A dog’s life

Drug giant Pfizer has the answer to a global epidemic of obesity, a drug called Slentrol which decreases appetite. But the drug is not meant for you, but for your dog. Apparently, between 25% and 40% of canines in the US and Europe are overweight or obese; in the US alone, there are 17 million fat dogs. "By helping dog owners think about their dog's lifestyle, we are hoping to lessen the prevalence of this serious medical condition so dogs can live healthier, more active lives," says George Fennell, of Pfizer's US Companion Animal Division. With Slentrol costing about US$2 a day, there is a huge potential demand for the product. Pfizer is currently introducing it in Europe after launching it in the US last year. And Slentrol is just one drug amongst many. According to a survey of the pet industry in Business Week last year, Americans spend… click here to read whole article and make comments





Marriage of unwitting twins sparks IVF debate

The marriage of British twins separated at birth has startled the UK and raised fears of unwitting incest due to anonymous egg and sperm donors. The case was disclosed by Lord Alton during a debate in the House of Lords on new fertility legislation. Their marriage was quietly annulled last year, with a judge ruling that it had never existed. They had met as adults and felt "an irresistible attraction". Lord Alton used the case to argue that that birth certificates should be changed to include information on both genetic parents, as well as whether or not the child was conceived by a sperm donor. He described anything less as a violation of human rights: "The state is colluding in a deception. We are opening the door to more cases like this one."

The tragic case highlighted the growing possibility of unwitting incest in the population, now that as many as one child in 25 is born through IVF in… click here to read whole article and make comments





Organs from prisoners: an idea worth considering?

Shortages of kidneys, lungs and livers for sick and dying patients have prompted discussion of several solutions. These include the standard donation after brain death, but also donation after cardiac death, shared organ exchanges and a market in organs. Now an article in an Australian publication, Internal Medicine Journal suggests that another promising source should be investigated: organs from executed prisoners.

Although this is common in China, where at least 5,000 organs are obtained each year, including up to 90% of transplanted kidneys, and permissible in Singapore, in other countries it is a taboo topic. In 2006, for instance, two Australian hospitals refused to train Chinese transplant surgeons because they feared that the doctors might transplant organs from Falun Gong prisoners. But even in countries where capital punishment is banned, the debate is still relevant, as Chinese hospitals market transplant surgery overseas.  

Is this taboo sensible? The authors… click here to read whole article and make comments





British PM backs opt-out organ donation

An opt-out system for organ donation has been strongly backed by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. In an op-ed in the London Telegraph, he says that he wants to launch a debate about the best way to make organs available in a “more compassionate Britain”. He favours a system like Spain’s which presumes the consent of the donor while leaving the final decision with his or her family. “A system of this kind seems to have the potential to close the aching gap between the potential benefits of transplant surgery and the limits imposed by our current [opt-in] system of consent,” he says.

Mr Brown argues that 90% of Britons are in favour of organ donations, but only 24% are on the organ donor register. Actual donors in the UK are about 13 per million, compared to 22 per million in France, 25 per million in the US and 35 per… click here to read whole article and make comments





Artificial sperm proposed in UK debate over fertility bill

An amendment to a proposed new fertility bill for the UK could legalise the use of artificial sperm and eggs. Critics claim that it would allow lesbian couples to create their own sperm for the production of fatherless babies. The idea was tossed out last year after fathers rights groups, amongst others, objected. However, Lord Patel, an obstetrics expert, made a moving plea on behalf of women who are unable to produce their own eggs. Now the government whip, Lady Royall, says that the Government may reintroduce the plan when the Bill returns to the House of Commons.

A potentially even more radical amendment is being promoted by a group of leading UK scientific organisations. They want to “future proof” the legislation by making it easier to move from research to clinical applications. At the moment the regulator -- the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority -- can only license research, not… click here to read whole article and make comments





Governments pondering penalties for unhealthy lifestyles

The UK and Germany are taking preventative health care seriously. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is defending himself against reports that treatment would be withheld from people who lead “unhealthy” lifestyles. The controversy was sparked by a letter to the staff of the National Health Service from Mr Brown to congratulate them on its 60th anniversary. He foreshadowed a bill of rights for NHS patients which would spell out both their rights and their responsibilities. A spokeswoman for Mr Brown said that she wanted to make “very, very clear” that people would not be punished for their bad habits.

And in Germany, an attempt has failed to impose financial penalties upon patients who do not follow their doctor’s advice. The plan was abandoned after protests from doctors and patient groups who said that it would destroy the patient-doctor relationship. Under a compromise reached before Christmas, patients with chronic disease will only be… click here to read whole article and make comments





British activists call for creation of deaf embryos

Deaf people should be allowed to create designer deaf embryos, says the head of the Royal National Institute for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People (RNID) in the UK. Although most deaf people would not take advantage of the option, it would be discriminatory not to offer it, says Jackie Ballard, a former Member of Parliament. She was objecting to Clause 14(4)(9) in proposed fertility legislation which would make it illegal for parents to choose an embryo with an abnormality if healthy embryos exist.

Ms Ballard told the Sunday Times, "There is a small minority of activists who say that there is a cultural identity in being born deaf and that we should not destroy that cultural identity by preventing children from being born deaf." She argued that if other parents are allowed to create "designer babies", then deaf people should also be allowed to do so, as well.

But there is… click here to read whole article and make comments





1 million embryos destroyed in UK in 14 years

More than 1 million embryos have been destroyed by British IVF clinics over the past 14 years, according to government figures unearthed at the request of an independent peer in the House of Lords. Figures from the Department of Health show that 2,137,924 embryos were created in the UK between 1991 and 2005, of which 1.2 million were never used. The statistics on the wastage were not readily available and only became public after Lord David Alton of Liverpool tabled a request in the House of Lords. He says that embryos are being destroyed "at an incredible rate".

"IVF has ensured that a number of people have been given a chance to have children," he told the Sunday Times. "But it is surprising how many embryos are being destroyed in the process. This is a rather unexpected aspect of IVF. If you could just create an embryo to implant, that would be… click here to read whole article and make comments





Stem cell wars not over yet, say Harvard scientists

Although stem cell research changed forever after Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka revealed that he had produced pluripotent cells from skin cells in November, some American researchers refuse to give up their work on therapeutic cloning. It’s far too early to jump ship, they say. It would be "A very foolish and maybe tragic bet," says Konrad Hochedlinger, of Massachusetts General Hospital; "folly", says Christopher Scott, of Stanford University; "grossly irresponsible", says Ronald M Green, of Dartmouth College.

Worldwide, fewer than 10 research centres are actively involved in therapeutic cloning. And now, since creating reprogrammed cells and obtaining funding for them are so much easier, labs everywhere are switching over. But at Harvard, reports the Boston Globe, two prominent researchers are sticking with therapeutic cloning.

"For doing basic research on human cells, IPS (induced pluripotent stem cells) as a method has won - it's huge," said Dr. George Q. Daley. "But for the… click here to read whole article and make comments





John Edwards seeks political traction with death of 17-year-old

Nataline SarkisyanThe tragic death of a 17-year-old California girl has become an political football in the American presidential primaries. Democratic hopeful John Edwards brought her grieving parents with him on the campaign trail in New Hampshire and told listeners that she had died because of greed by a health insurance giant, Cigna. Progressive websites have taken up her cause: "Murder By Spreadsheet: CIGNA Denies Claim and 17-Year-Old Will Die," was the headline in the Daily Kos. However, the facts are more complex. Nataline Sarkisyan had been battling leukaemia for three years. She finally had a bone marrow transplant in November, but then her liver failed. Her doctors told her insurer, Cigna HealthCare, that she had a 65% chance of surviving for six months. The hospital was willing to do the transplant, but Cigna refused. After a tsumani of adverse publicity, it relented, but too late: Nataline died on the same day.

The… click here to read whole article and make comments




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