March 10, 2014
The ‘cursed’ women living in shame
(BBC) – In a rural central Ugandan village, 17-year-old Sulaina sits on the mud floor of the tiny home she shares with her mother and younger brother and sister. She wants to help provide for her family. But she can’t. She can barely leave her house. Wherever she goes, a sickly smell follows her. That’s because she is constantly leaking urine. The rags she has stuffed in her underwear are drenched quickly, and then the urine starts running down her legs. She has sores all over her thighs where the urine has burned her. Sulaina has a condition called obstetric fistula. She developed it after giving birth to a baby girl last year.
Japanese researcher backtracks on ‘breakthrough’ STAP cell research
(Reuters) – A Japanese scientist called on Monday for withdrawing stem-cell research he had been involved in that had appeared to promise a new era of medical biology as doubts have arisen over the results. The research, described as game-changing by experts at the time, was covered breathlessly in Japan after it was published in the journal Nature, with co-researcher Haruko Obokata becoming an instant celebrity.
Blood test may detect Alzheimer’s in healthy people
(UPI) – U.S. researchers say they discovered and validated a blood test that can predict with 90 percent accuracy if a healthy person will develop Alzheimer’s. Dr. Howard J. Federoff, professor of neurology and executive vice president for health sciences at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, said the test identifies 10 lipids, or fats, in the blood that predict disease onset. It could be ready for use in clinical studies in as few as two years, he added.
How virus sleuths and public health officials track the cause of a mysterious illness
(Washington Post) – When a mysterious disease fells people — as happened in California recently, with as many as 20 children experiencing unexplained paralysis — teams of physicians and epidemiologists quickly mobilize. Perhaps you saw the movie “Contagion”? The idea is to find the culprit before it spreads but also to prevent public panic. The investigation typically begins with a doctor reporting a sudden increase in patients with a particular disease or symptom to a state health department. It then falls to the government to determine whether the report is a false perception, a statistical quirk or a genuine surge.
Stem cell study opens door to undiscovered world of biology
(Phys.org) – For the first time, researchers have shown that an essential biological process known as protein synthesis can be studied in adult stem cells – something scientists have long struggled to accomplish. The groundbreaking findings from the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) also demonstrate that the precise amount of protein produced by blood-forming stem cells is crucial to their function.
Mutations in leukemia gene linked to new childhood growth disorder
(Medical Xpress) – Mutations in a gene associated with leukaemia cause a newly described condition that affects growth and intellectual development in children, new research reports. A study led by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, identified mutations in the DNA methyltransferase gene, DNMT3A, in 13 children.
Banked, but cord blood is rare call
(Sydney Morning Herald) – Australian parents are paying thousands of dollars to store their babies’ umbilical cord blood with private operators – but only a few families have ever used it. Six out of about 30,000 people who banked cord blood privately in the past decade have accessed it, Mark Kirkland, medical director of private bank Cell Care, said. The head of the Australian Medical Association, Steve Hambleton, said he was concerned that parents are being ”oversold” on the merits of storage, which can cost up to $3000, and misled into spending money that is unlikely to have any benefit.
Chicago hospital evaluates stem-cell therapy for pain
(CBS Local) – Is it the future of pain relief, the end of pain pills, physical therapy and knee or hip replacements? CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist looks at a new procedure offered at only a handful of places. It’s still a bit controversial. But some doctors and their patients swear by it. Linda Morning-Starpoole suffered terrible knee pain, the result of sports injuries when she was younger. Traditional treatment might involve steroid injections, physical therapy and joint replacement. But she wanted an alternative.
The start of life as seen on smartphones
(The Irish Examiner) – The Instituto Marques in Barcelona, which has treated more than 1,000 Irish patients, has a hi-tech incubator called the Embryoscope, which allows couples to watch the embryos in the first days and weeks live on the internet before they are transferred to the womb. Dr Hans Arce, assisted reproduction consultant at the clinic which specialises in long-standing and unexplained infertility, said Irish patients feel closer to the process of conceiving their baby through the webcam images which were only previously seen by the embryologists working in the laboratory.
Will Belgium’s legalized child euthanasia trigger death tourism?
(Forbes) – Speculation on whether Belgium will become a new destination for what is known as “death tourism” has also been raised by representatives of political parties opposed to lifting age restrictions for medically assisted deaths. They argue that as cultural differences and moral reasons prevent most other nations from legalizing euthanasia, people will travel to countries that allow the practice. They worry that Belgium has opened its doors to death-seeking visitors.
How do patients respond to end-of-life status?
(Nursing Times) – Although health professionals may tell patients when they are nearing the end of their lives, patients do not always absorb or want this information. Aside from close companions and friends, nurses have the closest and most sustained contact with dying people. In the UK, Field’s (1989) study of nurses’ experiences of caring for dying patients showed that, by the 1980s, attitudes to telling patients about their terminal prognoses had changed.
Recession has heightened euthanaisa ‘danger’ to disabled and elderly, claims peer
(The Telegraph) – The threat to frail elderly and disabled people from relatives tempted to get rid of them under the guise of euthanasia has grown “dramatically” in the wake of the economic downturn, one of Britain’s most prominent disability campaigners has claimed. Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, who suffers from a degenerative illness, issued an impassioned plea in the House of Lords against moves to further relax Britain’s laws on assisted suicide.
Angel of mercy, angel of death
(New York Times) – Figures observed through frosted glass as they engage in semi-audible conversation: That mysterious tableau, which begins Valeria Golino’s film “Honey,” defines the detached sensibility of the title character. “Honey” (“miele” in Italian) is the code name for Irene, a fiercely free-spirited woman in the shadowy business of assisted suicide. Portrayed by Jasmine Trinca, an athletic gamin with adorably crooked teeth, Irene is connected to a loose network of contacts who direct her to terminally ill clients.
Movement in the womb sparks specific genes to build a healthy skeleton
(Phys.org) – Zoologists and bioengineers from Trinity College Dublin have identified over 1,000 genes whose responses change markedly when embryos are not able to move freely in the womb. The discovery will help scientists better understand how important tissues are programmed to develop in our bodies, which could in turn suggest how stem cells can be primed for use in tissue engineering and regenerative therapies.
Chemo drug helps HIV patients respond to Sangamo gene therapy
(Reuters) – Treating HIV patients first with a chemotherapy drug improved their response to an experimental gene-modifying technique for controlling the virus, according to Sangamo BioSciences. The company presented new data from a small early-stage trial of its treatment, SB-728-T, on Thursday at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston.
March 7, 2014
Establishing standards where none exist: Researchers define ‘good’ stem cells
(Phys.org) – But what makes a “good” stem cell, one that can reliably be used in drug development, and for disease study? Researchers have made enormous strides in understanding the process of cellular reprogramming, and how and why stem cells commit to becoming various types of adult cells. But until now, there have been no standards, no criteria, by which to test these ubiquitous cells for their ability to faithfully adopt characteristics that make them suitable substitutes for patients for drug testing. And the need for such quality control standards becomes ever more critical as industry looks toward manufacturing products and treatments using stem cells.
Genetic cause found for premature ovarian failure
(Medical Xpress) – A team led by researchers from the Spanish National Research Council and the University of Salamanca has found a genetic cause for premature ovarian failure, a disorder affecting 1 percent of women that provokes the loss of ovarian function years before menopause. The results, published in The New England Journal of Medicine and Human and Molecular Genetics journals, demonstrate for the first time that mutation in STAG3 gene is the major cause of human fertility disorders as it provokes a loss of function of the protein it encodes.
Connecticut voters back assisted-suicide bill almost 2-1
(NBC Connecticut) – Connecticut voters support allowing doctors to legally prescribe lethal drugs to help terminally ill patients end their own lives, a Quinnipiac University poll released today finds. “Public support for allowing assisted dying in Connecticut is a very personal issue, crossing partisan, gender and age lines,” Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University poll, said in a statement.
‘Do it yourself’ surrogate pregnancy ends in legal chaos with three-year-old boy effectively having two mothers
(Daily Mail) – A judge has warned of the dangers of informal surrogacy agreements after a woman found she had no parental rights to the baby she had asked her friend to conceive with her husband. The ‘do it yourself’-style surrogate pregnancy ended in the High Court after the boy, now three, was effectively left with two mothers. Unable to have children of her own, a woman asked a close friend to be artificially inseminated at home with her husband’s sperm.
Wombs for rent: The Indian baby farms transforming the lives of poverty-stricken women who are paid to carry babies for wealthy foreigners
(Daily Mail) – Indian ‘baby farms’ are thriving as demand from couples from developed countries, including the UK, soars. Infertile couples are turning to women in India to carry and give birth to their children, as commercial surrogacy is not legal in certain countries, or if it is legal, can be prohibitively expensive. The money these women are earn – as much as £4,700 per pregnancy – is transforming communities.
March 6, 2014
Gene-editing method tackles HIV in first clinical trial
(Nature) – A clinical trial has shown that a gene-editing technique can be safe and effective in humans. For the first time, researchers used enzymes called zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs) to target and destroy a gene in the immune cells of 12 people with HIV, increasing their resistance to the virus. The findings are published today in The New England Journal of Medicine. “This is the first major advance in HIV gene therapy since it was demonstrated that the ‘Berlin patient’ Timothy Brown was free of HIV,” says John Rossi, a molecular biologist at the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, California.