September
19
 

IN BRIEF: Dignitas; Vatican

Dignitas: Four Britons have ended their lives in Switzerland, with the help of the Zurich's Dignitas clinic, in the past six weeks. So far, 54 people from the UK have died there. The head of Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) said that she was shocked and saddened by these deaths in a distant country, but the ultimate cause was the UK's failure to legalise assisted suicide. click here to read whole article and make comments



 
September
12
 

VEGETATIVE PATIENTS MAY HAVE AWARENESS

Severely brain-damaged and apparently unresponsive patients may be conscious, British researchers have discovered. In a startling study published in the journal Science, brain imaging techniques detected clear signs of awareness in a woman who was in a vegetative state after a motor vehicle accident. When she was asked to imagine herself playing tennis and walking through her house, the motor control areas of her brain flared up. "If you put her scans together with the other 12 volunteers tested, you cannot tell which is the patient's," Dr Adrian Owen, of the UK Medical Research Council, told the New York Times.

Scientists are divided on the significance of these findings. First of all, most experts told the media that this woman's injuries were far less severe than Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who died last year. Wary of arousing false hopes of recovery amongst relatives, they stressed that they could not generalise from a single intriguing case. Dr Nicholas… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
September
12
 

STEM CELL COMPANY HAMMERED FOR MISRESPRESENTATION

 A company accused of misleading the media and the public with claims of creating "ethical" embryonic stem cells was hammered by politicians, the media and bioethicists this week. Journalists who probed the credentials of Advanced Cell Technology found that its share price spiked 500% in two days in the wake of the publication of a paper in the prestigious journal Nature. The company also announced that had raised US$13.5 million from its existing investors.

The controversy prompted Robert Bazell, the chief science and health correspondent of NBC News, to write: "In the world of biotechnology, hype and hyperbole are the norms. Most companies lack products so they are constantly scrounging for money to stay in business. There is a saying in biotech that before companies have something to sell 'news flow drives valuations'. So headlines, even if the claims prove groundless, can push up the stock price long enough -- or nudge deals forward -- to keep the company… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
September
12
 

THE LAST FRONTIER IN PRISON REFORM?

A campaigner for prisoners' welfare in the UK has called for voluntary euthanasia for prisoners. Mark Leech, a former prisoner and the editor of the Prisons Handbook, was commenting on the attempted suicide of child murderer Ian Huntley in a British jail.

Mr Leech said that he would favour a system of assisted suicide like the one offered by the Swiss organisation Dignitas in Zurich. "There will have to be checks and balances. I would like to see a high court judge involved. The court would have to be convinced he knew exactly what he was doing, that his mental state was fine, his decision was irreversible, that this was his life and this was what he wanted to do," he said. "We have one life, it is our own life and prisoners should be able to end it with dignity if that is what they want."

Although voluntary euthanasia for prisoners is not a popular cause,… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
September
12
 

ARE WOMB TRANSPLANTS AROUND THE CORNER?

A British doctor has claimed that his team is only two years away from being able to transplant a womb so that women who lack a uterus can have the experience of having children. Dr Richard Smith, of Hammersmith Hospital, says that the transplant would be temporary, as otherwise the woman would be obliged to take immunosuppressant drugs to prevent rejection of the uterus for the rest of her life. This is not a new idea, but up to now, it has not succeeded. In 2002, doctors in Saudi Arabia carried out a womb transplant, but its blood supply failed.

Although this news may have given heart to the 15,000 women in Britain who lack a uterus, the science editor for the London Times, Mark Henderson, derided it as "junk science". "Bold predictions about experimental medical technologies are always best handled with care," he said. "They often suit both journalists and scientists, who can enter into a kind of tacit… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
September
12
 

FREEZE EGGS FOR POST-CAREER MOTHERHOOD, SAYS FERTILITY EXPERT

A fertility expert in the UK has urged career women to freeze their eggs if they want to have children later in life. Dr Gillian Lockwood, of Midland Fertility Services, one of the few clinics in the UK to offer egg freezing facilities, says that if women in their 30s set eggs aside, it will be easier for them to conceive later on.

The older you are, the more difficult it becomes to get pregnant and the greater the chance of a miscarriage or abnormality," she told the London Times. "It's the age of the egg, not the age of the womb, which determines the miscarriage rate. Women in their thirties should be encouraged to consider freezing their eggs," she said.

"The last thing I want to do is to discourage any young woman who wants to be a mother from starting a family because she thinks technology will save her," she said. "But it's important that she knows this… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
September
12
 

ANOTHER SOURCE OF ETHICAL STEM CELLS

Another promising method of producing embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos is being studied at Michigan State University. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Jos? Cibelli says that his team has identified 66 genes which may be responsible for reprogramming an adult cell in the cloning process.

When an adult cell is fused with an egg, the egg somehow manages to shut down the genes which specify it as a certain kind of tissue. Then it activates the genes which turn the cell into an embryo. What Cibelli is searching for is a way of creating stem cells by reintroducing these genes into cells of normal tissue. This would make it unnecessary to obtain eggs for the cloning process or to destroy embryos. Cibelli used to work with the controversial company Advanced Cell Technology, but left the company several years ago to work in Michigan. click here to read whole article and make comments




 
September
12
 

STEM CELLS MAY BE USEFUL IN DRUG TESTING

Human embryonic stem cells could be ideal for drug testing, say Israeli scientists. Karl Skorecki and Maty Tzukerman, of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, have found that injecting them into the hind legs of lab mice provides a platform for testing anti-cancer drugs in human tissue. In a study published in the April issue of Cancer Research, they described how the cells developed -- as expected -- into teratomas. Then they injected lab-grown cancer cells into the teratoma and these spread through the human tissue. They have already found one drug which is effective in cancers in ordinary mice, but not on the mice with human tissue.

Since a teratoma contains the entire "panoply of human cell types in a semi-organised fashion", a range of drugs can be tested, days Dr Skorecki. "There are many uses of human embryonic stem cells as an experimental platform without ever injecting them into a human being," he said. "This is just one example."… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
September
12
 

DISCARDING IVF EMBRYOS

We're not sure whether supporters or opponents of IVF and stem cell research will find this brief video useful. Perhaps both.
  

IN BRIEF: Israel; stem cells in sports

Israel: The Israeli ministry of health has authorised IVF for a lesbian couple in which one of the partners will serve as a surrogate mother for an embryo created with her partner's egg and donated sperm. The couple, who have been together for more than 10 years, said that they were creating a child common to both of them for "ideological reasons". The ministry said that its decision did not constitute a precedent and that future requests from lesbian couples would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. click here to read whole article and make comments


 
September
05
 

FURORE OVER MASSACHUSETTS STEM CELL LAW

Massachusetts voters must have thought that their politicians' bunfight over human embryonic stem cells was past history. Last year, overriding Governor Mitt Romney's veto, the legislature legalised therapeutic cloning; researchers at Harvard University's stem cell institute were elated. However, Romney, who is said to be courting conservative voters ahead of a tilt at the Presidency in 2008, still had a trick or two up his sleeve. A body stacked with his appointees, the Public Health Council, has issued regulations which criminalise a procedure which might come in handy if therapeutic cloning stalls.

Legislators were outraged. House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi said that the regulations "clearly fly in the face of both the law as passed and legislative intent". The Lieutenant Governor's spokesman said that "it is a mistake to impose regulations that could have a chilling effect on those individuals at the forefront of this emerging field".

What was all the fuss about, Massachusetts voters might ask. After… click here to read whole article and make comments




 

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 from the editor: Pointed Remarks
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