Gene editing probably won’t make the next Spiderman, but it’s possible that the world’s first gene-edited babies have been born. He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist, shocked the world and its ethical sensibilities by revealing last week that he used CRISPR to lower two twin girls’ risk of HIV infection. And a third baby is on the way. Less HIV is certainly something we can all get behind, especially when World AIDS Day was last week. But CRISPR is still brand-spanking new, and scientists are questioning the medical appropriateness of this use of gene editing when the consequences aren’t super well understood and possibly catastrophic. Even a CRISPR co-founder is calling for a moratorium on live-embryo testing. Is this a breakthrough like the first IVF birth, or a slippery slope? From Nature: six questions that remain.
The Department of Health and Human Services has directed the FDA to consider the importation of foreign drugs to address price spikes. The proposed policy would only apply to drugs unaffected by patent or exclusivity, in an effort to avoid intellectual property issues. However, pharma companies may still have something to say through their lawyers if such a policy were to be implemented, especially as an act of a federal agency instead of legislation. If it were implemented though, it would avoid patient access issues in situations like when an HIV medication jumped in price from $13.50 to $750, which had the incredibly unfortunate side effect of catapulting Martin Shkreli’s infinitely punchable face into the limelight. That drug still costs $750 by the way. Or just 5-10 cents in India.
The World Health Organization’s Essential Medicines List has been around for decades and provides the rest of the world’s health organizations a basis for creating their own cost-effective formularies. Well what use is a list of essential medicines if we don’t know who to treat with them? To that end, the WHO has released the Essential Diagnostics List. It’s designed to diagnose the world’s most common diseases, as well as “priority diseases,” like HIV and malaria. The list currently includes 113 tests, but expect that to grow in the next few years as the WHO gets more feedback. Speaking of essential lists, here’s 33 Essential Life Hacks. Disclaimer: Buzzfeed and the WHO probably have a wildly diverging understanding of what “essential” means.
Sometimes an envelope and poorly thought out patient privacy procedures are all you need for a data breach, as Aetna discovered last summer. The insurance company was, no joke, sending out letters in response to a previous privacy violation, notifying patients who took the HIV preventative PrEP about changes to ordering the medication. So they put this information in an envelope with a nice, oversized window where you can see the patient’s name and a reference to HIV prescriptions. That’s a patient privacy nightmare for any condition, and it’s made worse due to the stigma still surrounding the virus. Aetna agreed to pay $17M to the patients last Wednesday, which will presumably come in the form of checks with the memo “We’re sorry about telling everyone about your HIV status.”
Happy belated International Coffee Day to all our readers (even the ones who have their coffee celebrations on the incorrect date.) It sure was a happy week for coffee proponents—a study published in the Journal of Hepatology found that three cups of coffee a day can halve the risk of death for HIV and Hep C patients. The results were most prominent when the coffee drinkers combined it with other positive health behaviors, namely not smoking, consuming too much alcohol, and having a decent amount of physical activity… all things that generally contribute to not dying. The best part for non-caffeine fans is that you can still receive the anti-inflammatory benefits from decaf. Here are 13 other health benefits of coffee, cheers!
For the first time, the FDA is requesting that a drug maker remove its product from the market for public health reasons. Endo Pharmaceuticals’ Opana ER—an opioid designed to continuously manage moderate to severe pain—has already faced scrutiny for being easy to abuse via snorting. Turns out addicts aren’t too fond of the ‘extended’ aspect of the drug. To combat this, the company added a coating that made the drug harder to crush… so abusers injected it instead. Not only did this reformulation not meet the FDA’s standards of officially being abuse-deterrent, but the rise in injection abuse is also tied to an HIV/Hep C outbreak caused by needle sharing. God save us from people who mean well.
If Neil Armstrong were a scientist, we’re pretty sure he would’ve said that about this breakthrough study. For the first time ever, the spread of the HIV virus was stopped in its tracks in a living animal, including in a humanized model. Kudos to Dr. Wenhui Hu and his team at LKSOM. This was done by using the gene editing technology CRISPR/Cas9. After replicating the findings from their previous proof-of-concept study, the team tested mice infected with EcoHIV (mouse equivalent to human HIV-1) and mice that were engrafted with human immune and T cells (i.e., “humanized”) then HIV-1. In both tests they were able to successfully excise and block further infection. Take that, HIV.
What’s small, lightweight and portable all while being faster and less than a hundredth of the cost of the cheapest centrifuge we could find on Amazon? Meet the ‘Paperfuge.’ It’s 2 grams, can separate plasma from blood in 90 seconds, and costs a paltry 20 cents. All these specifications mean that diagnosing diseases like HIV and malaria in areas that don’t typically have access to clunky, electricity-dependent clinical equipment (see: malaria prevalent areas) is going to be so much easier. The design comes from a group of Stanford University researchers who performed a similar feat in 2012 by creating a paper microscope for 50 cents. Origami? More like ohmygoshi! (Our puns only get worse with every groan from readers.)