August
15
 

JAPANESE SCIENTISTS TURN ADULT CELLS INTO EMBRYONIC CELLS

Japanese scientists may be on the track of one of the great dreams of regenerative medicine: making an adult cell revert into an embryonic stem cell. If their results are confirmed and if the technique also works with human cells, it could defuse the bitter ethical and political debate about embryo research. Shinya Yamanaka and Kazutoshi Takahashi, of Kyoto University, found that four factors, or genes, turned the adult cells into cells which behave like embryonic stem cells. These passed the basic ID test: when injected under the skin of healthy mice, they formed teratomas, or tumours from the three germ layers of the body. Up to now it has been thought impossible to create an embryonic stem cell without resorting to cloning.

Yamanaka and Takahashi's work is still preliminary, of course. An American cloning expert, Robert Lanza, says that the experiment was exciting, but inconclusive. It required serious genetic modification of the cells, which could lead to cancers at… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
15
 

BAN HYBRIDS, SAYS SCOTTISH THINK TANK

Mixing animal and human material to create hybrids should be banned, says the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics. ""Most people are not aware that these kinds of experiments have been taking place in the UK and find it deeply offensive," says Dr Calum MacKellar, the SCHB's director of research. "Parliament should follow France and Germany and prohibit the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos." However, the scientist who cloned Dolly robustly defended the use of hybrid embryos. "By casting a negative light on a number of important research opportunities, this report may limit medical progress," says Dr Ian Wilmut.

Hybrids have been created in several experiments around the world over the past few years, but the SCBH questions their scientific merit. It warns that creating embryonic stem cells from the enucleated eggs of cows or rabbits filled with genetic material from a human cell poses "profound medical risks" and, in any case, would yield hard-to-interpret results.

Hybrids are far from fanciful,… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
15
 

DRUG SHORTAGE SLOWS BELGIAN EUTHANASIA

While doctors in the US worry about a shortage of flu vaccines in next winter, Belgian doctors are fretting about a shortage of a different drug ? Pentothal, the lethal concoction used in Belgium's legal euthanasia cases. Because US pharmaceutical giant Abbott passed the production of the drug to its spin-off company Hospira, there have been some bureaucratic delays. Now it appears that it could be three months before supplies are restored. On average there are about 30 registered euthanasia deaths in Belgium every month, all using Pentothal. According to Expatica News, another 30 are unregistered. "That means," says Expatica, "that up to 180 people who wish to die a dignified death in coming months could denied the chance, unless normal Pentothal supplies can be restored or the drug is supplied from abroad." click here to read whole article and make comments



 
August
15
 

Modern mummies draw crowds and criticism

The fiercely competitive industry of exhibiting skinless, mummified human bodies in grotesque poses at commercial exhibitions hit a speed bump last month. The Chinese government banned the purchase or sale of human bodies and restricted the import or export of human specimens, unless they are for research. This could affect the fortunes of Premier Exhibitions, an American company which imports preserved bodies from China for its shows around the world. It is competing with the exhibitions pioneered by Dr Gunther von Hagens whose specimens have drawn 20 million people.

Public interest in the grotesque shows has apparently spurred a murky mini-industry in China. The bodies displayed by Premier Exhibitions are created by Dalian Medical University of Plastination Laboratories, according to its website. Where the bodies come from remains unclear despite protestations from Premier Exhibitions that it uses only unclaimed Chinese bodies given to medical schools by police. Human rights groups allege that the bodies of executed prisoners and the mentally… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
15
 

IN BRIEF: right to live; Iranian clones; research fraud in China

RIGHT TO LIVE CASE: A terminally-ill British man has lost his legal battle to ensure that he will receive nutrition and water when he is close to death. Leslie Burke, 46, has a degenerative brain condition and fears that he will be refused artificial nutrition and hydration when his condition worsens. The Court of Appeal in London ruled against him last year and now the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has also declined his appeal. The Court said that it interpreted the UK law as being in favour of prolonging life whenever possible. click here to read whole article and make comments



 
August
08
 

MAIL ORDER EMBRYOS

From Texas, the state where Michael Dell pioneered custom-built computers, come custom-built embryos. Commercialisation of the IVF process has achieved a new milestone with the world's first embryo bank at an innovative adoption agency in San Antonio. The allows people to order custom-made embryos and have them shipped to an IVF clinic for implantation.

The embryos are created with the eggs and sperm of rigorously screened, "qualified" donors who have never met each other. Conception occurs as the embryo bank fills its orders. Customers can even specify the eye and hair colour that they would like their baby to have.

Jennalee Ryan, the director, says that her program is superior to both normal adoption and "adopting" surplus embryos in IVF clinics. Babies offered for adoption tend to come from lower class women, she says, who often have a history of drug or alcohol abuse. IVF embryos come from couples with fertility problems and the pregnancy rate is,… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
08
 

PRESSURE MAINTAINED FOR AUSTRALIAN THERAPEUTIC CLONING

 Australian supporters of therapeutic cloning are pressing for a conscience vote in Federal Parliament despite opposition from Prime Minister John Howard and some prominent colleagues. Opponents had hoped that Howard would stop the push at a meeting of MPs from the governing coalition at the beginning of the new session. However, he left the matter unresolved and told MPs that he would hold a meeting to discuss the issue in a couple of weeks.

The influential health minister, Tony Abbott, says there must be limits on what scientists are allowed to do. "In my view, therapeutic cloning, so called, is a bridge too far," . He predicted a slippery slope: that scientists would eventually call for an extension of time for growing embryos in the lab. "In a few years time, they would be saying, let's let it go for 30 days. And a few years beyond that, we would have scientists of high standing telling us that we… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
08
 

CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION GROWS IN THE US

Conscientious objection is becoming more and more prominent in bioethical discussion, according to an article in the Washington Post. Growing religious fervour and the introduction of controversial new medical technologies are beginning to collide. "This issue is the San Andreas Fault of our culture," said Gene Rudd of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. "How we decide this is going to have a long-lasting impact on our society."

Most conflicts are handled discretely, but often an explosive confrontation is possible, either because health care workers feel that they are being forced to act against deeply-held values or because they chafe under restrictions in a morally conservative institution.

Supporters of conscientious objection compare their view to conscientious objections to the Vietnam War and the recent refusal of anaesthetists in California to participate in executions. "Why is it that some people would have no compunction in forcing a doctor to participate in an abortion, but if it's painful death by lethal injection,… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
08
 

NIP AND TUCK IN BRAZIL

Brazilian cosmetic surgeons have become world leaders in reducing the size of bellies and buttocks, says a report in the UK Guardian about the biannual meeting of the International Society of Aesthetic Surgery. There are 4,000 cosmetic surgeons in Brazil working in this lucrative industry, not far behind the US, which has 5,000. Although no figures are available on the size of the market, it is probably not far behind the US$12.4 billion spent in the US. As in other countries, it is no longer a taboo subject -- celebrities talk openly about their operations and several glossy magazines are dedicated to the topic.

Surgeons explain that Brazilian society is particularly congenial to their trade. "Brazilians have a much greater ease in seeking out plastic surgery," says the outgoing president of ISAPS. "It is a tropical country, where people enjoy exposing their bodies. This helps stimulate people to have surgery." New, less invasive techniques offered by walk-in clinics are making… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
August
08
 

IS THERE A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO EXPERIMENTAL DRUGS?

Doctors and drug companies in the US fear that the nation's elaborate system for trialing new drugs could break down if an unexpected court decision is upheld. In May the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled that patients with life-threatening diseases have a constitutional right to drugs whose efficacy is still in doubt.

"It's a huge, huge, devastating decision," William Schultz, a former deputy commissioner for policy at the US Food and Drug Administration told the New England Journal of Medicine. "It would be very hard to figure out which drugs work," says Schultz; the incentive for conducting clinical trials "would seriously diminish"; and permitting companies to market drugs without evidence of efficacy would create "massive opportunity for fraud, involving people who are very sick and very desperate."

The other side of the question is the right of patients who may die anyway to grasp at the straw of extending their lives. "Dying people ought to have… click here to read whole article and make comments




 

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