From The Editors Health

Researchers Develop ‘Brain Decoder’ That Can Translate Unspoken Thoughts into Speech

A team of researchers led by Dr. Edward Chang at the University of California in San Francisco has developed a ‘brain decoder’ – a kind of mind-reading device that effectively translates your neural activity into recognizable speech, 75% of the time.

The study entitled ‘Speech synthesis from neural decoding of spoken sentences,’ published Wednesday (April 24) in the journal Nature, involved five epileptic volunteers, including four women and one man awaiting neurosurgery for their condition.

The patients had temporary electrodes implanted on their brain surface as a pre-surgery procedure to help identify and map the areas of the brain responsible for their affliction.

For the study, additional sensors were attached to the lips, tongue, and teeth to monitor their movements as the volunteers were made to read out hundreds of sentences, mostly passages from children’s classics like Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, and The Frog Prince.

Electrical activity in the brains related to their vocal tract movement during the reading exercise was decoded and fed to a specially programmed computer system to produce intelligible sentences.

In humans, the vocal tract comprises the oral cavity, which includes the lips, inner cheeks, tongue, upper and lower gums, floor and roof of the mouth, and the small area behind the wisdom teeth, in addition to the nasal cavity, larynx, and the pharynx – all of which work in near-perfect harmony to produce intelligible sentences when we talk.

Dr. Chang’s team was able to equate the neural signals responsible for the movement of each of the vocal tract components with the participants’ speech.

The decoded neural activity was then converted into synthesized language with the help of a neural network linked to a voice synthesizer.

“Recurrent neural networks first decoded directly recorded cortical activity into representations of articulatory movement, and then transformed these representations into speech acoustics,” wrote the authors of the study.

To put it as simply as possible, it was, basically, a two-step process that involved translating neural activity into vocal movements and then transforming those movements into speech.

Although the reproduced speech sounds pretty much, well, synthetic, it is remarkably intelligible.

Also, considering that this is just the beginning, we can expect to see enhanced speech quality as the technology is further researched and fine-tuned in times to come.

This brief video clip will let you know exactly what we’re talking about here.

What’s amazing is that not only did the breakthrough decoder transform sentences that were read aloud, but it was also able to translate silently mimed sentences into audible speech.

In order to determine the recognizability of the decoded speech, hundreds of volunteers were asked to listen to 101 synthesized sentences and transcribe what they heard.

The results – as varied as they turned out to be – were nevertheless encouraging enough to warrant further research of the technology, as it has the potential to improve the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people suffering from speech impairment due to conditions such as paralysis, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ), throat cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

“Of the 101 synthesized trials, at least one listener was able to provide a perfect transcription for 82 sentences with a 25-word pool and 60 sentences with a 50-word pool,” wrote the authors, adding that the findings “may be an important next step in realizing speech restoration for patients with paralysis.”

Conventional speech-synthesizing technology in use today involves interpreting how speech sounds are represented in the brains – a tedious, time-consuming process that, at best, translates about eight words per minute; far slower than the 100-150 words per minute that natural speech is capable of.

The new technology has the potential to overcome these limitations and make near-normal conversation a reality, hopefully, in the not too distant future.

Dr. Chang’s team followed a different route, targeting those areas of the brain that send signals to the various vocal tract components, discussed earlier, in order for them to move in perfect unison, thereby enabling speech.

“For the first time … we can generate entire spoken sentences based on an individual’s brain activity,” said Chang.

“This is an exhilarating proof of principle that, with technology that is already within reach, we should be able to build a device that is clinically viable in patients with speech loss,” added the lead author of the paper.

Kate Watkins, a cognitive neuroscience professor at the University of Oxford, was quoted by The Guardian as saying that the research was a “huge advance” that could prove to be “really important for providing people who have no means of producing language with a device that could deliver that for them.”

“The brain is the most efficient machine that has evolved over millennia, and speech is one of the hallmarks of behavior of humans that sets us apart from even all the non-human primates,” Gopala Anumanchipalli, one of the co-authors of the study. was quoted by National Geographic as saying.

“And we take it for granted—we don’t even realize how complex this motor behavior is,” Anumanchipalli said.

In an accompanying News and Views article in the journal Nature, Yahia H. Ali and Chethan Pandarinath from Emory University, Atlanta, US, have expressed hope that continued research will go a long way in helping people with speech issues “regain the ability to freely speak their minds and reconnect with the world around them.”

While there’s still a lot of work left to be done before the technology can be perfected, it’s good to know that we’re headed in the right direction.

From The Editors Health Top 5

Top Five Health Stories of 2018

Uber Launched UBER HEALTH – New Ride-Hailing Platform for Non-Emergency Patients


Uber may have played its part in addressing transportation issues across sections of society, but it hadn’t paid much attention to what the company itself acknowledged was “vital to all of us: health.”

However, in March this year, the ride-hailing company launched ‘Uber Health’ – a HIPAA-compliant platform, tailored to suit the healthcare industry.

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 to safeguard the privacy and security of patients’ health-related information and data.

Uber Health is planned along the lines of UberCENTRAL, a service that allows the company’s business customers to provide transportation to their clients.

According to healthcare statistics, at least 3.6 million non-emergency patients in the country fail to turn up for their medical appointments because of the lack of dependable transportation options.

The concept behind the platform is to partner with healthcare providers, including hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, senior care facilities, home care centers, and the likes, in order to allow them access to the “Uber Health” dashboard for ordering rides on behalf of patients, to and from their appointment.

Additionally, the company has introduced a platform-specific API (application programming interface) to allow smooth integrations of Uber Health into existing healthcare products.

Uber Health bypasses the need for an Uber app, or even a smartphone for that matter, considering the fact that there are many patients out there who do not own smartphones or those who find apps a bit too complicated to understand.

Uber Health allows partners to book rides on behalf of patients through the Uber Health dashboard and text them the trip details, or call them on their mobiles or landlines with the information, thereby taking apps and smartphones out of the equation

FDA Ordered Recall of Carcinogen-Contaminated Blood Pressure & Heart Medicines


In July, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert to healthcare professionals and patients for a voluntary recall of several brands of drugs that were found to contain NDMA-contaminated Valsartan.

Valsartan is generally used by healthcare professionals to treat high blood pressure and heart conditions in patients.

Some of the companies selling these Valsartan-based drugs, which go by different brand names, are marketing products whose Valsartan content doesn’t meet the US Food and Drug Administration’s safety requirements.

The sub-standard Valsartan has been found to contain a dangerous impurity, referred to as NDMA, short for N-nitrosodimethylamine – a substance believed to be “a probable human carcinogen (a substance that could cause cancer).

FDA attributed the Valsartan contamination to deviations from the standard manufacturing practice for the drug.

The FDA is committed to maintaining our gold standard for safety and efficacy. That includes our efforts to ensure the quality of drugs and the safe manner in which they’re manufactured,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in the July 13 press release.

“When we identify lapses in the quality of drugs and problems with their manufacturing that have the potential to create risks to patients, we’re committed to taking swift action to alert the public and help facilitate the removal of the products from the market,” Gottlieb said, justifying the recall.

The FDA alert came in the wake of a multi-nation recall that saw 22 countries recalling some 2,300 batches of Valsartan-containing drugs, just a week prior to the FDA press release.

In November, the FDA recalled another common blood pressure medicine, Irbesartan, manufactured by ScieGen Pharmaceuticals.

The US Federal Drug Administration said ScieGen Pharmaceuticals was recalling certain batches of Irbesartan tablets because they contained an organic chemical called N-nitrosodiethylamine (NDEA), classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a possible human carcinogen.

According to the FDA, NDEA “occurs naturally in certain foods, drinking water, air pollution, and industrial processes.”

FDA Approved Swedish Birth Control App ‘Natural Cycles’ for Marketing in the U.S.


In August, FDA approved the marketing of a Swedish App called Natural Cycles – a tech-based method of contraception – in the country.

While the app has been in use across EU countries ever since it was certified by the concerned European organization for inspection and certification in February 2017, it was the first time an app-based form of contraception was being approved for use in the U.S

This method of contraception through fertility awareness, however, is not without its fair share of controversy.

In July, an investigation into the Natural Cycles marketing was initiated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the U.K., after it received three complaints about the app and its paid ad on Facebook that vouches for the high accuracy of the app for use as contraception, based on clinical trials.

“We would require robust substantiation from any company to support such a claim,” an ASA spokesman said.

To be fair to Natural Cycles, its Facebook page is chock-a-block with user testimonials in support of the app as well, with one woman going to the extent of posting “the launch of a petition against any possibility of the app being banned in Sweden following the Medical Product Agency’s investigation,” the Guardian reported.

FDA spokesperson Deborah Kotz declined to comment on the ASA investigation, other than saying that the FDA expected Natural Cycles to follow the agency’s own set of marketing policies, according to VICE.

She did, however, acknowledge that the agency was aware of the investigation and had even contacted the Swedish authorities in that regard.

Electric Spine Implant Helps Three Patients Walk Again


Three patients with waist down paralysis were able to walk again after doctors implanted an electrical device into their spines, reconnecting the severed communication between the neurons in their legs and brains.

The beneficiaries of this seemingly miraculous line of treatment included 29-year-old Jered Chinnock from Tomah, Wisconsin; Kelly Thomas, 23, from Homosassa, Florida; and Jeff Marquis, 35, belonging to Louisville, Kentucky.

Chinnock was the beneficiary of a spinal procedure performed by surgeons at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, as part of a study that was published in the journal ‘Nature Medicine on Sep. 24.

Thomas and Marquis underwent a similar procedure as voluntary participants in another study conducted at the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center at the University of Louisville, also published on Sep. 24 in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine.’

Basically, the study involved implanting an array of electrodes below the injured section of the spine and a pacemaker-sized spinal cord stimulator under the skin in the abdominal region, with communication between the two established through a connecting wire.

The implanted devices were controlled remotely using a TV-type controller that allowed doctors to regulate the voltage and even target specific areas for stimulation.

However, the implants alone could not have achieved the level of recovery witnessed in the patients if they were not backed by intensive training in a controlled environment, overseen by trained professionals, and, of course, a ton of willpower on the patients’ part.

Uterus Transplant from Dead Donor Led to First Successful Childbirth


Earlier this month, in an absolute first, a 32-year-old Brazilian woman gave birth to a healthy baby girl – thanks to a uterine implant from a dead donor.

The organ came from a 45-year-old unnamed woman who had voluntarily agreed to donate her organs before her death from brain hemorrhage; she had had three normal vaginal deliveries during her short lifespan.

The transplant took place in 2016, and the recipient gave birth to a perfectly normal baby girl weighing 2.5 kilograms (5.6 pounds) on Dec 15, 2017, through Caesarean section.

The achievement is all the more impressive if you consider that ten similar attempts in the U.S., Czech Republic, and Turkey had ended in failure, although successful birth using a uterus from a living donor has been achieved eleven times in the past.

Despite that, it isn’t a perfectly viable option because finding a woman who would willingly give away her uterus is never going to be easy unless a family member or a close friend agrees to make the sacrifice.

But the latest breakthrough opens the door for women with uterine infertility issues to have children of their own rather than going for adoption or surrogacy options.

From The Editors Health

America’s Opioid and Heroin Epidemic

Substance abuse and addiction are destroying a good section of America’s youth.

While it is a big cause for concern in itself, what’s even more distressing is the rate at which the use of contraband substances, even prescription drugs for that matter, has grown in the last ten years, or so.

When it comes to heroin, its use among Americans has increased five times in the last decade, according to a 2017 study conducted by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

The study also shows an unmistakable connection between prescription opioids and heroin abuse.

It’s no secret that the misuse of opioids has been on the rise ever since these drugs became openly available as prescription medicines in the nineties when pharmaceutical companies shouted out from the rooftops that opioid-based pain relievers were non-addictive.

You don’t have to be a genius to work out that prescription opioid abusers are more likely to become heroin users, and ultimately addicts, than those who have never used or abused them.

Here’s an example of how continued misuse of prescription opioids can trigger a user’s transition to heroin:

Let’s say, your legal access to the drug stops for some reason, and you’re too deep into it to just forget about it; what do you do?

Well, in most cases users start looking for alternative fixes and sources of supply and end up using heroin.

What else could be more easily accessible than street heroin – an affordable and easily available option in most parts of the country?

But that’s just one part of the larger picture.

Heroin use and addiction are not just limited to prescription opioid users; it’s a far bigger problem than that, but before we delve a little bit more into it, let’s first understand the difference between substance abuse and addiction.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is, basically, an overwhelming desire to use increasing amounts of one or more substances from time to time, discontinuing which does not really cause any kind of withdrawal symptoms.

This can be anything from legal over-the-counter stuff like cigarettes and alcohol to legal prescription drugs such as methadone, oxycodone, and Zolpidem; from chemicals like inhalants to illegal drugs, including marijuana, meth, cocaine, and HEROIN – potentially, the most lethal of them all.

Drug dependence/addiction

Substance dependence or addiction, on the other hand, is the physical and psychological dependence on a drug for normal day to day functioning.

Discontinuation of the drug leads to withdrawal symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, depending on the drug the user is addicted to, including other factors like the amount of daily consumption and duration of use.

And, trust me, nothing can be more agonizing and devastating, both, mentally and physically, than the withdrawal symptoms of heroin – it truly is a nightmare.

Heroin use and addiction is a huge, complex problem – a clear and present danger in our society – that can’t be given the ostrich treatment.

It’s costing the economy a fortune; it’s related to lots of violent crime; and there’s no denying the fact that it’s destroying the country’s social fabric, not to mention deaths from substance and prescription opioid overdoses.

Drug abuse and addiction, specifically heroin addiction, is an all-encompassing issue with serious repercussions for users, including financial issues, social ostracization, decline in physical, mental and behavioral health, destroyed relationships, broken homes and even death in many cases.

So, what is heroin?

Heroin is an opioid, also known as diamorphine, diacetylmorphine, or morphine diacetate.

On the street, it is referred to by various names, including smack, junk, brown, dope, horse and H, to name a few.

Managing the withdrawal state of heroin addicts requires a different set of drugs compared to those used for alcohol, cocaine and other substance withdrawals.

Naloxone (Narcan)

Sold under the brand name Narcan, among others, Naloxone is an effective medication used in treating heroin withdrawal symptoms and overdose cases.

Naloxone can be injected intravenously or into the muscle, each with a different reaction time, which can be as quick as two minutes when injected intravenously compared to the five minutes it takes to work when injected into the muscle.

It can also be administered subcutaneously (under the skin) or as a nasal spray.


Naloxone is an FDA-approved drug and by virtue of being on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, it can be considered safe and effective.

In addition to Narcan, other brand names that Naloxone is sold under include Nalone, Evzio, Prenoxad Injection, Narcanti, and Narcotan, among others.

While Naloxone is a legal prescription drug, rules governing its dispensation by doctors and licensed professionals can vary from state to state.

However, so safe is Naloxone that as many as 37 states in the country allow the over-the-counter purchase of the drug from pharmacists, without the need for a doctor’s prescription.

Again, the safety and efficacy of the drug are evident from the fact that law enforcement agencies in 25 states are legally permitted to carry Naloxone when responding to opioid overdose calls, especially useful when they reach a location before the paramedics do.

It can and does save lives.

Naloxone and other medication are all very good in so far as alleviating the effects of heroin overdose and withdrawal symptoms are concerned, but it’s not the answer to addiction – far from it, in fact.

Self-help recovery

While there are different medicines and treatment for abuse of different substances, when it comes to self-help recovery it’s, more or less, the same general strategies, no matter what the substance in question is.

These strategies also apply to non-substance addictions like self-mutilation, eating disorders, gambling, and sex addiction.

It has been observed that in most cases of substance abuse the problem is not really the problem; it’s what the user, consciously or subconsciously, thinks is the solution to a bigger problem.

If you’re addicted to cutting yourself, for example, it is, in all likelihood, because of some bad feelings, bad situations, or conflicts – basically stuff you don’t want to deal with.

So, you get a razor blade and slash your wrist and voila – instant euphoria, not different from a shot of heroin.

Gone are the feelings of despondency and doom, replaced by a feeling of calm; a sense of power, control, and hopefulness; life becomes much more tolerable.

However, the reinforced feeling that the self-mutilation brings about is short-lived and before you know it all those negative feelings are back, forcing you to repeat the dose.

It’s the same with heroin; the only difference is that when the effects of heroin start to wear off, not only does the negativity return with a vengeance, it also brings with it extreme physical and mental discomfort.

Self-help recovery techniques require you to take a step back and ask yourself some hard questions.

Why am I doing this? Is it solving a problem? What is that problem?
Some people are under the misconception that addicts are weak; well, nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s just a disease that can be controlled, if not treated.

Do you think they just woke up one fine morning and voluntarily decided to become an addict who has to steal every day for a fix?

It could be an underlying problem that can be traced back to your childhood, your teen years, or your adulthood – probably some bad feelings, bad situations, bad relationships, a bleak picture of the future, or whatever.

God, it’s too much; I can’t deal with it; and before you know it you’re cutting yourself, indulging in random and unsafe sex, eating excessively, getting stoned, or getting wasted on heroin.

It all boils down to identifying what it is that you’re trying to cope with and then deciding on what you’re going to do about it in a healthy way so you can eventually let go of your addiction to whatever it is you seek relief in.

Self-inventory plays a huge role in self-help recovery and the first step towards that is to accept that you have a problem – and a big one at that – because all this while you were in denial that you had a problem – a problem not beyond solving.

The level of denial among addicts can be astounding and, more often than not, acceptance does not set in until a major disaster happens.

Continued denial is, generally, a measure of the addict’s desperation to avoid the real pain – the underlying cause of the addiction.

There is no fixed formula, method, or strategy for self-help recovery – it’s a matter of what works for you and what motivates you.

Alright, so it’s easier said than done, but the key is to be motivated enough and not be in denial.

The desire to rehabilitate should come from within; it’s not something that can be force-fed.

However, it is still something that can be encouraged with the right kind of professional help, peer support and, most importantly, a lot of patience, love and understanding on the home front.

Trafficking and distribution

How does heroin reach the U.S. borders and eventually the nation’s streets? How much smack are we talking about?

There’s a common misconception that most of the heroin coming into the U.S. is being trafficked through Central America’s “Northern Triangle” region.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield estimates that 90-94 percent of all heroin consumed in the United States comes from Mexico, about 2 to 4 percent from Columbia, while the remaining 4 to 6 percent comes from Asia – a large part of it originating in Afghanistan.


Although Afghanistan doesn’t have much of a say in the US heroin scene, it is responsible for most of the drug consumed elsewhere in the world, producing about 80 percent of the world’s heroin.

After the heroin finds its way into the U.S., how does it trickle down to street level dealers selling the H in nickel bags?

Although the method of illegal drug sales and distribution follows a pretty much generic pattern involving retail level distributors and wholesale distributors, it can be extremely complex when applied to specific distribution groups, according to a study.

The holders, transporters, mules, deliverers, counters, lookouts, backups, muscle, and whatever else it takes, make up the distribution network that operates like a well-oiled machine to make the poison available on street corners, neighborhoods and around educational institutions and wherever else it can be pedaled.

This is big business we’re talking about and, like it or not, it seems like it’s not going to go away anytime soon.

How do other countries deal with this menace?

The U.S. is one of the smartest and strongest countries in the world, yet you have drug dealers running rampant in the cities and towns, killing children and destroying families.

It’s the United States of America, for God’s sake!

Despite the efforts of the DEA and other law enforcement agencies, the drug menace continues unabated in the U.S.

How come countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and Singapore, among others, are better off when it comes to controlling drugs and addiction?

The answer to that is simple; their drug laws are strict enough to work as effective deterrents.

In short, put the fear of God in the hearts of perpetrators, and you’ll have better control of the drug situation.

In China, if you are caught with drugs you’re made to attend a state-run drug rehab facility, with some drug crimes even attracting the death penalty.

Saudi Arabia is among the strictest of countries when it comes to drug laws; selling drugs in the Kingdom almost always attracts the death penalty.


Even alcohol is illegal in this Islamic nation and possession or use of alcohol or drugs is punishable by public flogging, financial penalties, lengthy imprisonment, or death.

In Thailand, traffickers can get the death penalty, while users are generally required to go through a government-sponsored mandatory rehab program.

In Singapore, even if you are caught with a relatively small amount of drugs, the police will, by default, treat you as a seller, which, if proved, will lead to the death sentence.

What more can be done in the U.S?

The DEA is constantly devising new plans and strategies to curb the influx of heroin and its distribution networks working in the country.

With more than 90 percent of heroin coming in from Mexico, the DEA, of late, has included more technology in its battle against Mexican heroin, using drone and geo-location technologies to identify Mexican farms cultivating poppy – the raw material for producing heroin.

However, not much is expected from this endeavor because attacking the problem in one location causes a balloon effect, meaning the cultivation shifts to another area, former DEA official Mike Vigil told NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro, as recently as April, this year.

This is one of the reasons why Donald Trump is pushing so hard for the wall.

Cutting the proverbial head of the snake sounds like the ideal solution, but what do you do with a monster of epic proportions with several heads?

This is where the common man – the concerned citizen – can have a role to play, even if it’s only by way of creating awareness and making contributions to non-profit organizations who are genuinely working towards a common cause – a drug-free America.

As far as lawmakers are concerned, it’s about time they took a leaf out of the China or Saudi Arabia book, and put strict legislation in place that can serve as a powerful deterrent.

From The Editors Health

More Than 100 People Fall Sick from Consuming Cyclospora-Infected McDonald’s Salads  

McDonald’s has stopped selling salads at some 3,000 of its outlets in the country after hundreds of people across several states fell ill after, reportedly, consuming the salads that health experts believe were cyclospora-contaminated.

Cyclospora is, basically, a parasite and one of its species, the cyclospora cayetanensis, causes cyclosporiasis –an intestinal infection that is accompanied by watery diarrhea, with frequent sometimes explosive, bowel movement.

Some of the other symptoms of cyclosporiasis include abdominal cramps, loss of appetite, weight loss, flatulence, nausea, and general fatigue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), together with state and local officials, are investigating the outbreak which they say is, probably, linked to McDonald’s salads.

“We’re working with CDC, FDA, and Iowa to investigate multiple potential sources,” Illinois health department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said in an emailed statement, according to CNN.

“The initial investigation indicates a link to consumption of McDonald’s salads produced for McDonald’s restaurants,” the health department said in a statement.

“Approximately one-fourth of Illinois cases reported eating salads from McDonald’s in the days before they became ill,” said the health department, appealing to all those who have suffered from any of the aforementioned symptoms after eating a McDonald’s salad in the last two months, or so, to get themselves tested and treated.

“This summer there have been several clusters of Cyclospora illness associated with various foods that are commercially available,” the Iowa Department of Public Health said in a statement.

So far, the health authorities have identified 61cases of cyclosporiasis among people from, at least, seven states, including Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin, who are reported to have eaten salads at McDonald’s restaurant.

The Illinois health department on Thursday reported about 90 cases of cyclosporiasis in the last couple of months, while an Iowa health official confirmed 15 such cases among Iowans, whom the official says had eaten the forbidden salads at McDonald’s sometime between late June and early July, before falling sick.

“We understand how important it is to quickly identify the cause of this foodborne outbreak to help reduce additional illness and we’re working closely with our colleagues at CDC and state partners to get more answers,” FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

CNN also reports that McDonald’s has been cooperating with public health officials from, both, Iowa and Illinois in regards to the salads crisis.
“McDonald’s is committed to the highest standards of food safety and quality control,” the company said in the statement.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we decided to voluntarily stop selling salads at impacted restaurants until we can switch to another lettuce blend supplier,” the fast food company told CNN in an email.

“We are in the process of removing existing salad blend from identified restaurants and distribution centers — which includes approximately 3,000 of our U.S. restaurants primarily located in the Midwest,” McDonald’s said.

NPR’s Michaeleen Doucleff says that cyclosporiasis is a “relatively rare” disease in the U.S.

According to Doucleff, a large majority of food poisonings in the country are “caused by bacteria or viruses, like E. coli and norovirus. In contrast, Cyclospora is a protozoan, which typically hangs out in tropical and subtropical regions.”

Last month, Walnut Creek-based food production and distribution company Del Monte had to recall its pre-packaged vegetable trays, containing broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery sticks and dill dip, from several retailers, after cases of cyclospora infection were reported from the states of Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

While cyclosporiasis symptoms generally appear about seven days after exposure to the parasite through contaminated food or water, there are some infected people who do not report any of the associated symptoms.

Again, there are others who may experience a relapse of the symptoms, one or more times.

Cyclosporiasis can last from a few days to up to six weeks, depending on how soon, or late, the illness is diagnosed and treated.

The accepted line of treatment for the affliction is Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (TMP/SMX), which is manufactured under various brand names, including Bactrim, Septra, and Cotrim.

As for now, there is no known alternative antibiotic for those who do not respond to the prescribed treatment or those who are sulfa allergic.

The fact that cyclosporiasis symptoms are so much similar to several other intestinal and stomach disorders, a lab test is the only way of confirming the presence of the parasite in the patient’s feces sample.

According to the CDC, people with strong immune systems may even recover from the infection without any treatment; however, if symptoms persist beyond three days, health officials strongly recommend professional help.

From The Editors Health

WHO Officials Are Shocked as the U.S. Threatens Ecuador with Punitive Action for Supporting Breastfeeding

In what is being looked at as a blatant attempt at protecting baby food manufacturers, the United States has come down hard on Ecuador, threatening to take punitive action against the South American nation if it didn’t withdraw its resolution in support of breastfeeding.

The resolution which urges countries to encourage breastfeeding among lactating mothers, in the interest of child health, was expected to sail through at the UN-affiliated World Health Assembly in Geneva this spring, but the U.S. delegation had different ideas, according to a New York Times report.

To give it you straight, the Americans pretty much said, comply with our demand or face Washington’s fury in the form of trade embargos and withdrawal of crucial military aid.

What the U.S. officials, basically, wanted was to remove language that urged governments to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding.”

Another clause that the Americans were unhappy with and wanted to be withdrawn was the one that called on policymakers to curtail the promotion of food products that experts say are likely to have harmful effects on young children.

With more and more women embracing breastfeeding in developed countries, the $70-billion baby food industry hasn’t seen much growth in these countries in recent years.

However, Euromonitor – the world’s leading independent provider of strategic market research – says that global sales are expected to grow by 4 percent in 2018, although most of it will happen in developing countries.

Not only did Washington’s strong-arm tactic leave Ecuador with no choice but to eat humble pie, it also put the fear of God in at least a dozen other countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin American, who complied with the U.S. demand out of fear of retaliation, according to Uruguay, Mexico, and U.S. officials, reported the New York Times.

“We were shocked because we didn’t understand how such a small matter like breastfeeding could provoke such a dramatic response,” said an Ecuadorean official, requesting anonymity.

“We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” British advocacy group Baby Milk Action’s policy director, Patti Rundall, told NYT.

“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on the best way to protect infant and young child health,” she added.

In the end, however, it was the Americans who were left high and dry as the Russians intervened to save the day for the supporters of the proposed resolution.

The U.S. delegation thought the better of twisting the Russian arm.

A Russian delegate – who also requested not to be named, since he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media – told the New York Times that the decision to support the breastfeeding resolution was a matter of principle.

He said that it wasn’t becoming of a superpower to bully the weaker nations of the world, especially when it came to matters that affected the world as a whole.

“We’re not trying to be a hero here, but we feel that it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world,” he said.

While the American representatives did not make any direct attempts to influence the Russian decision, they did resort to procedural manipulation to put pressure on other participating countries, but, largely, to no avail.

The final version of the resolution managed to retain most of the original language, although the American team did somehow manage to remove the part which urged the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide technical support to member states seeking to halt “inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children.”

“The United States also insisted that the words “evidence-based” accompany references to long-established initiatives that promote breastfeeding, which critics described as a ploy that could be used to undermine programs that provide parents with feeding advice and support,” said the Times.

The State Department declined to respond to the New York Times’ questions, citing restrictions on the department’s officials to discuss private diplomatic conversations.

The Health and Human Services (H.H.S.), however, said that it did not partake in threatening Ecuador, although H.H.S. did explain the decision to contest the resolution’s wording, as it was leading the U.S. efforts to influence the modification.

“The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” an H.H.S. spokesman wrote in an email to NYT.

“We recognize not all women are able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so,” the spokesman said, offering to speak more freely on the condition of anonymity, said the Times.

This was just one example of the current U.S. administration’s unabashed attempts to support corporate interests even if it meant compromising public health, as well as environmental and other issues.

From The Editors Health

Microplastics Detected in 93 Percent of Bottled Water: WHO Launches Health Review

A recent study carried out by Washington, DC-based non-profit organization Orb Media, with the help of scientists at the Fredonia State University of New York, has revealed worrying levels of microscopic plastic particles in 93 percent of some of the world’s leading brands of bottled water.

As would be expected, the World Health Organization (WHO) is not taking this lightly and has announced a review of the findings to assess the potential health risks from microplastics in bottled water, which is twice the level of similar particles found in tap water in a previous study.

Speaking to BBC News, WHO coordinator for global work on water and sanitation, Bruce Gordon, said that further research would be required to determine the harmful effects of the plastic contamination, and how, if at all, it affects the human body.

“When we think about the composition of the plastic, whether there might be toxins in it, to what extent they might carry harmful constituents, what actually the particles might do in the body – there’s just not the research there to tell us,” he said.

“We normally have a ‘safe’ limit but to have a safe limit, to define that, we need to understand if these things are dangerous, and if they occur in water at concentrations that are dangerous,” he also said, adding that he did not want to sound alarmist.

However, he does appreciate the fact that findings like these would “obviously” raise health concerns among people who would look to WHO to come up with answers and suggestions.

“The public are obviously going to be concerned about whether this is going to make them sick in the short term and the long term,” Gordon said.

The findings of the research team – which analyzed 259 bottles from 11 brands – covering 19 locations in nine countries (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, the United States and Thailand) – revealed serious levels of microplastics, including polypropylene, nylon, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), in the bottled water samples.

With the help of a process known as the Nile Red method, the team was able to confirm an average 10.4 particles for every liter, each particle in excess of 100 microns in size.

However, when it came to smaller particles (between 6.5 and 100 microns in size), the per-liter average of 325 was way too high. In fact, one Nestlé Pure Life bottle had microplastic concentrations as high as 10,000 pieces per liter of water.

It must be mentioned, though, that the findings have not been scientifically reviewed; neither has the study been published in any science/medical journal.

Andrew Mayes – developer of the Nile Red technique, who is also a senior Chemistry lecturer at the University of East Anglia – has expressed his satisfaction on the way the method was applied, saying that he wouldn’t have done it any differently.

“This is pretty substantial,” said Mayes. “I’ve looked in some detail at the finer points of the way the work was done, and I’m satisfied that it has been applied carefully and appropriately, in a way that I would have done it in my lab.”

The technique identifies microplastics in water with the aid of a fluorescent dye that clings to these particles when released in water.

While the researchers were able to confirm through spectroscopy that the larger particles were indeed microplastics, the same was not possible for the smaller pieces, which Mayes referred to as “probable microplastic.”

For all we know, it may turn out that ingesting these microplastics pose no health risks at all, but the fact remains that the presence of microplastic in our drinking water, and that too in such large concentrations, is an indication that the plastic waste menace is overwhelming us.

Jane Muncke, chief scientist at Food Packaging Forum – a Zurich-based research organization – says that with so many unanswered questions and “unknowns” about the health implications of these particles, we have every reason to worry.

“What does it mean if we have this large amount of microplastic bits in food?” she said. “Is there some kind of interaction in the gastrointestinal tract with these microparticles … which then could potentially lead to chemicals being taken up, getting into the human body? We don’t have actual experimental data to confirm that assumption. We don’t know all the chemicals in plastics, even … There’s so many unknowns here. That, combined with the highly likely population-wide exposure to this stuff — that’s probably the biggest story here. I think it’s something to be concerned about.”

Here’s the EXECUTIVE SUMMARY of the study published by the Fredonia State University of New York

Tested 259 individual bottles from 27 different lots across 11 brands.

  • Purchased from 19 locations in 9 countries

93% of bottled water showed some sign of microplastic contamination

  • After accounting for possible background (lab) contamination

Average of 10.4 microplastic particles >100 um per liter of bottled water

  • Confirmed by FTIR spectroscopic analysis
  • Twice as much as within the previous study on tap water

Including smaller particles (6.5–100 um), an average of 325 microplastic particles per liter

  • Identified via Nile Red tagging alone
  • No spectroscopic confirmation
  • Range of 0 to over 10,000 microplastic particles per liter
  • 95% are particles between 6.5–100 um in size

For particles > 100 um:

  • Fragments were the most common morphology (66%) followed by fibers
  • Polypropylene was the most common polymer (54%) – Matches a common plastic used for the bottle cap
  • 4% of particles showed presence of industrial lubricants

Data suggests contamination is at least partially coming from the packaging and/or the bottling process itself

From The Editors Health

Amazon, JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway Combine Forces to Build Healthcare Company for their Respective Employees

In a move aimed at providing healthcare to their respective workers and their families, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet are pooling their company resources to build a fully independent healthcare company, which they say will be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints.”

The three CEOs announced Tuesday (Jan. 30) morning that the, yet to be named, company would direct its efforts towards “technology solutions that will provide U.S. employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost.”

Acknowledging the level of difficulty and complexity of the healthcare system, Bezos said that the expected positive impact on the economy and benefits for the workers and their kin outweighed the challenges, adding that skilled experts, a beginner’s mindset and long-term planning were necessary ingredients for the success of the joint endeavor.

“The healthcare system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty,” said the Amazon CEO. “Hard as it might be, reducing healthcare’s burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort. Success is going to require talented experts, a beginner’s mind, and a long-term orientation.”

Warren Buffet said that burgeoning healthcare costs were eating into the country’s economy, and while the three giants have not come together with ready solutions, they do believe that pooling the massive resources at their disposal, and involving the nation’s top talent, would not only bring some order in healthcare costs but also benefit patients, given time.

“The ballooning costs of healthcare act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” said the Berkshire Hathaway CEO. “Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable. Rather, we share the belief that putting our collective resources behind the country’s best talent can, in time, check the rise in health costs while concurrently enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes.”

JPMorgan CEO Dimon dropped a hint in his statement that the joint efforts of three of the most formidable companies in the nation had the potential to grow beyond just employees and their families and reach out to all Americans.

“Our people want transparency, knowledge and control when it comes to managing their healthcare,” Dimon said. “The three of our companies have extraordinary resources, and our goal is to create solutions that benefit our U.S. employees, their families and, potentially, all Americans,” he added.

The three business giants have not revealed any details about the size, scale of operations, or even location of the new company’s headquarters, saying in a joint statement that the undertaking was “in its early planning stages.”

“The effort announced today is in its early planning stages, with the initial formation of the company jointly spearheaded by Todd Combs, an investment officer of Berkshire Hathaway; Marvelle Sullivan Berchtold, a Managing Director of JPMorgan Chase; and Beth Galetti, a Senior Vice President at Amazon. The longer-term management team, headquarters location and key operational details will be communicated in due course,” the companies said in the press release.

Three of the most powerful American business entities uniting to form a healthcare company for the long-term benefit of all may be a first, but there have been others who have individually tested the healthcare waters only to find out that overcoming the regulatory barriers was, indeed, no walk in the park, as Bezos has correctly pointed out.

Who would know this better than Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, who was banned from running her own labs out of health and safety concerns!

Google’s parent company Alphabet has also burnt its hands along with Calico and Verily Life Sciences, having failed in its healthcare venture.

“When [tech companies] start to understand the complexity, even just the idea of an electronic health record, they pull out,” Avalere Health CEO Dan Mendelson said.

Ali Diab, founder of Collective Health – a company that specializes in providing healthcare coverage to self-insured employers through its cloud-based platform – suggests that the new venture would be better off working with Collective Health.

“I would suggest they focus exactly on what we are already doing, which is build infrastructure that knits everything together,” said Diab. “It’s not stuff that people see. It’s all the infrastructure to ingest data from various sources, process claims, to make that data analyzable, to build machine learning and AI-based systems on top of it that help identify people that need care way before they might even know.”

Pembroke Consulting president Adam Fein says it is high time companies took such initiatives, referring to the announcement by the three companies.

“For better or worse, there are warped incentives baked into every aspect of the U.S. health-care system, from medical innovation to care delivery to insurance and benefit management,” Fein said on CNBC.

“Rather than merely bashing the current system, I hope this new organization can help patients and their physicians make more informed and more cost-effective decisions. Technology will be necessary but not sufficient to make positive changes,” he added.
The announced has attracted some skepticism as well.

“If this winds up being the low-cost provider to make insurance more affordable at employer level, it could wind up being a real disruptive competitor to an industry that has not seen any new players in years/decades,” Jared Holz, an analyst at Jeffries, told CNBC. “[I’m] not going to call this black swan event yet because there are few details and would be making too many assumptions but it has potential to be.”

The announcement, however, saw a sharp dip in healthcare companies’ share prices, including that of Express Scripts and Aetna (down 3%) as well as CVS and UnitedHealth (down 4%).

“Today’s announcement by Amazon, J.P. Morgan & Chase company, and Berkshire Hathaway is clear recognition that the healthcare system needs to continue to create and deliver meaningful value to payors and patients,” Express Scripts said in a statement. “We look forward to hearing more about this new initiative and how we can work together to improve health care for everyone.”

“We find that technology initiatives which facilitated information sharing between disconnected hospitals resulted in significant reductions in healthcare spending,” said Idris Adjerid, Management IT professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, in a statement.

“That said, it is unclear what the scope of this effort will be. If this partnership is to meaningfully improve healthcare delivery, it needs to include more than the employees of these companies,” Adjerid added.

From The Editors Health

Study Reveals More Pregnant Women are Using Marijuana than Ever Before

A Research Letter published in the journal JAMA sheds light on the increasing “Trends in Self-reported and Biochemically Tested Marijuana Use Among Pregnant Females in California From 2009-2016.”

The study points to a slight increase in the use of marijuana among pregnant women to alleviate symptoms of nausea, morning sickness and other pregnancy-related issues, such as increased anxiety.

The findings – based on a study of 279,457 sample Californian women across all ethnicities, including Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and others – have revealed that use of marijuana has increased, overall, from 4.2 percent to 7.1 percent between 2009 and 2016.

The study, which also covered different age-ranges (12 to 17, 18 to 24, and 25 to 34 years), observed a significant increase in marijuana use among females under 18 years of age – from 12.5percent to 21.8 percent, while for those in the age bracket of 18-24 years, it increased from 9.8 percent to 19.0 percent.

For females between 25 and 34, the increase in weed use was relatively marginal, rising from 2.1 percent to 3.3 percent.

In an earlier nationwide study conducted on sample pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 44, published in JAMA in January this year, researchers noted that marijuana use had increased from 2.37 percent in 2002 to 3.85 percent in 2014.

Medical experts warn that expecting women who use marijuana are three times more likely to give birth to offspring with reduced birth weight, which could lead to respiratory complications, including asthma, as well “poor cognitive development during childhood,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The latest Research Letter explains that with the increase in the drug’s potency and relaxation of laws regulating its use, further study of trends in weed use among pregnant women, length of exposure, and offspring health is crucial to determine whether marijuana really affects fetal growth and neurodevelopment, as is indicated by the initial evidence gathered.

“Initial evidence suggests that prenatal marijuana may impair fetal growth and neurodevelopment, but 79% of 785 pregnant women surveyed between 2007 and 2012 reported perceiving little to no harm in prenatal use. Continued monitoring of trends, exposure timing, and offspring outcomes is important as marijuana potency rises5 in an increasingly permissive legal landscape,” says the JAMA report.

“Prior nationally representative studies have found that the prevalence of marijuana use among U.S. adult pregnant women has increased over time; however, these studies have not included objective measures of biochemically verified marijuana use and likely underestimate the prevalence,” lead study author Kelly Young and senior author Dr. Nancy Goler said, according to The Globe and Mail Inc. website.

“Our study is important because it addressed key limitations of prior studies by investigating trends in prenatal marijuana use using data from a large California healthcare system with ‘gold standard’ universal screening for prenatal marijuana use,” the authors said in an email, further reported the website.

Commenting in an editorial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, National Institute on Drug Abuse director Dr. Norah Volkow is concerned about the findings and has urged health caregivers to abstain from prescribing marijuana to pregnant women.

“Some sources on the Internet are touting marijuana as a solution for nausea that commonly accompanies pregnancy,” said Dr. Volkow, adding that “doctors must be aware of the risks involved and err on the side of caution by not recommending the drug for pregnant patients.”


In another study published in the same journal, researchers noted that 10 percent of adult weed users in the U.S. have partly used the drug for medical purposes. 20 percent of these 3 million users belong to states where marijuana is not legalized – yet.

Dr. Volkow also mentioned that in Washington, D.C. and 29 other states where marijuana is legal, the laws do not make it mandatory to list likely conditions – including risks to the fetus – that may arise out of marijuana use among pregnant women.

Newborns of marijuana users also face the risk of anemia, as well as other complications, and may require intensive care.

According to some data, it is during the first three months of pregnancy – when the fetus is at maximum risk from exposure to the drug – that most women turn to weed.

As per the recommendations of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pregnant and breastfeeding women should be discouraged by caregivers from using marijuana, or other substances, for that matter. The same applies to women who are contemplating pregnancy.

Doctors have long cautioned that alcohol use by pregnant women is also not without its risks. With no data on how much alcohol is safe during pregnancies, total abstinence would be the ideal approach, which is what doctors in the U.S. recommend, saying that regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed when pregnant, miscarriage, stillbirth, or physical and behavioral problems in the baby is always a potential risk.

“I have found that women frequently fall into two groups during pregnancy. There are those who want to reduce risks of bad things happening to as close to zero as possible and improve outcomes any way they can. These women start folic acid, lose weight and reduce medication exposure of any kind before becoming pregnant. They absolutely don’t smoke, drink or use any drugs during pregnancy,” blog editor for Your Pregnancy Matters Horsager Boehrer said.

“Then there’s the other group who take a more pragmatic view of pregnancy. They know there are potential risks involved with many decisions they make involving medication exposure, alcohol use, and smoking, but they decide those risks are acceptable, especially if the risks are not well-defined or conclusive,” she said.

“For individual patients, I think they need to ask themselves what their goals are for the pregnancy and how they are going to achieve them — essentially make a decision on which camp they are going to be in,” she added.

From The Editors Health

President Trump Contemplating National Emergency To Tackle Opioid Epidemic

In a move to counter the deepening opioid crisis in the United States, President Donald Trump said Thursday, that he was seriously considering the option of declaring a national emergency in that regard.

“It’s a national emergency. We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” Trump told reporters at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey. “It is a serious problem, the likes of which we’ve never had. You know, when I was growing up, they had the LSD, and they had certain generations of drugs. There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years.”

The urgent recommendation came last month from a national commission that POTUS appointed. The commission being led by Trump’s one-time presidential opponent, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, said that an emergency declaration in this regard would ensure additional resources and attention to tackle the menace of opioid dependency and overdose, which has taken epidemic proportions in the last few years.

Gov. Christie thanked the president for heeding the panel’s advice in a statement released Thursday afternoon.

“I am completely confident that the president will address this problem aggressively and do all he can to alleviate the suffering and loss of scores of families in every corner of our country,” said the NJ Governor.

The Thursday announcement is in contradiction to what Trump’s top health official Tom Price told reporters on Tuesday. He was of the opinion that the crisis “can be addressed without the declaration of an emergency, although all things are on the table for the president.”

“The president certainly believes we should treat it as an emergency, and it is an emergency,” Price later told reporters, backpedaling from his earlier statement after meeting with Trump. “Look, when you have the capacity of Yankee Stadium or Dodger Stadium dying every single year in this nation, that’s a crisis that had to be given incredible attention, and the president is giving it that attention.”

“There’s no doubt that this shines a brighter light on the epidemic. It remains to be seen how much this will fundamentally change its course,” said Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness. “No one thinks the recovery from this is going to be fast, emergency or not.”

James Hodge Jr., a law professor at Arizona State University who specializes in public health law and emergency preparedness said that “declaring it a national emergency instantly identifies this crisis as the most important public health emergency we’ve had since this nomenclature came about,” adding that it was “that serious of a crisis.”

“I applaud President Trump for his leadership in taking this drastic and necessary measure to confront an opioid crisis that is devastating communities around the country and ripping families apart,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions was all praise for Donald Trump in a Thursday statement.

“The death toll of this horrific epidemic reached 60,000 people in 2016, but as horrible as it is to think of that number, it is worse when we look past the staggering statistic and see our children, our moms and dads, sisters and brothers, friends and co-workers,” he added.

While a national emergency declaration may do away with some bureaucratic hurdles and bend some federal regulations governing how states and districts respond to the opioid epidemic, it is not an issue that is going to be easily remedied in the foreseeable future.

Having said that, declaring a national emergency to tackle the opioid fixation among sufferers is, undeniably, a step in the right direction – like it or not, Trump and his team have got this one right, it appears.

“Are doctors responsible for opioid dependency by over-prescribing it?”

We have addressed the above topic in one of our earlier articles from six months ago.

Please read here;

Are Doctors Responsible For Opioid Dependency by Over-Prescribing It?



From The Editors Health Science

Oregon Researchers Break New Ground by Genetically Altering Human Embryos for the First Time In the U.S.

US Researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSR) are reported to have successfully created genetically modified human embryos, the first endeavor of its kind in the United States that could one day help babies bypass inherited diseases.

The experiment led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of OHSR involved the alteration of single-cell embryos employing a gene editing method known as CRISPR – clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.

According to MIT Technology Review, the experiment was no more than a demonstration of science not allowing the embryos to develop beyond a few experimental days with no intentions, whatsoever, of a womb implantation.

University of Wisconsin-Madison bioethicist R. Alta Charo said, “This was purely laboratory-based work that is incredibly valuable for helping us understand how one might make these germline changes in a way that is precise and safe. But it’s only a first step,” she said.

“We still have regulatory barriers in the United States to ever trying this to achieve a pregnancy. The public has plenty of time,” she added. “Any such experiment aimed at a pregnancy would need FDA approval, and the agency is currently not allowed to even consider such a request.”

While Mitalipov was not very forthcoming, other OHSR officials have reportedly confirmed the research saying that the findings would soon be published in a journal.

It may have been a first in the U.S., but DNA editing of the human embryo has been reported on at least three occasions from China.
Apparently, the OHSR researchers have broken the Chinese record in their very first attempt at gene editing in terms of the number of embryos modified and demonstrating successfully that disease causing inherited genes could be manipulated to avoid getting passed on to babies.

The Chinese findings had concluded that the CRISPR technique caused editing errors meaning the desired changes in the genes was partial – the change not taking place in all the cells of an embryo – an effect, called mosaicism. This gave credence to the Chinese argument that the technique was not a safe option of producing humans. However, all that changes now with the Oregon findings.

Future births can be genetically modified to produce disease-free babies. The process is called “germline engineering” meaning genetically engineered humans will pass on their modified healthy genes to their offspring creating a chain reaction of healthy genes getting passed on through generations.

However, gene editing is a highly controversial subject with moral, legal and religious implications. The ‘preposterous’ idea of “designer babies” continues to attract strong condemnation from religious groups, biotech companies, and civil society organizations.
The U.S. intelligence community last year called CRISPR a potential “weapon of mass destruction.”

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine said in a report earlier this year that gene manipulation in embryos could be acceptable if done under strict monitoring and with the sole purpose of preventing serious diseases.

Dr. Robert C. Greena, a Harvard Medical School geneticist feels the idea of gene editing in embryos “is inevitable and exciting” and “with proper controls in place, it’s going to lead to huge advances in human health.”

“Our research has suggested that there are far more disease-associated mutations in the general public than was previously,” he added.

Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California, said gene editing of embryos is “an unstoppable, inevitable science, and this is more proof it can be done.”

Michael Watson, executive director of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, said with reference to the work carried out at OHSR “that’s the only way we’re going to learn.”

Although research is ongoing in the US on genetically modified cells to treat diseases, Dr.Topol is of the opinion that “in order to really have a cure, you want to get this at the embryo stage,” he said. “If it isn’t done in this country, it will be done elsewhere.”

Hank Greely, director of Stanford University’s Center for Law and the Biosciences, called CRISPR “the most exciting thing I’ve seen in biology in the 25 years I’ve been watching it.”

“Everybody should calm down,” he said. “We’ve got time to do it carefully.”

Dr. Helen O’Neill, Programme Director of Reproductive Science and Women’s Health, Embryology, IVF and Reproductive Genetics Group at University College, London, said: “Unfortunately, the news about the potential ability to correct disease has been eclipsed by the fear of so-called “designer babies”.

“The technology to support research into correcting diseases is readily available and is largely limited only by legislative barriers.”