UK approves embryo 'gene editing'

Scientists get ‘gene editing’ go-ahead

By James Gallagher
Health editor, BBC News website
  • 1 February 2016
  • From the section Health
  • comments

BlastocystImage copyright
SPL

UK scientists have been given the go-ahead by the fertility regulator to genetically modify human embryos.

It is the first time a country has considered the DNA-altering technique in embryos and approved it.

The research will take place at the Francis Crick Institute in London and aims to provide a deeper understanding of the earliest moments of human life.

It will be illegal for the scientists to implant the modified embryos into a woman.

But the field is attracting controversy over concerns it is opening the door to designer – or GM – babies.

DNA is the blueprint of life – the instructions for building the human body. Gene editing allows the precise manipulation of DNA.

Media captionFergus Walsh explains how gene editing works

In a world-first last year, scientists in China announced they had carried out gene editing in human embryos to correct a gene that causes a blood disorder.

Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, a scientific advisor to the UK’s fertility regulator, told the BBC: “China has guidelines, but it is often unclear exactly what they are until you’ve done it and stepped over an unclear boundary.

“This is the first time it has gone through a properly regulatory system and been approved.”

Groundbreaking

The experiments will take place in the first seven days after fertilisation.

During this time we go from a fertilised egg to a structure called a blastocyst, containing 200-300 cells.

Image copyright
Kathy Niakan

Image caption

The embryo divides and develops from a single fertilised egg (top left) to a blastocyst (bottom right)

The work will be led by Dr Kathy Niakan, who has spent a decade researching human development.

Earlier this year, she explained why she had applied to edit human embryos: “We would really like to understand the genes needed for a human embryo to develop successfully into a healthy baby.

“The reason why it is so important is because miscarriages and infertility are extremely common, but they’re not very well understood.”

Out of every 100 fertilised eggs, fewer than 50 reach the early blastocyst stage, 25 implant into the womb and only 13 develop beyond three months.

And at the blastocyst stage, some cells have been organised to perform specific roles – some go on to form the placenta, others the yolk sac and others ultimately us.

How and why this takes place is unknown – but some parts of our DNA are highly active at this stage.

It is likely these genes are guiding our early development, but it is unclear exactly what they are doing or what goes wrong in miscarriage.

The researchers will alter these genes in donated embryos, which will be destroyed after seven days.

The regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has given its approval and the experiments could start in the next few months.

Arguments

Paul Nurse, the director of the Crick, said: “I am delighted that the HFEA has approved Dr Niakan’s application.

“Dr Niakan’s proposed research is important for understanding how a healthy human embryo develops and will enhance our understanding of IVF success rates, by looking at the very earliest stage of human development.”

Dr David King, the director of Human Genetics Alert, said: “This research will allow the scientists to refine the techniques for creating GM babies, and many of the government’s scientific advisers have already decided that they are in favour of allowing that.

“So this is the first step in a well mapped-out process leading to GM babies, and a future of consumer eugenics.”

Dr Sarah Chan, from the University of Edinburgh, said: “The use of genome editing technologies in embryo research touches on some sensitive issues, therefore it is appropriate that this research and its ethical implications have been carefully considered by the HFEA before being given approval to proceed.

“We should feel confident that our regulatory system in this area is functioning well to keep science aligned with social interests.”

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Next week's junior doctor strike on

Next week’s junior doctor strike on

By Nick Triggle
Health correspondent
  • 1 February 2016
  • From the section Health

Junior doctors on strikeImage copyright
PA

Next week’s strike by junior doctors in England will go ahead as talks with the government have failed to reach a solution – but union leaders say medics will provide emergency cover.

The 10 February action was originally a full walk-out meaning medics would not have staffed emergency care.

It would have been an historic move and caused major disruption to hospitals.

But the British Medical Association has now stepped back from that, saying it wanted to minimise the impact.

However, the strike will last longer than planned – 24 hours rather than the 08:00 to 17:00 which was first announced.

But the decision to scale back on the scope of the strike will bring a huge sigh of relief to hospitals.

A full walk-out has never happened before in the history of the NHS and would have led to a mass cancellation of routine treatments, such as knee and hip replacements, as consultants and other staff were redeployed to cover behind the junior doctors.

The stoppage will be the second walk-out by junior doctors over the contract dispute.

The first took place over 24 hours on 12 January and led to about one in 10 non-emergency operations being cancelled, while a 48-hour walk-out planned for last week was called off while talks took place at the conciliation service Acas.


What is the dispute about?

Image copyright
PA

  • The row between junior doctors and the government is over a new contract
  • Talks broke down in 2014, but the dispute has escalated since the summer after ministers said they would impose the deal
  • Ministers offered doctors an 11% rise in basic pay last year, but that was offset by curbs to other elements of the pay package, including payments for unsociable hours
  • The government says the changes are needed to create more seven-days services, but the BMA warns safeguards to keep a lid on excessive hours are being weakened
  • The union balloted its members in the autumn, and 98% of those who voted backed strike action
  • Talks restarted in December, leading to three days of strikes being called off, but these have so far failed to reach a breakthrough, which is why strikes are taking place

The junior doctors row explained

What exactly do junior doctors do?

How does your job compare?

The lessons of the 1975 doctors’ strike


BMA junior doctor leader Dr Johann Malawana said despite some “good progress” the union had been left no choice but to announced the stoppage would take place.

He accused the government of taking an “entrenched” position.

The key sticking point is thought to be the government’s insistence that the amount of extra pay that doctors get for working a Saturday is cut.

The union had also raised concerns about career progression and patient safety.

Dr Malawana said: “What we are asking for is fair and affordable recognition of unsocial hours.”

“We deeply regret the disruption action will cause,” he added.

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WHO meets to decide whether to declare Zika a global emergency


Independent experts to the World Health Organization began deliberating on Monday whether to declare a global emergency over the Zika virus, which has been linked to thousands of birth defects in Brazil.

The designation would fast-track international action and research priorities, following criticism of a hesitant response so far.

The United Nations agency said last week the Zika virus was “spreading explosively” and could infect as many as 4 million people in the Americas.

The WHO was criticized for reacting too slowly to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa which killed more than 10,000 people, and has promised to do better in future global health crises.

The 12 committee members, who are experts in epidemiology, public health and infectious diseases from the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa, discussed the issue in a telephone conference. A news briefing will be held on Tuesday afternoon at the earliest, the WHO said.

Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, said the WHO had “dropped the ball” on Ebola, when it took five months for the epidemic to be declared an emergency.

He told BBC Radio he expected a rapid response this time.

“I have all confidence that they will declare this as a public health emergency,” he said.

Brazil has reported around 4,000 suspected cases of microcephaly, in which infants are born with smaller-than-usual brains. The health ministry has linked the condition to Zika, although the connection is not yet definitive.

As the virus spreads from Brazil, other countries in the Americas are also likely to see cases of babies with Zika-linked birth defects, experts believe.

(Writing by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Angus MacSwan)


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Brazil authorizes forced entry to private property to fight Zika


Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff authorized health officials to enter private properties by force if necessary in an effort to control the spread of the mosquito-borne virus Zika, which the government has dubbed an “imminent danger to public health.”

The presidential decree was published in the government’s official gazette on Monday and allows the forced entry by health officials into public and private properties if they have been abandoned or the owners are not present.

Officials are looking for breeding grounds for mosquitoes that can carry the virus, which has spread rapidly over the Americas and particularly in Brazil. The World Health Organization is meeting on Monday to decide whether to declare a global emergency.

Although scientific research is still sparse on Zika, it is believed to be linked to increased rates of microcephaly in newborns, a condition in which the child is born with a smaller than average brain that can cause severe health and learning disabilities.

Local officials suspect nearly 4,000 babies may have been born recently with the condition, mostly in Brazil’s northeast.

Zika is also suspected of having links to a rare condition known as Guillain-Barre, which can cause paralysis and death in extreme cases, in adults and children with compromised immune systems.

(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Writing by Reese Ewing; Editing by Mary Milliken)


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This Valentine’s Day, show your heart some love

Although popular love songs might tell you otherwise, a broken heart can’t kill you—but heart disease can. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, taking more than 600,000 lives each year.

You might not be able to avoid Cupid’s arrow, but you can take steps to lower your risks and prevent heart disease. Start by scheduling an appointment with your doctor to discuss whether you’re at risk for heart disease.

Medicare covers a cardiovascular disease screening at no cost to you every 5 years. The screening includes tests to help detect heart disease early and measures cholesterol, blood fat (lipids), and triglyceride levels.

If you and your doctor discover that you’re at risk for a heart attack or stroke, there are steps you can take to help prevent these conditions. You might be able to make lifestyle changes (like changing your diet and increasing your activity level or exercising more often) to lower your cholesterol and stay healthy.

February is American Heart month, so start it off right by visiting the Million Hearts® Healthy Eating & Lifestyle Resource Center. Million Hearts is a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. The resource center was developed in partnership with EatingWell magazine, and features lower sodium, heart-healthy recipes and family-friendly meal plans to help manage sodium intake, a major contributor to high blood pressure and heart disease. All the recipes include nutritional facts and average cost per serving information. Use the search and filter options to quickly find the right meal for yourself and your family based on prep time, cuisine, course, number of servings, and your health needs.

Visit the Source Site

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This Valentine’s Day, show your heart some love

Although popular love songs might tell you otherwise, a broken heart can’t kill you—but heart disease can. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, taking more than 600,000 lives each year.

You might not be able to avoid Cupid’s arrow, but you can take steps to lower your risks and prevent heart disease. Start by scheduling an appointment with your doctor to discuss whether you’re at risk for heart disease.

Medicare covers a cardiovascular disease screening at no cost to you every 5 years. The screening includes tests to help detect heart disease early and measures cholesterol, blood fat (lipids), and triglyceride levels.

If you and your doctor discover that you’re at risk for a heart attack or stroke, there are steps you can take to help prevent these conditions. You might be able to make lifestyle changes (like changing your diet and increasing your activity level or exercising more often) to lower your cholesterol and stay healthy.

February is American Heart month, so start it off right by visiting the Million Hearts® Healthy Eating & Lifestyle Resource Center. Million Hearts is a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. The resource center was developed in partnership with EatingWell magazine, and features lower sodium, heart-healthy recipes and family-friendly meal plans to help manage sodium intake, a major contributor to high blood pressure and heart disease. All the recipes include nutritional facts and average cost per serving information. Use the search and filter options to quickly find the right meal for yourself and your family based on prep time, cuisine, course, number of servings, and your health needs.

Visit the Source Site

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