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April 23, 2014

Protein that Shrinks Depressed Brains Identified

(New Scientist) – Could preventing the brain shrinkage associated with depression be as simple as blocking a protein? Post-mortem analysis of brain tissue has shown that the dendrites that relay messages between neurons are more shrivelled in people with severe depression than in people without the condition. This atrophy could be behind some of the symptoms of depression, such as the inability to feel pleasure. As a result, drugs that help repair the neuronal connections, like ketamine, are under investigation.

April 22, 2014

New Painkiller Rekindles Addiction Concerns

(New York Times) – The abuse of prescription painkillers has reached epidemic proportions in America. Nearly half of the nation’s 38,329 drug overdose deaths in 2010 involved painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These narcotics now kill more adults than heroin and cocaine combined, sending 420,000 Americans to emergency rooms each year. So many state health officials and advocacy groups were incredulous when the Food and Drug Administration approved just such a drug — against the advice of its own expert advisory committee.

Brain-Mapping Milestones

(New York Times) – As the Brain Initiative announced by President Obama a year ago continues to set priorities and gear up for what researchers hope will be a decade-long program to understand how the brain works, two projects independent of that effort reached milestones in their brain mapping work. Both projects, one public and one private, are examples of the widespread effort in neuroscience to create databases and maps of brain structure and function that can serve as a foundation for research.

April 21, 2014

Harvard Researchers Present New View of Myelin

(Harvard Stem Cell Institute) – Harvard neuroscientists have made a discovery that turns 160 years of neuroanatomy on its head. Myelin, the electrical insulating material long known to be essential for the fast transmission of impulses along the axons of nerve cells, is not as ubiquitous as thought, according to a new work lead by Professor Paola Arlotta, PhD, of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) and the University’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, in collaboration with Professor Jeff Lichtman, MD, PhD, of Harvard’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

April 18, 2014

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

Just Say Yes? The Rise of ‘Study Drugs’ in College

(CNN) – Around this time of year, you’re more likely to find college students in the library cramming for final exams than out partying. In an environment where the workload is endless and there’s always more to be done, a quick fix to help buckle down and power through becomes very tempting. Prescription ADHD medications like Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse are becoming increasingly popular for overworked and overscheduled college students — who haven’t been diagnosed with ADHD.

What It’s Like to Spend 20 Years Listening to Psychopaths for Science

(Wired) – Kiehl recounts the story in a new book about his research, The Psychopath Whisperer. He has been interviewing psychopaths for more than 20 years, and the book is filled with stories of these colorful (and occasionally off-color) encounters. (Actually, The Psychopath Listener would have been a more accurate, if less grabby title.) More recently he’s acquired a mobile MRI scanner and permission to scan the brains of New Mexico state prison inmates. So far he’s scanned about 3,000 violent offenders, including 500 psychopaths.

Modified Stem Cells May Offer Way to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease

(Medical News Today) – A new study suggests genetically modified stem cells may offer a new way to treat Alzheimer’s disease. When implanted in mice bred to have symptoms and brain hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, they increased connections between brain cells and reduced the amyloid-beta protein that accumulates to form plaques that clog up the brain.

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.

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.

April 15, 2014

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.

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.

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

Brain Cell Discovery Could Open Doors to Targeted Cancer Therapies

(Eurekalert) – Fresh insights into the processes that control brain cell production could pave the way for treatments for brain cancer and other brain-related disorders. Scientists have gained new understanding of the role played by a key molecule that controls how and when nerve and brain cells are formed – a process that allows the brain to develop and keeps it healthy. Their findings could help explain what happens when cell production goes out of control, which is a fundamental characteristic of many diseases including cancer.

Phase 1 Trial for ALS Results of Novel Stem-Cell Therapy Presented by Neuralstem Representative

(Bio News Texas) – Neuralstem, a company that specializes in producing commercial quantities of neural stem cells of the brain and spinal cord, publicly presented the findings of their Phase 1 clinical trial involving amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the Keystone Symposia “Engineering Cell Fate and Function,” occurring April 6-11 in Olympic Valley, California. Results were published in Annals of Neurology in mid-March, but principal investigator Eva Feldman, PhD, MD, discussed the results of Neuralstem’s NSI-566 stem cell trial in ALS during a workshop on “Clinical Progress for Stem Cell Therapies” at the symposia.

April 11, 2014

A New Edition of Journal of Medical Ethics is Available

Journal of Medical Ethics (Volume 40, No. 4, April 2014) is now available online by subscription only.

Articles include:

  • “Freedom and moral enhancement” by Michael J Selgelid
  • “The duty to be Well-informed: The case of depression” by Charlotte Blease
  • “Approaches to suffering at the end of life: the use of sedation in the USA and Netherlands” by Judith AC Rietjens, et al.
  • “Moral concerns with sedation at the end of life” by Charles Douglas
  • “Genetic modifications for personal enhancement: a defence” by Timothy F Murphy
  • “Voluntary moral enhancement and the survival-at-any-cost bias” by  Vojin Rakić
  • “Embryonic viability, parental care and the pro-life thesis: a defence of Bovens” by Jonathan Surovell
  • “Differentiating between human and non-human interspecies embryos” by Calum MacKellar

Researchers Identify Transcription Factors Distinguishing Glioblastoma Stem Cells

(Medical Xpress) – The activity of four transcription factors – proteins that regulate the expression of other genes – appears to distinguish the small proportion of glioblastoma cells responsible for the aggressiveness and treatment resistance of the deadly brain tumor. The findings by a team of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators, which will be published in the April 24 issue of Cell and are receiving advance online release, support the importance of epigenetics – processes controlling whether or not genes are expressed – in cancer pathology and identify molecular circuits that may be targeted by new therapeutic approaches.

April 10, 2014

Bone Marrow Stem Cells Show Promise in Stroke Treatment

(Medical Xpress) – Stem cells culled from bone marrow may prove beneficial in stroke recovery, scientists at UC Irvine’s Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center have learned. In an analysis of published research, neurologist Dr. Steven Cramer and biomedical engineer Weian Zhao identified 46 studies that examined the use of mesenchymal stromal cells – a type of multipotent adult stem cells mostly processed from bone marrow – in animal models of stroke. They found MSCs to be significantly better than control therapy in 44 of the studies.

 

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