IN BRIEF: China’s age problem; Swiss transplant blunder

  • After decades of the one-child policy, China may become "the first major country to grow old before it grows rich", say US analysts for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "In Europe, the elder share of the population passed 10% in the 1930s and will not reach 30% until the 2030s, a century later," the report says. However, "China will traverse the same distance in a single generation." This will burden China with nearly 400 million elderly who will have no support unless pension schemes are launched soon. click here to read whole article and make comments

  • Organ donation becomes easier for Australians

    Permission for organ transplants becomes easier Australian doctors will no longer have to seek explicit approval from relatives of a person who has agreed to be an organ donor. The decision to reverse "the onus of permission" will significantly increase the number of organs available for transplant, says Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott. However, relatives will still be able to veto a loved one's wishes.

    The nation's health ministers agreed on a uniform standard for organ donations at their tri-yearly conference. Currently doctors need relatives' permission even if a person has listed his or her name on the organ donor register. Almost half of the people on the register take their organs to the grave because relatives intervene. Its transplant surgeons are highly regarded, but Australia has one of the lowest rates of organ donation in the developed world. click here to read whole article and make comments

    “Virgin birth” mouse rewrites textbook on reproduction

    Kaguya with kids Scientists at the Tokyo University of Agriculture have created a mouse from two eggs without the involvement of sperm or other male cells. Their experiment is being hailed as important as the birth of Dolly the cloned sheep in 1996. Until now, it was believed that two mammals of the same sex cannot combine their genomes to produce viable offspring.

    Although the news instantly prompted speculation about the redundancy of men, it is unlikely that the procedure could ever be used to create children for two women. For one thing, it is enormously wasteful: about 600 eggs yielded a single healthy adult mouse. However, it will have an enormous impact upon reproductive science as it gives an insight into the poorly understood process of genetic imprinting. The Japanese scientists were able to alter the expression of two imprinted genes and this had a ripple effect upon the rest of the genome.… click here to read whole article and make comments

    Drug companies may have “suppressed” data about children’s anti-depressants

    The use of anti-depressants for children is a "disaster", says the leading medical journal The Lancet. In an article in its latest issue, six psychiatrists and child health experts suggest that drug companies may have suppressed evidence that many selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are unsuitable or even dangerous for children. The research team , headed by Dr Craig Whittingdon from University College London, say that benefits outweighed risks for only one of the five SSRIs studied, Prozac (or fluoxetine). For three of the other four, paroxetine, citalopram and venlafaxine, there was clear evidence of a small risk of suicide-related events. For the drug sertraline there was a weak association with suicide.

    Last year the UK Committee on Safety of Medicines banned the treatment of childhood depression with any of these drugs except Prozac. The Food and Drug Administration in the US has not acted on the issue.

    However, the Washington Post reports that there is much uneasiness amongst… click here to read whole article and make comments

    Will doctors stand and fight or will they skedaddle?

    Outbreaks of infectious diseases in the US and Canada could give the medical profession a chance to test its commitment to a value even more fundamental than informed consent or autonomy: their duty to provide care to the sick and dying. A feature in the New York Times Magazine about an outbreak of monkeypox in the American Midwest suggests that many doctors and nurses might shrink from being heroes when faced with highly infectious patients carrying dangerous diseases. There were several dozen cases of monkeypox, a disease related to smallpox with a 1% to 10% fatality rate, in June 2003. Before then it had never been seen outside of Africa and US hospitals were hardly expecting it. Smallpox vaccinations also immunise against monkeypox -- but few people are immunised nowadays. Fortunately, because of the fear of bioterrorism in the wake of 9/11, US public health officials had been campaigning to get health care workers immunised and some of these were… click here to read whole article and make comments

    Wanna clone your loved one? Ring (888) 699-2672 today!

    Hollywood is once again mining the rich lode of cloning, this time with a paranormal horror-thriller. "Godsend" stars Robert De Niro as a suave, mysterious cloning doctor and Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as a couple grieving for their deceased five- year-old son. It is due to open in US cinemas at the end of April. Part of the marketing for the purely fictional Godsend is a brilliantly realistic website for the Godsend Institute, which is described as "a fertility clinic and practice, specialising in the replication of cells for the purpose of creating life from life". It has a profile of its founder Dr Richard Wells, testimonials from happy parents and explanations of the cloning process. The restrained and professional style of the fake website is far removed from the tawdry ones which really do promote cloning. The film's public relations firm says that it has received about 100 to 150 queries each week since the website went up… click here to read whole article and make comments

    Selection of gender high on agenda of many American couples

    Judging from a CBS News interview with Dr Jeffrey Steinberg, of Fertility Institutes in Los Angeles, there is a strong market for selecting the sex of babies in the US. Dr Steinberg -- one of the few US doctors who does sex selection -- told 60 Minutes II that his business has taken off since he began offering it as part of his IVF business. "In the last two years since we've offered gender selection, we've seen a huge international onslaught of people that are just interested in balancing their families," he says.

    He now handles 10 procedures a week, compared to one or two a month when he first offered the service. "In the beginning it was only patients that were having IVF anyway. Now 70 per cent of the patients would never need IVF, except for the fact that they want to do the gender selection," he says. Dr Steinberg also has clinics in Las Vegas and… click here to read whole article and make comments

    “Immoral” not to clone, says Dolly’s creator

    Professor Ian Wilmut, the Scottish scientist responsible for creating the first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, has applied for a licence to clone human embryos as part of his research into motor neuron disease. It is difficult to study the disease in patients, so he plans to create embryos which have the disease, experiment on them, and destroy them after a few days. "Because at this early stage the embryo does not have that key human characteristic of being aware, to me it would be immoral not to take this opportunity to study diseases," he told the BBC.

    A spokesman for the charity Life UK, Patrick Cudsworth, criticised Professor Wilmut's decision. "The fact that he does so under the banner of so-called therapeutic cloning makes no difference whatsoever to the fact that a human being is being deliberately created and then destroyed," he commented. click here to read whole article and make comments

    US Govt “aggressively” funding primate cloning

    Although both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have abjured human cloning, the US Government is "aggressively" funding cloning experiments for non-human primates, claims the Center for Public Integrity. Most of the government's largesse went to three researchers: Gerald Schatten, who helped to produce the first genetically-altered primate, Don Wolf, who has cloned monkey embryos, and James Thomson, the scientist who first isolated human embryonic stem cells.

    The Center complains that this research is "relatively unregulated and has little public oversight". "Some experts warn that it will ultimately bring human cloning closer to reality -- unless clear laws are enacted to ensure that the knowledge gained from primate cloning is not replicated in human beings," it says. It cites University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Autumn Fiester, who warns that even with strict regulation, "whenever the primate [cloning] technique has been perfected, it will propel someone somewhere in the world, maybe the Chinese, maybe the Koreans, who will try to clone a… click here to read whole article and make comments

    ODD SPOT: America’s most alternative family

    The American state of Kentucky is the home of what may be America's most alternative family. Thomas Dysarz, a 32- year-old hairdresser, and his deputy-district-attorney-turned- hairdresser-boyfriend, Michael Meehan, moved from Los Angeles to the city of Lexington in search of an atmosphere more conducive to family values. There each of them has fathered IVF children by the same unmarried surrogate mother, Brooke Verity, who has three children of her own at home. Mr Dysarz is the father of quadruplets born in 2002 and Mr Meehan of a boy born early this year.

    The altruistic Ms Verity received no payment apart from a tummy tuck. "You can't have eight children and look good," she explains. After the birth of the quads, she sought to relinquish her parental rights, but the judge refused and she now shares them with each father. She lives nearby, visits her offspring monthly and works in Mr Dysarz's hairdressing salon. Mr Dysarz and Mr Meehan regard… click here to read whole article and make comments

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