Leading US cancer institute “withheld risks” of experiment

Dr E. Donnall Thomas A court case involving one of America's leading medical research centres has opened up a discussion of the limits of informed consent. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and three of its researchers are disputing allegations that they misled participants in an experiment which ran from 1983 to 1991. The defendants include Dr E. Donnall Thomas, who won the 1990 Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in bone marrow transplants.

At the heart of the complex case is whether the patients understood what they had agreed to. "The Hutch", as it is known in Seattle, has denied that any of the 85 patients enrolled in the experiment, called Protocol 126, was misled or that information was withheld from them. At least 83 of the 85 patients died when the novel transplant method failed. The spouses of five of the patients are now suing the Center.

Although a number… click here to read whole article and make comments

“Parachute research” for drug companies hits ethical nerve

Drug companies and ethicists in the US are troubled by the ethical dilemmas of conducting clinical trials overseas. A report in the New York Times says that American companies are increasingly turning to former Soviet bloc countries with good, but underpaid doctors and compliant patients where they can carry out their trials more cheaply. Because there are often no government subsidies for prescription drugs in these countries, few people can afford to buy them. Participating in a clinical trial can be a patient's best chance for effective medication.

But what happens when the trials finish? Do the companies take special care of subjects who risked their health to take part in a study? In most cases, the answer is No. When the trial is over, patients have to give up medicines which may have vastly improved their quality of life. Sometimes companies do not sell their drugs in the countries where they were tested. And if they do sell them,… click here to read whole article and make comments

Sacked scientist campaigns for unbiases US science policy

A scientist sacked from the President's Council on Bioethics and a serving member of the Council have published a sharp critique of George Bush's science policy. Writing in the journal PLoS Biology, Elizabeth Blackburn, an Australian, and Janet Rowley, both biologists, have complained that the Council's recent reports underestimated the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cell research and distorted the motivations of scientists studying ageing. "There is always this strong implication [in the reports] that medical research is not what God intended, that there is something unnatural about it," Dr Blackburn told the Boston Globe. "We had a great many comments on the report, and they would just make a little changes that didn't fully address them." click here to read whole article and make comments

Menopause dogma could be a myth

Defying half a century of conventional wisdom, scientists have discovered that female mammals can produce new eggs after birth. Until now it had always been thought that females were born with a limited number of eggs which are depleted with age.

But research on mice at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has shown that new follicles, the tiny sacs in which eggs grow, are being created well into adult life from stem cells. "These are basic biological findings that may change everything in our field" says Dr Jonathan Tilly. "Although there is no way to say how long it may take for these finding to actually affect the care of patients, we are very excited."

Now that the egg stem cells have been identified, it may be possible to delay the ageing of the ovaries and to extend female fertility and delay menopause. Eggs could also be created with therapeutic cloning. However, this development has yet to be confirmed… click here to read whole article and make comments

Save me from my doctors, says UK patient

A 44-year-old man with a degenerative brain condition has challenged official UK guidelines on withdrawing life-prolonging treatment. As a victim of cerebellar ataxia, Leslie Burke is already confined to a wheelchair and foresees that he will eventually be paralysed and unable to communicate even though he will be mentally competent. He fears that under General Medical Council guidelines his doctors could withhold food and water from him until he died.

Mr Burke's barrister argues that the guidelines could breach his right to life and his right to be spared inhuman and degrading treatment under the European convention on human rights, as well as his right to autonomy and his right to a fair hearing. The counsel for the GMC described the scenario painted by Mr Burke as unrealistic. click here to read whole article and make comments

Watching the watchdog

The UK bodies which regulate nurses and doctors have been hauled before the High Court for excessive leniency in two recent cases. A new government body, the Council for Regulation of Healthcare Professionals, has challenged a mere caution given to a nurse who ogled pornographic websites while at work in a children's ward and the acquittal of a doctor who had an inappropriate relationship with a patient. The Council was established last year to deal with extreme cases where the public interest in having a "clearly perverse" decision overturned outweighs the public interest in independent self-regulation. This is the first time that it has exercised its powers. click here to read whole article and make comments

IN BRIEF: Israeli surprise; Vatican appointment; Singapore sperm shortage; Australian IVF; stem cell

A scientist who tried to poison his wife and covered up his crime by lacing products on supermarket shelves with poison is teaching medical ethics at the University of Manchester in the UK. Paul Agutter, 57, was released from jail in 2002 after serving 7 years of a 12-year sentence. A few weeks ago he was engaged to teach philosophy and medical ethics for two hours a week at night school. click here to read whole article and make comments

Harvard scientists offer 17 stem cell lines for free

Douglas Melton Exasperated with US restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, one of the leading experts in the field, Douglas Melton, of Harvard University, and his colleagues have created 17 stem cell lines which they plan to give away to other laboratories. Melton says that the 17 lines were created with private funding from 344 IVF embryos which had developed for 3 to 5 days. He has also written a "cookbook" to help other scientists use his stem cells and create more lines.

In recent weeks restrictions imposed by President Bust, which allow federal funding only for stem cell lines approved before 9 August 2001, have become increasingly irritating. American scientists winced when South Koreans announced that they had cloned human embryos and created stem cell lines. "Federally funded scientists have to drive Model T's, while Korean scientists get to drive around in the newest Porsche," said Dr George Q. Daley, a Harvard researcher.… click here to read whole article and make comments

Harvard to sidestep Bush’s restrictions on stem cell research

shield of Harvard University Throwing its enormous financial clout and prestige behind embryonic stem cell research, Harvard University, one of the top US centres for biomedical research, has put a US$100 million stem cell centre on the drawing board. It will be built and operated with private funding so that it can bypass federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. "Harvard has the resources; Harvard has the breadth, and, frankly, Harvard has the responsibility to be taking up the slack that the government is leaving," says Dr George Q. Daley.

The proposed stem cell institute will work together with Harvard's other schools -- government, law, divinity and business -- to understand the implications of the new technology.

Harvard is not the only institution attempting to do research on embryos without government funding. Other private initiatives are under way at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Minnesota and the University of California, San Francisco.… click here to read whole article and make comments

Bitter bioethicists link hands with angry scientists

Arthur Caplan US celebrity bioethicist Arthur Caplan has orchestrated a biting open letter to President George Bush after he sacked two supporters of therapeutic cloning from his Council on Bioethics. Caplan complains that the credibility of the Council has been "severely compromised" by reducing the diversity of ethical viewpoints. About 170 scientists and bioethicists signed the letter, including such prominent figures as the Australian philosopher Peter Singer and Ruth Macklin.

The letter may signal a trend towards political activism amongst American bioethicists. Coincidentally, Dr Caplan's letter appeared on the website of the American Journal of Bioethics (he is a board member) under an article calling upon the profession to act as "public intellectuals" who "play a prominent role in shaping public opinion on a variety of topics" by using the media skilfully.

The American Society for Cell Biology also denounced the sacking of its former president, Elizabeth Blackburn, an Australian, calling it a "Friday… click here to read whole article and make comments

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