CRISPR scientists win Nobel Prize in chemistry

To no one’s surprise, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded this year to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for their 2012 discovery of CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors.

This development allows scientists to do precision editing of the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms. “This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true,” says the Nobel committee. “These genetic scissors have taken the life sciences into a new epoch and, in many ways, are bringing the greatest benefit to humankind.”


More family secrets unveiled in Netherlands

Another success for family reunions through genetic databases! A woman looking for her sperm donor father on the internet has discovered that he was a deceased gynaecologist who had fathered at least 16 other children. His patients believed that they were receiving fresh sperm from an anonymous donor.

The doctor, Jan Wildschut, worked from 1981 to 1993 at the fertility clinic of the former Sophia hospital, today called Isala hospital, in the eastern Dutch city of Zwolle. He died in 2009.

"A total of 17 donor children are currently known, in addition to the legal children of this former… MORE

Netherlands prepares for child euthanasia

It hardly comes as a surprise, but doctors in The Netherlands may soon be able to euthanise children under 12. They are already authorised to euthanise babies up to 12 months old and children over 12.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told the Dutch Parliament earlier this week that this should be possible for "a small group of terminally ill children who agonize with no hope, and unbearable suffering." He estimates that this will be applicable to five or ten children a year.

Dr de Jonge suggested that in rare cases where doctors felt that it was necessary… MORE

After months of Covid-19 scepticism, President Trump is hospitalized with the virus

President Trump on his way to Walter Reed Hospital 

One day before testing positive for Covid-19, President Trump told a New York charity event that: "The end of the pandemic is in sight and next year will be one of the greatest years in the history of our country."

While, touch wood, both of these forecasts may come true, the fact that Mr Trump is in the presidential suite of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for at least a few days casts a shadow over them.

White House sources say that Mr Trump only has a mild… MORE

Assisted dying round-up

Assisted suicide is on the legislative agenda in a number of jurisdictions. Here is the latest news on a few of them.

New Zealand. Kiwis will vote in a referendum on voluntary euthanasia on October 17. Parliament backed legislation earlier in the year, but the final decision rests with the public. Whether the next government is led by Jacinda Arderns’s Labour Party or the Nationals, the referendum will be binding. In the event of a "yes" vote, the End of Life Choice Act will come into force in October 2021.

Massachusetts. Assisted suicide is legal in nine US states and… MORE

BBC airs Harold Shipman doco

A mugshot of Dr Harold Shipman 

There is assisted dying and there is assisted dying. The former is in the headlines nowadays and is also known as assisted suicide. The latter is clearly murder. The best example of this is Dr Harold Shipman, the British family doctor who may have given lethal injections to more than 270 of his elderly patients in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. He was convicted of 15 of these deaths in 2000 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He committed suicide in 2004 in jail. 

Shipman is Britain’s most prolific serial killer and a perennial reminder… MORE

Dwarfism drug criticized

A drug to improve the quality of life of children with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, is coming under fire for reinforcing stigma. 

Early last month, Australian researchers published an article in The Lancet claiming that an experimental drug, vosoritide, appears to return growth rates to normal.

Professor Ravi Savarirayan, of Murdoch Children's Research Institute, in Melbourne, says that: "This drug is like releasing the handbrake on a car, it lets you get up to full speed instead of having to drive with the brakes on."

Achondroplasia is a genetic bone disorder affecting 250,000 people worldwide,… MORE

Are open letters by scientists worth the paper they’re written on?

In late September a number of scientists wrote an open letter to the chief medical officers in the UK urging them to stay the course in suppressing the coronavirus across the whole population and not to rely upon herd immunity. A few days later this was followed by an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson from a different group of scientists urging him not to impose a second lockdown.

Enough already! with these Covid-19 open letters, writes renowned Stanford epidemiologist John P.A. Ioannidis in a BMJ blog. “Debating ethical and social issues is the right of… MORE

The UK’s leading abortion service will create life as well as end it

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is Britain’s leading provider of abortion services. Its website boldly declares that “We are the leading specialists of abortion advice and treatment in the UK, taking care of almost 80,000 women each year in over 70 reproductive healthcare clinics nationwide.”

Ann Furedi, the BPAS CEO, describes abortion as a worthy choice in a video on the organisation's website: “People talk about it as the lesser of two evils, and I think it’s important to recognise that what we do is actually a good thing; it’s good.”

So a recent announcement that BPAS… MORE

Remember how urgent it was to support embryonic stem cell research? That was then; this is now

The hot button bioethical issue of 2004 was embryonic stem cell research. Supporters spoke of life-saving cures and dismissed ethical misgivings. Surfing a wave of hope, Californian voters voted for a US$3 billion bond issue to establish the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Sixteen years later, the CIRM has almost run out of money and its backers are rattling the tin in the hope that voters will approve a $5.5 billion bond issue to support its research.

Some of the state’s major newspapers have editorialised against it. With many of its critics, they contend that the CIRM has not delivered… MORE

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