- The plight of baby Gammy, and his father’s recent comments about abortion, have highlighted one crucial question: why should we even offer screening for Down syndrome? Ainsley Newson writes.
- US scientists believe they’ve discovered a gene involved in a number of childhood cancers, which could one day be targeted for treatment.
- The Red Cross, one of Australia’s longest running volunteer organisations, is celebrating its centenary. It is a billion dollar organisation, with services stretching from the Blood Bank Service to humanitarian and disaster relief programs.
News on Health Professional Radio. Today is the 14th August 2014. Read by Rebecca Foster.
The plight of baby Gammy, and his father’s recent comments about abortion, have highlighted one crucial question: why should we even offer screening for Down syndrome? Ainsley Newson writes.
The details of a surrogacy case involving an Australian couple commissioning a pregnancy in Thailand have created outrage in all sorts of quarters. But the father’s admission that he would have asked the surrogate mother to terminate her pregnancy if he’d known baby Gammy had Down syndrome didn’t cause indignation in anywhere the same scale.
The notion of disability – and how we value or devalue people with it – makes many uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the screening most pregnant women choose to determine whether their child will have Down syndrome, and the terminations that result from it, are widely practised.
At about 12 weeks gestation, a woman may elect to have a combined screening test involving an ultrasound and a blood test. The results from these investigations provide a probability of the foetus having one of a few chromosomal trisomy conditions.
These conditions result from having three copies of a chromosome, rather than the usual two. They can be lethal in utero or lead to a very short life (such as with trisomy 18, known as Edwards syndrome and trisomy 13, known as Patau syndrome), or a spectrum of mild to significant intellectual disability, often presenting with cardiac problems (trisomy 21 – Down syndrome).
Based on this probabilistic information, the woman can then decide whether she would like to obtain further, and likely more accurate, information.
At the moment, this usually involves invasively obtaining a sample from the placenta or amniotic fluid. Some women decide to have this, some do not. And some will be informed that their foetus will be born with a chromosomal trisomy.
Of these, most will terminate. We don’t know how many women do this in Australia as data is not kept in a consistent way between states. But in the United Kingdom, a 2009 paper gave the termination rate for detected cases of Down syndrome as 92 per cent.
The ethical question is whether such screening, and ending those pregnancies where a condition is identified, is acceptable.
US scientists believe they’ve discovered a gene involved in a number of childhood cancers, which could one day be targeted for treatment.
The team from the Children’s Medical Centre Research Institute (CRI) found the Lin28b gene, which is involved in stem cell and foetal tissue development, is only active in children’s tissues, not adults.
“We and others have found that Lin28b is expressed in several childhood cancers, including neuroblastoma, Wilms’ tumor and hepatoblastoma, a type of cancer that accounts for nearly 80 percent of all liver tumours in children,” said lead author Dr Hao Zhu.
An analysis of mice showed that overproduction of Lin28b causes hepatoblastoma and that blocking it impairs the growth.
“This opens up the possibility that paediatric liver cancer patients could one day be treated without resorting to chemotherapy,” he said.
If their findings are replicated in human studies, the researchers are hopeful that it could enable them to target childhood cancers on a molecular level.
Considering the gene is only active in childhood, they believe targeting it could work without inducing long term side effects.
The study was published in the journal Cancer Cell.
The Red Cross, one of Australia’s longest running volunteer organisations, is celebrating its centenary.
It was established a week after the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914.
A century later, it is a billion dollar organisation, with services stretching from the Blood Bank Service to humanitarian and disaster relief programs.
The Australian branch of the British Red Cross Society was founded in 1914 by the wife of then governor-general Lady Helen Munro Ferguson.
She came to Australia with a detailed understanding of the Scottish branch and within 10 days of war, she encouraged all the governors’ wives to set up a Red Cross division in their state.
Australian women flocked to the Red Cross.
Robert Tickner is the chief executive of the Australian Red Cross.
He says the organisation has been on a journey of reform over the past decade which has laid the groundwork for another 100 years.
The Australian Red Cross received $760 million in government grants last year.
But the organisation says it is struggling to recover costs for its basic services like the Blood Bank, and does not want to dip into fundraising dollars.
“We’ve just lost a $5 million grant that we had for the last eight years or so,” Mr Tickner said.
“So to people the message is become a regular giver to Red Cross. A regular donor. Because that’s what is the real engine room of our future growth and development.”
This has been the news on Health Professional Radio. For more information on today’s items head to hpr.fm/news and subscribe to our podcast on itunes.