April 18, 2014
Cost of Treating Patients May Influence Doctors
(New York Times) – Saying they can no longer ignore the rising prices of health care, some of the most influential medical groups in the nation are recommending that doctors weigh the costs, not just the effectiveness of treatments, as they make decisions about patient care. The shift, little noticed outside the medical establishment but already controversial inside it, suggests that doctors are starting to redefine their roles, from being concerned exclusively about individual patients to exerting influence on how health care dollars are spent.
Cyborg Glasses Save Users the Need to Control Emotions
(BBC) – As Google continues to stoke excitement for its Glass smart-eyewear, a Japanese researcher has developed a radical alternative. Rather than focus on what the owner sees, Prof Hirotaka Osawa’s kit shows computer-generated eye animations in place of the wearer’s real ones. Special lenses let the user see out or take a secret nap if they prefer.
Broad Institute Gets Patent on Revolutionary Gene-Editing Method
(MIT Technology Review) – One of the most important genetic technologies developed in recent years is now patented, and researchers are wondering what they will and won’t be allowed to do with the powerful method for editing the genome. On Tuesday, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard announced that it had been granted a patent covering the components and methodology for CRISPR—a new way of making precise, targeted changes to the genome of a cell or an organism. CRISPR could revolutionize biomedical research by giving scientists a more efficient way of re-creating disease-related mutations in lab animals and cultured cells; it may also yield an unprecedented way of treating disease.
Preterm Births, Multiples, and Fertility Treatment
(Science Codex) – While it is well known that fertility treatments are the leading cause of increases in multiple gestations and that multiples are at elevated risk of premature birth, these results are not inevitable, concludes an article in Fertility and Sterility. The article identifies six changes in policy and practice that can reduce the odds of multiple births and prematurity, including expanding insurance coverage for in vitro fertilization (IVF) and improving doctor-patient communications about the risks associated with twins.
Research Brings Significant Improvement in Genetic Analysis of Tumors
(Medical Xpress) – Every tumour is unique and requires specific treatment. A thorough and complete analysis of the genetic activity in the tumour cells is necessary to determine the appropriate treatment. Researchers at TU Delft, in collaboration with researchers from Columbia University and the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital have achieved significant improvements in this type of analysis. The results were published on 4 and 10 April in the scientific journals PNAS and PLOS Genetics.
Cancer Drugs Targeted to Patient’s Own Genetics to Be Offered in New NHS Trial
(The Telegraph) – Cancer patients will be offered new drugs targeted to the specific genetic profile of their disease within ten years following research that promises to revolutionise the way tumours are treated. In a groundbreaking new venture, the NHS, Cancer Research UK and pharmaceutical companies are joining together to offer all cancer patients experimental new drugs that are honed to the specific genetics of their tumours.
Identical Twins, One Case of Down Syndrome: A Genetic Mystery
(Los Angeles Times) – A rare occurrence in the earliest days of a pregnancy produces an unusual and mystifying outcome: Identical twin fetuses are conceived of the same meeting of egg and sperm. And despite their shared DNA, one of the twins has Down syndrome (the most common genetic cause of intellectual impairment), but the other does not.
The Rapture of the Nerds
(Time) – Sure, it’s easy to dismiss people who think they can somehow cheat death with a laptop. But Terasem is a potent symbol of a modern way of life where the digital world and the emotional one have become increasingly entwined. It is also a sign, if one from the fringe, of the always evolving relationship between technology and faith. Survey after survey has shown the number of Americans calling themselves “religious” has declined despite the fact that many still identify as “spiritual.” People are searching, and no longer do they look to technology to provide mere order for their lives. They also want meaning. Maybe, it’s time to hack our souls.
Scientists Make First Embryo Clone from Adults
(The Wall Street Journal) – Scientists for the first time have cloned cells from two adults to create early-stage embryos, and then derived tissue from those embryos that perfectly matched the DNA of the donors. The experiment represents another advance in the quest to make tissue in the laboratory that could treat a range of maladies, from heart attacks to Alzheimer’s. The study, involving a 35-year-old man and one age 75, was published Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
Preventing AI from Developing Anti-Social and Potentially Harmful Behaviour
(Phys.org) – A study just published in the Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence reflects upon the growing need for autonomous technology, and suggests that humans should be very careful to prevent future systems from developing anti-social and potentially harmful behaviour. Modern military and economic pressures require autonomous systems that can react quickly – and without human input. These systems will be required to make rational decisions for themselves.
April 17, 2014
Just Say Yes? The Rise of ‘Study Drugs’ in College
(CNN) – Around this time of year, you’re more likely to find college students in the library cramming for final exams than out partying. In an environment where the workload is endless and there’s always more to be done, a quick fix to help buckle down and power through becomes very tempting. Prescription ADHD medications like Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse are becoming increasingly popular for overworked and overscheduled college students — who haven’t been diagnosed with ADHD.
Artificial Eyes, Plastic Skulls: 3-D Printing the Human Body
(CNN) – The 21st century has seen the growth of 3-D printing, with well-known applications in architecture, manufacturing, engineering, and now increasingly in medicine. The birth of 3-D scanning technologies combined with organic inks and thermoplastics has enabled the “bioprinting” of a range of human body parts to accommodate a wide range of medical conditions. Let’s start form the top.
What It’s Like to Spend 20 Years Listening to Psychopaths for Science
(Wired) – Kiehl recounts the story in a new book about his research, The Psychopath Whisperer. He has been interviewing psychopaths for more than 20 years, and the book is filled with stories of these colorful (and occasionally off-color) encounters. (Actually, The Psychopath Listener would have been a more accurate, if less grabby title.) More recently he’s acquired a mobile MRI scanner and permission to scan the brains of New Mexico state prison inmates. So far he’s scanned about 3,000 violent offenders, including 500 psychopaths.
A Fine Balance: Disability, Discrimination, and Public Safety
(The Conversation) – A recent discrimination case has highlighted the difficulty of balancing the rights of disabled medical students with the rights of the community to safe medical and health care. In the BKY v The University of Newcastle, a New South Wales tribunal found the university had discriminated against a medical student by refusing her an extension to complete the five-year medical course beyond the usual maximum of eight years.
The Antidepressant Generation
(New York Times) – Are we using good scientific evidence to make decisions about keeping these young people on antidepressants? Or are we inadvertently teaching future generations to view themselves as too fragile to cope with the adversity that life invariably brings?
Should Drug Firms Make Payments to Doctors?
(BBC) – Gifts and payments to US doctors from drug firms are seen by some as encouraging unnecessary prescriptions. Do such transfers make any difference and will President Obama’s healthcare reform help, by forcing companies to disclose them? Prescribe enough drugs and – as detailed in 1974 Senate hearings – a doctor could accumulate points to exchange for a wide range of consumer desirables – colour TVs, watches, microwave ovens, lawnmowers, golf clubs.
For Diabetics, Health Risks Fall Sharply
(New York Times) – Federal researchers on Wednesday reported the first broad national picture of progress against some of the most devastating complications of diabetes, which affects millions of Americans, finding that rates of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and amputations fell sharply over the past two decades. The biggest declines were in the rates of heart attacks and deaths from high blood sugar, which dropped by more than 60 percent from 1990 to 2010, the period studied.
Former Hospital Technician Behind Bogus Mammogram Results Gets Jail Time
(CNN) – A former Georgia hospital technician was sentenced to up to six months in prison after pleading guilty to manipulating the mammogram records of 1,289 patients. Ten of those women were given false negatives, and two of them are now dead, a prosecutor says. Rachael Rapraeger told the patients at Perry Hospital that their mammograms yielded negative results when a doctor had never reviewed them, according to court documents.
The Rise of ‘Social’ Surrogacy: The Women Choosing Not to Carry Their Own Babies for Fear of Hurting Their Careers or Ruining Their Bodies
(Daily Mail) – It used to be that surrogacy was considered an option exclusively for infertile couples, but it appears more and more women are doing it for less medically urgent reasons. According to Elle Magazine, ‘social surrogacy’ is on the rise, with mothers choosing not to carry their baby themselves in order not to upset their work life or ‘ruin’ their bodies. ‘I call these cases designer surrogacy,’ said San Diego-based fertility doctor Lorni Arnold, whose patients have included a socialite ‘who didn’t want to get fat’ and a runner about to do a marathon.
Modified Stem Cells May Offer Way to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease
(Medical News Today) – A new study suggests genetically modified stem cells may offer a new way to treat Alzheimer’s disease. When implanted in mice bred to have symptoms and brain hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, they increased connections between brain cells and reduced the amyloid-beta protein that accumulates to form plaques that clog up the brain.
Stem-Cell Treatment for Blindness Moving through Patient Testing
(MIT Technology Review) – A new treatment for macular degeneration is close to the next stage of human testing—a noteworthy event not just for the millions of patients it could help, but for its potential to become the first therapy based on embryonic stem cells. This year, the Boston-area company Advanced Cell Technology plans to move its stem-cell treatment for two forms of vision loss into advanced human trials. The company has already reported that the treatment is, although a full report of the results from the early, safety-focused testing has yet to be published. The planned trials will test whether it is effective.