Rethinking the 14 day rule

Policy analysts in the United States and UK are calling for a “reconsideration” of the decades-old 14-day embryo experimentation rule - a regulation that requires scientists to terminate any embryo in vitro before it reaches two weeks of development. New embryology research indicates that scientists can now grow embryos in a culture dish well past 14 days, permitting research into early human development and various diseases.

An article in this month’s Hastings Center Report calls for “a new public discussion” of the longstanding regulation, suggesting in particular that we take into account new scientific and social perspectives on embryo research. “...our understandings of responsible research have evolved to require greater public participation in decisions about science”, writes University of Edinburgh bioethicist Sarah Chan. “Broader public discourse must begin now”.

Chan says that the 14-day rule was originally based on an arbitrary compromise between different viewpoints on the moral status of the embryo. We should be open to considering whether… click here to read whole article and make comments

The first year of California’s assisted suicide: over 500 prescriptions

Over 500 people have been prescribed life-ending drugs since physician assisted suicide was legalised in California in June last year, according to statistics released by Compassion and Choices.

The pro-euthanasia lobby group is celebrating the positive reception of the laws among healthcare providers and the general public, writing in press release that “the implementation of the law has been a huge success”.

A very significant proportion of healthcare providers and individual practitioners still object to the provision of euthanasia. But Compassion and Choices says that nearly 500 healthcare facilities and over 100 hospice locations have adopted policies” supportive of patient choice and doctors who choose to participate in the law”.

A survey by the group found that 504 patients had been prescribed barbiturates since June last year. Official statistics are expected to indicate an even higher number of prescriptions.

Dan Diaz, husband of the late euthanasia advocate Brittany Maynard, said that “She would be proud that her advocacy inspired… click here to read whole article and make comments

The enhancement debate continues

Human enhancement has been a hot-topic in bioethics for a number of years. The latest edition of the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics takes stock of the field.

Several significant figures in the enhancement debate, such as the Nicholas Agar, Rob Sparrow and Anders Sandberg, contribute to the volume, engaging at length with the morality of using biotechnology to promote moral behavior and augment the capacities of human beings.

Several contributions address the question of whether, if we were able to enhance ourselves and others, such enhancements would be desirable. A significant proportion of the discussion also focuses on terminological debates about the scope of the concept of “moral enhancement”, and whether or not it pertains to already existing technologies and practices in society.

In his paper “Moral bioenhancement and free will: continuing the debate”, Vojin Raki challenges Savulescu and Persson’s defence of compulsory moral enhancement. According to Raki,… click here to read whole article and make comments

Embryonic stem cell trials to launch in China

China will begin trialling the use of embryonic stem-cells (ES) to treat Parkinson’s disease and macular degeneration, in a move that has met with criticism from international experts.

The trials, which come in the wake of new stem-cell regulations introduced in China  in 2015, will test the efficacy of injecting ES-derived cells into damaged areas of the brain and eyes.

In one trial, ES-derived neuronal-precursor cells will be injected into the areas of the brain affected by Parkinson’s disease in attempt to regenerate dopamine-producing tissue. In another trial, the ES-derived retinal cells will be injected into eyes of people with age related macular degeneration. It is believed that the retinal cells may be able to replace cells damaged as a result of epithelial tissue degeneration.

“It will be a major new direction for China,” Pei Xuetao, a stem-cell scientist at the Beijing Institute of Transfusion Medicine who is on… click here to read whole article and make comments

IVF vs natural conception: babies have same cognitive ability, says study

A new study by researchers from the University of Oxford suggests that IVF babies have the same cognitive ability as naturally-conceived children.

Sociology Professor Melinda Mills and doctoral student Anna Barbuscia say that, despite the higher rates of multiple births or adverse health outcomes among IVF babies, the wealth, education and age of IVF parents ‘cancels out’ any potentially detrimental aspects of IVF-conception.

Mills and Barbuscia studied data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, a nationally representative group of 18,552 families. Over 12,000 children were part of the study (150-180 of whom were artificially conceived), with cognitive ability tests performed at 3, 5, 7 and 11 years.

The researchers found that, in early years, the IVF-conceived children actually scored higher on the tests, with the disparity narrowing in later years of development.

Specifically, the study states that “at age 3 and 5 years, children conceived with… click here to read whole article and make comments

Unexpected mutations after CRISPR gene-editing

A study lead by investigators at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) suggests that CRISPR gene-editing technology can introduce hundreds of unintended mutations into the human genome.

The study, which has sparked concerns about the negative effects of gene-editing interventions, involved researchers sequenced the entire genome of mice that had undergone CRISPR gene editing in previous study into blindness. Researchers looked for all mutations, including those that only altered a single nucleotide.

According to Kellie Schaefer, a Stanford PhD student and co-author of the study,  the genomes of two independent gene therapy recipients had sustained more than 1,500 single-nucleotide mutations and more than 100 larger deletions and insertions. The earlier study had successfully corrected for blindness in the mice, but none of the DNA mutations were predicted by computer algorithms that are widely used by researchers to look for off-target effects.

Similar studies in the past have involved the use… click here to read whole article and make comments

Can blood transfusions from teenagers slow the ageing process?

Anti-ageing technology is flourishing in Silicon Valley. The latest to hit the headlines is parabiosis – transfusions of blood or plasma from another body.

A California company called Ambrosia (after the elixir which made Greek gods immortal) is charging its older clients US$8,000 for plasma transfusions from people aged between 16 and 25.

So far about 100 people have signed up, Dr Jesse Karmazin, the co-founder of the company, told a conference this week. Although anyone over 35 is eligible, so far most clients have been of retirement age. The blood is sourced from blood banks, so the donors may not be aware that it is being used to rejuvenate oldies.

Strictly speaking, the clients are signing up for a clinical trial, “Young Donor Plasma Transfusion and Age-Related Biomarkers”, which has been registered with the National Institutes of Health. Critics say that it borders on fraud. But Dr Karmazin says that all of his patients have… click here to read whole article and make comments

Controversial trial to test transhumanist theories

Killing off death will require research and clinical trials. But these may be difficult to do ethically, as a controversial attempt to reanimate brain-dead patients suggests.

Philadelphia-based biotech firm Bioquark told STAT that it plans to begin a trial somewhere in Latin America within months. The idea is to inject the patient’s own stem cells into the spinal cord to stimulate the  growth of neurons. Other therapies could accompany this -- an injected blend of peptides, electrical nerve stimulation, and laser therapy for the brain.

As STAT points out, a description of the trial begs many questions. Who decides whether the patient is actually brain dead? How can a dead person participate in a trial? What happens if they do recover and are significantly impaired? Are the researches toying the hopes of families? Even in Latin America, will they get ethical approval?

Scientists and bioethicists are sceptical. Last year bioethicist Art Caplan and neuroscientist Ariane Lewis wrote a click here to read whole article and make comments

Hackers steal cosmetic surgery photos from Lithuanian clinic

This stark example of how medical electronic records are vulnerable to violations of privacy comes from Lithuania. Hackers stole 25,000 photographs plus passport and credit card details from the Grozio Chirurgija cosmetic surgery clinic and then threatened to post them online unless they were paid.

The hackers, who call themselves the “Tsar Team” posted the images and personal information on a Dark Web website and are selling them for between €50 and €2,000 each or for €344,000 for the whole package.

“Clients, of course, are in shock. Once again, I would like to apologise,” Jonas Staikunas, the director of Grozio Chirurgija, told local media. “Cybercriminals are blackmailers. They are blackmailing our clients with inappropriate text messages.” 

This attack is much more targeted and professional than the Wannacry ransomware virus last month. The hackers took the trouble to scale the amount of the ransom according to individual patients. Clients from Denmark, Germany, Norway and the UK have already received extortion… click here to read whole article and make comments

British surgeon sentenced to 15 years in jail

Paterson's victims react on the steps of the courthouse / BBC

A British surgeon who operated unnecessarily upon hundreds of patients after exaggerating or inventing the risk of cancer has been jailed for 15 years. Ian Paterson was found guilty (see earlier BioEdge story) of harming nine women and one man, but it appears that there are hundreds of victims. Even after the trial, Paterson’s motives were unclear, although they may have included supporting an expensive lifestyle.  

In sentencing Paterson, Justice Jeremy Baker said, “"Without any regard for the long-term effects, you deliberately preyed on their long-term fears. You can be a charming and charismatic individual but you deliberately used those characteristics to manipulate your patients."

Crown prosecutor Pamela Jain said that: "He knew the procedures were not needed but carried on regardless, inflicting unlawful wounds on his patients. The impact of Paterson's actions on his victims has been devastating, from the unnecessary distress of… click here to read whole article and make comments

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