Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Truth About Youth Transgender Care in Europe
As many medical organizations in the U.S. support gender-affirming care, Republican lawmakers argue that “progressive Europe is leading the way in limiting or barring access to care,” Politico reported. However, a Politico review of the state of care for transgender people in Europe “found more nuance” than Republican critics “often portray,” the outlet noted.
“While Europeans are debating who should get care and when, only Russia has banned the practice,” Politico wrote. “The reassessment of standards in some European countries has aimed to tighten eligibility for gender-affirming care, but also sought to expand research studies including minors.”
For instance, in the U.K., the National Health Service has said it will close the public Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock clinic in London, which is the only provider of gender-affirming care for minors in England and Wales, Politico reported. However, the British have not banned gender-affirming care for minors, the outlet added, and are planning to open new clinics that have strict eligibility criteria.
In Norway, one of the nation’s independent agencies recommended defining gender-affirming care for minors as “experimental” — but the recommendations have yet to be implemented a year-and-a-half later, Politico reported. Current rules allow children to receive puberty blockers once puberty has started, the outlet added, as well as hormone treatment beginning at the age of 16. Chest surgery for minors can be approved in special cases.
Politico‘s full findings on the state of care in 4 European countries are available here.
Alzheimer’s Research Misconduct Accusation
Cassava Sciences, which has faced criticism and federal probes regarding its work on the experimental Alzheimer’s drug simufilam, has “suffered another blow,” Science reported.
An investigation by the City University of New York has accused neuroscientist and faculty member Hoau-Yan Wang, PhD, a longtime Cassava collaborator, of scientific misconduct involving 20 research papers, Science reported, citing a 50-page report on the investigation that it obtained.
Many of the research papers “provided key support for simufilam’s jump from the lab into clinical studies and, given the CUNY report, some scientists are now calling for the two ongoing trials to be suspended,” the article stated.
Among the suspicions of the investigative committee was that images had been improperly manipulated, such as in a 2012 paper that suggested simufilam can blunt the pathological effects of beta amyloid. However, the committee couldn’t prove its suspicions because Wang did not produce original raw data, Science reported, saying its finding of wrongdoing was based on “‘long-standing and egregious misconduct in data management and record keeping” by the neuroscientist.
An attorney for Wang declined Science’s request for comment. Defenses offered by Wang included that much of his original data had been thrown away in response to a request to clean the lab during the pandemic, Science reported.
Cassava also declined a request for comment, telling Science that CUNY had not shared its report with the company nor confirmed the authenticity of what the outlet obtained.
Lab Leak Fears Chill Virology Research
Questions regarding whether COVID-19 leaked from a Chinese laboratory “have cast a chill over American virus research,” the New York Times reported.
There is dwindling funding for scientists who collect dangerous pathogens and who alter them in gain-of-function research, as well as an “intensifying debate” over such work, the Times wrote.
Among those the Times interviewed on the topic were nearly two dozen virologists in the U.S., some of whom spoke anonymously for fear of jeopardizing funding or career prospects.
Some of the virologists told the Times that they had stopped proposing certain work because their research plans were “languishing in long and opaque government reviews,” the outlet wrote. Another said university administrators asked him to remove his name from a study conducted with colleagues in China.
“The possibility that COVID emerged from a lab fueled appeals from biosafety proponents for a clampdown on experiments with even a remote chance of triggering a similar outcome,” the Times wrote. “At the same time, studies suggesting that COVID spilled instead from an illegal animal market reinforced scientists’ fears of the dangerous mutations that viruses pick up in nature — and the need to prepare for them with safer studies in a lab.”
As the debate continues, the next threat may be near, the Times noted. The H5N1 bird flu, which has led to the deaths of many millions of birds globally, has sporadically jumped into handlers.