Monday, November 27, 2006

China to Tighten Organ Transplant Rules

Here's some breaking news in the it's-about-time department: China has finally agreed to create organ transplant rules that will, as the AP says, "prevent unqualified doctors and profit-hungry hospitals from abusing patients." This comes in the wake of reports finally documenting what's been clear anecdotally for years: It's common practice in China to harvest organs from executed prisoners, often without consent.

(AP) "The draft regulation, which has been sent to the State Council for review, would require a new organization under the Ministry of Health to be in charge of registering and allocating all donated organs, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It said the regulations were expected to be passed soon, but gave no specific timetable.

Little information about China's transplant business is publicly available, and critics contend it is profit-driven with little regard for medical ethics. China has long defended the practice as legal ... Xinhua said that China's lack of clear organ transplant laws had led to transplants being carried out by "unqualified doctors with substandard medical equipment" which had caused deaths among patients. It also said there was a popular perception that Chinese hospitals were sacrificing quality care in order to perform many costly transplants." Full story here.
I just want to know, what took so long?


Unnecessary Dog and Cat Killing in S. Korea

Okay, this is absolutely awful: South Korea has just announced that they're going to begin slaughtering about 600 dogs and "an unspecified number of cats" because of fears over bird flu. There's a big outbreak of it there in chickens, so the South Korean government has been slaughtering those the thousands to prevent the virus's spread, which is what they're supposed to do, according to the WHO. Fine. But now they're going to slaughter all the dogs and cats in the area?! This is insane. There has never been a single case of dogs or cats catching bird flu and passing it on to humans. There is, in fact, no scientific evidence that such a thing is possible. Several Asian countries have been criticized for not taking the risk of avian flu seriously, so it's good South Korea isn't doing that ... but this is ridiculous.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

More Talking Dogs

For those who were properly impressed by the singing basenji I posted about last week, I give you Gibson (pictured left) the world's tallest dog (honest), who happens to be able to say "I love you." Really, check out his site and click on the paw under his picture. If you're like me, you'll click it compulsively about 20 times to hear it over and over again ... (thanks for that tip, Sarah!)

The other thing you'll do if you're like me: After verifying that Gibson is indeed the world's tallest dog, you'll waste far too much time looking at lots of other amazing things ... the world's longest rabbit ears, for example, or my personal favorites: Most tennis balls held in the mouth (pictured right) and fastest car window opened by a dog. Good stuff.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Catching Up

I just got back from several weeks of writing stories in hotel rooms and speaking at the 412 festival in Pittsburgh (pictured left, with Michael Rosenwald and Daniel Nester, talking about freelancing) and the Nieman Narrative Nonfiction conference in Boston, where I spoke about freelancing, writer/editor relationships, and narrative science journalism (including a panel with the wonderful Michael Pollan). The highlight of Nieman for me: hanging with Joe Sacco and Stacy Sullivan and finally getting to meet Marc Abrahams (I must hear the end of that story, Marc!)

Because of all my travels, the blog has been a bit quiet. To catch up a bit, here's a quick round-up of things I've been wanting to post about:

* A doctor in New York got the go-ahead to do the first ever womb transplant, which I find amazing: Elective organ transplantation for a non life-saving organ? No thank you.

* After a few scandals and a congressional investigation, the National Institutes of Health has finally tightened their ethics rules to restrict researchers' abilities to earn money from outside sources. As a result, a new survey says, though 73% of NIH researchers believe those new rules will increase the credibility of the organization, almost 40% say they're looking for new jobs because of the tighter restrictions.

* A group of children born as part of "Font of Life," -- the project Hitler developed to create a breed of people that fit his idea of the perfect human (blond hair, blue eyes, non-Jewish, etc) -- met for the first time as adults recently, to talk about the trauma they've experienced over their origins.

* The Chinese have admitted what experts have known for some time but haven't been able to prove: That they take organs from prisoners for transplantation, and Americans buy them on the black market.

* And a study found that elephants can recognize themselves in the mirror. How scientists figured this out is pretty fascinating, though it always frustrates me when researchers seem shocked to find that animals are just as intelligent/feeling/whatever as we are...

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Michael Lemonick on Science Writing

The Kenyon Review blog has an great two part interview with Michael Lemonick, a senior science writer for Time magazine and author of several science books. They talk with him about everything from his background and writing style to developing story ideas, making science sexy, and more. Check it out: Part I and Part II. Lots of good stuff there.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Patent on DNA Sequencing Technique Disputed

This could get interesting: A tiny biotech company called Enzo Biochem has just stepped forward claiming that they invented the technique for sequencing DNA, though the patent on it was awarded to some scientists at Caltech nearly 25 years ago. According to today's New York Times: "the government says it will consider, nearly a quarter-century after the invention was made, whether it awarded the patent to the wrong party." It will be fascinating to see how this turns out, and what they'll do if the patent is reversed and granted to Enzo, how they'll deal with the massive amounts of money Caltech and Applied Biosystems -- the company that licenses the patent from them -- have made from it. And we're talking about a lot of money: This is the technique used to sequence the human genome.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Singing Basenjis

I absolutely love this: Basenjis are always billed as barkless dogs, which most people take to mean they're quiet dogs. Not so. They, like malamutes, can't bark, but they can do all kinds of other things with their voices and often do. Much to the surprise of many new basenji and malamute owners, they're two of the most vocal breeds out there. Having had a malamute for 16 years, there's nothing I love more than the sound of a non-barking dog making noise ... it's melodic, nearly verbal, and totally hilarious. So I was very pleased to see that someone has recorded this wonderful duet for Basenji and flute. I laugh very hard and very loud every time I listen to it. Thanks to Marc over at Improbable Research for posting it.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Biojewellery: With This Bone I Thee Wed ...

Given my ongoing obsession with human tissues, here's a new development I can't help posting about: Through a company in the UK, it's now possible to get "biojewellery" -- a personalized wedding band made from the cultured bone cells of your future spouse.

From their website: "The project is seeking couples who want to donate their bone cells - a couple having their wisdom teeth removed would be ideal. Their cells will be prepared and seeded onto a bioactive scaffold [which eventually] disappears and is replaced by living bone tissue." This produces a bone ring, like the one pictured above. They then take the ring to an art studio at the Royal College of Art, where they combine the bone with "traditional precious metals" and shaped into a wedding band that can be "personalized and shaped."

Donors have their wisdom teeth removed in an hour-long surgery so bone cells can be extracted from their jawbones (!). And people are lining up to do it: The company recently selected four couples out of hundreds of applicants wanting to be part of an upcoming art exhibit, which will display couples' bone rings, their stories and photos.

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