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December 30, 2005

In The News — December 26-30

Chinese Inmates’ Organs For Sale To Britons

A Chinese company has begun marketing kidneys, livers and other organs from executed prisoners to sick Britons in need of transplants.
(Washington Times)

Embryo Cloning Cheat Resigns in Disgrace

The world’s most successful cloning scientist, Prof Hwang Woo-suk, who was hailed as a superstar with “God’s hand” in his native South Korea, has resigned in disgrace. The furore that erupted yesterday over how his team partly faked results will send shock waves around the scientific world, damage the image of biotechnology and cast a shadow over rival British efforts to develop the next generation of medicine.

Cord-Blood Procedure on Rise

When Shakera Neal’s baby girl Aleasia was born, doctors knew she might need special help to survive, because her first child, Alandee, died before he was 4 months old. Neal, of Delray Beach, said tests confirmed her daughter had the same inherited immune-system disorder that had killed her son. To create a normal immune system, doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami gave Aleasia a transplant of stem cells taken from closely matched umbilical-cord blood donated by the parents of a healthy newborn.
(South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

Public Defibrillators Save Lives

Putting electric shock machines in public places to treat cardiac arrest victims saves lives, researchers say.

Hospital Overdoses Common to Heart Attack Patients

Of the 30,136 heart attack patients studied who were treated last year at 387 U.S. hospitals, 42% got excessive doses of blood thinners. Overdoses were particularly common in thin people, women, the elderly and those with kidney problems.

Hwang Associates Gave Key Witness $30,000

Two members of a stem-cell research team allegedly gave $30,000 to a former member of the group to retract comments about fabricating research data.

Dying Can Aid Stem Cell Research

Scientists should be allowed to experiment with new stem cell therapies on terminally ill patients in the hope of saving their lives or at least speeding up the pace of research, one of Britain’s leading scientists has said.

Drug Firms Make More Study Results Public

Drug companies are making public more information about medical studies they are conducting, but some still withhold key details, a new analysis of a federal registry finds.

Number of Diabetics in Maine Doubles

The number of diabetics in Maine has doubled since 1994, and state officials are worried that inactivity and overeating are pushing rates up even more.

Clinical Trial to Test Stem Cells for Pediatric Brain Injuries

Researchers will assess the safety and potential of treating traumatic brain injuries in children with stem cells derived from the children’s own bone marrow. This study is the first to test stem cell therapy for traumatic brain injury, the scientists said.

Genetic Test Can Detect Heart Transplant Rejection

A simple blood test can detect whether heart transplant patients are rejecting their donated heart, and it may also reduce the need for invasive heart-muscle biopsies, a new study has found.

Brain Scans Show How Memories Are Retrieved

Remember the last vacation you took? That question can release a flood of memories — where you went, how you got there, the things you did while on the beach or the ski slope, and more. And now neuroscientists at Princeton University have discovered the mechanism of this “mental time travel,” a finding that may someday help people with memory problems of the sort that occur in Alzheimer’s disease.

Bug Mutates into Medical Mystery

First came stomach cramps, which left Christina Shultz doubled over and weeping in pain. Then came nausea and fatigue — so overwhelming she couldn’t get out of bed for days. Just when she thought things couldn’t get worse, the nastiest diarrhea of her life hit — repeatedly forcing her into the hospital. Doctors finally discovered that the 35-year-old Hilliard, Ohio, woman had an intestinal bug that used to be found almost exclusively among older, sicker patients in hospitals and was usually easily cured with a dose of antibiotics. But after months of treatment, Shultz is still incapacitated.
(Washington Post)

Many Resist Getting Flu Vaccines

For a lot of people, however, the vaccine shortage doesn’t matter. Despite urging from health officials and doctors, many people refuse to get their flu vaccines, even when they’re free and plentiful. They’re suspicious that they’ll catch the flu or some other illness from the shots.

Peruvian With New Thumbs Ready to Go Home

His scarred right hand trembling, Francisco del Alamo-Benavente gripped a plastic clothespin between his thumb – which used to be his index finger – and his ring finger. Squeezing with all his might, he pried the clothespin about a quarter-inch apart and fastened it to a metal rod.

All Prof. Hwang’s Stem Cells Found to Be Fake

Prof. Hwang was found to have secured no stem cells for his research by a Seoul National University investigation panel. In a conference held on Dec. 28, 2005, the panel announced that the five stem cells Prof. Hwang allegedly froze and unfroze did not match with the cells of the patients who provided nuclei in a DNA test.
(Seoul Times)

Mobile Clinic Tries to Fill Health Needs

Around 46 million U.S. residents don’t have health insurance; a small number regularly show up at a mobile clinic at Deerfield Elementary School outside Washington, D.C., every Monday morning. The 33-foot (10-m) van equipped with two examination rooms, one of four “governor’s wellmobiles” run by the University of Maryland School of Nursing, goes to a different location in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. each day, serving thousands of people without health insurance.

Tiny Biosensor to Detect Cancer

Scientists are developing a tiny biosensor to detect cancer proteins and potentially the bug that causes MRSA.

December 28, 2005

Grand Rounds

The Health Care Blog hosts the final Grand Rounds of 2005 and highlights some of the best medical and health care posts of the year.

December 22, 2005

Bioethics & Health News
December 22

Second Journal Probing Stem Cell Scientist

A second scientific journal is investigating research by an embattled stem cell scientist — this time his claim that he cloned a dog.

Bad Students Can Turn Out To Be Bad Doctors

Doctors who misbehave in medical school are more likely to have disciplinary action taken against them by medical boards when they become practicing physicians, a new study has found.

FDA Tentatively OKs Generic AIDS Drug

A generic version of a pediatric AIDS drug received preliminary approval Wednesday from the Food and Drug Administration.

Deadly Fungus Gene Code Cracked

Scientists have cracked the genetic code of a fungus responsible for deadly infections and allergic reactions.

Signs of Tamiflu Resistance No Cause for Alarm: WHO

Signs that the H5N1 bird flu virus may be developing resistance to the frontline drug Tamiflu in some patients are not necessarily a cause for alarm, a senior World Health Organization official said on Thursday.

Smoking Nearly Triples Risk of Age-Linked Vision Loss

Smoking greatly increases the risk of vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration, and that risk hits both smokers and people who live with them, a new study shows.

December 21, 2005

Developing Story: Korean Cloning Backlash

The New York Times is reporting that the investigative television news program in South Korea that played no small part in bringing the cloning scandal to light has been cancelled. It appears to be a combination of backlash against the undoing of a national hero and backlash against unethical journalistic techniques.

Mr. Choi is in the journalistic doghouse partly for tearing down a national icon, a charismatic, handsome scientist who was the modern, successful face that South Koreans yearned to show the world.

But it is also partly because he allowed South Korea’s ultracompetitive journalism world to spur him to use techniques that tarnished his work.

It just keeps getting more interesting. Stay tuned.

Bioethics & Health News
December 21

Group Sues to Halt Ill. Contraceptive Rule

A group founded by evangelist Pat Robertson is suing to stop Illinois from requiring pharmacies to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception, saying the rule violates a druggist’s right to refuse on religious and moral grounds.

Umbilical Cord Databank to Be Established

President Bush on Tuesday signed legislation to establish a national databank of umbilical cord blood and bone marrow that would allow doctors to quickly find a match for patients who need a transplant.

Original Cloning Claim Drawing Scrutiny

In a further blow to the credibility of the South Korean researcher who claimed to be the first to clone a human embryo, the journal Science said Tuesday it’s now investigating a 2004 study it published that first brought Hwang Woo-suk to prominence.

New Drug Points Up Problems in Developing Cancer Cures

Despite promising discoveries and multibillion-dollar investments, cancer research is quietly undergoing a crisis. Federal drug regulators will soon announce several initiatives that they hope will help salvage the field.
(New York Times)

One in Three U.S. Teens Physically Unfit

More than one in three American adolescents are physically unfit and have many of the risk factors for heart disease, researchers said on Tuesday.

Study: Impotence Can Warn of Heart Disease

A large study of men age 55 and older adds to evidence that impotence can be a warning sign for heart disease.

President Signs Cord Blood Stem Cell Legislation

In a ceremony yesterday in the Roosevelt Room of The White House, President Bush signed into law the “Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005.” The law “creates a new Federal program to collect and store cord blood, and expands the current bone marrow registry program to also include cord blood.”

Passage of the bill has been somewhat under-reported, but it is important legislation. An AP story succinctly reports the facts:

The bill Bush signed will provide $79 million in federal funding to increase the number of cord blood units available for matches. The objective is 150,000 units, which would mean 90 percent of patients needing them would have a match.

A number of conditions are currently being treated with stem cells from cord blood (Krabbe’s disease, heart attack, leukemia, Tay-Sachs, sickle cell anemia) and research is being conducted to investigate the effectiveness of cord blood stem cells for many other conditions (Parkinson’s, stroke, Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, spinal cord injury, ALS,). For more on cord blood stem cells see Don’t Throw away the Future

December 20, 2005

Bioethics & Health News
December 20

Federal Survey Shows Unwanted Births Up

More American women are having babies they didn’t want, a survey indicates, but federal researchers say they don’t know if that means attitudes about abortion are changing.

South Korean University Begins Stem Cell Probe

A South Korean university has seized the computer of an embattled stem cell scientist and will release the initial findings this week of a probe into whether his team actually made tailored stem cells, it said on Monday.

Gene Therapy Appears to Relieve Parkinson’s Symptoms

Brad Arens believes an experimental gene therapy has offered him a miracle this holiday season: some relief from the steady march of Parkinson’s.
(USA Today)

Doctors and Retailers Skirmish Over Scarce Flu Vaccines

Every day, Dr. Arleen Sharpe of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., sees patients who need a flu vaccine but cannot have one because her office received fewer than half of the 800 doses it ordered for a large family practice of 10,000 patients.
(New York Times)

In the Chaos of Homelessness, Calendars Mean Nothing

I knew from a note left by her case manager that the homeless woman I was waiting to see had a history of trauma, terrible mood swings, past suicide attempts.
(New York Times)

Survey: Teens Smoke Less, Take More Pills

America’s teens are smoking less and popping pain pills more. The lure of the family medicine cabinet helped nearly one in 10 high school seniors try out prescription painkillers last year, even as their generation continued turning away, at least slightly, from smoking and many other drugs.

Grand Rounds

The latest edition of Grand Rounds medical blogging wrap up posted at Medpundit. This week has a little something for everyone: literary medical blogging, nurse blogging, patient blogging, doctor blogging, and more.

No Embryos were Harmed

As you may know, Don Ho recently underwent surgery in Thailand. Stem cells were isolated from his own blood and injected directly into his heart. He has just returned to Hawaii, and is recovering “at an undisclosed location.” According to Ho’s publicist, Ho’s “health is improving dramatically.”

December 19, 2005

In The News — December 19

Swiss Hospital to Allow Assisted Suicide

A Swiss hospital has agreed to let an assisted-suicide organization help terminally ill patients take their own lives on its premises.

Alzheimer’s, Dementia Cases to Rise Drastically

The number of people suffering from dementia is expected to double every 20 years and could reach more than 81 million worldwide by 2040, health experts predicted.

Seoul University Probes Stem Cell Research

A panel questioned stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk, sealed off his office and secured materials in his laboratory Sunday as it began a probe of allegations he falsified embryonic stem cells that he said he had created in a scientific breakthrough.

NIH Uses Live Viruses for Bird Flu Vaccine

In an isolation ward of a Baltimore hospital, up to 30 volunteers will participate in a bold experiment: A vaccine made with a live version of the most notorious bird flu will be sprayed into their noses.

N.J. Awards Grants for Stem Cell Research

A New Jersey commission on Friday awarded $5 million in grants for stem cell research, including what is expected to be the first disbursements from a state for experiments on human embryonic stem cells.

Drugs Should Be Permitted in Sport, Professors Say

Professional athletes should be allowed to use performance-enhancing drugs under medical supervision, three professors wrote in U.K. medical journal The Lancet.

Lives Lost As Vaccine Programs Face Delays

Companies have developed two vaccines that theoretically could save the lives of several million children over the next decade, but efforts to get them to the poor countries that need them most are lagging.
(Washington Post)

Woman Meets Man who Received Her Son’s Heart

Two years after her son was shot to death, Mary Price listened to his beating heart.

Radiologists Use Lights, Films to Soothe Children

Three-year old Jack Law used to be so nervous when he went to hospital for regular scans he had to be sedated, only coming round several hours later. This time it was different, and a lot quicker.

Testing Drugs on India’s Poor

India has been the focus of medical research since the time when sunburned men with pith helmets and degrees from prestigious European medical schools came to catalog tropical illnesses. The days of the Raj are long gone, but multinational corporations are riding high on the trend toward globalization by taking advantage of India’s educated work force and deep poverty to turn South Asia into the world’s largest clinical-testing petri dish.

California: State Urged to Embrace the Tiniest Science — Nanotech

California must move fast if it is to be a world leader in exploiting the next Gold Rush — nanotechnology, the science of incredibly small machinery and molecules with a wide range of industrial, medical and environmental applications — according to a report to be made public.
(San Francisco Chronicle)

Health Care for All, Just a (Big) Step Away

YOU may find it shameful that some 45 million Americans lack health insurance. Well, by reallocating money already devoted to health insurance, the government could go along way toward solving the problem. But you may not like the solution.
(New York Times)

December 16, 2005

Kathryn Jean Lopez on Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act

National Review Online

In May the House of Representatives passed the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act by a vote of 431-1. Wait! Don’t go anywhere! Even if your eyes glaze over at the embryonic-stem-cell-research debate, this vote was different. There are no ethical problems, controversies, or confusions about it, hence the one-sided vote-count. So pay attention.


Bioethics & Health News

December 16, 2005

Go-Ahead for First Full Face Transplants

British surgeons are preparing to carry out an unprecedented full face transplant operation next year after being granted ethical approval to actively seek patients. The 30-strong team headed by Peter Butler, a leading plastic surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London, was given the go-ahead by the hospital’s bioethics committee yesterday. The announcement follows the partial face transplant in France last month of a woman whose face was mutilated by a dog
(The Guardian)

Nurses Face Harassment From Patients

Nurse Sarah Andres is so used to male patients calling her “sweetie” or “cutie” – or even asking her for a kiss – that it rarely upsets her anymore.

South Korean Cloning Expert Hits Back

South Korean cloning expert Hwang Woo-suk has stood by his apparently breakthrough research, despite claims some of the results were fabricated.

Scandal for Cloning Embryos: A Tragic Turn’ for Science

Last May, a stunning research paper in Science, one of the world’s most respected scientific journals, instantly changed the tenor of the debate over cloning human embryos and extracting their stem cells. A team of South Korean scientists reported in the paper that they had figured out how to do this work so efficiently that the great hope of researchers and patients – to obtain stem cells that were an exact match of a patient’s – seemed easily within sight.
(New York Times)

Study: Key Hormone Therapy Trial was Flawed

A 2002 study showing that hormone replacement therapy raises the risk of heart disease and breast cancer — scaring many women away from the drugs –was fundamentally flawed, according to new research.

Drugs as Effective as Surgery for Chronic Reflux

A new review of available data has good news for the estimated 60 million Americans with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), concluding that drugs can be just as effective as surgery in managing disease symptoms.

EPA Fines DuPont $16.5M for Teflon Cover-Up

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday ordered chemicals giant DuPont to pay a record $16.5 million in penalties for withholding health safety data on toxins linked to its lucrative Teflon group of non-stick, stain-resistant compounds.

Studies: One Embryo Works as Well as Two for IVF

Using a single embryo for in-vitro fertilization is just as likely to result in a successful pregnancy as transferring two embryos, while reducing the chance of a higher-risk twin conception, according to research.

Drug Duo: New Hope in Cancer Fight

Patty Holtz has been battling her cancer for 15 years. Now she’s confident that a one-two punch has knocked it out for good. An experimental two-drug combination has made it possible for Holtz to receive a successful transplant of her own stem cells after a previous attempt had failed.
(Kansas City Star)

Study: Eye Cell Implants May Ease Parkinson’s

People with Parkinson’s disease showed marked improvement after surgeons implanted in their brains chemical-producing cells taken from the eye of a dead donor, researchers said.

December 15, 2005

Bioethics & Health News
December 15

Doctor: Cloning Pioneer Withdrawing Paper

A doctor who provided human eggs for research by cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-suk said in a broadcast Thursday that the South Korean scientist agreed to withdraw a key research paper because most of the stem cells produced for the article were faked.

Adult Stem Cells ‘Fusion Hope’

Scientists believe adult stem cells may be more flexible than first thought.

A Push for a Federal Focus on Men’s Health

Frank Greenhalgh admits he had a problem. “I’m 68 years old and in pretty good health now, but I abused my health a lot in the past as far as overeating and drinking too much,” he says. “At 50, though, I would never have gone to see a doctor.”

The Face of the Future

AS she waited for her pedicure at Just Calm Down, a day spa in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, Vicki Murray, a 30-year-old homemaker, found herself engaged in heated debate about extreme plastic surgery.
(New York Times)

Vaccinating Bone Marrow Donor Helps Protect Recipient

Giving a pre-transplant vaccine to bone marrow donors could help safeguard bone marrow transplant recipients from deadly pneumonia, say researchers at City of Hope Cancer Center in California.

China Reports Sixth Human Case of Bird Flu

China on Thursday reported its sixth human case of bird flu and a new outbreak in a flock of ducks.

South Korean Cell Scientist Faked Results According to Collaborator

South Korea’s most renowned stem cell scientist fabricated key parts of a ground-breaking paper and is seeking to have the work withdrawn, a close collaborator told South Korean media on Thursday.


December 14, 2005

Bioethics & Health News
December 14

Face Transplant Gives Hope to Disfigured

When doctors decide to perform the world’s second face transplant, burn victims just might be among the first to volunteer. Burn survivors “love the idea,” said Bernhard Heitz, who suffered extensive disfiguring burns to his face and body in a 1997 plane crash and is now president the World Burn Foundation, a support group.

American Co-Author Wants His Name Off Stem Cell Paper

After several days of serious accusations about the validity of a prominent article on the cloning of human cells, the senior author, Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, has asked for his name to be removed as co-author, the editors of the journal Science said yesterday.
(New York Times)

Women ‘Head to UK for Birth Care’

A BBC investigation has found a growing number of women from overseas are travelling to Britain to give birth in NHS hospitals.

Slow Progress in Boosting U.S. Patient Safety

Although there have been some gains in the area of patient safety, there’s still plenty of room for improvement, a new study finds.

Study: Fiber Diet Doesn’t Cut Colon Cancer Risk

Eating lots of fiber does not lower a person’s risk of developing colon cancer, but it is a good idea to consume fiber-rich fruits and vegetables anyway for your heart and overall health, a study said Tuesday.

Experts to Create Genetic Map of Cancer

Cancer is a disease of genes run amok, and scientists have found only a fraction of the bad actors. Tuesday, the government unveiled a $100 million project to speed discovery of culprits and cures, the first step toward a comprehensive map of cancer’s genetic makeup.

December 13, 2005

Grand Rounds

Derek Lowe, a chemist working in pharmaceutical research, hosts this week’s edition of Grand Rounds.

Bioethics & Health News
December 13

NIH to Study Genetic Makeup of Cancer

If all the ways genes run amok to cause cancer were laid out in a dictionary, scientists would be able to decipher only a small part of the first page. Hoping to change that, the government is set to begin a $100 million pilot project to unravel the genetic makeup of cancer, with the idea of speeding the discovery of culprits and treatments that today is largely a matter of scientific luck.

Parkinson’s Hope Over ‘Implants’

US scientists have moved a step closer to developing a brain implant therapy for Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

Gene-Therapy Tried for Parkinson’s

Mike Castle lay motionless as surgeons drilled two holes into his skull and injected a virus deep into his brain. The virus carries a gene and a tantalizing hope: that just maybe it could stall the Parkinson’s disease slowly crippling him.

Environment and Cancer: The Links Are Elusive

When Mike Gallo learned he had cancer, a B cell lymphoma, two years ago, his friends and relatives told him that they knew how he got it.
(New York Times)

Study: Epilepsy Surgery Eases Depression, Anxiety

Epilepsy surgery can significantly improve the depression and anxiety that are common among people whose epilepsy can’t be controlled by medication, a new study finds.

Charity Getting Drugs to the Needy

Nearly everyone has a packet of paracetamol or Lemsip in their cupboards to help ward off headaches, sore throats and the flu.

December 12, 2005

Latest on the South Korean Cloning Scandal

South Korea’s Hwang Returns to Hospital
(The Associated Press)

South Korean stem cell pioneer Hwang Woo-Suk briefly left a hospital Monday and made a tearful return to work after being treated for extreme stress brought on by an ethics scandal over his groundbreaking research. By the end of the day, however, Hwang had returned to the hospital for unspecified reasons, said Seoul National University spokesman Lim Jong-pil. He had been hospitalized since Wednesday, and it wasn’t immediately known how long he would stay.

The university, where Hwang works, also launched an investigation into the controversy over the veracity of his work.


Bioethics & Health News
December 12

Should Bias Be Treated as a Mental Illness?

The 48-year-old man turned down a job because he feared that a co-worker would be gay. He was upset that gay culture was becoming mainstream and blamed most of his personal, professional and emotional problems on the gay and lesbian movement.
(Washington Post)

FDA Issues Alert on Study of Abbott Antibiotic

U.S. regulators alerted the public on Friday to a study showing a higher death rate among heart disease patients a year after taking an Abbott Laboratories Inc. antibiotic, as part of an effort to release early information about potential safety concerns.

Are U.S. Health Experts Inflating Flu Statistics?

A Harvard grad student is charging that the U.S. government is hyping the threat of the annual (non-avian) strains of influenza. Specifically, Peter Doshi says, the estimate of 36,000 flu-related deaths a year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is unsupported by the available data.

After a Decade, Lasik Surgery Still a Luxury

Christopher Tomes, 43, opened his eyes one morning, looked out the window and could read the license plate of a parked car — without his glasses.

Abortion ‘Leaves Mental Legacy’

An abortion can cause five years of mental anguish, anxiety, guilt and even shame, a BMC Medicine study suggests.

Fewer Breast Cancer Patients to Get Chemo

For years, doctors have known exactly what to do with breast cancer patients like Eva Ossorio: Poison them. Blasting women with toxic chemicals was considered the best way to save their lives. The bigger the cancer or the more it had spread, the more vile liquid doctors pumped into their veins to try to kill it. But there’s been a sea change in the last year.

December 10, 2005

CBHD Welcomes President’s Bioethics Council Focus on Human Dignity

The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity (CBHD) welcomes the President’s Council on Bioethics’ renewed focus on human dignity, the central concept in bioethics.


December 9, 2005

President’s Council on Bioethics to Discuss Human Dignity

According to the published schedule, The President’s Council on Bioethics is today hearing a presentation on “Human Dignity as a Bioethical Concept,” and will be discussing a Staff Working Paper on “Bioethics and Human Dignity.”


The Bioethics Poll
Should individuals and/or institutions be allowed to patent human genes?
Yes, with some qualifications

View results

Which area of research should more money be invested in:
Animal-Human Hybrids
Gene Therapy
Reproductive Technology
Stem Cell Research
"Therapeutic" Cloning
None of the above

View results

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