April
25
 

China ignites debate over genetic engineering

Chinese scientists have been editing the genome of human embryos, a world first which has set off an debate over genetic engineering.

A team led by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, published its results recently in an on-line journal, Protein & Cell. Their aim was to modify the gene for β-thalassaemia, a potentially lethal blood disorder, with a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9. They used non-viable human embryos from IVF clinics. The idea was to eliminate the gene in a one-cell embryo so that it would develop into a child who would not suffer the disease.

From a technical point of view, the results were disappointing and Huang said that the technique is not currently suitable for medical use. The reseachers injected 86 embryos and examined them after 48 hours when they had grown to 8 cells. Of these, 71 survived,… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
April
25
 

Keeping ahead of the game

A 30-year-old Russian IT worker with a crippling muscle-wasting disease could become the first person ever to get a body transplant. Valery Spiridonov, from the city of Vladimir near Moscow, says that he is so crippled that he has no other option.

"Am I afraid? Of course, I am. But this is not only scary, but also very exciting," Spiridonov told the Daily Mail. He is putting his trust in an Italian neuroscientist, Sergio Carnavero, who has been talking this procedure up for several years, and who has even given a TED talk about it.

Dr Canavero calls the operation HEAVEN, an acronym for head anastomosis venture. (Anastomosis is the surgical connecting of two parts.) He estimates that it would take a team of surgeons 36 hours and would cost US$11.5 million.

Theoretically, a head transplant may be possible. As early as 1908 an American surgeon… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
April
25
 

Donor dad not the genius he said he was

A lesbian couple is suing one of America’s leading sperm banks for misleading them about the superior qualifications of their sperm donor. Angela Collins and Margaret Elizabeth Hanson chose Donor 9623 at Xytex’s Atlanta sperm bank because he had an IQ of 160, an undergraduate degree in neuroscience, a Master’s in artificial intelligence, and an impressive health history. His prospectus also said that he was working on a PhD in neuroscience engineering.

The sperm donor’s identity was supposed to be confidential, but Xytex inadvertently revealed his name to the couple. To their dismay they discovered that their  donor had dropped out of college, was a schizophrenic, and had been arrested for burglary. A large mole on his cheek had been Photoshopped off his photo. It appears that 60 babies have been born from his sperm.

Xytex’s president says that the donor’s features "do not reflect… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
April
25
 

Colombia close to legal euthanasia

Colombia’s Health Ministry has finally drawn up guidelines for voluntary euthanasia, 18 years after the country’s supreme court ruled that it was a constitutional right. Health Minister Alejandro Gaviría told media that only competent adults would be able to request the procedure, that only patients with a terminal illness would be eligible, and that if the patient is unconscious, relatives must present audio, video, or written proof that he wanted to be euthanased. Minors and patients with degenerative diseases will not be able to receive a lethal injection.

Despite the 1997 ruling, Colombian law-makers dragged their heels on the issue and never drafted protocols. As a result, doctors feared that they could be charged with homicide if they helped someone to die.

The Catholic Church, one of the principal opponents of euthanasia in Colombia, was scathing in its comments. It told the Health Ministry that legalisation… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
April
25
 

Non-human rights battle continues

A New York State Supreme Court judge has ordered Stony Brook University to justify its detention of two chimpanzees, following a request from an animal rights group, The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP).

The court order, issued by Justice Barbara Jaffe on Monday, demands that Stony Brook “show cause” as to why the two chimps, Leo and Hercules, should not be immediately released and transferred to Florida’s Save the Chimps sanctuary (a refuge nominated by NhRP).

The two chimps are being kept in a Stony Brook lab on Long Island and used for biomedical experimentation. 

Animal Rights organisations celebrated the inclusion of phrase ‘habeas corpus’ – a means of redressing the unlawful detention of prisoners – in the writ, though Justice Jaffe later struck the language from the document and emphasized that it was simply a formal way of directing the university to her courtroom to present… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
April
25
 

Primed for resignation

The scandal-ridden field of social priming research has taken yet another blow. Leading social psychologist Jens Förster has resigned his prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) after being found responsible for data manipulation.

Förster, formerly a leader in his field, was investigated by a Dutch national research integrity panel in 2014 and found to have manipulated data in a 2012 study about the effect of auditory and olfactory ‘priming’ on cognitive ability.

Förster’s resignation comes following another broader reaching investigation conducted by his former employer, the University of Amsterdam (UvA). The results of that investigation are yet to be published, but a UvA source says that the report is finished and that Förster has been informed of the findings.

Förster denies any wrongdoing and feels like he is “the victim of an incredible witchhunt”. In a blog-post on his personal website following his resignation,… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
April
25
 

German IVF mum to give birth to quadruplets

A 65-year-old German woman has fallen pregnant via IVF to quadruplets, to the surprise of some and the anger of others. 

Annegret Raunigk, a language teacher and mother of 13, travelled to a clinic in the Ukraine to receive IVF – German laws prohibited her from receiving the treatment in her own country. She was implanted with eggs and sperm from donors. Seemingly contrary to the doctor’s expectations, all four of the eggs developed into embryos. The chance of a natural quadruplet pregnancy is otherwise one in 13m.

Raunigk, now her fifth month of pregnancy, said she decided to have more children after her youngest daughter, Lelia, nine, asked her for a sibling.

Significant risks accompany pregnancies like Raunigk’s. The pregnant mother is susceptible to high blood pressure, pregnancy diabetes and pre-eclampsia, all of which impact on each other. Risks for the babies include cerebral bleeding, paralysis, and… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
April
25
 

The complexities of brain death

A forthcoming article in the journal Neurology provides insight into the complexities of achieving international consensus on brain death. 

The article by a team of neurologists and medical researchers from clinics and universities around the US catalogues conceptions of brain death in medical institutions around the world. 

The authors found that institutional protocols were absent or poorly understood in a significant number of low-income countries. They also found that “substantial differences in perceptions and practices of brain death exist worldwide” and that “whether a harmonized, uniform standard for brain death worldwide can be achieved remains questionable.”

The study – the first to examine opinions in a broad range of countries – involved an electronic survey which was distributed globally to physicians with expertise in neurocritical care, neurology, or related disciplines who would encounter patients at risk of brain death. Physicians from 91 countries responded.

The results were quite… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
April
18
 

Feverish vaccine debate spreads to Australia

Last Sunday the Australian government announced a controversial new immunisation policy that makes welfare support for families conditional on child immunisation.  

“The no jab, no pay” welfare plan, which has bipartisan support in the Australian federal parliament, will require of parents that they immunise their children against serious infectious diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus and polio.

Parents who refuse to immunise their children could lose up to A$2100 per child per year in welfare payments.

Social services minister Scott Morrison, who announced the plan, said that the medical community was united in its support for universal vaccination, and that “objections” were no long acceptable.

“The overwhelming advice of those in the health profession is it’s the smart thing and the right thing to do to immunise your children.”

Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten agreed:

“We believe fundamentally in the science… click here to read whole article and make comments




 
April
18
 

Unreported clinical trial data “unethical”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for the disclosure of results from clinical trials for medical products, whatever the result. The move aims to ensure that decisions related to the safety and efficacy of vaccines, drugs and medical devices for use by populations are supported by the best available evidence.

“Our intention is to promote the sharing of scientific knowledge in order to advance public health,” said WHO official Marie-Paule Kieny. “It underpins the principal goal of medical research: to serve the betterment of humanity.”

According to WHO, there is increasing empirical evidence to suggest that the results of many clinical trials are suppressed from the public. One study that analysed the reporting from large clinical trials (more than 500 participants) registered on ClinicalTrials.gov and completed by 2009 found that 23% had not reported any results. These unreported trials included nearly 300,000 participants.

Even where results are… click here to read whole article and make comments




 

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China ignites debate over genetic engineering
25 Apr 2015
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