Editor’s note: Arthur Caplan is the Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty professor and director of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center.
(CNN) — Would you want to know your future if science could tell it to you?
Some forms of commercial genetic testing promise something like this kind of future-telling. But you need to think long and hard about peeking into your own genes to see what they hold in store for your health. It may not be so easy to cope with the bad news that could result. And it is likely that other people could know your genetic future even if you do not consent to tell them.
Let’s say you send your spit (yes, spit is the source of DNA for this kind of testing) off to one of the many companies advertising direct-to-consumer genetic testing and the results showed you had a huge risk of a fatal disease.
Would that freak you out? Would you want to get this news in a letter sent by overnight mail? Wouldn’t you prefer to have someone available to counsel you about what negative findings mean and what to do about them?
Article Date: 12 Mar 2013 – 0:00 PDT
Selling a kidney or part of one’s liver to pay off loans is becoming increasingly common in Bangladesh, where desperate villagers are being exploited by human organ traffickers, a Michigan State University researcher has found.
In a small village near Joypurhat in northern Bangladesh, Selina Akther sold a kidney to repay her husband’s microcredit loans and now suffers from daily pain and the scorn of fellow villagers. Her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law also sold a kidney.
The brother-in-law, Mohammed Saharul Islam, said he was in a “dire economic situation” because he couldn’t pay back multiple microcredit loans. The collateral-free loans (with an average size of about $50) allow villagers to start small businesses such as a chicken farm or food stand, although critics say the popular program can quickly lead to a dangerous cycle of debt.
“I sold my kidney from the pressure to repay the loans,” Islam said.
Monir Moniruzzaman, a medical anthropologist at MSU, is documenting the disturbing trend as part of his latest research. See a video of Moniruzzaman in Bangladesh below.
Twelve years ago, when Moniruzzaman started researching human organ trafficking in his native Bangladesh, it was relatively rare from village to village, an underground phenomenon. Today, the illegal sale of organs from living donors is so pervasive in the impoverished country that entire families have been exploited, transplant centers are much easier to find and husbands commonly pressure their wives to sell an organ, Moniruzzaman said.
“The market has widely expanded since I began looking into it,” said Moniruzzaman, whose fieldwork in 2005 exposed the black market for human organs and led to a seminal paper last year in Medical Anthropology Quarterly. “Unfortunately, it’s a mundane practice now – in Bangladesh and other poor regions around the world.”
With his latest research Moniruzzaman is documenting the many ways organ trafficking has infiltrated Bangladesh. This includes the growth of the human liver trade in which poor, vulnerable residents are fooled into selling part of their livers under false promises that they will get rich from the sale and that the liver will grow back.
Article Date: 12 Mar 2013 – 0:00 PDT
Scientists have developed a new method of replacing missing teeth with a bioengineered material generated from a person’s own gum cells. Current implant-based methods of whole tooth replacement fail to reproduce a natural root structure and as a consequence of the friction from eating and other jaw movement, loss of jaw bone can occur around the implant. The research is led by Professor Paul Sharpe, an expert in craniofacial development and stem cell biology at King’s College London and published in the Journal of Dental Research.
Research towards achieving the aim of producing bioengineered teeth – bioteeth – has largely focussed on the generation of immature teeth (teeth primordia) that mimic those in the embryo that can be transplanted as small cell ‘pellets’ into the adult jaw to develop into functional teeth.
Remarkably, despite the very different environments, embryonic teeth primordia can develop normally in the adult mouth and thus if suitable cells can be identified that can be combined in such a way to produce an immature tooth, there is a realistic prospect bioteeth can become a clinical reality. Subsequent studies have largely focussed on the use of embryonic cells and although it is clear that embryonic tooth primordia cells can readily form immature teeth following dissociation into single cell populations and subsequent recombination, such cell sources are impractical to use in a general therapy.
Mar. 12, 2013 — Despite many remarkable discoveries in the field of neuroscience during the past several decades, researchers have not been able to fully crack the brain’s “neural code.” The neural code details how the brain’s roughly 100 billion neurons turn raw sensory inputs into information we can use to see, hear and feel things in our environment.
In a perspective article published in the journal Nature Neuroscience on Feb. 25, 2013, biomedical engineering professor Garrett Stanley detailed research progress toward “reading and writing the neural code.” This encompasses the ability to observe the spiking activity of neurons in response to outside stimuli and make clear predictions about what is being seen, heard, or felt, and the ability to artificially introduce activity within the brain that enables someone to see, hear, or feel something that is not experienced naturally through sensory organs.
Stanley also described challenges that remain to read and write the neural code and asserted that the specific timing of electrical pulses is crucial to interpreting the code. He wrote the article with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Stanley has been developing approaches to better understand and control the neural code since 1997 and has published about 40 journal articles in this area.
“Neuroscientists have made great progress toward reading the neural code since the 1990s, but the recent development of improved tools for measuring and activating neuronal circuits has finally put us in a position to start writing the neural code and controlling neuronal circuits in a physiological and meaningful way,” said Stanley, a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.
Article Date: 12 Mar 2013 – 1:00 PDT
A brand new antibody search engine, featuring nearly 1 million antibodies and suitable for those working in cancer research, has been launched today by a team in the United Kingdom.
CiteAb is the world’s largest independent citation-ranked antibody search engine, giving researchers access to antibodies from over 60 companies worldwide.
CiteAb has worked with antibody suppliers to build a strong working relationship which ensures data in the search engine is completely up-to-date and regularly maintained.
Three years ago, Apple’s iPhone 4 launch was marred by the grip of death. If you held the iPhone just so, your hand could interfere with the phone’s antenna. Calls would drop, and web surfing would suck.
It was a PR nightmare for Apple, which eventually handed out free plastic bumpers that could fix the problem. But now, researchers at the California Institute of Technology say they’re developing a new approach to chipmaking that could prevent this — and crack down on a few other chip problems as well.
They’ve built a new kind of “self-healing” processor. Basically, it can reorganize itself when confronted with something like the Apple death grip, or worse.
To test their chips, the Caltech researchers blasted out components in specially built chips, similar to the kind of power amplifier chips you’d find in your mobile phone. They found that their their chips could fix themselves and keep on working even after being blasted by lasers. When they are first disrupted, the test chips waste a lot of power, but as they heal themselves, they automatically figure out the best state to change into, in order to keep working as efficiently as possible.
That’s a big deal. With most chips, if a single transistor fails, it’s enough to put it out of service. The Caltech chips, however, are equipped with sensors and a kind of digital immune system that allows them to alter the way they operate, bringing in new resources to replace whatever has been damaged, even after they’ve been blasted with lasers.
“Every so often a transistor blows up,” says Caltech Professor Ali Hajimiri. “In a current chip — if you have a microprocessor or a radio transceiver on your cellular phone — if one transistor is gone, the entire chip is useless.”
Article Date: 12 Mar 2013 – 0:00 PDT
To speed development and adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) for pediatrics, a group of experts from industry, academia and government convened by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has focused its attention on three key audiences – records-system vendors and developers, small-group pediatric medical practices and children’s hospitals.
In a paper* in The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, the panel of medical, human factors engineering and software-usability experts detail how specific recommendations from a recent guide to pediatric EHRs could be translated into practice.
In July 2012, NIST published A Human Factors Guide to Enhance EHR Usability of Critical User Interactions when Supporting Pediatric Patient Care (NISTIR 7865) to help improve the design of electronic health records for pediatric patients so that the design focus is on the users – the doctors, nurses and other clinicians who treat children.
Article Date: 12 Mar 2013 – 0:00 PDT
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is co-funding an affordable, hi-tech, solution for managing stress that could help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), helping warfighters and potentially saving billions of dollars in associated medical costs, officials announced March 6.
ONR, in conjunction with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is sponsoring development of the Stress Resilience Training System (SRTS), an iPad app training program that teaches Sailors and Marines to understand their stress responses and manage them by learning biofeedback techniques that work for their individual needs. The system will undergo field testing at the Naval Center for Combat and Operational Stress Control (NCCOSC) in San Diego in April.
Lessening the impact of PTSD to warfighters, the military and the nation is crucial. According to a February 2012 Congressional Budget Office report, 21 percent of military personnel returning from overseas contingency operations (OCO) in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from PTSD. The cost to treat these individuals is nearly 3.5 times higher than for someone without PTSD or traumatic brain injury, which works out to close to $1 billion when multiplied by the total number of OCO patients.
“The SRTS app provides users with an easy-to-access tool that helps them build resilience toward stressful events so that when they encounter those events, the likelihood of experiencing PTSD or any other aftereffects from stress is reduced,” said Cmdr. Joseph Cohn, program officer in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department and originator of the SRTS project.
Google has confirmed that its long-awaited Google Glass will support prescription lenses later this year, reports The Next Web.It said, “[t]he Glass design is modular, so you will be able to add frames and lenses that match your prescription. We understand how important this is and we’ve been working hard on it.”
The company is still perfecting the design and it won’t be available until after the first generation release. The speculation is that it’s making an effort to get everything ready in time for Christmas.
The frames do not feel heavy on your face, and I did not notice any difference in weight from my normal glasses. Because they’re made of metal, Glass is durable too. It can be bent and twisted and quickly return to its normal state.
The current design is dorky, but hopefully before they ship, Google can work to make Glass sleeker and not so noticeable.
After you place Glass on your face and adjust them, a small screen appears in your peripheral vision in the top right corner. Because the screen is so tiny it’s difficult to photograph exactly what Glass actually looks like.
The screen is initially distracting because you always want to look up at it, but once users are familiar with it being there I don’t see that remaining a problem.
Here’s an example of what I saw, this is a dramatization. The actual screen is tiny and it doesn’t block your entire field of vision as this one does:
The right side of Glass, where the battery rests, is touch-sensitive. It’s used to scroll through the various screens.
What I did realize, is that Google needs to offer a solution for individuals who wear glasses. The little screen seems far away.
Because of my poor vision (I’m near-sighted), all I could make out was the time, but I see Google’s vision for users being able to easily keep up with Tweets, status updates, participate in Google Hangouts, get directions, and more.
Glass allows you to speak to it too. If your hands are tied up you simply say, “Ok glass,” and speak a command like “send a message” or “get me directions”.
I’m excited to see the different ways that developers create apps for the device. There is an opportunity to create some really dynamic experiences for users.
Now that I’ve tried on the gadget and they are more than something I’ve seen in pictures and videos I believe that Glass is something that could take off.
The price is a huge barrier stopping it from becoming a hit with the masses and not just the elite.
I’m looking forward to spending more time with Google Glass and getting a better understanding of how the technology works, but just trying them on was an awesome experience.
Summary:Google is showing off samples of the first apps made by companies for its new augmented reality device Google Glass, including apps to read headlines, email and see photos. But this is the app I really want: augmented reality to overlay carbon emissions data.
Google showed off a few sample apps for its augmented reality Google Glass at the SXSW festival this week, and the apps were pretty obvious ones, including being able to view select headlines from the New York Times, checking out your Path photos and being able to read your emails. And while I know most of the early apps built are going to be like this — services help people manage their digital communication — I really want an app that helps people see the world differently and potentially help with important global issues like climate change.
That’s why I really want a concerned and passionate developer to build a carbon emissions viewer for Google Glass. The concept could be pretty simple. The app would take objects — from cars to buildings to cell phones — that use electricity or oil and overlay them with data or imagery about how much carbon, or greenhouse gases, they are emitting.
Depending on how the developer wanted to visualize the data, the app could show an infographic, graphics that look like smoke clouds, or just a couple of basic data points. Most of this type of data is out there and being collected by energy software companies, government institutions, nonprofits utilities and others.
Companies that collect such data have long tried to figure out creative ways to make data about carbon emissions interesting, provocative, compelling and cool. Grist’s David Roberts blogged about the rare non-sucky infographic on climate change this week. The Victorian Government created this video campaign to illustrate carbon emissions as black balloons a few years ago.
March 11, 2013
Google Glass won’t be available to consumers for months, but there’s at least one Seattle bar where the eyewear will not be welcome.
The 5 Point, a self-described dive bar in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, posted a notice to its Facebook page this week telling Glass Explorers looking to grab a pint that they will need to remove their $1,500 spectacles. The story was noted today on GeekWire.
“For the record, The 5 Point is the first Seattle business to ban in advance Google Glasses,” the post reads. “And ass kickings will be encouraged for violators.”
“I’m a thought leader,” deadpanned Dave Meinert, the bar’s owner, in an interview on Seattle’s KIRO-FM. “First you have to understand the culture of the 5 Point, which is a sometimes seedy, maybe notorious place. People want to go there and be not known…and definitely don’t want to be secretly filmed or videotaped and immediately put on the Internet.”
(CNSNews.com) – The House Energy and Commerce Committee is concerned medical “apps” on mobile devices will be taxed under Obamacare, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is in the process of establishing regulations for the applications, won’t clearly say if taxes are forthcoming.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, better known as Obamacare, levels a 2.3 percent excise tax on the sales of medical device manufacturers and importers.
At the same time, the FDA is considering oversight of mobile medical applications for cell phones and other medical devices.
“Has the FDA discussed, prepared, or analyzed the effect of the medical device tax on smartphones (as well as tablets or similar devices) or creators or distributors of applications for these products?” asked a letter from Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg.
CNSNews.com asked the FDA if the coming regulation would mean taxes for medical apps on mobile devices. The FDA did not provide a clear answer.
“Regarding your inquiry, the FDA will respond directly to the members on this issue,” FDA spokeswoman Synim Rivers told CNSNews.com in an e-mail response. “This is all of the information I am able to provide at this time.”
The letter from Congress cited a USA Today report that about 40,000 medical applications are currently on the market for smartphone and tablets.
March 11, 2013
Image by Llorenzi, via Wikimedia Commons
Drugs that could combat ageing and help people to live to 150-years-old may be available within five years, following landmark research.
The new drugs are synthetic versions of resveratrol which is found in red wine and is believed to have an anti-ageing effect as it boosts activity of a protein called SIRT1.
Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has been testing the medications on patients suffering with medical conditions including cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Mar. 11, 2013 — A new study suggests that people get frustrated when they are offered the opportunity to cheat or steal and that chance is then taken away from them. Other studies have shown that blocking people from achieving their positive goals increases frustration, which is not surprising. But this is the first to show that even denying people the chance to commit forbidden behaviors can increase frustration.
That’s not all. The researchers also found that people who are frustrated in their attempts to cheat or steal are more likely than others to be attracted to violent video games.
“We made new discoveries in what makes people frustrated and aggressive, but also what people do when they’re feeling this frustration,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.
“Our results help us understand why people are attracted to violent entertainment in the first place — they feel they can take out their frustration virtually.”
Bushman conducted the study with Jodi Whitaker, a graduate student at Ohio State, and Andre Melzer and Georges Steffgen of the University of Luxembourg.
Their results appear online in the journal Psychological Science.
The researchers conducted two experiments. The first involved 120 male college students, who were given 30 minutes to complete a multiple-choice history exam. They were told that those who did well on the exam would earn chocolates or apples (their choice).
All of the participants were given the exam in an envelope. But half of them received a completed exam with a score of 100 percent marked at the top — the test had no name on it, so they could claim it as their own.
After five minutes, the experimenter interrupted participants and said: “Sorry, I gave you the wrong copy of the exam.” The participants handed back their exams in the envelope, and were given another envelope with the exam. This exam was also either scored 100 percent or left blank.
Of those who initially were given the chance to cheat on the exam, half still had the chance to cheat, while that chance was withdrawn for the other half.
After turning in their tests, the students waited to receive their grades.
The question was: How would those people who lost their chance to cheat react? To find out, the students were told they could complete a brief study about video games while they waited for their test results.
Participants read descriptions of eight fictitious video games, four violent and four nonviolent, and rated how much they wanted to play each game on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 10 (extremely).
Those students who had the chance to cheat withdrawn were more attracted to the violent video games than those in the other two groups (never had a chance to cheat, or had a chance to cheat the entire time). The latter two groups did not differ in their attraction to violent video games.
None of the three groups differed in their attraction to nonviolent games.
Bushman noted that none of the students admitted to cheating, or having the chance to cheat, even though they did cheat (as evidenced by their scores). But the students who were denied the chance to cheat obviously had a different view than others on their video game choices.
“Because violent video games permit aggression, they may be especially attractive to people who experience frustration,” Bushman said. “We believe students felt frustrated when they didn’t get a chance to cheat on the test.”
Mar. 11, 2013 — Researchers at Columbia Engineering have developed a new “plug-and-play” method to assemble complex cell microenvironments that is a scalable, highly precise way to fabricate tissues with any spatial organization or interest — such as those found in the heart or skeleton or vasculature. The study reveals new ways to better mimic the enormous complexity of tissue development, regeneration, and disease, and is published in the March 4 Early Online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
“George Eng, an MD/PhD student in my lab who just received his doctoral degree, designed a lock-and-key technique to build cellular assemblies using a variety of shapes that lock into templates much the way you would use LEGO building blocks,” says Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, who led the study and is the Mikati Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia Engineering and professor of medical sciences. “What is really important about this technique is that these shapes are tiny — just a fraction of millimeter, the thickness of a human hair — and that their precise arrangements are made using cell-friendly hydrogels.”
Tissue cells in the human body form specific architectures that are critical for the function of each tissue. Cardiac cells, for example, are aligned to create maximum force acting in one direction. Cells without specific spatial organization may never become fully functional if they do not recapitulate their intrinsic organization found in the body. The Columbia Engineering technique enables researchers to construct unique and controlled cell patterns that allow precise studies of cell function, so that, Vunjak-Novakovic adds, “we can now ask some of the more complex questions about how the cells respond to the entire context of their environment. This will help us explore cellular behavior during the progression of disease and test the effects of drugs, stem cells, and various other therapeutic measures.”
Mar. 9, 2013 — Can the length of strands of DNA in patients with heart disease predict their life expectancy? Researchers from the Intermountain Heart Institute at Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City, who studied the DNA of more that 3,500 patients with heart disease, say yes it can.
In the new study, presented Saturday, March 9, at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session in San Francisco, the researchers were able to predict survival rates among patients with heart disease based on the length of strands of DNA found on the ends of chromosomes known as telomeres — the longer the patient’s telomeres, the greater the chance of living a longer life.
The study is one of 17 studies from the Intermountain Heart Institute at Intermountain Medical Center that are being presented at the scientific session, which is being attended by thousands of cardiologists and heart experts from around the world.
Previous research has shown that telomere length can be used as a measure of age, but these expanded findings suggest that telomere length may also predict the life expectancy of patients with heart disease.
Telomeres protect the ends of chromosome from becoming damaged. As people get older, their telomeres get shorter until the cell is no longer able to divide. Shortened telomeres are associated with age-related diseases such as heart disease or cancer, as well as exposure to oxidative damage from stress, smoking, air pollution, or conditions that accelerate biologic aging.
“Chromosomes by their nature get shorter as we get older,” said John Carlquist, PhD, director of the Intermountain Heart Institute Genetics Lab. “Once they become too short, they no longer function properly, signaling the end of life for the cell. And when cells reach this stage, the patient’s risk for age-associated diseases increases dramatically.”
by Dave Andrusko | Washington, DC | LifeNews.com | 3/11/13 3:33 PM
The forthcoming book, “The Healing Cell,” will be a welcomed addition to the literature demonstrating how successfully adult stem cells are being used in regenerative medicine.
Co-authored by Dr. Robin Smith, President of the Stem for Life Foundation, Monsignor Tomasz Trafny, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture’s Science and Faith department, and Max Gomez, a medical journalist, “The Healing Cell” is the outcome of collaboration between the Stem for Life Foundation (www.stemforlife.org) and the Pontifical Council for Culture.
The two organizations held an international conference in Rome November 9-11, 2011 devoted to medical applications of adult stem cells.
Unlike embryonic stem cells, which are lethally extracted from the unborn, adult stem cells come from a host of unobjectionable sources and possess many intrinsic advantages.
For instance, adult stem cells can be isolated from numerous tissues, including bone marrow, muscle, fat, and umbilical cord blood, just to name a few. And because the adult stem cells often come from the patient’s own body or a close relative, there is no need for drugs to prevent the body from rejecting the transplanted tissues.