Stem cell shenanigans by a Casanova in the Karolinska

Paolo Macchiarini   

Is there something about stem cells which provokes highly competent scientists into grandstanding and fraud? In the latest scandal the Karolinska Institute (KI) in Stockholm has declared that it has “lost confidence” in celebrity surgeon Paolo Macchiarini.

Macchiarini became a medical star after creating tracheas for patients with stem cells seeded on a biological and synthetic scaffold. It seems little short of miraculous, to judge from media reports. However, it has emerged that his research papers did not disclose the sometimes-disastrous outcomes of the operations and that he may not have informed his patients of the risks of the surgery. Several of them have died.

He was cleared of scientific misconduct in Sweden last year after an investigation by the vice-chancellor of the Karolinska Institute. In the meantime, Macchiarini had shifted his work to Russia where another of his patients… click here to read whole article and make comments

Preparing for medicine with artificial gametes

Foreseeing bioethical problems is one responsibility of the UK think tank, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. It has just released three background papers on increased lifespan, dual use in biology and biomedicine, and artificial gametes.

The last of these is particularly interesting, in view of the hubbub over the rapid advances in gene editing, which could accelerate research in this field. Artificial gametes are eggs and sperm produced from other cells. There has been some success with creating them for mice, but not with humans -- yet. Success is probably many years away. But as the authors point out, the time to prepare is now.

Written by Anna Smajdor, of the University of East Anglia and Daniela Cutas, of Umeå University, in Sweden. the white paper is “necessarily speculative” and does not recommend specific policies. But it does outline some of the opportunities… click here to read whole article and make comments

Another euthanasia scandal in Belgium

Tine Nys (centre) with her sisters  

Another euthanasia scandal in Belgium. Two sisters have complained on a television program, Terzake, about the euthanasia of their sister in April 2010. Tine Nys was 37 at the time and had broken up with her live-in boyfriend. On Christmas Eve 2009 she announced that she was going to be euthanased.

What horrified her sisters, Lotte and Sophie, was the callousness of the doctors involved and how little interest they had in persuading her to live. They described it to the Terzake journalist as an act of “perverse” cruelty.

Belgium’s euthanasia law allows people to request euthanasia if they have unbearable psychological suffering. Tine was diagnosed with autism. The sickness from which euthanasia candidates are suffering is supposed to be incurable, but the doctors made no effort to treat her.

The day of her death… click here to read whole article and make comments

LA doctor gets 30 years for prescribing pain killers to addicts

Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng   

A Los Angeles doctor has been sentenced to 30 years in jail for prescribing painkillers to drug addicts. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, 46, was convicted last year of the deaths of three people.

At the trial the prosecutor declared that Tseng had ignored warnings from police and the coroner and failed to change her prescribing habits even after the deaths of her patients. Her motivation was said to be money.

The larger issue is whether this case will have a deterrent effect upon how American doctors treat pain. According to the Los Angeles Times, some experts fear that Tseng’s conviction make doctors fearful of prosecution and hesitant to prescribe potent but necessary painkillers.

"The doctors are scared out of their minds," Tseng’s attorney told the LA Times. "The pendulum has swung so far. The people who need [pain medication] can't… click here to read whole article and make comments

US military to offer sperm and egg storage

As part of its effort to make the US Department of Defense a more “family-friendly employer”, Secretary Ashton Carter has announced that the military will pay for storing eggs and sperm for its troops, as well as for more IVF treatment.

Women soldiers are at risk of missing out on their peak reproductive years by taking up a career in the military and men in combat risk damage to their reproductive organs. At a press conference at which he outlined measures ranging from creating 3,600 breast-feeding rooms to more IVF clinics, Carter explained the new policy on gamete storage:

"We can help our men and women preserve their ability to start a family, even if they suffer certain combat injuries. That's why we will cover the cost of freezing sperm or eggs through a pilot program for active duty service members -- a benefit… click here to read whole article and make comments

Zika, birth control and free abortion pills

As concern mounts about the spread of the Zika virus, groups around the world are suggesting radical measures for North and South America.

Perhaps the most extreme response has been from abortion activist Rebecca Gomperts, the founder and director of Women on Web. Gomperts’ organisation is offering women infected with Zika free abortion pills, apparently to halt the rush toward unsafe termination of pregnancy.

“The Zika virus is now spreading to most of the countries where abortion is very restricted,” Gomperts told AFP.

“We really care about women's health and lives and we want to make sure that women have access to a good medical abortion.”

Zika is thought to cause microcephaly, a rare birth defect, although the link is yet to be scientifically proven.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil save a few exceptions, and government authorities intercept abortifacients being shipped into the country. Gomperts is calling on the… click here to read whole article and make comments

Three parent babies – but only males

The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has recommended that US government allow mitochondrial DNA transfer in male embryos. The Academy made the recommendation in report issued last week, entitled Mitochondrial Replacement Techniques: Ethical, Social, and Policy Considerations.

The report’s authors recognize the ethical complexities of the procedure, which was approved by the UK Parliament last year, but nevertheless suggest that the DNA alterations involved are minimal enough to make it ethically permissible. As stated in the abstract:

“...While significant ethical, social, and policy considerations are associated with MRT, the most germane of these issues can be avoided through limitations on the use of MRT or are blunted by meaningful differences between the heritable genetic modification introduced by MRT and heritable genetic modification of nDNA. Therefore, the committee concluded that it is ethically permissible to conduct clinical investigations of MRT.”

Oddly enough, the report argues that the procedure should be limited to male embryos. The authors… click here to read whole article and make comments

Green light for UK CRISPR embryo research

Developmental biologist Kathy Niakan has received permission from the UK Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to edit the genome of human embryos using the new CRISPR technology.

The HFEA, which grants licenses for experimentation on embryos, sperm and eggs in the UK,  approved the research at a license committee meeting on January 14.

Niakan, a researcher at the Francis Crick Institute in London, plans to investigate the genetic make-up needed for an embryo to develop into a healthy baby.

"The reason why it is so important is because miscarriages and infertility are extremely common, but they're not very well understood”, she told the BBC.

The UK has now become the first nation in the world to consider and approve the DNA-altering technique in embryos.

Some scientists lauded the announcement. Peter Braude, an emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynecology at King’s College London, said that he was… click here to read whole article and make comments

Bioethics and royalty

A Belgian court has granted Delphine Boel, a 46-year-old artist currently living in the UK, the right to seek legal recognition of her alleged royal parentage, in a landmark decision that has brought Belgium’s paternity legislation into question.

Boel claims that she is the biological daughter of former Belgian King Albert II, who is said to have had an affair with Boel’s mother, Ms. Sibylle de Selys Longchamps, in the late 1970s.

Boel petitioned a top court in Brussels in 2013 to revoke the official paternity of her legal father, Jacques Boel, a billionaire who disinherited her. Technically she is too old to do this, yet after the case was referred to Belgium’s constitutional court the existing legislation was overruled. The court ruled as unconstitutional the relevant legal stipulations. Under existing law a person needs to be younger than 22 (or within a year of becoming… click here to read whole article and make comments

Euthanasia continues to rise in Belgium

The number of euthanasia cases annually in Belgium has exceeded two thousand for the first time since the controversial practice was legalised in 2002.

The new statistics, released by Belgium’s Federal Evaluation and Control Commission for Euthanasia, put the total of recorded cases in 2015 at 2021 (a rise of over 100 cases from 2014).

The figures have steadily increased since 2002, totalling over 1000 annually for the first time in 2011 (1133), and then rising dramatically in 2013 and 2014 (1816 and 1924 respectively).

Wim Distelmans, the head of the commission, attributes the surge to an increase in the reporting of euthanasia by doctors. 

Belgium extended the scope of its law in 2014 to allow euthanasia for minors of any age suffering from incurable diseases if they were capable of making a rational decision about their fate. Distelmans says the commission is yet to receive… click here to read whole article and make comments

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