Human Development

Human Womb Transplants May Be Possible 'In 5 Years'

SWEDISH SCIENTISTS: HUMAN WOMB TRANSPLANTS 'IN 5 YEARS' Researchers say they have already been contacted by hundreds of women who are interested in having such a transplant. Mats Brannstrom et al [Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg] have worked for several years on transplanting uteruses in mice, and the recipients have successfully given birth. The group has now been able to remove a uterus from a sheep and replace it several hours later, then show after 2-3 months that the organ is functioning normally. The next step is to try to get the sheep pregnant and to give birth. After that, the aim is to transplant uteruses between different animals, then to be tried in primates, and only then in humans. Even so, he is hopeful that human womb transplants will be possible in 5 years. The recipient would have eggs harvested for in vitro fertilization (IVF) before the transplant; the eggs would then be fertilized and the embryos frozen, to be implanted after the womb transplant. After having children, the womb would be removed, so the patient would not need to take immunosuppressant drugs for life. Although Brannstrom acknowledges that there may be concerns (some might find it unpalatable that a woman could carry her baby in the same womb that her mother used to carry her, for example) he doesn't think that it raises significant ethical issues compared with procedures such as egg or sperm donation. "It's not transmission of genetic material," he says. "It's just lending your uterus out."  [research presented 18June06, annual meeting, European Society of Human Reproduction & Embryology in Prague, the Czech Republic. [21June06, http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060619/full/060619-7.html,...

Int'l Study: Having More Children Lowers Risk from Breast Cancer Gene (MNT, 5/06)

 The International BRCA1/2 Carrier Cohort Study (IBCCS) examined the effect of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding on women with cancer-causing mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, who have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The study [Medical News Today] found that while one pregnancy and birth had no effect on subsequent cancer development for those carrying the mutant genes, a woman's risk of developing breast cancer was lowered substantially when she had more than one child. Breast cancer rates in women over age 40 dropped 14% with every additional child born. The study also found a difference in cancer development based on the timing of a woman's first child. Women carrying the BRCA2 mutation doubled their risk of developing cancer when they had their first child after age 20, compared to those who gave birth before age 20. For women carrying the BRCA1 mutation, the opposite was true: women who delayed the birth of their first child until after age 30 lowered their risk of developing breast cancer. Participants in the study all carried a breast cancer gene mutation. 853 had developed breast cancer. The IBCCS study was carried out by researchers in France, the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Canada. The German Cancer Research Center, Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (DKFZ), played a key role in the study. [Medical News Today, 31May06 ,...

Premature Baby Brain Scans Show They Sense Pain (NS, 2006)

British Study Says Premature Babies Feel Pain Another study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, has found that premature babies feel pain as intensely, or even more intensely, than we do. A research team [University College London] analyzed brain scans of 18 babies born anywhere from 25 to 45 weeks after conception before, during, and after nurses drew blood using a heel lance… They found records of a surge of blood and oxygen to the babies’ brains during the procedure, showing conclusively that the pain registered in the sensory levels of the brain. “We have shown for the first time that the information about pain reaches the brain in premature babies,” said lead researcher Professor Maria Fitzgerald [specialist, developmental neurobiology, Thomas Lewis Pain Research Centre at UCL]. “Beforehand, although we could assume it, we did not know for sure that these babies could feel pain.” Dr. Paul Ranalli [professor, neurology, University of Toronto] said last year in reference to the pain felt by premature babies, “The only difference between a child in the womb at this stage, or one born and cared for in an incubator, is how they receive oxygen—either through the umbilical cord or through the lungs. There is no difference in their nervous systems.” Professor Fitzgerald conducted research in 1998 into the intensity of pain levels experienced by premature babies. She found that babies in the womb are more sensitive to pain than adults and older children. “The premature baby cannot benefit from the natural pain-killing system which in adults dampens down pain messages as they enter the central nervous system,” she said at the time....

Smallest Preemies Later in Life: Near Normal Achievement (JAMA 2/06)

ACHIEVEMENT OF PREEMIES IS FOUND TO BE NEAR NORMAL. The smallest surviving premature babies eventually attain levels of education, employment and independence that are almost indistinguishable from those of normal weight babies, according to the latest findings from a continuing Canadian study that began 28 years ago. By most measures, researchers found no substantial differences between people born at exceptionally low weights and those born at normal weights. The rates — including high school graduation, pursuit of postsecondary education, aspects of employment, independent living, marriage and parenthood, did not differ significantly between groups.  The findings held even when those with disabilities — 27 percent of those with low birth weight and 2 percent of those at normal birth weight — were included. Contrary to the scientists’ expectations, a majority of those born unusually small successfully moved from adolescence to adulthood.  “Children who appear disabled at 2 or 3 are not necessarily doomed to a lifetime of disability,” said Dr. Saroj Saigal, who was the senior author of the study. “These young adults were able to achieve much more than we expected.” Researchers have been following 166 babies born from 1977 to 1982 who weighed 1.1 to 2.2 pounds at birth along with a matched group of 145 babies of normal weight. They have now examined those subjects as young adults in face-to-face interviews by trained interviewers who did not know which subjects had been low-birth-weight babies. Parents responded for participants who were severely impaired and unable to respond themselves. The results were published Feb. 8 in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The proportion of high school graduates...

'Start of Life' Gene Discovered

Scientists have found the gene responsible for controlling a first key step in the creation of new life; the gene helps sperm combine DNA with the egg’s DNA. The HIRA gene is involved in the events necessary for the fertilisation that take place once a sperm enters an egg. Faults in this gene might explain why some couples struggle to get pregnant despite having healthy sperm, say the researchers from the UK and France. It may be worth screening infertile couples to see if they have a faulty version of HIRA, experts suggested. Although their work in Nature is based on fruit flies, the same genetic processes are present in humans.  A slight mutation in the HIRA gene means that life does not even get started Lead researcher Dr Tim Karr [University of Bath] said: “All sexually reproducing animals do the same kind of DNA ‘dance’ when the DNA from the mother’s egg cell and the father’s sperm cell meet for the first time.” When the sperm enters the egg, its DNA has to undergo a complete transformation so that it can properly join with the female DNA to form a genetically complete new life. Sperm makes this change by swapping the type of  ‘packing material’, known as histone proteins, it contains. The result is called the male pronucleus, which can then combine with the female pronucleus. The process is controlled by the HIRA gene.  There may be a rationale for screening infertile couples for mutations in HIRA. Dr Karr, who worked alongside French scientists from Centre de Génétiqiue Moléculaire et Cellulaire, said: “A single gene, HIRA, looks after...

Research Confirms the Unborn Learn About Outside World

New research funded by Pampers has confirmed that the unborn are actively learning about the outside world. The study group found that from at least 25 weeks, the unborn can recognize their mother’s voice, and can react to taste, touch, and sound, as reported by Ireland On Line.   Related coverage: Science Reveals Unborn can Dream, Smell, Hear, Remember Events and Feel Pain http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2004/may/04051707.html; British Study Shows Unborn Are ‘Conscious Before 24 Weeks’ http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2003/mar/03031006.html   [24Feb06...

The Truth About Fetal Pain

An article recently published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, August 24, vol. 294, p.947) has caused quite a stir. The authors claim that the fetus’ neurological pathways in its brain that allow “the conscious perception of pain” do not function until after 28 weeks. To say that there has been an explosion of criticism is quite an understatement. Reactions to it have centered on basically three issues. One is that preemie infants born prior to 29 weeks, and as early as 22-23 weeks, do show ample evidence of feeling pain as they react to painful stimuli, withdraw from it and cry. A second major comment has been that the article offers no new research but merely goes over certain previous findings. Third, much has been made of the inferred bias of the authors, one of whom is the medical director of the abortion facility at San Francisco General Hospital. It has been reported that this hospital commits 600 abortions a year, done in the 5th and 6th months of pregnancy. The other author previously worked for NARAL. These are valid comments, and in and of themselves go a long way to destroy the scientific credibility of the article. However, it is obvious that a more in-depth analysis would be helpful. Having read the article carefully, I was immediately struck by the fact that if you can change a definition to fit your needs, then it is easy to prove your point. Changing the commonly accepted definition of pain is the heart of the matter. Note above that the article speaks of “conscious perception” of...

National Folic Acid Awareness Week

Early to Mid January (9–15 in 2006) is National Folic Acid Awareness Week Birth defects affect approximately 120,000 newborns in the United States each year; they are the leading cause of infant mortality and contribute substantially to long-term disability. The focus of this year's Awareness Week is preconceptional health. Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can prevent serious birth defects of the spine and brain. Health-care professionals should encourage women of childbearing age to practice healthy preconceptional and prenatal behaviors, including taking multivitamins containing folic acid, managing chronic medical conditions, having regular medical examinations, and avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs. Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can prevent serious birth defects of the spine and brain (i.e., neural tube defects). The rates of such birth defects declined 26% after folic acid was first added to cereal-grain products in 1998 via federal mandate. In 1992, lifetime care for infants born in a single year with any of 17 major birth defects was estimated to cost approximately $6 billion. Information on National Folic Acid Awareness Week is available from the National Council on Folic Acid (http://www.folicacidinfo.org). [MMWR Weekly 6Jan06 /...

Having a Baby by C-Section: Incontinence Following V-Births?

Elective Caesarean sections have become more common in recent years, in part because many women and doctors believe that vaginal birth is a major risk factor for urinary incontinence. But a new study [published 12/05 Obstetrics and Gynecology] has found no support for this belief. Researchers sampled 143 pairs of postmenopausal biological sisters. In each pair, one had had a vaginal delivery and one had never had a baby. They completed questionnaires concerning symptoms of pelvic floor disorders, and 101 of the pairs were given clinical evaluations for urinary incontinence. The results ran counter to the conventional legend: 49.7 percent of the women who had given birth suffered some urinary incontinence, but so did 47.6 percent of their sisters, reflecting a difference that was statistically insignificant. The researchers concluded that in postmenopausal women family factors were more associated with urinary incontinence than with having had a vaginal delivery. Dr. Gunhilde M. Buchsbaum, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of obstetrics at the University of Rochester, said she doubted that these results would affect clinical practice. “People have strong feelings and opinions about elective C-section one way or the other,” she said. “For that reason, I doubt that the findings of our study will change any minds.” The authors acknowledged that they did not determine the age at which incontinence began, and that incontinence might occur earlier in women who delivered vaginally. The authors also pointed out that their finding pertained to white women only. [http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/13/health/13chil.html?pagewanted=all By NICHOLAS BAKALAR; 13Dec05; N Valko RN,...

Quickstats: Rate of Triplet and Other Higher-Order Multiple Births, USA 1980-2003

The rate of triplet and other higher-order multiple births increased from 37 per 100,000 live births in 1980 to 194 in 1998, largely attributable to increased usage of fertility therapies. During 1999-2003, the rate of triplet and higher-order multiple births has remained stable. Older mothers and non-Hispanic white mothers are the most likely to have a triplet or higher-order multiple birth.   [Births: final data for 2003. National vital statistics reports, vol. 54, no. 2. Hyattsville, MD: NCHS; 2005. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr54/nvsr54_02.pdf; Reynolds MA, Schieve LA, Martin JA, et al. Trends in multiple births conceived using assisted reproductive technology, United States, 1997–2000. Pediatrics 2003;111:1159?66; 20Oct05, CDC,...

Hormonal Changes Not Only in Pregnant Women; Hormonal Changes also Found in Fathers (2001)

Men and women both produce testosterone (male hormone) and estrogen (female hormone), as well as prolactin (the hormone that stimulates milk production by breast tissue). The difference between the sexes in this regard is only a matter of the relative concentrations (ratios) of these hormones. Changes occur in concentrations of these hormones in the blood of pregnant women that prepare them for motherhood. Canadian researchers have found that similar changes occur in men during their wives’ pregnancies… These changes can be most conveniently followed, the Canadian researchers found, by measuring hormonal concentrations in saliva, which mirror their concentrations in the blood. Starting early in pregnancy and continuing for 3 months after the pregnancy was completed, they collected saliva every week from 45 men who accompanied their wives to a prenatal clinic. Surprisingly, hormone levels of the men became more like those of women during the last 3 weeks of their wives’ pregnancies, and continued so during the postnatal period.  Thus, the men’s testosterone levels sank, while their estrogen and prolactin levels rose. Their cortisone levels also rose during the week prior to birth, probably helping them to cope more easily with the stress. These changes possibly prepare men mentally for fatherhood and, it is thought, may help them to assist with child rearing and domestic affairs. [Mayo Clinic Proceedings 76:582, 2001; Global Family Life News,...

What Embryology and Science textbooks say about the Beginning of Human Beings

"Just the Facts, Ma'am": It's too bad Sergeant Friday isn't around to help us with the embryonic stem cell debate. by Clark Forsythe, AUL Much of the public promotion for human embryonic research rests on the assumption that the human embryo is not a human being. As a May 2004 letter to USA Today put it (inaccurately), "a gamete about the size of a period at the end of a sentence" is not a human being. [True, a gamete (sex cell, egg or sperm) is not a human being. But the target of embryo research is not gametes; it's embryos.] Here's a reveiw of what contemporary embryology and biology texts say about the beginning of human beings. William Larsen in his 1993 text, Human Embryology, states: "the nuclei of the male and female gametes unite, resulting in the formation of a zygote containing a single diploid [having the full complement of chromosomes] nucleus. Embryonic development is considered to begin at this point." Larsen also states that " the moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development." Bruce Carlson in his 1994 text, Human Embryology and Developmental Biology, states that "through the mingling of maternal and paternal chromosomes, the zygote is a genetically unique product of chromosomal reassortment." Carlson states that when "the maternal and paternal chromosomes…become organized around the mitotic spindle in preparation for an ordinary mitotic division…the process of fertilization can be said to be complete and the fertilized egg is called a zygote." The one-celled human zygote is properly called an embryo. What is the nature of this...

Study: Having Children Protects Women From Cancer (4/05)

A study published in the medical journal Twin Research and Human Genetics has found that women who have children have a reduced risk of developing certain types of cancer, and that the risk is further reduced with each pregnancy. Researchers from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia studied medical data for more than 1.2 million Swedish women who had given birth between 1961 and 1996. Women who had more children had a lower risk of developing breast, uterine, ovarian, and colorectal cancers than women who had fewer children. The authors noted that it appeared that “an increase in the hormones produced during pregnancy are protecting against cancer,” but scientists have not figured out why. The study found that women who had children earlier in life had a lower rate of breast cancer than women who delayed pregnancy. Other studies have also found that pregnancy and childbirth offer women protection against certain cancers. The authors of the new study said that doctors should be aware of the cancer risks so they can provide more frequent cancer screening for women with fewer or no children. The study was initially designed to study cancer risks in women who had twins, since they are exposed to different hormone levels than women who have single pregnancies. While the researchers did find lower cancer rates among mothers of twins, it was not enough to be considered significant, they said. Neale RE, Darlington S, Murphy MF, Silcocks PB, Purdie DM, Talback M. The effects of twins, parity and age at first birth on cancer risk in Swedish women. Twin Res Hum Genet. 2005...

Childbirth: Protective Effects (2001)

Part I, originally appeared in The Post-Abortion Review. One of the population controllers' favorite techniques is to portray pregnancy as dangerous, burdensome and demeaning to women. Some have labeled it an "epidemic," or a "disease." (1) At a Planned Parenthood conference, for example, one speaker described abortion as an "effective treatment" for "the number 2 sexually transmitted disease"–unplanned pregnancy. (2) But population control zealots have failed to prove that pregnancy is, in fact, harmful to women. Indeed, a number of studies point to the opposite conclusion: that pregnancy generally benefits women's health. Yet these studies have been virtually ignored by the medical community and the secular media. According to researcher Thomas Strahan: "One relatively unexamined issue is the important role that childbirth and lactation play in the overall health of a woman. The failure of the body to experience these events appears to cause malfunctions which frequently result in health problems later in life, including possible increased risks from various types of cancer." (3) As this article will show, full-term pregnancy has been shown to reduce women's risk of disease, improve their mental health and improve the outcome of their future pregnancies. Reducing the Risk of Cancer According to national health statistics, approximately one in eight American women will have breast cancer in her lifetime. Each year, an estimated 175,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 43,500 women die from it. (3) These numbers have led in recent years to a nationally-publicized campaign to educate women on breast cancer prevention and treatment. What is seldom–if ever–emphasized in public discussions on preventing breast cancer is the fact that having a...

The Protective Effects of Childbirth (1990 & 2001)

Part I originally appeared in The Post-Abortion Review. One of the population controllers' favorite techniques is to portray pregnancy as dangerous, burdensome and demeaning to women. Some have labeled it an "epidemic," or a "disease." (1) At a Planned Parenthood conference, for example, one speaker described abortion as an "effective treatment" for "the number two sexually transmitted disease"–unplanned pregnancy. (2) But population controllers have failed to prove that pregnancy is, in fact, harmful to women. Indeed, a number of studies point to the opposite conclusion: that pregnancy generally benefits women's health. Yet these studies have been virtually ignored by the medical community and the secular media. According to researcher Thomas Strahan: "One relatively unexamined issue is the important role that childbirth and lactation play in the overall health of a woman. The failure of the body to experience these events appears to cause malfunctions which frequently result in health problems later in life, including possible increased risks from various types of cancer." (3) As this article will show, full-term pregnancy has been shown to reduce women's risk of disease, improve their mental health and improve the outcome of their future pregnancies. Reducing the Risk of Cancer According to national health statistics, approximately one in eight American women will have breast cancer in her lifetime. Each year, an estimated 175,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 43,500 women die from it. (3) These numbers have led in recent years to a nationally-publicized campaign to educate women on breast cancer prevention and treatment. What is seldom–if ever–emphasized in public discussions on preventing breast cancer is the fact that having a...

Premature Infant Survivability Increasing

Premature infant survivability has steadily improved over the last 20 years. One thousand early term infants in Minneapolis hospitals were studied. From 1986-2000, babies at 26 weeks increased survival from 76% to 93%;  at 25 weeks the survival rate rose from 69% to 85%; at 24 weeks, the survival rate is up from 49% to 81%. At 23 weeks, the survival rate is up from 40% to 65%. [World Magazine, 26June2004; RTL Greater Cincinnati,...

Treatment of Depression During Pregnancy Affects Babies (2/05)

In the wake of a yearlong debate over the risks of antidepressants to minors, an analysis of World Health Organization medical records has found that infants whose mothers took the drugs while pregnant may suffer withdrawal symptoms. The study challenges the assurances that many doctors have long given pregnant women with depression that taking the drugs would not affect their babies. But experts said that the study, appearing 4Feb05 in the journal Lancet, was not definitive and must be weighed against the benefits of drug treatment. Untreated maternal depression can also harm a developing fetus, the experts said, and may lead to lasting childhood problems; all of the infants in the study recovered completely from withdrawal symptoms within 24 hours. “This study is important in that it gives us a red flag that babies exposed to antidepressants during pregnancy should be closely observed, and may go through unusual behaviors at first,” said Dr. Timothy Oberlander, a developmental pediatrician at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Oberlander was not involved in the research and does not conduct research or act as a consultant for pharmaceutical companies. Some 10% – 15% of women suffer bouts of depression during the hormonal chaos of pregnancy, and about a quarter of those women get antidepressant treatment, doctors estimate, usually with drugs like Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. If not treated, these women may also be at increased risk of postpartum depression, a devastating disorder that not only clouds the relationship between mother and child but can also interfere with the child’s social development, according to Dr. Janet DiPietro [prof, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health]....

What Does It Mean To Be Human?

One of the most fundamental questions that is increasingly facing bioethicists and society alike is the question, "What does it mean to be human?" "In what consists the act of being human?" "Is my humanity a 'bodily' humanity?" In every area of philosophical concern, we are always thrown back to these basic questions… I hold that every human being is a human person, and every human person is a human being. I also hold that the existence of a human being, say my own existence, began when my bodily existence began, that is when I was conceived. There are some who do not maintain that human beings are human persons as I do. These differences in view indicate that here we are faced with a problem about the recognition of what we take human beings to be as we experience them, and so as we experience ourselves. Obviously, the facts, say, about our embryonic beginnings-as much as the beginnings of other animals – are well known to biologists and to most of us; the facts are the same, they are written in good biology books. Yet these facts, these realities, are seen to be different, interpreted to be different; so different that some would say: "now at that stage there is a human being in its embryonic form." Another would say, "there is no human being at all; we have only a blob of cells," while still others would say "we have a potential human being, but not a full human being." Now if the account of the facts is biologically the same, for we do not quarrel much...

Repeat Caesarean Sections Becoming Harder To Avoid (11/04)

Women around the country are finding that more and more hospitals that once allowed vaginal birth after Caesarean, or VBAC (commonly pronounced VEE-back), are now banning it and insisting on repeat Caesareans. About 300,000 women a year have repeat Caesareans (1/3 of all Caesareans performed/yr). The rate of vaginal births in women who have had Caesareans has fallen by more than half, from 28.3 percent in 1996 to 10.6 percent in 2003. Major medical centers still perform such deliveries, but many smaller ones have banned the practice, saying that it is riskier than once thought and that they do not have the staff to handle emergencies that may arise. Obstetricians estimate that there is a 1 percent chance that the old Caesarean scar will cause the uterus to rupture during a subsequent labor, which can cause dangerous blood loss in the mother and brain damage or death in the baby. A decade ago, the risk of rupture was thought to be 0.5 percent or less. The percentage of babies injured after a rupture is not known but is thought to be low. Many women are willing to take the risk, and the hospitals’ stance has become a charged issue, part of a larger battle over who controls childbirth. Some women say their freedom of choice is being steamrolled by obstetricians who find Caesareans more lucrative and convenient than waiting out the normal course of labor. Doctors say their position is based on concern for patients’ safety. On a practical level, many women prefer vaginal birth because they recover more quickly and with less pain than they do from a...

Tracking Stress and Depression Back to the Womb (12/04)

By listening intently to movements and heartbeats, researchers are finding that the fetuses of mothers who are stressed or depressed respond differently from those of emotionally healthy women. After birth, studies indicate, these infants have a significantly increased risk of developing learning and behavioral problems, and may themselves be more vulnerable to depression or anxiety as they age. The studies, researchers caution, are preliminary. Stress or depression during a mother’s pregnancy is only one among many influences that affect an infant’s development. Even among mothers who are depressed or highly stressed, the rate of emotional and behavioral problems in children is still very low. “The last thing pregnant women need is to have something else to worry about,” said Dr. Janet DiPietro, a developmental psychologist at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. The studies reflect growing evidence that stress and depression can have early and lasting effects on a child’s life. If the findings hold up, experts say, they could eventually lead obstetricians, midwives and other health professionals who care for pregnant women to include mental health screening as a routine part of prenatal examinations. Such screening could allow doctors to recommend therapy or treatment for pregnant women who suffer from depression or other disorders. “We could be intervening earlier,” said Dr. Catherine Monk, an assistant professor in the psychiatry department at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia. “Prenatal care is an optimal time to do mental health screening, but we don’t.” The effects of stress on a fetus have been well documented in animal studies. In rats, researchers have found, babies born to...