More stem cell fraud allegations: why?

It would be hard to name a patch of science which involves more medical potential, scientific interest, ethical controversy and examples of misconduct than stem cell research. So how could a 30-year-old junior researcher at one of the world’s leading institutes report incredible stem cell results in the world’s leading science journal even though her paper contained dubious data?

Haruko Obokata’s career is in tatters after her employer, the RIKEN Institute, declared that she had engaged in scientific misconduct. (She denies this.) According to the Japanese newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun, Waseda University now also suspects that some portions of her 2011 PhD thesis may have been plagiarised.

This debacle highlights concerns in at least four areas.

Reckless editorial standards in leading journals. Stem cell biology has been plagued by fraud and error for years. So amazing claims ought to be subjected to an amazing level of scrutiny. Given… click here to read whole article and make comments


What are the problems with peer review?

Here is a quick and helpful video overview of concerns with the peer review process. Scientists and journal editors comment at a conference organised by BioMed Central and BMC Biology last year. Greg Petsko, of Weill Cornell Medical College, the chair of the discussion says, “The thesis is that there is something seriously wrong with the scientific review process… which has become, if not outright broken, distorted to the point where it’s hindering people’s careers, and causing more problems than it is solving.”

click here to read whole article and make comments


Australia recognises “non-specific sex” as legal option

Norrie, in Sydney. EPA, via London Telegraph

Because much of contemporary bioethics has to do with sexuality and personhood, legal wrangles over gender are quite relevant. This week’s episode comes from Australia where the High Court has ruled that people can be officially recognised as a non-specific sex.

After a four-year legal battle Norrie, a transgender person, won the right not to be identified as either male or female. The state of New South Wales, said the Court, should recognise a third category of non-specific sex in addition to male and female.

Norrie, who uses only a first name, was born in Scotland as a male and in 1989 underwent sexual reassignment surgery. For several years Norrie has campaigned to be identified officially as neuter.

The High Court’s decision supports a controversial 2011 move by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs… click here to read whole article and make comments


Mexican authorities accuse Knights Templar of organ harvesting racket

Last Tuesday Mexican police arrested a senior member of the Knights Templar crime syndicate, alleged to have kidnapped children to harvest their organs. Police say that Manuel Plancarte Gaspar was part of an organ-trafficking ring run by the infamous cartel. The ring is said to have kidnapped children and taken them to rented homes with medical equipment where their organs were removed.

"We have several statements in open investigations that point to a network of several suspects who would identify people with certain characteristics, especially children, and kidnap them," said Michoacan state Public Safety Secretary Carlos Castellanos Becerra.

Following the arrest of Gaspar, the leader of a local vigilante group made a statement on radio supporting the police allegations. Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles of the civilian "self defence" group in Tepalcatepec said that several children had been rescued in his town while being transported in a refrigerated container… click here to read whole article and make comments


Rates of IVF continue to grow

A new healthcare analytics report has revealed just how big the IVF market is, and how big it is set to become. The report, produced by Allied Analytics LLP, estimates that the net worth of the IVF market at the end of 2012 was US$9.3 billion, a figure which is set to increase to $21.6 billion by 2020.

Delayed pregnancy in women is one of the key factors driving the increased use of IVF. Increased rates of infertility, due to stress levels, change in lifestyle and fertility related diseases, have also contributed to the growing popularity of the procedure. 

Researchers found that there has been a corresponding increase in egg donation. For instance, in the U.S., the number of egg donation cycles has increased from 11,000 in the year 2000 to 18,000 in 2010.

Medical tourism is providing an excellent opportunity for the growth of this market. The cost of IVF in New York… click here to read whole article and make comments


Clarifying the ethics of shame

Is it ever good to stigmatize? This question has received significant attention of late in many bioethical and medical journals.

Indeed, the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology recently published an editorial by two University of Tornoto bioethicists discussing stigmatization in healthcare. The article, entitled Reducing Stigma in Reproductive Health, criticises the continuing stigmatization of both users and providers of reproductive healthcare. The article focuses particularly on the ongoing shaming of individuals involved in abortions, be they doctors or patients:

Gynecologists who undertake lawful abortions, for instance, should be afforded the same respect as others, not denigrated as "abortionists," even when providing services in the private sector that public sector facilities decline to undertake. The role of creating stigma as a governmental public health strategy, for instance to reduce cigarette smoking, may remain politically contentious but, regarding patients and providers of reproductive healthcare, the judgment remains that "[s]tigma can without exaggeration be… click here to read whole article and make comments


Transhumanism reaches Hollywood in new high budget film

Transhumanism is a movement receiving increasing attention on various levels of society. It has even sparked the curiosity of Hollywood. A new film by director Wally Pfister, Transcendence, warns of the dangers of the transhumanist project.

The film tells the story of an artificial intelligence researcher Dr Will Caster, who develops a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of the world with the spectrum of human emotions. The machine is intended to represent the transhumanist idea of 'the singularity'. After being pursued by anti-technology activists, Caster chooses to upload his own consciousness to the machine's mainframe. In his new computerised form, Caster embarks on an aggressive search for further knowledge.

Sci-fi fans are decrying the anti-transhumanist sentiment of the film: "Looks like a cool flick but seriously anti-transhuman and technophobic", commented one viewer of the official trailer. "I am genuinely afraid what people, especially young kids,… click here to read whole article and make comments


Why are we condemning sperm donor anonymity, asks bioethicist

Donor conception is often shrouded in secrecy. At age 7, only about half of children know that they were conceived with donor eggs; the figure for donor sperm is only about one-quarter. Legislation forcing IVF clinics to give access to the identity of the donors is spreading. In Sweden, Austria, the Australian state of Victoria, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, anonymous donation has been banned.

But is this necessary? Writing in The Hastings Center Report, bioethicist Inmaculada De Melo-Martín says No. There is no desperate need for children to connect with their genetic parents. In fact, she says, a policy of non-anonymity may even be socially harmful.

She attacks supporters of the right to genetic information on three counts.

It is argued that secrecy could harm family relationships. But, she counters, the empirical evidence is ambiguous. “It is not clear that secrets are… click here to read whole article and make comments


“Therapeutic cloning” back on the boil

Shoukhrat Mitalipov

After a couple of years in hibernation, the notion of “therapeutic cloning” is once again in the headlines. The latest development comes from Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a Russian-educated researcher at Oregon Health and Science University.

In a paper in Nature, his team reports that they have successfully created embryonic stem cells using a technique which bypasses the need for egg cells. Instead, the nucleus from an adult cell and placed in an enucleated zygote at the two-cell stage (which is also called the interphase). For some reason this dramatically increases the chance of the new cell’s successful development.

Scientists had previously thought the interphase stage — a later stage of the cell cycle — was incapable of converting transplanted adult cell nuclei into embryonic stem cells.

Apparently Mitalipov and his team have succeeded because they carefully synchronized the cell cycles of… click here to read whole article and make comments


Stillborn babies incinerated to heat UK hospitals

Government hospitals in the UK have been using aborted and miscarried babies as heating fuel in green waste reduction programmes, according to a Channel 4 investigation. Ten trusts (or divisions) of the National Health Service have admitted that they have been burning the remains of these children with medical rubbish, and two trust actually used the bodies in “waste-to-energy” plants to heat the hospitals.

At least 15,500 foetal remains have been incinerated by the 27 trusts over the past two years, according to the Daily Telegraph. Not all of the Trusts have been mixing foetal remains with medical waste. But one of Britain’s best hospitals, Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, incinerated 797 babies below 13 weeks gestation at its ‘waste to energy’ plant. The mothers were told their babies had been ‘cremated.’

After the program aired earlier this week, the Department of Health immediately banned the practice. The… click here to read whole article and make comments


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