“Substantial profits” likely from embryonic stem cells

The future of human embryonic stem cell research will be driven as much by markets as by ethics and science, predicts a Harvard Business School professor. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Debora Spar foresees that "mainstream firms will provide increasingly normalised products, reaping substantial profits in the process and carefully avoiding the areas that society finds repugnant. Pharmaceutical companies will focus on treatments for major illnesses, for example, rather than on producing hybrid offspring for a tiny segment of possible buyers. Venture capitalists will fund research into the most acceptable offshoots of stem-cell science, driving a market that runs in accordance with the wishes of society and not against them. Firms, in other words, will cluster not at the scary edges of scientific potential but, rather, where rules are transparent, and where states are essentially accepting."

Professor Spar argues that private embryonic stem cell research in the US -- worth only US$70 million in 2003 --… click here to read whole article and make comments





Ethical quicksand surrounds therapies for spinal cord injury </b>

Although stem cells show great promise for repairing spinal cord injuries, there are so many practical obstacles to be overcome that clinical experiments with humans are probably unethical, argues a Melbourne neurosurgeon. Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld and a bioethics colleague, Dr Grant Gillett, of the University of Otago Medical School, outline a number of troublesome ethical issues which will arise in a clinical setting.

In the first place, experimenting with humans is problematic because "the less neurologically impaired the patient is, the greater the likelihood that manipulation of the spine will produce a worsening of effect". There is also immense pressure "from patients, biotechnology companies and universities... Scientific objectivity may be further diminished by the egos and commercial imperatives of the proponents." A stem cell graft could be rejected if it were not from the patient's own cells and tumours could form. "The potential almost silences the sternest critics of such technology, but the… click here to read whole article and make comments





New penalties for Dutch euthanasia doctors who bend rules </b>

The Dutch health minister wants to introduce penalties for doctors who disregard "procedural" guidelines when they administer euthanasia. Cl?mence Ross is responding to evidence that the real number of cases is twice the reported number. The Dutch public prosecution service believes that criminal penalties are not appropriate for these doctors (as opposed to doctors who ignore "material" guidelines such as informed consent). So the minister now wants to introduce sanctions such as reprimands, suspensions and fines. Other measures will be introduced to "promote transparency" and "create clarity" over the guidelines. click here to read whole article and make comments




Health crisis follows staffing crisis as African nurses emigrate

African governments are subsidising health systems in the UK, the US and other developed countries because many of their nurses are migrating for better pay and working conditions. According to a long report in the New York Times, almost two-thirds of the nursing jobs in Malawi's public health system are vacant. More registered nurses have left to work overseas in the past four years than the 336 who remain in the public hospitals to care for the country's 11.6 million people.

According to a recent report by Physicians for Human Rights, about 75% of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa fall short of the World Health Organisation's standard of 20 doctors per 100,000 people. Zambia's public sector has retained only 50 of the 600 doctors who were trained its medical school between 1978 and 1999. Seventeen countries do not even have half of the WHO minimum standard for nurses, 100 per 100,000 people. Conditions for nurses in many countries are… click here to read whole article and make comments





US doctors shunning O&G </b>

Young American doctors are turning away from obstetrics and gynaecology. Since 1996, the number of graduates of US medical schools who enter O&G courses has dropped 23%, from 968 to 743. Only two-thirds of new residencies in O&G were filled by graduates of US medical schools -- compared with 86% eight years ago. "Nationally, we certainly are concerned about quality," says that head of O&G at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "If we're seeing fewer people going into the speciality, then we do need to start worrying about the quality of the people." The reasons are familiar ones: the highest insurance premiums in the medical profession, a demanding lifestyle and fewer men entering the profession. click here to read whole article and make comments




Authors failing to disclose competing interests </b>

Despite strict disclosure policies, some authors writing for highly respected medical journals still keep their financial interests to themselves, according to a report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based pressure group. After researching the financial connections of the authors of 163 articles in four journals, the CSPI found that 13 (8%) failed to comply with disclosure policies. The authors of one paper on coronary heart disease were consultants to more than 20 companies in the field, but failed to disclose them. However, the situation actually may be improving. In 2001, only 1% of papers disclosed a conflict, a figure which has apparently risen to 20% currently. click here to read whole article and make comments




Adult stem cells can flourish without fusion </b>

One of the objections to the promise of adult stem cells is that they do not actually transform themselves into heart, brain, blood or liver cells but rather fuse with other cells. However, a researcher at Yale University in the US has found that bone-marrow derived stem cells can form tissues other than blood without fusion.

In an ingenious experiment, two strains of genetically-engineered mice were created whose cells would produce a glowing green jellyfish protein if fusion occurred. Male bone marrow was then transplanted into a female. Two to three months later, they found differentiated cells from the donor in the lungs, livers and skins of the female -- and none of them glowed green. "We wouldn't argue that fusion never occurs," says one of the researchers on Krause's team. But "fusion is not absolutely required" for bone marrow to turn into non-blood cells. click here to read whole article and make comments





ODD SPOT: Neo-Nazi sets up Aryan baby farm

 A German neo-Nazi has used an English shelf company to set up a racially-pure Aryan baby farm in a quiet commuter suburb near Bremen. The company, the Wilhelm Tietjen Foundation for Fertilisation Ltd, "aims to help childless couples produce children" with the help of surrogate mothers, says the organiser, Jurgen Riegen, a lawyer who has become notorious for defending members of the German far right.

Local townsfolk are outraged. "At first, we thought he was merely planning to develop agricultural fertilisers and manure," said the mayor of Doerverden. "We didn't realise human fertilisation is intended." The foundation is named after a Bremen schoolteacher who made a fortune on the stock market and set up a fertility research organisation to further Nordic races before his death in 2002. Mr Tietjen was infertile.

click here to read whole article and make comments




ABI Publications </b>

Ethics as Our Guide(letter)
by Michael Cook, PLoS Biology, June 2004

Blackburn and Rowley's (2004) criticism of a report on embryonic stem cell research from the President's Council on Bioethics (2004) is puzzling. Where is the bioethics?...
  

IN BRIEF: BMJ's ethics click here to read whole article and make comments





The Lancet launches embryo stem cell campaign

 One of the world's leading medical journals, The Lancet, has launched a campaign for human embryonic stem cell research as the UN approaches a debate on a cloning ban and US voters go to the polls. Its current issue is dedicated almost solely to medical, scientific and regulatory issues surrounding stem cells, with an editorial urging scientists to lobby hard for the cause. It also includes a profile of Australian stem cell scientist Alan Trounson and a personal plea from the father of a paralysed footballer. Ironically, the journal's press release highlighted only progress in the field of adult stem cell research. However, the editorial declared that clinical applications for embryonic stem cells are around the corner.

"The attention focused on stem-cell research unfortunately comes at a moment when there are few tangible clinical benefits to report, although, as many of the papers in this week's issue show, the field is advancing at such velocity that this evidence may… click here to read whole article and make comments




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