Published on 28th November 2018 by Maria Correa

Welcome to this week’s medical news round up! In our latest edition, we bring you the healthcare topics that have been under the microscope over the past week, just in time for your med school applications. 

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Genetically Modified Babies

A Chinese scientist claims to have helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies.

The scientist claims he has altered the DNA of twin girls who were born a few weeks ago, in order to prevent them from contracting HIV.

Prof He Jiankui claims his work creates “children who would not suffer from disease, rather than designer babies with bespoke eye colour or a high IQ.”

However, some scientists say it is a step too far. HIV is now highly treatable, so the experiment unnecessarily exposed healthy children to the risks of gene editing.

Jiankui’s claims are unverified, with many organisations denying involvement in this experiment.

The idea has sparked outrage among the scientific community, as this type of work is banned in most countries.

What can we learn from this?

A designer baby is a baby genetically engineered before birth for selected, preferred traits.

As we are making rapid progress in the world of genetics, this issue is one of increasing significance.

Read: A Complete Guide to Medical Ethics>>

Pros include:

  • It could eradicate genetic disease for future generations
  • It could reduce children suffering from the symptoms and restrictions of genetic disease
  • Regulations would ensure it does not go “too far”

Cons include:

  • Changing genes may cure one disease but could cause others
  • It suggests those with an inherited disease are ‘undesirable’
  • It may be a ‘slippery slope’ to designer babies (e.g parents choosing gender/eye colour)

Currently, the UK has laws in place to prevent genetic editing in human embryos. Scientists can genetically edit discarded IVF embryos, as long as they are destroyed immediately afterwards.

Question to think about – debate the ethical dilemma of ‘designer babies’.

Why not try one of our quizzes?

Type 2 Diabetes in Under 25s

Diabetes UK report that nearly 7,000 under 25s have type 2 diabetes in England and Wales.

Data from the National Diabetes Audit 2016-17 found that 6,836 young people under 25 have type 2 diabetes.  The youngest is 9 years old. This is a staggering finding, as statistics show numbers are 10 times greater than previously reported.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and far more common in children.

Type 2 is linked to obesity and lifestyle, so seeing the number of children with type 2 diabetes on the rise is extremely worrying.

With one in three children leaving primary school either overweight or obese, these findings are not surprising. In response, the government is being urged to take action.

See: NHS Hot Topics 2018-19>>

What can we learn from this?

Type 2 diabetes is a common chronic condition, which causes high blood sugar levels (hyperglycaemia) due to insulin resistance.

Although very common in the general population, it is worrying to see type 2 diabetes in young people as it seemingly points to a poor lifestyle during childhood.

The government aims to halve childhood obesity by 2030 through restricting promotions and advertisements of sugary and fatty foods.

To conclude, these figures mean the NHS is likely to be focused on prevention and keeping the public healthy in the future.

Question to think about – how do you think the NHS will change in the next 20 years?

Right to Die

The UK’s highest court rejects a terminally ill man’s bid for his right to die.

Noel Conway suffers from motor neurone disease, which has left him feeling “entombed” by his illness and wishing to take control of his own death.

He has fought and lost a legal battle for a “peaceful and dignified” assisted death.

The Supreme Court has also rejected Mr Conway’s bid to appeal the ruling, saying he had insufficient chances of success. Mr Conway’s only remaining option is to remove his ventilator and suffocate under sedation.

This option, to Mr Conway, is unacceptable.

He continues to advocate what he has been fighting for; a medically assisted death whilst he still has the mental capacity to make a voluntary and informed choice.

Read about: Structure of the NHS

What can we learn from this?

Euthanasia is a huge ethical debate that is commonly in the public eye and in medical school interviews! It’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the laws and terms.

In the UK, active euthanasia and assisted suicide is illegal.

Active euthanasia means death by an act such as an overdose, as opposed to passive euthanasia meaning death by omission.

Assisted suicide refers to suicide committed with the aid of another person. In Switzerland and Germany, active euthanasia is illegal, but assisted suicide and passive euthanasia are legal.

Question to think about – do you think euthanasia has a place in modern medicine?

Read about how to answer this question here.

Words: Katie Burrell

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