ODD SPOT: Grandmothers overturn age-old conceptions

It's a bit early to vote for headline of the year, but BioEdge would like to nominate "Great-grandmother admits she's not pregnant", which ran on MSNBC.com over a January 4 news item from Associated Press. A 59-year-old woman from a small town in the American state of Georgia, Frances Harris, told family and friends that she was pregnant with twins, even though she had been sterilised 33 years earlier. It turns out that Mrs Harris was grappling with, um, "personal issues" and that the announcement was probably wishful thinking.

Even if she had been expecting, however, Mrs Harris would have… MORE

IN BRIEF: Ukraine; stem cells; horizon scanning

Ukraine: Despite the turmoil surrounding its recent presidential elections, the parliament of the Ukraine found time in mid-December to ban reproductive cloning. MORE

Better off dead than a burden, says Warnock

Barones Mary Warnock Britain's best-known bioethicist, Baroness Warnock, has suggested that the elderly should request euthanasia rather than linger on as a burden on their families. In an interview in the London Times, the architect of the UK's fertility laws said that "I know I'm not really allowed to say it, but one of the things that would motivate me [to die] is I couldn't bear hanging on and being such a burden on people. In other contexts sacrificing oneself for one's family would be considered good. I don't see what is so… MORE

US researchers clone monkeys

Macaque monkey Using a technique developed by the South Korean team which cloned the first human embryos, University of Pittsburgh scientists have cloned macaque monkeys. Although the embryos grew to the blastocyst stage of about 200 cells, the scientists did not manage to obtain embryonic stem cells. In previous attempts the clones died at the 16-cell stage.

The Korean technique involves gently squeezing an egg until the nucleus is squished out. The American team took this one step further and placed genetic material from the skin cell of an unrelated monkey in the enucleated… MORE

Lisbon doctor gives hope to spinal cord victims

Dr Carlos Lima A British woman paralysed in a riding accident has regained some movement after stem cells from her nose were transplanted into her spine. The operation took place in Portugal under the direction of Dr Carlos Lima, who has used the technique on 34 patients. "All of our patients have some kind of recovery," he says. We have no doubts about sensory recovery and some voluntary motor recovery. They move and feel below the lesions [on the spine] as never before. And there is even some bladder and bowel control."


Chinese achieve “miracle cures” with aborted foetuses

Americans suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease are travelling to Beijing to seek treatment with nasal stem cells from aborted foetuses. Dr Huang Hongyun injects cells harvested from foetuses into affected parts of the spine or brain. Amazingly, there is often an instant improvement. Wheelchair-bound patients have stood up and recovered their speech. Unfortunately the miraculous results are often short-lived and patients lapse back into paralysis. Western doctors are familiar with Dr Huang's therapy and describe it as unethical. He uses foetuses aborted under China's notorious one-child policy; his record-keeping and follow-up is poor; and he does not conduct clinical trials.… MORE

Nobel laureate criticised for spruiking health supplements

One of the 1998 winners of the Nobel Prize for Medicine has been criticised for publishing a paper in a leading scientific journal without disclosing that he was endorsing a health supplement sold by Herbalife International in exchange for royalties. Louis Ignarro published an article in the June 8 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about the positive effects of vitamins C and E and the amino acid arginine, all ingredients in a Herbalife product. His consulting company received at least US$1 million from the product between June 2003 and September 2004, with his signature and… MORE

Israeli Knesset studying euthanasia bill

A bill authorising "passive euthanasia" is being studied by the Israeli Knesset. Neurologist Avraham Steinberg, who headed the interdisciplinary committee which studied the proposal, hopes that it will go through the first reading stage before elections. Interest in the bill has been heightened by the recent case of a paralysed and comatose terror attack victim whose parents asked doctors to shut off his respirator. However, the man woke up and asked to live.

The committee has made a number of novel proposals. Terminally ill patients who wish to die could ask for legally-binding "living wills" to be enforced. Respirators could… MORE

Scrap fertility agency, says British IVF expert

Outspoken fertility expert Lord Robert Winston has called for the UK's fertility regulator to be scrapped. Upset by interference from the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Authority in requests for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and saviour siblings, he wants the practice of fertility medicine to be self-regulated. He called the HFEA incompetent and bureaucratic and suggested that it was scaring the public unnecessarily. "It also may be true that public regulatory bodies increase public anxiety because they focus on something, suggesting there may be anxiety when really there isn't any need for it," he told the BBC. Although experts defended the HFEA… MORE

Another alternative to embryonic stem cells?

Stem cells found in hair follicles could provide an ethically non-controversial alternative to embryonic stem cells, say researchers. Writing in the journal Developmental Dynamics, researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Charles University in Prague say that neural crest cells taken from mice can differentiate into neurons, nerve supporting cells, cartilage and bone cells, smooth muscle cells and pigment cells. Preliminary data suggest that similar cells exist in the human body. MORE

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