There Were Horrified Researchers Who Knew About Scientist’s Embryo Gene-Editing Plans, But They Had Nowhere To Turn

The gene-editing work conducted on human embryos by one person sent shockwaves through the field. Although researchers don’t agree what the next steps forward should be, most say there needs to be something done to stop rogue scientists. In other public health news: the flu, medical tourism, spinal fractures, blood pressure medication, climate change, and more.

A year ago, Dr. Matthew Porteus, a genetics researcher at Stanford, received an out-of-the-blue email from a young Chinese scientist, asking to meet. A few weeks later, the scientist, He Jiankui, arrived in his office and dropped a bombshell. He said he had approval from a Chinese ethics board to create pregnancies using human embryos that he had genetically edited, a type of experiment that had never been carried out before and is illegal in many countries. “I spent probably 40 minutes or so telling him in no uncertain terms how wrong that was, how reckless,” Dr. Porteus said in a recent interview. (Belluck, 1/23)

A growing body of evidence suggests that sometimes our immune systems simply don’t follow the instructions a vaccine tries to give them — that is, make antibodies to fight a particular H3N2 or H1N1 virus. The reason? We all have flu baggage that shapes the way our immune systems respond to both infections and vaccines. …The idea is that the first flu viruses your immune system encounters make indelible marks on it. A person born in 1970 whose first influenza A infection was caused by an H3N2 virus will always mount a better immune response to H3N2 viruses — or that component of the vaccine — than she will to an H1N1 virus or vaccine. (Branswell, 1/24)

Tamika Capone thought she was making a smart call by traveling to Mexico for bariatric surgery. Her doctor had urged her to have the procedure to reduce her out-of-control weight and blood pressure. But her husband’s health insurance would not cover the $17,500 bill. After a friend got the surgery in Tijuana for $4,000, Capone decided to do the same. Nearly four months later, the Arkansas woman is one of at least a dozen U.S. residents who returned from surgeries in Tijuana with a rare and potentially deadly strain of bacteria resistant to virtually all antibiotics, say federal health officials. Some in the group recovered, but Capone, 40, remains seriously ill despite being treated with a barrage of drugs. (Sun, 1/23)

Scientists warned osteoporosis patients on Thursday to avoid two common procedures used to shore up painful fractures in crumbling spines. The treatments, which involve injecting bone cement into broken vertebrae, relieve pain no better than a placebo does, according to an expert task force convened by the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. (Kolata, 1/24)

For Luisa Estefany Jimenez, silence is elusive, sleep even more so. At all hours, her eldest daughter, Jasleen, 9, emits screams and moans that echo through their apartment, threatening to wake the neighbors. The clangs and bangs of thrown objects don’t help. Ms. Jimenez said caring for Jasleen, who is deaf and has trouble communicating, has made her feel perpetually unsettled. She has two other daughters, as well, and is candid about feeling overwhelmed. (Otis, 1/23)

The FDA inspects foreign factories that make drugs for U.S. companies. It was during these inspections the FDA discovered unacceptable levels of N-Nitrosodimethylamine, or NDMA. Further testing revealed the presence of N-Nitrosodiethylamine, or NDEA, in batches of valsartan. The majority of the recalled drugs were produced in the Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical factory in Linhai, China, USA Today reported, and the FDA issued an import alert, preventing its drugs from being shipped to the United States. (Clanton, 1/23)

Global warming will have a variety of effects on our planet, yet it may also directly impact our human biology, research suggests. Specifically, climate change could alter the proportion of male and female newborns, with more boys born in places where temperatures rise and fewer boys born in places with other environmental changes, such as drought or wildfire caused by global warming. (Scutti, 1/23)

Over the past year, NPR and the PBS program Frontline have interviewed dozens of miners across Appalachia with black lung. The interviews with miners like Muncy were part of an investigation that found federal regulators, despite mounting evidence and a stream of dire warnings, failed to protect coal miners. (Schuknecht, 1/23)

Animals in regions that are geographically remote present particular challenges for disease containment. But in Thailand, local residents are using technology, including digital scanning, to track animals and stop outbreaks before they start. (de Sam Lazaro, 1/23)

Melody Lynch-Kimery had a fairly routine pregnancy. But when she got to the hospital for delivery, she says, things quickly turned frightening. After an emergency cesarean section, Lynch-Kimery hemorrhaged; she heard later she’d lost about half the blood in her body. "I just kept thinking ‘I’m not going to die. I’m not going to die. I’m not going to let you let me die,’" she says. (Bavis, 1/24)

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