doing for us, though machines could potentially assist humans. I am speaking of caregiving.
(Reuters) – More than half of patients with a rare, rapidly progressing fatal genetic disorder experienced significant improvement after being treated with an Alnylam Pharmaceutical Inc drug that uses gene silencing technology, according to results of a late stage study released on Thursday. The drug, patisiran, was being tested against the life-shortening condition called hereditary ATTR (hATTR) amyloidosis with polyneuropathy, which affects an estimated 50,000 people worldwide. It is being developed in partnership with Sanofi.
(Medical Xpress) – Research presented today at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) by scientists from the University of Colorado and Duke University concludes that fresh donor eggs during in vitro fertilization (IVF) provide a higher chance of implantation when compared with donor eggs that have been cryopreserved. In addition, the study lends credence to the practice of transferring just one embryo during IVF to avoid complications that accompany multiple births, bucking the historically prevalent method of transferring two or more embryos to increase the odds of pregnancy.
(Wired) – There’s no lack of reports on the ethics of artificial intelligence. But most of them are lightweight—full of platitudes about “public-private partnerships” and bromides about putting people first. They don’t acknowledge the knotty nature of the social dilemmas AI creates, or how tough it will be to untangle them. The new report from the AI Now Institute isn’t like that. It takes an unblinking look at a tech industry racing to reshape society along AI lines without any guarantee of reliable and fair results.
(STAT News) – Our pediatric ethics committee reviewed numerous arguments and readings, including former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s 1977 case of conjoined twins with a shared heart. Our daily mission as physicians is to do no harm, ensure a child’s best interests, and honor a parent’s rights to make decisions for that child. How we could accomplish all three was something we dispassionately debated for endless hours over multiple weeks. Did we have a duty to act, or should we allow nature to take its course? Who decides what to do?
(Nature) – The first controlled, but controversial and small, clinical trial of giving young blood to people with dementia has reported that the procedure appears safe. It has also hinted that it may even produce modest improvements in the daily lives of people who have Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers who conducted the trial and others caution that the results are based on just 18 people and therefore are only a first step in exploring this type of treatment. “This is a really very small trial and the results should not be over-interpreted,” says Tony Wyss-Coray, a neurologist at Stanford University in California who led the study. The trial was conducted by his start-up company Alkahest, which is based in San Carlos, California.
(Reuters) – Researchers used electronic health records to hunt down the source of a potentially deadly hospital-acquired infection at the University of California, San Francisco. The culprit: a CT scanner in the hospital’s emergency department, according to a new report in JAMA Internal Medicine online October 23. The study was the first to use time and location stamps on electronic records to map patients throughout the hospital and track the course of an infectious agent.
(MIT Technology Review) – IVF clinics already test the DNA of embryos to spot rare diseases, like cystic fibrosis, caused by defects in a single gene. But these “preimplantation” tests are poised for a dramatic leap forward as it becomes possible to peer more deeply at an embryo’s genome and create broad statistical forecasts about the person it would become. The advance is occurring, say scientists, thanks to a growing flood of genetic data collected from large population studies.
(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.