April 18, 2014
Cost of Treating Patients May Influence Doctors
(New York Times) – Saying they can no longer ignore the rising prices of health care, some of the most influential medical groups in the nation are recommending that doctors weigh the costs, not just the effectiveness of treatments, as they make decisions about patient care. The shift, little noticed outside the medical establishment but already controversial inside it, suggests that doctors are starting to redefine their roles, from being concerned exclusively about individual patients to exerting influence on how health care dollars are spent.
Broad Institute Gets Patent on Revolutionary Gene-Editing Method
(MIT Technology Review) – One of the most important genetic technologies developed in recent years is now patented, and researchers are wondering what they will and won’t be allowed to do with the powerful method for editing the genome. On Tuesday, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard announced that it had been granted a patent covering the components and methodology for CRISPR—a new way of making precise, targeted changes to the genome of a cell or an organism. CRISPR could revolutionize biomedical research by giving scientists a more efficient way of re-creating disease-related mutations in lab animals and cultured cells; it may also yield an unprecedented way of treating disease.
Cancer Drugs Targeted to Patient’s Own Genetics to Be Offered in New NHS Trial
(The Telegraph) – Cancer patients will be offered new drugs targeted to the specific genetic profile of their disease within ten years following research that promises to revolutionise the way tumours are treated. In a groundbreaking new venture, the NHS, Cancer Research UK and pharmaceutical companies are joining together to offer all cancer patients experimental new drugs that are honed to the specific genetics of their tumours.
Identical Twins, One Case of Down Syndrome: A Genetic Mystery
(Los Angeles Times) – A rare occurrence in the earliest days of a pregnancy produces an unusual and mystifying outcome: Identical twin fetuses are conceived of the same meeting of egg and sperm. And despite their shared DNA, one of the twins has Down syndrome (the most common genetic cause of intellectual impairment), but the other does not.
Scientists Make First Embryo Clone from Adults
(The Wall Street Journal) – Scientists for the first time have cloned cells from two adults to create early-stage embryos, and then derived tissue from those embryos that perfectly matched the DNA of the donors. The experiment represents another advance in the quest to make tissue in the laboratory that could treat a range of maladies, from heart attacks to Alzheimer’s. The study, involving a 35-year-old man and one age 75, was published Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
April 17, 2014
Artificial Eyes, Plastic Skulls: 3-D Printing the Human Body
(CNN) – The 21st century has seen the growth of 3-D printing, with well-known applications in architecture, manufacturing, engineering, and now increasingly in medicine. The birth of 3-D scanning technologies combined with organic inks and thermoplastics has enabled the “bioprinting” of a range of human body parts to accommodate a wide range of medical conditions. Let’s start form the top.
For Diabetics, Health Risks Fall Sharply
(New York Times) – Federal researchers on Wednesday reported the first broad national picture of progress against some of the most devastating complications of diabetes, which affects millions of Americans, finding that rates of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and amputations fell sharply over the past two decades. The biggest declines were in the rates of heart attacks and deaths from high blood sugar, which dropped by more than 60 percent from 1990 to 2010, the period studied.
Stem-Cell Treatment for Blindness Moving through Patient Testing
(MIT Technology Review) – A new treatment for macular degeneration is close to the next stage of human testing—a noteworthy event not just for the millions of patients it could help, but for its potential to become the first therapy based on embryonic stem cells. This year, the Boston-area company Advanced Cell Technology plans to move its stem-cell treatment for two forms of vision loss into advanced human trials. The company has already reported that the treatment is, although a full report of the results from the early, safety-focused testing has yet to be published. The planned trials will test whether it is effective.
Physicists Create New Nanoparticle for Cancer Therapy
(Phys.org) – A University of Texas at Arlington physicist working to create a luminescent nanoparticle to use in security-related radiation detection may have instead happened upon an advance in photodynamic cancer therapy. Wei Chen, professor of physics and co-director of UT Arlington’s Center for Security Advances Via Applied Nanotechnology, was testing a copper-cysteamine complex created in his lab when he discovered unexplained decreases in its luminescence, or light emitting power, over a time-lapse exposure to X-rays.
April 16, 2014
PET Scans Offer Clues on Vegetative States
(New York Times) – A new study has found that PET scans may help answer these wrenching questions. It found that a significant number of people labeled vegetative had received an incorrect diagnosis and actually had some degree of consciousness and the potential to improve. Previous studies using electroencephalogram machines and M.R.I. scanners have also found signs of consciousness in supposedly vegetative patients.
Scientists Embark on Unprecedented Effort to Connect Millions of Patient Medical Records
(Washington Post) – Inside an otherwise ordinary office building in lower Manhattan, government-funded scientists have begun collecting and connecting together terabytes of patient medical records in what may be one of the most radical projects in health care ever attempted. The data — from every patient treated at one of New York’s major hospital centers over the past few years — include some of the most intimate details of a life. Vital signs. Diagnoses and conditions. Results of blood tests, X-rays, MRI scans. Surgeries. Insurance claims. And in some cases, links to genetic samples.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Consumers Considering Different Health Plans Find Little Info about Abortion Coverage
(Washington Post) – When it comes to coverage of abortion services in plans sold on the health insurance marketplaces, opponents and supporters of abortion rights are in agreement on one thing: Coverage details need to be clearer. A recent analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research and policy organization that supports abortion rights, found that people in some states would be hard-pressed to find any information about whether the plans they were interested in covered abortion services.
Could Silly Putty Help Treat Neurological Disorders?
(Medical News Today) – It seems unlikely that Silly Putty – a children’s moulding toy – could prove useful in the medical world. But new research from the University of Michigan suggests that a key ingredient used in Silly Putty can turn embryonic stem cells into working spinal cord cells more efficiently. The research team, including Jianping Fu, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan (U-M), says their findings may lead to new treatments for neurological disorders, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Huntington’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease.
April 14, 2014
Finding the Switch: Researchers Create Roadmap for Gene Expression
(Medical Xpress) – In a new study, researchers from North Carolina State University, UNC-Chapel Hill and other institutions have taken the first steps toward creating a roadmap that may help scientists narrow down the genetic cause of numerous diseases. Their work also sheds new light on how heredity and environment can affect gene expression.