Health Highlights: Jan. 28, 2019Last Updated: January 28, 2019.
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
U.S. Nobel Laureate Knew About Gene-Edited Babies Long Before They Were Born
An American Nobel laureate knew about Chinese researcher He Jiankui's claim to have created the world's first gene-edited babies months before it became public, but remained an adviser to He's biotech company despite objecting to the gene-editing research.
In an email sent last April, He informed Craig Mello of the University of Massachusetts about the pregnancy involving gene-edited twin girls, the Associated Press reported.
He has said he tried to alter the girls' genes to help them resist future infection with the AIDS-causing HIV virus. When the twins were born in December, there was widespread condemnation of the experiment.
"I'm glad for you, but I'd rather not be kept in the loop on this," Mello replied to He's April email. "You are risking the health of the child you are editing ... I just don't see why you are doing this. I wish your patient the best of luck for a healthy pregnancy."
The emails were obtained by the AP under a public records request.
Mello remained a scientific adviser for He's Direct Genomics company for eight more months, until just after news of the twins' births became public and triggered international criticism. The gene-editing work was not a company experiment.
Several U.S. researchers knew or strongly suspected He was considering trying embryo gene editing, according to the AP. Editing embryos intended for a pregnancy is not allowed in the U.S. and many other countries due to risks, such as passing the DNA changes to future generations.
Mello refused an interview, but in statements provided through the University of Massachusetts, Mello said he did not know He was "personally interested" in human gene editing or had the ability to achieve it, and that their discussions were "hypothetical and broad," the AP reported.
Along with restating that he did not approve of He's research, Mello said he resigned from Direct Genomics' scientific advisory board because he felt that a company led by He could no longer be effective.
There is debate among scientists about whether and how to alert about troubling research, and the need for clearer guidelines, the AP reported.
He's work has not been published in a scientific journal, and China's state media last week reported that investigators concluded that He acted alone and fabricated an ethics review by others, and said he could face consequences.
Washington State Declares Emergency As Measles Spreads in Anti-Vax 'Hotspot'
A statewide public health emergency was declared in Washington state after a measles outbreak in an area bordering Portland, Oregon reached 31 cases on Friday.
The outbreak in the Pacific Northwest is in what has been called an anti-vaccination "hot spot" in the U.S., the Associated Press reported.
In declaring the emergency, Gov. Jay Inslee said the number of cases of the infectious disease "creates an extreme public health risk that may quickly spread to other counties."
Public health officials in southwest Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland, said people may have been exposed to measles at more than three dozen locations, including Portland International Airport, a Portland Trail Blazers game, an Amazon Locker location and stores such as Costco and Ikea, the AP reported.
Officials in Oregon and Idaho have issued warnings.
Twenty-six of the confirmed patients had not been vaccinated against measles, and the vaccination status of four other patients is unknown. One child has been hospitalized. There are nine additional suspected cases of measles, according to officials.
Most of the cases have been in children younger than 10, according to a statement from the Clark County Public Health Department in Washington.
The first known patients in this outbreak sought medical care on Dec. 31, but officials don't know if other people may have gotten sick before that and did not seek treatment, the AP reported.
It could be weeks or even months before the "exquisitely contagious" virus runs its course in Washington, according to Dr. Alan Melnick, the Clark County health officer.
He warned that parents who decide not to vaccinate their children are underestimating the dangers of the measles, the AP reported.
In the U.S. last year, there were 17 outbreaks and about 350 cases of measles.
'Sneezed-In' Tissues Marketed to Prevent Colds, Flu
Tissues that are marketed as being sneezed in to protect you against colds and flu are a waste of money and potentially dangerous, experts warn.
"We believe using a tissue that carries a human sneeze is safer than needles or pills," the makers of Vaev tissues say on the company website, Yahoo Lifestyle reported.
While the company says its $80-a-box tissues carry a human sneeze, a later explanation suggests the tissues are pre-infected in other ways during the manufacturing process.
"That's bizarre," Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and an associate professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University, told Yahoo Lifestyle. "This seems like a total waste of money."
"This is potentially hazardous if it does work, and I don't think that it does," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
"There are over 200 common cold viruses out there. Suppose you get infected with one -- you can still get infected again because there are other cold viruses out there," he told Yahoo Lifestyle.
"Save your $80," Schaffner said. "This whole thing is a cockamamie idea."
The best way to reduce the risk of a cold or flu is to stick with proven methods, Watkins said.
Gene Therapy Shows Promise Against Sickle Cell Disease
Recent advances in gene therapy may eventually lead to a cure for sickle cell disease.
The disease is caused by a single mutation in one gene and mainly occurs in people of African descent. About 100,000 people in the United States have the disease, which causes agonizing pain, strokes and early death, The New York Times reported.
Currently, the only treatment is a risky and costly bone marrow transplant.
In a half-dozen clinical trials planned or underway, researchers are testing genetic therapies for sickle cell disease and some patients in those studies no longer have signs of the disease
One of those patients is 21-year-old Brandon Williams of Chicago, who had four strokes by age 18. His older sister died of the disease. After experimental gene therapy, he no longer has symptoms of sickle cell disease, The Times reported.
Despite promising results, it's unclear if the effects of treatment will last and it's likely to be at least three years before a genetic therapy for sickle cell disease is approved.
"We are in uncharted territory," Dr. David A. Williams, chief scientific officer at Boston Children's Hospital, told The Times.
"This would be the first genetic cure of a common genetic disease," Dr. Edward Benz, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told The Times.
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