Another advance on the adult stem cell front comes from the University of Dusseldorf, in Germany, where doctors have found that bone marrow stem cells are a big help in dealing with advanced liver cancer. Some patients are unable to undergo surgery because removing a fast-growing cancer would leave them with too little liver to support the body. In this experiment, which was reported in the journal Radiology, six patients underwent a standard treatment, which involves diverting the blood supply from the cancerous part to the healthy part. Seven others had the standard treatment plus an injection of liver stem cells harvested from the patient's own bone marrow.

The result? The addition of the stem cells meant that patients' livers grew twice as fast and that they were able to undergo surgery 18 days earlier. The doctors were elated. "Based on our results, we also believe that adult stem cell administration may be a promising therapy for regenerating livers damaged… click here to read whole article and make comments


Rules for America's organ transplant centres are to be tightened after a series of scandals revealed embarrassing gaps in the national system. If the rules are strictly enforced -- and they have not been in the past -- 64 of about 500 transplant centres could close. Each of these has failed Medicare standards for volume, patient survival or organ survival.

The problem in the US is not a lack of transplant centres, but a lack of organs. A number of specialists strongly believe that there are too many substandard hospitals where too few operations were done to maintain their competence. A crusading Los Angeles Times has blown the whistle on bad programs in California. One, UCI Medical Center in Orange, had to close its liver transplant unit because it did not have a full-time transplant surgeon and people on its waiting list were dying. Kaiser Permanente closed its kidney transplant program in San Francisco because hundreds had been endangered by… click here to read whole article and make comments


While American law is firmly against payment for organs, some states are treading a delicate ethical line by promoting tax breaks for donors' expenses. Virginia is currently considering a law which would authorise an income tax deduction of US$5,000. Wisconsin already grants a $10,000 deduction. The federal government and some states give their employees 30 paid days off work if they donate.

But tax breaks are tantamount to payment, contend some experts, so why not increase the number of donations by offering direct payments? A report last year published by the Washington- based Institute of Medicine, rejected the idea of paying for organs, but backed tax breaks. What's the difference? Tax breaks are a way of removing barriers to donation, not financial compensation, says co-author James DuBois, of St Louis University. click here to read whole article and make comments


 Rats can reflect on their own knowledge, according to scientists at the University of Georgia. This study is the first to show that a non-primate species has metacognition -- a proposal that may well be controversial. "This kind of research may change how we think about cognition and memory in animals," said Associate Professor Jonathon Crystal.

The study involved what is called a "duration-discrimination" test. The rats were offered rewards for classifying a signal as short or long. The right answer led to a large food reward, while a wrong answer led to no reward at all. The twist was that the rats were given the chance to decline the test completely. If they made that choice, they got a small reward anyway.

"If rats have knowledge about whether they know or don't know the answer to the test, we would expect them to decline most frequently on difficult tests," said Crystal. "They would also show the… click here to read whole article and make comments


When deployed to attack euthanasia and abortion, the "sanctity of life" argument is often regarded as a way of smuggling religion into bioethical debates. Now one of the UK's most prominent bioethicists has given it a new twist. Professor John Harris, of the University of Manchester, the joint editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics, contends in the journal Rejuvenation Research that the sanctity of life is "the most important, unambiguous, and widely respected and held moral imperative that we humans respect". He is by no means famed for his religious sense.

Professor Harris, a utilitarian, is using the notion to lobby for extending human life expectancy as long as possible. A few million years would be nice, he feels. In fact, Professor Harris contends that "the moral imperative to save life... is the same as the moral imperative to postpone death".

Harris's argument rests on certain thought-provoking assumptions. As a utilitarian, he believes that doing good is a matter… click here to read whole article and make comments


California could face an epidemic of suicide amongst the elderly, says an article in the Contra Costa Times. Seniors-- especially older white men -- are killing themselves at a higher rate than any other age group. A decline in senior suicides over several decades could soon reverse itself as the baby boomers surge into retirement amid a shortage of mental health services tailored to the aging population, experts warn.

"One of the predictions, certainly, is that this increasingly large cohort, as it reaches older adulthood, will tax the system, leaving more people in distress without enough geriatricians and mental health professionals," said John McIntosh, associate dean of psychology at Indiana University and author of "Suicide and the Older Adult."

"If, on top of what's already the highest risk group, you put gas on the fire, the expectation is it's going to be astronomical."

Euthanasia commentator Wesley J. Smith points out the implications for California's debate over assisted suicide in his… click here to read whole article and make comments


 If you feel that ordinary life has been over-medicalised by rapacious drug companies, you'll find an ally at the website for the drug Havidol. Created by Australian artist Justine Cooper, the fake website advertises medication for a newly recognised disorder, "Dysphoric Social Attention Consumption Deficit Anxiety Disorder" (DSACDAD). "No prescription drug can promise endless happiness," says its blurb. "However given HAVIDOL's track record, and Future PHARMS commitment to perfecting life through chemistry, terminal happiness has become a real possibility."

Ms Cooper is mocking not only the drug industry for pathologising everyday life and creating drugs for imaginary disorders, but also the nagging feeling in a consumer-oriented society that "more is not enough". If they take her drug, patients will report renewed interest in themselves, an increased ability to spend, a return to former self esteem levels and a surge in well-being -- and drinking alcohol is not contra-indicated. However, the drug's information sheet stresses that patients must continue to… click here to read whole article and make comments

IN BRIEF: IVF error; California; FDA; egg advertisement

Wrong sperm: A New York couple is suing a fertility clinic for using the wrong sperm. "While we love Baby Jessica as our own, we are reminded of this terrible mistake each and every time we look at her," Thomas and Nancy Andrews told the court about their darker-skinned daughter. "It is simply impossible to ignore." However, Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam threw out their claim for damages for mental distress. "The birth of an unwanted but otherwise healthy and normal child does not constitute an injury to the child's parents," she wrote. click here to read whole article and make comments


 Why the world's most powerful country has the second-worst infant- mortality rate in the developed world, just pipping Malta and Slovakia, is a puzzle. The usual answer to why so many American babies die before they are one year old is inadequate health care funding. But a paediatrician at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Darshak Sanghavi, has a different idea. He believes that it is "the unintended side effect of increased spending on medical care".

Writing in the on-line magazine Slate, Dr Sanghavi points out that one-third or even one-half of infant mortality is due to complications of prematurity. And a large contributor to prematurity is fertility treatment. About half of IVF pregnancies in the US result in multiple births, with a high risk of premature delivery. In effect, better and more IVF has worsened the rate of prematurity.

How about changing the dismal statistics with better care, then? This is the conventional solution and neonatal… click here to read whole article and make comments


 The leading scientist in the Bush administration has broken with his boss over embryonic stem cell research. "From my standpoint, it is clear today that American science will be better served, and the nation will be better served, if we let our scientists have access to more stem cell lines," Dr Elias A. Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, told a Senate committee.

"We cannot, I would think, be second-best in this area," Zerhouni said. "I think it is important for us not to fight with one hand tied behind our back here, and NIH is key to that."

Studies claiming that adult stem cells have as much potential as embryonic stem cells "do not hold scientific water," Zerhouni claimed. "I think they are overstated. We do not know at this point where the breakthrough will come from? All angles in stem cell research should be pursued."

click here to read whole article and make comments

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