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April 16, 2014

Popping a Polypill Makes Treating Heart Disease Easier

(New Scientist) – Taking all your heart drugs in one combined pill appears to work as well as taking them individually. This is the upshot of the largest systematic review so far of “polypills” designed to treat cardiovascular disease. Polypills can combine up to five different medications – including statins, aspirin and drugs that lower blood pressure – in a single tablet. Proponents of the combined pill hope it will reduce the number of deaths from cardiac problems by tackling multiple disease components at once and reducing the number of pills that people have to take.

A Patient’s Bizarre Hallucination Points to How the Brain Identifies Places

(Wired) – In the new study, Mégevand and colleagues report what happened when they stimulated a brain region thought to be important for the perception of places — the so-called parahippocampal place area — in one particular patient. “At first we were really stunned. It was the first time in 70 patients that someone gave such a detailed, specific report,” said Mégevand, a post-doctoral research fellow at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York.

Even Casual Use of Cannabis Alters Brain, Warn Scientists

(The Telegraph) – People who had only used cannabis once or twice a week for a matter of months were found to have changes in the brain that govern emotion, motivation and addiction. Researchers from Harvard Medical School in America carried out detailed 3D scans on the brains of students who used cannabis casually and were not addicted and compared them with those who had never used it.

Researchers Transplant Regenerated Oesophagus

(Medical News Today) – The new method has been developed by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, within an international collaboration lead by Professor Paolo Macchiarini. The technique to grow human tissues and organs, so called tissue engineering, has been employed so far to produce urinary bladder, trachea and blood vessels, which have also been used clinically. However, despite several attempts, it has been proven difficult to grow tissue to replace a damaged oesophagus.

Biologist Defiant over Stem-Cell Method

(Nature) – The lead author of two hotly debated stem-cell papers made a tearful plea for forgiveness last week after her employer found her guilty of misconduct. Haruko Obokata, a researcher at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Kobe, Japan, struggled to answer questions about errors in the papers, which described how simple stressors such as acid or pressure could reprogram mature cells into an embryonic-like state. But that did not stop her from insisting that the reports were not fraudulent and that the phenomenon described in them is real.

The Changing Legal Climate for Physician Aid in Dying

(JAMA) – While once widely rejected as a health care option, physician aid in dying is receiving increased recognition as a response to the suffering of patients at the end of life. With aid in dying, a physician writes a prescription for life-ending medication for an eligible patient. Following the recommendation of the American Public Health Association, the term aid in dying rather than “assisted suicide” is used to describe the practice. In this Viewpoint, we describe the changing legal climate for physician aid in dying occurring in several states.

China Bans Genetic Testing

(Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News) – For nearly a half-century, interrupted only by the Cultural Revolution, China promoted the growth of genetic testing to prevent and address birth defects through state-run hospitals, as well as charities and increasingly in recent years, private enterprises. Then in February, China reversed course. The China Food and Drug Administration posted a new regulation that immediately banned genetic testing—even previously approved services “including prenatal genetic testing, gene sequencing technology-related products, and cutting-edge products and technologies.”

New Video Highlights the Need for a Plan When It Comes to Incidental Findings

(Bioethics.gov) – The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has posted its latest video, in which Commission Members discuss their report Anticipate and Communicate: Ethical Management of Incidental and Secondary Findings in the Clinical, Research, and Direct-to-Consumer Contexts. In the three minute piece, Members highlight the essential message of the report on the ethical management of incidental findings across contexts: the importance of practitioners—including clinicians, researchers, and direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies—having a plan to anticipate and manage incidental findings.

Nano Shake-Up

(Science Codex) – Nanotechnology has unlocked new pathways for targeted drug delivery, including the use of nanocarriers, or capsules, that can transport cargoes of small-molecule therapeutics to specific locations in the body. The catch? These carriers are tiny, and it matters just how tiny they are. Change the size from 10 nanometers to 100 nanometers, and the drugs can end up in the wrong cells or organs and thereby damage healthy tissues.

Event: Summer Seminar in Health Care Ethics

The Department of Bioethics & Humanities at Washington School of Medicine
27th Annual Summer Seminar in Health Care Ethics
Seattle, Washington
August 4 – 8, 2014

See here for more information.

April 15, 2014

3-D printing is revolutionizing surgery

(Crain’s) Reaching into a beat-up, red-and-white cooler lined with a white terry-cloth towel, Dr. Matthew Bramlet pulls out a replica of an infant’s heart. The size of a small pear and chalky to the touch, the model was made in a 3-D printer. Last spring, Dr. Bramlet, 38, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, commissioned it from the hospital’s new innovation lab while planning surgery for a girl with a congenital heart defect.

GlaxoSmithKline Faces Bribery Allegations in Poland

(The Guardian) – GlaxoSmithKline has been accused of bribing doctors to prescribe its medicines in Europe. The UK-based drug company, which has faced claims of corruption in China and Iraq, has been accused over its alleged behaviour in Poland. A former sales representative for the company told the BBC’s Panorama programme, which airs on Monday night, that reps paid doctors to boost prescriptions there.

Sperm RNA Carries Marks of Trauma

(Nature) – Trauma is insidious. It not only increases a person’s risk for psychiatric disorders, but can also spill over into the next generation. People who were traumatized during the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia tended to have children with depression and anxiety, for example, and children of Australian veterans of the Vietnam War have higher rates of suicide than the general population.

Idea of New Attention Disorder Spurs Research, and Debate

(New York Times) – Yet now some powerful figures in mental health are claiming to have identified a new disorder that could vastly expand the ranks of young people treated for attention problems. Called sluggish cognitive tempo, the condition is said to be characterized by lethargy, daydreaming and slow mental processing. By some researchers’ estimates, it is present in perhaps two million children.

Blood Type Influences Prostate Cancer Relapse, Study Shows

(The Telegraph) – A man’s blood group has been shown to significantly influence the chance that prostate cancer will return after successful surgery. Men with group O blood are far less likely to suffer a recurrence of the disease following surgical intervention. By contrast, men with blood group A were shown by new research to be 35% more likely to fall victim to the disease again, even after surgery.

Prices Soaring for Specialty Drugs, Researchers Find

(New York Times) – Even as the cost of prescription drugs has plummeted for many Americans, a small slice of the population is being asked to shoulder more and more of the cost of expensive treatments for diseases like cancer and hepatitis C, according to a report to be released on Tuesday by a major drug research firm. The findings echo the conclusions of two other reports released last week by major pharmacy benefit managers, which predicted that spending on so-called specialty drugs would continue to rise.

Pressure Sensors to Help Prevent Pain for Amputees

(BBC) – Researchers have developed a new type of pressure sensor – dubbed a “second skin” – which they say could prevent dangerous sores. The technology is being developed initially for amputees who suffer rubbing against their artificial limbs. If the Southampton University work is successful the sensors may also be used for others at risk, such as wheelchair-users and those confined to bed.

Genetic Risk of Alzheimer’s Has Gender Bias

(New Scientist) – Carrying a copy of the “Alzheimer’s gene” doesn’t significantly raise a man’s risk of developing the disease. The gene does increase a woman’s risk, but women with one copy of the gene were as likely to develop the disease as men with no copies. The study – along with work suggesting that the gene is associated with educational achievement in young people – highlights how much remains to be done to untangle the genetics of Alzheimer’s.

Pregnant Women Who Took Antidepressants Linked to Higher Autism Risk in Boys

(UPI) – Boys, whose mothers took antidepressants such as Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac or Zoloft while pregnant, were almost three times more likely to have autism spectrum disorder.  Rebecca A. Harrington and Li-Ching Lee of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dr. Rosa M. Crum of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Dr. Andrew W. Zimmerman of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Irva Hertz-Picciotto of the University of California, Davis, said the study involved a total of 966 mother-child pairs.

I’d Seen Dementia’s Toll on My Patients. Now I Was Watching the Disease Unravel My Family.

(Washington Post) – As a geriatric psychiatrist, I understood the devastating toll dementia could take on an entire family. I had urged my mother-in-law to seek care early, which she had done, so she knew her options included activities to stay socially engaged, medication to slow the illness and possibly experimental treatment. But on a personal level, I was worried about my father-in-law, my wife, her siblings and myself. We would be my mother-in-law’s caregivers for the rest of her life. She was 76; my father-in-law was 79.

How Flesh-Eating Strep Bacteria Evolved into an Epidemic

(Wired) – Bacteria aren’t kind enough to leave behind a fossil record (save for cyanobacteria), but they’re evolving fast. Really fast. Their short life cycles mean that generations come rapid-fire, adapting through natural selection into the monster pathogens that are currently shrugging off our finest antibiotics. It’s all the more troubling when we’re dealing with the flesh-eating variety. A new study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, details the evolution of one such bacteria, group A Streptococcus. By charting its evolution, scientists hope to gain invaluable insights into tackling subsequent generations of these menaces, and to begin to better understand the very nature of epidemics.

 

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